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Site for designers with an emphasis on industrial design. For all of you interested in expanding on environmentalism and sustainability in design (major theme in a lot of posts) this site has a lot of "green" articles. Also, under the discussion section there are a large number of topics on ecodesign and sustainability, have a look if you haven't seen this yet!

James Cosper: Minimalism and the Environmental Agenda

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Water is a commodity that is in short supply. While most of the world is made of water, much of it is of limited utility for essential functions, like drinking. We live in the Great Lakes region and have one of the world's largest supplies of fresh water so we may not think about it often. However, Sara Elliott notes on the How Stuff Works website that the EPA estimates by 2013 thirty-six states in the US will have significant water shortages. Contemporary water shortages of the southwest states and Mexico should give us incentive when considering ways to implement a minimalist ethos to reduce or eliminate water use with tasks normally associated with water.

The EPA WaterSense page opens with Pac-Man-esque Flash game to test awareness of water issues facing residential users. A warnin¬g: the questions are not phrased well.

Water use in bathrooms sheds a lot of waste. Every time we flush the toilet we use between 2-5 gallons of water (EPA). There are some ways to reduce this. An important note: while I have installed the toilet in my house I am not a plumber and you should research this stuff on your own before implementation!

Also, a lot of this only applies to older toilets since modern cisterns are designed for reduced water usage. The 1994 National Energy Policy Act limits new toilets sold in the US to 1.6 gallons of water (Elliott). If your cistern doesn't list the volume it is easy to determine by emptying the cistern and bracing the lever with the floating bulb so it doesn't refill. Get a gallon bucket or a pitcher and refill the tank, noting how many containers it takes to reach capacity.

The lowest of low-tech solutions is "if its yellow let it mellow," the behavior of not flushing when the waste is just urine. I don't suggest this. Though Tyler Durden assures us that urine is sterile that is actually only until it starts the path out of the body. After that it may hit the "normal flora" and can become contaminated with bacteria from the body. The attraction of this is the cost: free. The downside, besides possible bacterial growth leading to a bar bathroom odor, is the surprise for visitors.

The low tech solution places a brick or two in the cistern as a way to limit water use. The bricks displace water volume in the cistern and thus less water is used when the toilet is flushed. This solution shows ingenuity, and though it seems like a little bit of water, over the course of a year ads up. In the United Kingdom there is a product called Hippo the Water Saver which appears to be a plastic bag with dimensions similar to a small brown paper bag. It is placed in the cistern with the open portion on top so that it stops water from flowing and acting as a displacer like the brick. The Hippo costs about $5 but some water suppliers give them out for free. The website records estimated savings for average homes in the UK as about $60 per year. The downside here is that it may not flush as fully as desired which results in a second flush. This conflict is at the heart of implementing minimalism in designs: can we do it but still achieve results that satisfy the user? If the end user isn't happy and won't use the product it doesn't matter how much water it could save.

The high tech solution is the dual flush toilet. Elliott explains this design uses a different shape for the bowl, less water in general, and two flush settings so the user can regulate water use. This design minimizes water use while giving the user the choice of which setting to use, though both settings use less water, only 1 gallon, than a 5-8 gallon old fashioned toilet or a new regulation 1.6 gallon cistern. This solution is more expensive than the previous entries but is the direction of the future. Here minimalism is in the reduced waste through a somewhat more complex design.

Works Cited:

Elliott, S. (Unknown). How dual flush toilets work. Retrieved from
http://home.howstuffworks.com/dual-flush-toilet4.htm

EPA. (Unknown). WaterSense. Retrieved from
http://www.epa.gov/watersense/water_efficiency/us_water_use.html

Hippo UK. (Unknown). Hippo the water saver. Retrieved from
http://www.hippo-the-watersaver.co.uk/hippofaqs.html

Linson, A. (Producer), & Fincher, D. (Director). (1999). Fight Club [Motion picture]. USA: 20th Century Fox.

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