Monday, May 16, 2011

Feeling flush

Jennifer Huffman
Napa Valley Register
May 16, 2011

I used to think we were a green-friendly family — that is, until we visited something called the David Brower Center in Berkeley.

We Huffmans had headed down to the East Bay city for a college meet-and-greet with our oldest. After parking the car, our daughter headed for the check-in table in the building lobby and I headed for the bathrooms.

I opened the door to a stall to find a toilet bowl filled with brownish-colored water. Ewwwww. Was there a problem with the plumbing? Or worse, did someone forget to flush? Then I noticed the sign. Toilets use collected rainwater, it said.

How clever! Is this a green practice that we could implement at our house? Could the girls be trained to put pails under the gutters and downspouts to collect rainwater and then carry it inside without sloshing water all over the carpet and making a mess? Would a potty filled with rainwater stop the dog from drinking out of the toilet?

Instead of the usual toilet handle, there were two buttons to choose from: Half Flush and Full Flush. This required some thought. Should I go for the full flush or half? I don’t want to waste water. Or is it better just to do the full flush, just in case a half flush doesn’t do the job?

At our house we have three toilets, which means on any given day there are three times as many chances that one or more of them may get stopped up and need plunging. My husband grew up on a ranch, so he knows not to overwhelm a septic system with TP, but we have city girls. I think they see a big roll of TP and just pull away.

I happen to be a good toilet plunger. The main reason is that, unlike my husband, I don’t get grossed out when plunging is required. A mom who has changed 6,000 diapers isn’t afraid of a clogged toilet.

So anyway, there I am, debating full or half flushes in the David Brower Center. Half or full. Half or full.

I couldn’t help myself. I pushed each button twice, just to compare the flushing power of each. Yes, I am guilty of wasting water.

Meeting my husband in the hallway, I told him the full and half flush story. He looked at me with a smirk.

“I used a waterless urinal,” he said.

Whoa. He had me there. I couldn’t top that.

Now that I had fully investigated the bathrooms, we headed to our meeting room, where we found a spread of muffins, cookies and other treats.

A carafe had a sign on it. Organic, shade-grown, fair-trade coffee, it read. I thought of my package of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee sitting in my freezer at home. Somehow I doubted it was organically farmed on a shady hillside by happy El Salvadorian coffee pickers paid a fair wage. Guilty again.

The green-ness continued. Next to the coffee was a bowl filled with brown sugar crystals and a container of agave extract. No Sweet-and-Lo here, people. Paper plates and cups were made of brown unbleached fibers. Instead of bottled water, there was a glass pitcher of water with lemon.

All this recycling was making me a little self-conscious. I had a plastic water bottle in my purse. What if I wanted to throw it away and tossed it into the wrong recycling bin? Would the Berkeley Recycling Police descend on me, clap those plastic (surely recycled) handcuffs on me and throw me in Recycling Jail? I imagined as punishment that I’d be forced to attend a Recycling Offender Program, which would include pop quizzes on plastic recycling numbers and timed recycling-sorting events.

Even worse, what if the art school that was hosting the meeting saw me with the plastic bottle? This could reflect poorly on my daughter.

“Mother drank from plastic bottle. Seemed clueless how to recycle it. Application: rejected.”

Eating my chocolate muffin, I felt bad for using a brown paper plate AND a paper napkin. I could have just taken a napkin for my pastry. But no, I had to take a brown paper plate too.

Writing this column, I Googled the David Brower Center. Not only does the center have its own website, the building itself has its own website, which among other things, shows you how much energy and water is being used hour by hour.

I checked the date we visited. Sure enough, 227 gallons of water were used that day, more than twice the amount on a typical Saturday.

Next time I’ll only flush once, I swear.

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