Saturday, February 26, 2011

If It's Yellow, Let It Mellow

Many years ago, I participated in the national youth volunteer-service program called Katimavik ("meeting place" in Inuktitut). As one of a dozen youth living together in the same house, I came to see environmental efforts as not only an ideal, but a necessity for getting through the day. Even after switching to evenings for my showers, I still had to be quick about it if I wanted anyone else to have hot water after me. Likewise, we kept our utility bills low by turning the thermostat down in the winter - in northern BC, no less - and saved money on gas by taking public transit to our volunteer placements. These are behaviours I continue to practice.

As you can probably guess from the title of this post, we also committed to the selective flushing mantra, "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down". The only time this caused a problem was when we embarked on a weekend road trip, and the last person to use the bathroom before we left didn't have the presence of mind to make an exception to the rule. Please note: after two days, pee in the toilet smells bad!

I'm curious to know whether any of you save water in this way in your homes, and if you don't, what the barriers are. However I'm also writing this post because I recently came across a great public service announcement video published by a Brazilian environmental organization. Check it out:

Pee During Shower (english subtitles) from on Vimeo.

It was Jen at the Clean Bin Project blog who posted the video at the beginning of the month, and I'm happy to report that she received a lot of positive comments. More than half of the readers admitted to having done this a few times, if not regularly, while those opposed to the idea cited cleanliness and squeamishness issues as impediments, as well as the idea that "there's something unacceptable about it". So here are my arguments: as far as I understand it, if you're healthy, your urine is sterile. In other words, we can't catch anything from each other by coming into contact with each others' pee unless our immune systems are compromised, in which case we're probably more likely to catch a cold or the flu. To minimize any lingering smell, peeing at the beginning of your shower closest to the drain should do the trick. Remember, the end result of this activity is that once a day, you're not flushing the toilet: instead, you're peeing in the shower while already using the water to clean yourself - it's a direct grey water system. As for whether this act is inherently right or wrong, that depends on your upbringing and the beliefs you choose to value. In my opinion, it's much more of a travesty that we put drinking water into our toilets only to soil it with human waste and regularly use up to 13 litres of water to rinse away a couple hundred ml of mostly sterile urine. To me, that's what's unacceptable about the present situation.

Your turn: do you let it mellow when it's yellow? Do you pee in the shower? If you don't do either, what are your reasons?


  1. Why do I feel slightly embarrassed talking about this? Yes, I minimize flushing. What I used to do (and should do now) is gather the cold water that I run before it heats up and use that to flush my toilet. My current bathroom is tiny, which is a deterrent to keeping a big bucket around.

  2. We've been socialized to feel embarrassed when talking about these topics!

    I like the idea of collecting the shower's initial cold water for use in the toilet tank. But, like you, I'm not sure I have space for a bucket in my bathroom.

    In the kitchen, I fill my water pitcher with the cold water that comes out while I wait for the tap to run hot (when washing dishes by hand). Every little bit counts.

  3. I'm not a "bucket in the shower" person. I love my showers too much to share :) Pee in the toilet happens over here quite a bit. It's not always intentional-but I don't mind at all! I have three boys who don't believe in flushing-EVER!

  4. Haha, that's great, your boys are accidental environmentalists!

    I don't share showers on a regular basis, but when it's warm enough, I turn off the water while lathering. Unfortunately I can't do that at this time of year - I choose to save energy (turning the thermostat down in the winter) over saving water. Can't win 'em all...

  5. It's an interesting commentary... I'll be honest, this isn't really an issue for me because I rarely-to-ever shower at home. All my showers tend to be at martial arts clubs or at the gym, where peeing while surrounded by strangers would probably be frowned upon (wasn't there an episode of Seinfeld to that extent?). And I should point out that urine isn't quite sterile: it picks up bacteria from your skin on the way out. But it's pretty damn close to sterile, and it really shouldn't be an issue for people to urinate in their own showers!
    Great video, by the way!

  6. Indeed, peeing in public showers is a definite no-no. We should all take George's experience in that Seinfeld episode as a warning!

    If you like the video, you'll love the website. It's fun, colourful, and Portuguese. When you click to view the website in English, a little animated character pops up with a speech bubble instructing you to hover over the text you'd like to have translated, and the English will appear in the speech bubble. Clever!

  7. Hi. I came upon your blog from It's Not Easy to Be Green. Great posts and excellent writing! This post is especially great- I'm glad that see an environmentalist have the gumption to discuss this topic.

    Letting the yellow mellow is big in our apartment. My BF and I both drink a lot of water, so I can't imagine how much water we'd use if we flushed every time we peed. I try to remember to flush before company comes over, but I feel a little embarassed sometimes when wondering if a guest used the toilet during a mellow period. Its seems like flushing less, however, is becoming more common, so perhaps the guests understand.

    I LOVE the Brazilian video. They're so progessive!

    I'll be visiting your blog again.

  8. P.S. The peeing in the shower website is fantastic!

  9. Hi Emily, and welcome to my blog! I'm glad you like what you've been reading so far. Feel free to read older posts, I'll respond to any comments you leave. Thanks for the encouragement! I'll be heading over to your blog in a second.

  10. Good on you for posting about this sensitive topic. lol I can say we practice this a little in our home since my young children (and their friend when they are over to play) have not grasped the concept of flushing. Ever. All the while I'm wondering why they don't "get it" and after this post...perhaps it's me that missed the environmental point! lol

  11. I'm noticing a trend in the comments about young children not flushing for reasons other than saving water! Haha... Well, in good time I'm sure you'll be able to get them to flush when it's appropriate.

    I'm going to have to come up with some more sensitive topics to discuss, as this post has generated lots of comments!

  12. I think that it's disgusting. Don't let ANYTHING mellow. Flush it. We have low-water flush toilets and I'm not ashamed to say that I flush every time. Could you imagine if one of those people with whom you shared the commode had some communicable disease!? There's no use posing a health risk of a situation just to save water. I'm a conservationist, but this is just too much. I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth, as well as poop. It's bad enough that particles do float around in the air after flushing, there's no need to contaminate everything with concentrated waste water and excrement every time you finally do flush. I've found that this also leads to using more paper and more waste bags due to not flushing the paper, with the more often forgetfulness of the kids to flush down the brown as well. Water literally makes up over 75% of this planet; I think that we should be more concerned with something like fracking and wastewater contaminating our water supply (of which radioactive chemicals cannot be easily filtered) than with saving a few gallons from heading into water treatment facilities. YES, there is a CLEAN WATER crisis, NO, flushing your toilet only after pooping doesn't make you a superhero. My toilet is clean, and I don't have to use 5lbs of cleaner in order to clean it, because it stays clean. Yes, occasionally it may become necessary when a well is running dry, but otherwise, I don't like other people's piss splashing back upon my rump and genitals when I'm using the toilet.