First published February 2009, last updated July 2013
Our peeing habits have quite an impact on water consumption. The water we flush it away with is often water fit for drinking; a resource we’re in short supply of.
Even a dual flush toilet will use a minimum of around 3 litres (.8 of a gallon) of water each flush, so we tend to use far more water each day just flushing away pee than we need to stay alive.
In the case of old style toilets with only a single flush setting, the amount of water used is incredible – up to 13 litres (3 gallons).
So based on a low flush toilet, used 4 times a day:
4 x 3 x 365 = 4380 litres (around a thousand gallons) a year
With an older style toilet:
4 x 13 x 365 = 18980 litres (over 5,000 gallons) a year
Those are big numbers, but now multiply that by the population of your country and it becomes truly astronomical.
The old saying goes “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down”. I’m all for conserving water, but I think the time I spent as a contract cleaner, cleaning dozens of toilets a day, has well and truly turned me off that idea. I have some awful flashbacks when contemplating that strategy. Still, it works for some folks and good luck to them.
Unless you’re an apartment dweller or have no privacy from your neighbors, considering taking a whizz outside instead when you can, particularly on your garden. This will not only save a stack of water, but urine is a great fertilizer as it contains nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. In fact, the world is running out of easily sourced phosphorous so you’ll not only save some cash on store bought fertilizers, but you’ll be doing your bit to conserve phosphorous supplies.
I do acknowledge that peeing outside is far easier for guys than for gals – I’m sorry ladies; I have no practical advice to offer.
Peeing outside is not “dirty” as urine (unless you have a urinary tract infection) is sterile. Still, it’s not really a socially acceptable practice, particularly if you attempt to do it in public or in your neighbor’s yard. Discretion and common sense is advised of course :).
Just a couple of other tips:
When peeing outside, it’s advisable to aim away from plants a little as it can burn the roots of some species due to its high nitrogen content.
If you’re going to collect urine for use outside at a later time, it shouldn’t be kept for more than 24 hours as chemical reactions will cause ammonia levels to build up that could also damage your plants – and it could become quite whiffy; particularly during the warmer months. In bulk urine reclamation projects, the urine is stored for months until all the reactions settle.
Also, don’t target the same spot each time, for the same reason – unless it’s your compost heap. It seems that urine is a fantastic additive and will get your heap working faster.
If you’re even more adventurous, check out my article on composting human waste.