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The Hidden Water And Energy Costs In Every Toilet Flush


When pursuing a cheaper water bill, do not just turn off the faucet. Replace the toilet.

In every flush, there are both water and embedded energy costs. Bill Strang, president of operations and e-commerce at TOTO USA, made this discovery while conducting life-cycle assessments on the toilets manufactured at the company’s plants in Morrow and Lakewood, Ga. “What we discerned during that rigorous environmental impacts study was that we needed to focus on the carbon footprint,” Strang said. He evaluated the entire cradle-to-grave impact of delivering a TOTO toilet to the consumer, from gathering the clay to recycling the bowl at the end of its life cycle.

Strang said the most significant environmental impact did not come from the manufacturing process, but from daily use. In every gallon of water going through a cycle of collection, purification, waste removal and return to the aquifer, there are 0.0037 kilowatt hours, the equivalent of burning 0.003 pounds of coal. Over the life cycle of a toilet, total usage accounts for 936kg of carbon dioxide, or 94% of the process, compared to just 50kg, or 5%, during manufacturing.  

A standard toilet consumes 1.6 gallons of water. With multiple uses every day per toilet, energy consumption skyrockets. “When you take that energy consumption and factor it in, it is a big number when you start to roll it into the total number of toilets and the total amount of water consumption that is taking place in the U.S.,” Strang said. That higher energy translates into more carbon emissions.

Excess water use is also a concern. In California, the water supply stretches across eight states and 157 million acres, according to The Nature Conservancy of California. Inefficient toilets can exacerbate an already stressed water supply. The 2016 California Green Building Standards Code has started to regulate excessive water usage; toilets in the state cannot exceed 1.28 gallons. To solve this problem, TOTO went lower.


Hampton Inn owners Vijay and Vishal Patel looked for a way to modernize their Bay Area hotels’ toilets. At 1.6 gallons in the South San Francisco property and 2.1 gallons in Livermore, they were not only inefficient, but also had noisy, pressurized tanks. The Patels turned to TOTO’s one-gallon toilet for its quieter, more efficient flush. “We went with TOTO high-efficiency toilets for a couple of reasons,” Vijay Patel said. “First, the TOTO name is well-known. Second, at one gallon per flush, you can’t get any better than that, especially here in California with our droughts, and third, TOTO’s reputation. TOTO makes a good quality product.”

While a standard box-rim toilet cleans the bowl with jets pointed straight down, TOTO’s one-gallon toilets use its Tornado Flushing Technology; two jets rapidly spin one gallon of water around the sides of the bowl. Combined with a proprietary CeFIONTect glaze that smooths bumps and ridges in the porcelain, it takes only one flush to fully clean the bowl. Three months after installation, the Hampton Inn in South San Francisco has saved more than 6,300 gallons of water, and the Livermore property has saved more than 5,200 gallons.

Vijay and Vishal Patel also noticed the customer appreciation. ”Our guests have been very pleased knowing that they’re helping to save the environment,” Vishal Patel said. Strang saw a similar success story at Atlanta International Airport. He collaborated with the airport to replace 630 1.6-gallon toilets with 1.28-gallon models; the airport saved 44 million gallons of water, an energy equivalent of 163,000 kilowatts across the water cycle. This appeals to the “aspirational consumer" who pursue sustainable options in work, travel, lodging and daily life. “The airport got both a huge water reduction and an opportunity to talk about that reduction with the consumers that come to the airport,” Strang said.


Unlike a faucet, a toilet does not turn off. This makes it hard for people to think about it as connected to water conservation. Water bills, relative to other expenses, are also low. “Most people see the water bill and, frankly speaking, you are going to pay a whole lot more for electricity, for natural gas or the gas you put in your car,” Strang said. As water becomes more scarce, people will have to pay attention and look for new ways to reduce consumption. With TOTO’s one-gallon toilet, it is a flush away.

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