Going before I go (Day 300)…

airplane toilet

First off, Merry Christmas! Now, while some of you must have assumed I’d be writing an appropriately seasonal post today, if you really know me, you know that I actually prefer to be inappropriate as often as possible.

So thanks to reader Molly who pointed me in the direction of this Treehugger post, which explains the environmental advantages of peeing before you get on a plane:

The energy used in one flush is enough for an economical car to run at least 10 kilometers. The motivation behind the airline’s restroom request is economic — China’s airlines flushed 3 billion yuan away in the first half of the year due to rising fuel costs — but the environmental cost of mile-high poop is also more than just a drop in the toilet … While the vacuum toilets used on airplanes are already pretty water-efficient, based on China Southern’s figures (1 L fuel/flush) and the altitude effect, the CO2 released by these toilets per flush is about 14.27 pounds. We knew in-flight bathrooms were dirty, but not this dirty.

Um, yeah, and that dirty factor is major — as a child, I had a serious phobia of airplane toilets. The loud noise of the flush, the freaky metallic bowl and blue liquid with that weird flappy thing at the bottom, and the big box of a seat all combined to give me the jitters, to the point where I almost peed my pants trying to hold it in until landing. Now I’m OK with using them, but when I go to New York in a few days, I’ll definitely be relieving myself beforehand so as to minimize the in-flight flushing.

Photo courtesy of Xian Ge on Flickr

8 Responses to Going before I go (Day 300)…

  1. Sense of Balance says:

    Slightly disingenous, if quoting the TreeHugger posting, not to pay attention to the well-directed numerical findings and apropriate deductions in the Alonso Pérez comment below it.

    This is how Greens turn off the genuinely inquiring people who want to be convinced of something (I’m a believer in non-anthropogenic global warming myself). We ask for science and get consensus and Al Gore.

  2. Greenpa says:

    Dear Insensible/Unbalanced- puleeze; go kick kittens someplace else. How much is Exxon paying you to spend your holidays this way? eww.

    Vanessa- they missed a serious point here. Any serious bird watcher will tell you there is something all birds do- all the time, every time. They “evacuate” immediately before take-off. Because- why spend energy to lift/carry waste? THAT could add up over a year- how many tons of p/p are lifted and carried that don’t have to be every year? A lot of jet fuel there. Somebody could calculate it.

  3. Kristine says:

    Merry Christmas, Vanessa!

    Hey, I might be in Manhattan next week, maybe I’ll see ya. 🙂
    Throw a few loonies my way also.
    If you can figure out a way to hold it in flying 3,000 miles (I’m bi-coastal) please share.

    A happy, healthy, GREEN New Year too.

  4. gettinggreen says:

    Yeah, seriously, Sense of Balance — way to harsh the holiday buzz! And even if those numbers are wrong, I agree with Greenpa: It takes more energy to propel a plane full of people with full bladders than a plane full of people with empty bladders. Even if it’s negligible, it’s still something.

  5. Rhett says:

    Sense of Balance,

    No offense to you, but you really need to learn how to form an opposing opinion in a fashion that promotes discourse and scores a point for your side. If you’ll look back through the history of this blog, you’ll see a number of points where I disagree with Vanessa and provide scientific grounds for it. It’s not difficult to do if you know how to amass some basic information and like being pleasant and personable.

    Assuming that this is the first time you’ve come across this notion, however, so I’ll attempt to explain it to you. The first thing you do is start out by assuming your opponent is essentially honest and well-intentioned. Even if this turns out not to be true, it will give you civil behavior people respect. The next thing you do is you go out and you assemble the facts for your side of the story. Then you pleasantly display them in a non-accusatory way and you let them speak for you. The reason you do this is because your facts are the only meaningful part of any argument, regardless of how clever the rhetoric looks.

    You also stay on topic. You don’t put your opponent in some broad, accusatory general category. You don’t attack large and distant forces and focus on the argument at hand. You act as a light for your point of view. If you’re right and look civil, you’ll eventually find people behind you.

    I think you’ll find that following these simple guidelines will give you an approach that can win over even those who disagree with you.

    Also, while I respect your opinion that global warming is a non-anthropogenic process, I really must say that I deeply disagree. At present, non-anthropogenic global warming is itself a non-scientific stance. There are a number of solar physicists, astrophysicists, and some geologists out there that are pursuing alternate hypotheses regarding climate change, and they have generated some interesting data, but their hypotheses have not yet gained traction because they are not yet sufficiently well-formed. Alternate hypotheses are normal in science; they’re a function of scientists following their own ideas. The existence of alternate hypotheses does not, however, mean there’s a lack of broad scientific consensus on a given topic. Yes, consensus is an important part of science, because it means that a given hypothesis has been tested, the data from tests has been reviewed, tests have been repeated, etc. Consensus is essential to science. When you seek science, you seek consensus. This is something critically lacking in non-anthropogenic global warming arguments– non-anthropogenic global warming is not a single aggregated position but is instead an attempt by some people with rhetorical interests who have thrown an umbrella term over what was previously disconnected topic-specific alternate hypotheses. Eventually, solar cycle arguments will be discarded, and the new wunderkind of non-anthropogenic global warming will move on to something else that sounds interesting. It already dropped out global warming due to volcanoes.

    This is only my current conclusions, but I do live my life with one foot in the halls of academia, so I am accustomed to learning how to analyze the state of a topic. You’re quite likely an intelligent person, as I’ve never met a non-anthropogenic proponent who wasn’t, but I’d highly suggest that you review the state of discourse from the majority’s point of view first, rather than letting critics of the consensus create the contrast for you.

  6. blah says:

    Wow, way to be a buzzkill there Sense of Balance. Do you make these toilets for a living or something? Whether or not you agree with her deciding to do this, I think we can all agree on a few things :1) that toilet is pretty gross and/or creepy. I don’t like that sound it makes either. 2) who the heck wants to get up (especially if you are in the middle or window seat) and stand in that long line? 3) the smell alone after several people have used it should propel you to want to do this in the first place.

  7. kathy says:

    Just wondering – have there been any studies comparing the environmental impact per passenger of different modes of transport? Would you be sparing the globe some grief by taking a bus or a train rather than a plane – with or withour the flush?

  8. Rhett says:


    There have been. IIRC, the train and the bus are the best choices, followed by air if it’s a long haul or a car if it’s a short haul, and then cars and planes flip-flop at some distance which I cannot recall.

    And for the trip to NYC, perhaps a train would work fine. I know trains run well in the Northeast US and I suspect they’re fine in Canada.

    Down in the Southern US, where I live, trains are so infrequent and unreliable that I think I’d consider a bike tour first.

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