Brandon writes: Compliments of the Harvard environmental team

Warning: What you’re about to read is streaming from the conscious of Brandon, an undergraduate student studying environmental management at the Harvard Extension School.

Recently I brought my wife’s family to the Harvard campus for their first visit. They had traveled from Tokyo and were thoroughly enjoying my private tour when they needed to stop for a bathroom break. We found our way to the Holyoke Center for some relief and while in the men’s room I came across this “No Flushing Required” sign which reads as follows:

“Welcome to the latest sustainability initiative from Holyoke Center. We have replaced our standard urinals with new waterless urinals. They work just like ordinary urinals except that they save up to 40,000 gallons of water per unit annually due to their special no flush technology. These units have an oil based sealing liquid poured into their drain pipe that allows for liquids to pass through the drain but stops odors from coming back up through the pipes. This solution is flushed thoroughly and refilled weekly to keep the urinals in good working condition.”

I am often raving to my Japanese family about how “green” (environmentally conscious) Japan is, and this was a good moment to turn the tables and celebrate the US of A and Harvard in particular so I had to take the time to break out my iPhone and do the unit conversion from gallons to liters in order to tout the amazing fact that this was no ordinary restroom experience and celebrate that the school was helping to save up to 151,416.471 liters of fresh drinking water a year for each one of these amazing urinals (it’s not often the word amazing and urinal comes in the same sentence). This is a tremendous savings of water! I hope I am not alone in this excitement; please write me if you share my enthusiasm when you read that fact.

This experience has thus inspired my first blog entry to celebrate the unsung heroes, the great lavatories of Harvard, or more accurately the great team of Harvard individuals behind all the bathroom green redesign and implementation. These bathrooms are saving loads of money that would be literally flushed down the toilet and simultaneously giving us all something to be proud of when we use the facilities; we are saving gallons of fresh water that will now go to better use.

Waterless urinals only work for the wall units so a different improvement has been made for the many campus wide restrooms, like those of the Science Center, where you will notice the standard men and women’s toilets have now been retro-fitted with green dual-flush levers. This easy and cost effective change allows the user to choose more or less water depending on the need; using 1.6 gallons when flushed in the downward direction and only 1.1 gallons per flush in the upward direction. And if I remember correctly from one of the ENVR E-119 class lectures, both these options are a considerable reduction in water usage per flush from the single option that previously existed, so up or down you are making a good choice.

But it’s not just the toilets that deserve attention, when you head over to wash your hands you will likely find an automatic sink fixture rapidly turning the water on and off as you approach with your hands, saving vast amounts of water that was previously wasted while we were lathering our hands with soap. The Harkness building restrooms add the smile-inducing-experience of having a perfect dollop of pre-lathered white soap robotically fired into the palm of your hand. Don’t get too close to the sensor while you wash you hands though or the soap gun will misfire in the sink; we don’t want to waste any.

Top all that off with an automatic paper towel dispenser that uses brown paper, I am guessing of some recycled fashion, and you have had yourself a physically, emotionally and economically satisfying restroom experience compliments of the Harvard environmental team.

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