Water flushing toilets account for 30% of household water use in the United States. That’s more than we use for bathing and more than we use for laundry! Eco-friendly toilets are a great alternative that cut down water use and prevent many other negative environmental impacts.
So, what are the alternatives? And which is the best option for you? Are they safe, effective, and sanitary?
In this guide, we look at everything you need to know about eco-friendly toilets. We cover the environmental impacts of water flush toilets, what makes a toilet eco-friendly, and the options available to choose from.
We then list 6 of the best options to buy when you’re in the market for a new, eco-friendly toilet for your home or development.
The options we have selected are suitable for an upgrade to an existing bathroom or the installation of a new bathroom. They’re all completely safe, effective, and sanitary – for you and the environment!
Let’s jump right in!
How Do Water Flushed Toilets Impact the Environment?
The environmental impacts of flush toilets come down to four main factors: water use, energy use, paper use, and ecological pollution from wastewater that ends up back in the environment. These factors amount to a hefty impact on the environment!
Let’s look at each factor in a little more detail:
Flushing and Water Use
Toilets use a lot of clean, treated, water. The water feeding to the toilet in most homes is the same water feeding to the taps – clean, treated water that is suitable for drinking. As illogical as this may be, the reality is that most homes are not set up to do things differently and toilets account for approximately 30% to 40% of water usage in any home. That’s more than we use for bathing and more than we use for laundry.
As more and more areas face water scarcity, drought, and extreme weather conditions due to climate change, we’re increasingly looking at new ways to save water.
Water scarcity is a global problem that needs our full attention. The graphic below illustrates global water stress levels:
Traditional flush toilets use gallons of water for each flush. The modern standard in North America is 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) but older, less efficient models use as much as 6 gpf!
Recent advances have cut the amount of water per flush to around 1.28 gpf, with the most efficient models as low as 0.8 gpf. When it comes to reducing the amount of water used, low-flow toilets are the answer!
Replacing old, water-heavy toilets with modern, low-flow toilets can save as much as 60% of a household’s water use. This also results in significant cost savings, a win-win for the environment and the homeowner.
Toilet Energy Use
Most flush toilets and sewers use a gravity-fed system that does not require electricity to move water from A to B. However, many buildings require water to be pumped to bathrooms, especially those on upper floors and in elevated locations.
In addition to this, many toilets, such as macerating toilets, use electricity for their mechanisms to work.
On a broader scale, using clean water to flush toilets is an energy heavy process. Energy is used to pump water from the source in the natural environment before it is sent to the treatment works for purification before it goes to individual properties.
Water treatment plants also use energy in the treatment process, as do the treatment plants that treat wastewater from sewers. Overall, even largely gravity-fed systems still use a lot of energy to move the water around and to treat the water.
Toilet Paper and Environment
The majority of traditional flush toilets require the use of toilet tissue. Exceptions include options like the bidet where water is used instead of paper. For those concerned with sustainability, the environment, and zero-waste lifestyles, toilet paper or wet wipes is a complex and contentious issue.
The main impacts of toilet paper use on the environment include:
- Deforestation and habitat loss due to unsustainable and unregulated logging practices
- Carbon emissions from areas left barren by logging activities
- Single-use product with little potential for reuse or recycling (other than the cardboard inner tubes)
- Often made with virgin paper pulp, rather than recycled paper, due to consumer preferences for quality and texture
- Environmental/water pollution from the chemicals used in the manufacturing process
- Water intensive manufacturing process
- Impacts associated with plastic packaging and supply-chain distribution
As a widely used single-use product (for obvious reasons) toilet paper is a huge contributor to the environmental impact of flush toilets. To negate this, many consumers have chosen to use different methods such as bidet toilets or washable and reusable cloth wipes. Others choose to go with sustainable toilet paper or wet wipes brands that use paper pulp from sustainable forests, bamboo fiber, or recycled paper.
Check out this short BBC Reel on the history of toilet paper use:
Ecological Pollution from Toilet Waste Water
With every flush clean water is mixed with human waste and sent to the sewer in areas with a waterborne sewer system or into a septic tank for those without a sewer connection. This dilutes the waste and contaminates gallons of water at every flush.
Water contaminated by human waste carries a huge number of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It also contains high levels of nutrients, nitrogen, and phosphorous, as well as chemicals from substances that are commonly flushed by irresponsible (or uninformed) people.
In a water-borne sewer system, this contaminated water is piped to a treatment plant, treated, and then released back into the environment. The problem with this is that the treatment process releases nitrogen to the atmosphere, where it evaporates as a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and the rise of global temperatures. Harsh chemicals are also used to sterilize the water, which can lead to chemical pollution of downstream watercourses.
Treatment works, especially those in developing nations, also frequently suffer from infrastructural challenges, overloading, and malfunction. When wastewater that has not been treated effectively, or at all, is released into the natural environment it causes disease in humans and animals, pollutes water resources, and results in algae blooms and the death of aquatic organisms.
So, how do we mitigate and minimize the negative impacts of our toilet use?
On an individual level, the answer is to use an eco-friendly toilet in your home or to fit them into your commercial property if you can.
Let’s look at what makes a toilet eco-friendly and then we will look at some of the options you can choose from when you’re in the market for an eco-friendly solution:
What Makes a Toilet Eco-Friendly?
In the simplest terms, an eco-friendly toilet reduces the impact of our toilet use on the environment. This means conserving water and energy resources and preventing environmental pollution from contaminated wastewater.
There are many solutions available to choose from. The type of eco-friendly toilet you choose is ultimately a matter of personal preference and what will work best for your location and environment.
Across the world, there are thousands of different ways to manage human waste. The options we have chosen to focus on here are the ones we feel are the most convenient and suitable for use in place of a traditional flush toilet.
In this guide, we’re going to look at the following types of eco-friendly toilet:
- Low-flow WaterSense Toilets
- Low-flow single flush systems
- Dual flush systems
- Bidet Fittings and Toilets
- Waterless Composting Toilets
- Waterless Incinerating Toilets
These options are all completely effective, sanitary and discrete to use. They’re better for the environment and they’ll also save you money in the long run!
How to Set Up an Eco-Friendly Toilet: What Are Your Options?
When it comes to choosing the best eco-friendly toilets for your needs, there are hundreds of options to choose from!
Let’s look at some of the different types of eco-friendly toilet available to narrow down your options and make it easier to choose the best type for your needs:
Low-Flow Single Flush Toilets
Low-flow single flush toilets are the same as a traditional single flush toilet except that they use less water. To be a ‘low-flow toilet’ the toilet needs to use 1.6 gallons or less per flush. Older toilets use as much as 6 gallons per flush, so 1.6 gallons or less is a significant water use reduction.
The nice thing about these toilets is that they save water and they’re easy to install – they do not need any special plumbing features to be installed and a low-flow cistern can be added to most older toilet bowls and still work well.
However, some ultra-low-flow options require a special, elongated, bowl to be effective. Replacing the bowl as well as the cistern and mechanism is a bit more expensive and requires more work, but the cost savings of an ultra-low-flow toilet will make up for this in the long run.
These options are especially useful for areas with water restrictions, as they use very little water – as little as 0.8 gallons per flush – and will result in water use reduction of up to 60%, depending on the specifications of the toilet they’re replacing.
Dual-flush toilets have two buttons, one for full flush (around 1.6 gpf) and one for a half flush (around 0.8 gpf). This gives you the option to use the minimum amount of water when you don’t need a full flush.
Dual-flush toilets have been widely adopted as an easy way to save water and are used in many commercial buildings. You have most likely seen toilets with the two buttons on top, for half and full flush.
One of the nice things about this system is that you can retrofit a dual flush mechanism to most standard toilet cisterns, without replacing the cistern or bowl.
WaterSense toilets are those developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States. They identifiable by the WaterSense sticker and are designed to be as efficient as possible, in line with the efficiency standards set out by the EPA.
Mass manufacturers make toilets that meet their standards and can then use the WaterSense sticker to encourage consumers to make an eco-friendlier toilet purchase.
The specifications require a 20% or more water use reduction from the standard minimum manufacturing specifications. This translates to 1.28 gpf, rather than the standard 1.6 gpf required by the minimum standards.
According to the EPA, switching to WaterSense toilets allows users to save up to 60% of the water they would use without it. This means an average of 13 000 gallons of water saved by an average American family in a year and significant cost savings in the process!
Taking water use reduction to the highest level are waterless toilets. Composting toilets use little or no water to function as they do not flush waste into a sewer or septic system. As their name suggests, composting toilets turn human waste into nutrient-rich compost that can be safely used as fertilizer or returned to the natural environment.
How does a composting toilet work?
Composting toilets utilize natural decomposition processes to break down waste and convert it to compost. This may occur in a closed unit attached to the toilet or in a separate system outside. If the system is not attached to the toilet itself, the waste will need to be flushed away to a separate system. There are various ways to achieve this and water is not always required. Where water is not used, electricity (mains or battery) may be required to power the flushing mechanism that blows or sucks the waste away (similar to the toilet on a plane).
Some composting toilets separate liquids from solids as the urea in urine may hinder the decomposition of solid waste in a closed system. The composting chamber is vented to the outside, preventing odors and allowing oxygen to enter the chamber.
Check out this video by This Off Grid Life on their DIY composting toilet and a quick explainer of how the composting process works:
Where can you install a composting toilet?
Composting toilets are a great option for areas where there is no access to a septic or sewer system, such as cabins or vacation homes. However, installing one in an urban area may require special permission from local authorities.
Composting toilets are inexpensive to install (downright cheap if you choose a DIY option) and they’re cheap to maintain. They minimize your water use and reduce your environmental impact and can even be beneficial to the environment if the compost is used effectively. As an eco-friendly toilet option, they’re great!
The drawback is that they require more ongoing maintenance and care to keep them working effectively. This can be done by an outside service or you can do it yourself, which some might find to be an unpleasant task. Some models also require electricity for a heat source or ventilation, however, the power used is minimal and only required when the toilet is in use.
Incinerating toilets incinerate your waste into a small amount of sterile ash that can be safely disposed of in the natural environment or your household trash. They use electricity to burn the waste and require no water to function.
While incinerating toilets do use electricity, they only use it when in use and are an economical option that can be powered using renewable energy if you have a solar or wind power system for your property. They’re a popular option in remote areas where there is no access to sewers or septic systems.
For those following a zero-waste lifestyle, bidet toilets are the way to go. They eliminate the need for toilet paper, which has great benefits for the environment and reduces your household spend in the process.
A bidet toilet uses a jet of water, either in a fixed system or handheld device to clean the user off after each use. The toilet is then flushed like any regular flushing toilet. While they use a little more water because of the additional washing process, you can also use a low-flow or dual-flush system to reduce/offset your water usage.
You can install a bidet toilet or you can buy the fittings and retrofit a handheld or fixed feature that attaches to the toilet seat rather than the bowl of the toilet.
If you’re looking for easy-to-install and maintain eco-friendly toilets, the bidet is a great option. They’re inexpensive and require no special permissions so they’re a great choice for urban areas and apartments where the plumbing is already in place.
6 Best Eco-Friendly Toilets to Buy
Now that we have covered what eco-friendly toilets are and some of the best options available to choose from, let’s look at some great options to buy.
We have included one of each type discussed above but there are many models of each type available. We recommend that you do some research and find the best fit for your needs and your budget.
Here are our favorites to get you started:
Niagara Stealth Ultra- Low-Flow Single Flush Toilet
The Niagara Stealth Ultra-Low-Flow Single Flush Toilet uses just 0.8 gallons of water per flush. It is designed to use the least amount of water possible, while still being highly efficient and effective. The tank/cistern and bowl can be bought separately so you can add the tank to any Niagara bowl if you already have one of their toilets.
The water use reduction makes these eco-friendly toilets that are convenient as it simply replaces your existing water flushing toilet. This makes it a great option for those who wish to conserve water but are restricted by regulations or location and need a solution that will fit seamlessly into their existing infrastructure.
American Standard Dual-Flush Toilet (Low-Flow, WaterSense Option)
The American Standard H2Option Dual-Flush Toilet is a low-flow and WaterSense approved dual-flush toilet. It uses 1.28 gallons of water per flush for a full flush and 0.92 gallons of water per flush for a half flush. This makes it a great option for those who wish to save water, even on a full flush, while still keeping the option for a higher volume flush.
Like the low-flow single flush toilet, it is a great option for those who want a water-saving option that will integrate easily into their existing plumbing system. It requires no special permissions and is suitable for any home, commercial, or apartment application.
Dual-flush mechanisms can also be retrofitted to your regular toilet by buying a conversion kit like the Zone Dual-Flush Converter Kit. Converter kits a very inexpensive option that is easy to install and allows you to save water without needing to replace your toilet at all.
American Standard Studio S Collection WaterSense Certified Toilet
WaterSense toilets are available from a wide range of suppliers and can easily be found on Amazon or at your local Home Depot. We like the American Standard Studio S Collection for its highly efficient low-flow technology that uses only 1 gallon of water per flush.
It also uses air and water for effective flushing but does not require any electrical power and will integrate seamlessly into your standard bathroom. No additional fittings or conversions are needed.
Envirolet Self-Contained Composting Toilet
The Envirolet Self-Contained Composting Toilet is a completely self-contained toilet that requires no connection to water or electricity. The air vent is powered by a small wind turbine.
The unit comes with everything you need to get set up once you have installed it and the air vent ‘chimney’. As a self-contained system, it composts in the trays under the unit. The trays then need to be emptied when they’re full.
A composting toilet is a great option for areas where access to water for a flush toilet is not available and is a great eco-friendly toilet option. The compost becomes a nutrient-rich soil that can be safely used as a soil amendment or fertilizer in the garden or natural environment.
Incinolet Incinerating Toilet
Incinolet Incinerating toilets are electrically powered and use no water at all. At each use, a paper liner is placed in the bowl, which captures the waste before it is dropped into the incineration chamber below. In the incineration chamber, the waste and liner are incinerated, leaving behind a small amount of sterile ash.
These are a great option for those who need to eliminate water use as far as possible, while still maintaining a completely sterile and sanitary toilet system. They’re compact and a closed system so they’re great for small spaces and areas where there is no plumbing.
Tushy Classic 3.0 Bidet Toilet Seat Attachment
Tushy Classic 3.0 Bidet Toilet Seat Attachment is a non-electric and self-cleaning water sprayer with an adjustable water pressure nozzle and angle control. As an attachment, it can be fitted to a regular toilet to convert it to a bidet toilet. While you can buy and install a full bidet toilet if you prefer, these attachments are a great option that costs significantly less.
Bidet toilets are especially great for those concerned with the environmental impact of toilet paper, using less water, and going zero-waste. This inexpensive solution will save you money and support your eco-friendly toilet ambitions with the least amount of effort possible! What’s not to love?!
In conclusion, traditional flush toilets are not great for the environment. Thankfully, there are loads of great alternatives that reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of our toilet use!
In this guide, we have looked at the environmental impacts of using a water flushed toilet, what makes a toilet eco-friendly and some of best the eco-friendly toilets available. We have also outlined 6 of the best options to buy if you’re in the market for an eco-friendly toilet.
You now have all the info you need to start your research and find the best solution to your eco-conscious toilet needs!
References and Useful Resources
American Home Shield: To Flush Or Not To Flush: The Truth About Composting Toilets
United States Environmental Protection Agency: WaterSense Toilets
World Economic Forum: What Do Toilets Have to Do with Climate Change?
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an eco-friendly toilet?
An eco-friendly toilet reduces the impact of our toilet use on the environment. This means conserving water and energy resources and preventing environmental pollution from contaminated wastewater. Check out the full guide for different types of eco-friendly toilets and more detail on why they're eco-friendly.
What are the different types of eco-friendly toilet?
Around the world there are thousands of different ways to handle human waste. Water flushed toilets are a common option but they're not the most environmentally friendly. Luckily there are loads of alternatives available! In this guide we focus on low-flow, dual flush and WaterSense toilets, as well as composting and incinerating toilets and bidet toilets. Check out the full article for more!
How do water flush toilets impact the environment?
Traditional water flushed toilets impact the environment in numerous ways. The main areas of concern are water use, energy use, the impact of toilet paper use and the impact of contaminated waste water on the environment. Read the full guide for more info on the impacts of toilets on the environment.