Designing Public Restrooms With The Earth In Mind Cutting Water, Electricity, Disinfectant Use Is A Start
Seasoned international travelers find toilet practices in the U.S. a bit odd. The majority of other nations eschew toilet paper in favor of washing more than their hands with water each time they go, saving numerous trees. The American obsession with toilet tissue presents only one of the factors making public loos a bane for the environment.
Public restrooms use significant amounts of water and electricity. Additionally, disinfectants meant to kill bacteria can prove toxic to animal and human life alike. Fortunately, many alternatives exist that can make public restrooms far more environmentally friendly than they are currently.
Resources Used by Public Restrooms
Most people who stop by highway rest areas don’t extend much thought to the resources used to provide weary travelers with a place to take care of their most personal business. However, all such areas require water, electricity, paper supplies and maintenance.
Most paper products still come from wood pulp, not faster-growing hemp. Every day, over 25,000 trees perish to meet consumer need for sanitary tissue. While recycled toilet paper costs less to produce in terms of water, only one-third of recyclable material makes it to the sorting bin.
Public restrooms also utilize water in vast quantities. Many such convenience areas still contain older-model toilets that can use up to four times more water per flush. This adds up, especially considering such facilities also use water for hand washing and floor mopping.
People need to see when they pee, which means public restrooms also require electricity to keep the lights running and the exhaust fans going. As minimalist public rest areas disappear and get replaced by glitzier tourist centers, energy consumption increases.
Finally, public rest areas require regular cleaning to protect the health of those who use these facilities. While many public bathrooms are designed to withstand powerful industrial disinfectants, when these chemicals enter the water table, they potentially pose a threat to plant and animal life. These products can also prove toxic to humans, especially those with sensitive immune systems.
Improving the Eco-Score of Public Bathrooms
Despite the environmental impact of public restrooms, the need for such facilities continues to grow for several reasons. The most obvious reason? People need a place to go, in the literal sense. Public restrooms provide the only safe place to perform basic hygiene tasks for many. In areas with a high homeless population and few available bathrooms, outbreaks of infectious diseases flourish due to urine and feces on the streets.
However, measures exist to lessen the environmental impact of public bathrooms. One such method means returning to a form of the old-fashioned bidet to reduce the need for paper products. Although Americans have long regarded bidets with contempt, washing private parts after using the loo is commonplace in many other developed areas of the world.
Hand dryers have existed in public restrooms for years, although older models sucked up so much energy, the environmental impact of their use remained comparable to that of paper towels. Today’s dryers work far more efficiently, doing the job in mere seconds and reducing the demand for wood pulp and over-the-road transport of paper products.
Newer toilets require far less water to flush than older models. While individuals can reduce water use by flushing only after going number two, few would advocate doing the same in a bathroom frequented by many. The initial cost of replacing aging toilets quickly pays for itself in lower water bills — and is far more eco-friendly.
Many public restrooms remain open all night, which requires keeping the lights going. Making certain energy-saving improvements costs little and may even be free depending on jurisdiction. Kane County, Illinois, saved nearly $20,000 in energy and water costs by taking advantage of a STEP program that provides free eco-friendly products.
Areas lacking such statewide initiatives nevertheless can save energy by replacing fluorescent lightbulbs with LEDs. LED lighting not only reduces energy costs, but it also provides far more flattering hues. As a bonus, weary visitors will appreciate gazing at a cleaner reflection.
Creating Kinder Ways to Do All Business
- Additional measures to improve the eco-friendliness of public restrooms include installing automatic off switches that kill the lights when the facility is not in use. Motion-activated faucets reduce water waste and eliminate the possibility of slow drips going down the drain.
- Additionally, ensuring that your bathroom is ADA-compliant isn’t an eco-friendly tip, but one that certainly makes our Earth a better place for those with disabilities. Even though there are established minimum requirements businesses must meet to ensure ADA-compliancy, many businesses still manage to slide by without regarding them. Put forth the extra effort wherever you can to generate a kinder, better world — and perhaps even better reviews of your facility to boot!
While few people favor doing their business in a public rest area, such facilities are a necessary evil. This doesn’t mean we have to squander the planet’s resources for personal hygiene when greener alternatives exist. Making improvements to public bathrooms helps save the world while still protecting human health.