To Flush or Not to Flush? That is the Question! Have You Ever Asked It?

Musings on philosophy, sociology, and garbage

Imagine yourself in your washroom or, for those extreme enthusiasts among us, a public washroom. You grab some toilet paper or a tissue and then blow your nose or wipe make-up, sweat, whatever, from your face (if both then hopefully not in that order with the same tissue…).
What then?
Although it can be argued that in actual fact there are at least four options available to you, I will assume that most people consider only two possibilities: you can either flush your used tissue down the toilet or you can toss it in the garbage can. But which is better for the environment?
And what if you had to take care of other business and you were going to flush anyhow?

Now be honest! Have you ever asked yourself those very questions? Have you bothered to find an answer? Once you had an answer, did you act accordingly from that point on? Did you inform others?

Or are you the type of person who flushes everything the toilet seems to be able to swallow, from diapers and Q-tips to plastic wrappers and vacuum cleaner bags to leftovers and veggie trimmings on top of the occasional toilet paper? You know that this is good on your budget – you’re cutting down on garbage bags, and less garbage bags means less landfill… but have you seriously asked yourself how taxing this really is on the environment? Which takes priority?

The solution to this very important query – flush or toss – varies depending on the source providing the answer but, according to me, what supercedes any answer in terms of substance warranting our attention is the fact that you would actually ask yourself such a question and then took steps towards finding an answer. (For those of you who only want the answer, it’s at the end of this entry.)

Irregardless of the scope used when examining humans and human behavior, it’s safe to say that people can generally be separated into three groups: those that do because they want to; those that do because they have to; and those that don’t give a crap!
If you’ve ever suddenly found yourself asking “flush or toss?” and really wanted to find out the answer so you could actually practice the one deemed the better, then you belong to the first group. Those who have never asked themselves such a question because even talking about it is a silly waste of time obviously belong in the third. Most of us fit in the second group; we may overhear or stumble upon the answer, but since we don’t “have to do it,” we probably won’t.

In regards to recycling and the environment we all like to think that we belong to the first group – those that do because we want to — and we all have the best intentions in mind but unfortunately our daily routines and blah, blah, blah don’t allow us to actually do our part to the full extent! We normally do our best but… And yet we always find a way to do those daily activities we actually do like to do...

Ok, ok but listen! Today [insert favorite excuse here e.g. I’m meeting someone], and that’s why I’m walking stiff armed with the piece of garbage tangling at the tip of my fingers, and, hoping my leg camouflages my crime, I let it fall to the ground when the passing bus distracts the bystanders.
Sounds familiar?
Well at least you feel guilty enough to try and hide your action. Some people have no qualms whatsoever with the idea of chucking garbage in clear view of everyone; for them the sidewalks, park lawns, alleyways and waterways are huge and convenient garbage pails. And if you dare say anything and don’t get the “f-word” as an answer, you can probably expect one of these three responses: it’s the city’s fault, there aren’t enough garbage cans; everybody else does it; or worse, the response which for me demonstrates a serious flaw with one’s reasoning faculties – someone is paid to clean up! Rarely will you get an apology for such destructive behavior…

With close to 7 billion people on the planet it’s safe to say that each of us is not the only one who, at any given time, espouses that I-don’t-normally-do-that-but-I-can-justify-it-this-time approach to the environment… Now add to that all the people who don’t give a crap and that’s a heck of a lot of people polluting all at once, even if with good reasons.

Only once everyone instinctively asks questions like “flush or toss?” and feels that seeking out an answer is a necessary behavior as a responsible member of a much greater collective whole, only then will we be able to say that things have changed… For one, we’ll have changed! If we were all to act with such absolute responsibility and altruism then we certainly wouldn’t be “the human race” anymore, would we? Aren’t the underlying factors that place us in one of those three groups mentioned above – laziness, greed, fears and insecurities and so forth, not to mention the constitution, which guarantees us the right to not give a crap! – aren’t those factors the same characteristics that distinguish us as humans?
So are we close to seeing a real change, not one dictated by economics but one that is motivated by an honest desire as individuals to not act so individually?

At this point, it seems clear that no, we are not; the human race is not ready to evolve past the plundering mob we seem doomed to be. But those of us that still find time out of our busy schedules to ponder such serious subjects as “flush or toss?” in search of true enlightenment and those that work hard to provide wise (versus cost-effective) answers, these are the people that act as beacons reminding us that such a fantasy…uh…I mean… such a change is a possibility.
It’s just that it’s an individual thing! Like everything else in life – it’s up to you.

And the answer is:

Instead of flushing or tossing, compost and recycle! Toilet paper and tissue containing only organic matter can be composted (and never recycled). And if composting is not an option then flushing seems to be the preferred method, since, according to city of Montreal officials, 90 to 95 percent of the tissue dissolves in water and leaves very little solid waste in comparison with tissues that end up in landfills.
However, there is a great deal of debate whether or not the disposal of the remaining 5 to 10 percent – which forms a sludge extracted during the water treatment process that often ends up in landfills or in our oceans – is in fact more harmful to the environment since the process releases higher levels of methane gas.

Oh the irony!

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© Pascal-Denis Lussier 2008

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