Toilets should not be automatic

Photo by Blake Israel

When was the last time you had a good experience with an automatic flushing toilet?

If you’re like most people, the answer is never. In addition, sensor based-toilets waste water. So why are we still using them?

Automatic toilets never flush when you need them to, but still manage to do so at all the wrong times.

For anyone unfamiliar with this (admittedly specific) issue, let me paint you a picture: You just drank a coffee between classes and have to use the restroom.

You enter the stall, sit down, and the toilet flushes, spraying you with water. You stand up, and it flushes again.

When you go to throw your toilet paper in, it’s the one time the sensor doesn’t pick up and you have to press the dirty little button on the side, defeating the automatic purpose in the first place.

Then, as you go to open the stall door, it flushes again on its own for the fourth time in one use.

It’s gross, and you got sprayed with toilet water, and you probably look crazy to anyone waiting for the stall because you’ve just flushed four times.

Sure, that example may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but everyone I’ve talked to has had a similar experience.

Considering that the toilet flushes on its own at least once, and the bathroom-user generally has to flush manually on top of that, a lot of water is wasted.

The toilets are flushing over twice as often as they need to. By installing sensor-based toilets, developers are committing to wasting more water in every public restroom.

Surprisingly, actual research has been done on this topic. A study done in 2010 (Gauley, Koeller) showed evidence that automatic toilets use on average, about 54% more water than their manual counterparts. Toilets were flushed more often when using an automatic system, causing an increase in water usage.

While this study is by no means representative of every public restroom, it certainly provides reason to believe that people should be allowed to flush for themselves.

In general, automatic toilets use the same amount of water per flush as a manual toilet. The toilets are almost identical, with the exception of the actual flushing mechanism.

For this reason, the main issue is why we install the sensors in the first place. To many people, the idea of an automatic toilet seems more modern.

It makes use of current technologies, leading to a more streamlined bathroom experience.

In theory, that is true, but in reality, sensor based toilets create more issues than they solve, often leading to frustration rather than satisfaction.

It’s really not that hard to just use a handle, especially if you use your foot, which is what I’d rather do when given the option.

I enjoy being able to control when the toilet flushes instead of being sprayed with water as I leave the stall. Considering this issue, I’ve done some research into more sustainable solutions to water use in toilets. Even in the field of automatic flushers, improvements have been made in recent years.

For buildings not willing to completely redesign the bathrooms, it is simple enough to install newer models of the flushing mechanism in order to save water.

According to a study done at Texas A&M, using an optimized automatic flushing system reduced water usage by toilets by 15.8%.

In the long run, this could save a lot of money and water. However, the most sustainable type of toilet is a bit more unconventional. Composting toilets, like the ones in the Kendeda Building here at Georgia Tech, greatly reduce water usage.

In total, the twelve toilets in Kendeda use less water than one conventional toilet.

While completely redesigning the plumbing system in favor of composting toilets isn’t very practical for most buildings, it is definitely something developers can keep in mind in the future.

The issue of automatic flushing toilets is something that most people deal with on a daily basis. While it isn’t the most pressing societal issue, it’s something that could make a big difference with regards to water usage in the long run. Given the current climate crisis, making changes that seem little actually helps the environment tremendously.

On top of that, it would improve the bathroom experience for everyone. In the words of Charmin, “Enjoy the go.”