Down the toilet with Miranda Devine

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Miranda Devine likes to import the ideas for her anti-environmentalist screeds from America. (For example, DDT ban kills millions, and hockey stick is broken.) Her latest import is the claim that low-flush toilets don't work.

Here it is in a 1998 column from a Competitive Enterprise Instituter:

Included in the numerous provisions of the massive 1992 Energy Policy Act was a requirement that, by 1994, all new toilets sold in the United States must use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf in Washingtonspeak), well below the 3.5 gpf models most Americans are accustomed to. ...

But now, with the law in effect for several years, there are millions of Americans moving into new homes or remodeling bathrooms who have had to deal with these brave new toilets. The reaction thus far has been strongly negative.

In addition to costing more than the old versions, the new low-flow models don't work nearly as well. Many people say they have to flush several times to clear out the bowl, which of course defeats the entire purpose of water conservation. Other people have experienced more frequent clogs, and thus increased cleaning and maintenance.

Such complaints have flooded into Knollenberg's office. Indeed, some dissatisfied homeowners have reportedly turned to a growing black market in the remaining 3.5 gpf toilets, which now sell at a premium.

And here's Miranda Devine:

With mounting horror, customers at the Candana Designs fancy bathroom shop in Woollahra read the large sign erected in the toilet section: "To comply with Australian Standards all toilets are required to flush with a maximum of six litres of water. In order to comply with this regulation, manufacturers have reduced the size of the 'throat' inside the toilet pan. In most cases this necessitates using a toilet brush after flushing and flushing a second time."

In other words, to flush a toilet properly, you'll need to flush twice and use 12 litres of water - which is more than the amount used by the old nine-litre toilets with wider "throats", which are better at ingesting potential blockages. ...

Thanks to new federal regulations which came into force on January 1, it is now illegal to install a toilet that does not have a six-star water efficiency rating.

According to Marc Reed, managing director of Candana Designs, the feeble flush of the new eco-friendly toilet has made a lot of customers hopping mad.

"We've had numerous complaints from people who ... are paying $2000 for a toilet ... and say it's not flushing. The old toilets used to flush everything away. But with the six-litre, it only takes 80 per cent of the waste away and you have to flush it again - which means you're using more water than you used to."

As a result, Reed says, there is now a growing market for second-hand toilets.

Now the thing is, that over in North America they did have problems with low-flush toilets not clearing everything away. And they now have a solution: Import toilet technology from Australia:

When [the Australians] decided to look at reducing water use in toilets they set up a major research project which had one component that we seem to have totally skipped in North America. The toilet and all the waste lines attached to it form a single system. If the toilet works but the drain doesn't, then the system doesn't work. In North American we seem to have taken the position that the plumbing manufacturers are making toilets that get the waste out of the bottom of the toilet, and after that it is not their problem. It is a different plumber who cleans out clogged drains.

It took the Australians about two weeks of research to realise that low flush and siphon technology don't work together. The problem with a six litre siphon system (which represents almost all our present toilets from North American manufacturers) is that almost all the water is used to suck the solid waste out of the toilet. You can see this as it spins and flows and at the last minute, if you are lucky, it sucks the solid waste down the drain, but there is little left to flow it down to the street. As you can see in the first photo, we demonstrated adding waste to the horizontal line after most of the water has passed. The duck is left sitting half way down the line waiting to dry. Sure, this is a TV studio demo with a rubber duck, but our Australian guest confirmed that this did in fact correspond to what they filmed in real drain lines. If someone uses the toilet again before this stuff dries up and sticks, then the water leading the second flush will move this earlier flush on through the system. The second guy's flush takes care of the first guy's stuff ! When I heard this, many stories that I have heard began to make sense. Most of the clogged lines seem to be in little used toilets, like the one in the guest bedroom, or the blockage after you get back from vacation. Here there was no "second" flush to take care of the "first" stuff.

The Australians immediately began to study a European technology they call "Wash Down". The toilet trap is very large for minimum resistance, so large that you could not even dream of creating a siphon. No water is sent ahead of the waste, but rather all the water is dumped on top of the waste. Note how deep and steep the sides of the toilet are in the Caroma toilet in the photo. This means that the solid waste is surfing the wave of all six litres, right down to the city sewage line. The horizontal line is cleared every time, nothing is left to dry and clog. 85% of all toilets in Australia work on this principle. In addition, the Caroma toilet has the dual flush mechanism, six litres for number 2, three litres for number 1. Since people do number 1 more often than number 2, the average flush is 4 litres. This is water conservation, without clogged sewage lines.

A paper by Steve Cummings and Elivio Bonollo from the 1999 CIB W62 Symposium on Water Supply and Drainage for Buildings has more details. Here's the abstract:

This paper examines the development of the two-button, dual flush water closet technology concept in Australia to meet economic, market and environmental objectives. Particular emphasis will be given to the extensive investigation and development period that led to the introduction of the 6/3-litre (1.6/0.8-gal) dual flush system. The investigation involved w.c. performance evaluation at varying grades in 40 metres (131 feet) of transparent 100 mm drainage pipe conducted by the Brisbane City Council in Queensland, Australia.

Results from the Brisbane trial showed that the 6/3-litre (1.6/0.8-gal) dual flush w.c. system provided a savings of about 60% compared with the then-standard 11-litre (2.9-gal) full flush system with no adverse effects on the performance of the drainage pipe. At this time and pending the results of further field trial, an industry directive was issued by the Water Authorities that the 6/3-litre (1.6/0.8-gal) dual flush system would be implemented no later than January 1993. During the above development period, the w.c. designs were progressively refined together with the development of new performance-based standards, namely AS1172-1 Pans and AS1172-2 Cisterns (1993), with the latter based on the trial results. Over the past six years, the development of sound performance requirements and extensive trialing have validated this w.c. system in the Australian marketplace. Importantly, the significant water saving benefits of the 6/3-litre (1.6/0.8-gal) dual flush w.c. technology have now been fully verified and passed on to the community.

So the problems that Devine described were the result of people buying fancy fancy $2000 imported toilets instead of good honest Aussie toilets. (You can get a Smartflush Caroma 4.5/3-litre toilet fully installed for $399.)

And what is really disappointing is that Devine talked to Caroma's Steve Cummings (who was one of the authors of the paper above) and rather than giving a boost to Australian innovation and technology (they spent a million dollars developing the new 4.5/3-litre toilet), she ran down low-flush toilets as ineffective. Who's going to want to buy a 4.5l flush toilet from Caroma when Devine has blasted 6l flushes as inadequate?

Oh, and this bit is untrue:

Thanks to new federal regulations which came into force on January 1, it is now illegal to install a toilet that does not have a six-star water efficiency rating.

Actually, the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards just requires that all toilets sold be labelled with a water efficiency rating. No-one even makes a toilet with a six-star rating.

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When first introduced the low volume toilet really didn't suck, which meant they did. They are much improved. We put one in last year and about once a week we have to flush twice. In any case, most flushing is for liquid wastes.

This is old, old new, at least in the US. The toilets in our house, installed around three years ago, flush quite well, first time, every time. They are standard, off-the-shelf toilets meeting all requirements. And that's with standard, old-fashioned plumbing below the toilet.

And, although it is perhaps too much to ask of the extra dainty, handling liquid waste with reduced fresh water use is easy with any toilet. Just don't flush as often.

And, although it is perhaps too much to ask of the extra dainty, handling liquid waste with reduced fresh water use is easy with any toilet. Just don't flush as often.

Or as they say in California ...

"If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down".

By toilet_technician (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

Yes, indeed, sometimes it takes two flushes to deal with especially stubborn waste.

For example, here in the US, we already flushed once -- last November -- but unfortunately, that did not take care of the main wad.

So it is going to take another flush (in November of 08) to dispose of the last of the waste.

But sometimes, that's what it takes. You gotta do what you gotta do.

Bushes don't go down easy, you know.

But it will be soooooo satisfying to see it finally go down!

Bye, bye!

A far finer job of reporting on the reporter than the reporter originally wrote on the supposed topic.

You read Miranda's piece and think it's a decently written but predictably claptrap story from the "connected enviro-septic" point of view. Then Tim's better researched, higher quality journalism deconstructs the wingnut dog whistling while simultaneously delivering real information to today's switched on voter.

Go Tim!

[Apologies to whomever it is I'm parodying]

I hope you have reported this one to MediaWatch so the general public can derive much enjoyment from the public humiliation of this shill.

By Bill O'Slatter (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

Most Australians, probably including Miranda Devine, use dual-flush toilets every day and don't have any problems with it.

Miranda's ability to ignore these plain facts in favor of regurgitating a decade-old foreign screed is really quite remarkable.

Anyone tempted to take any of her work seriously (if such a benighted soul exists) would do well to consider this evidence that Miranda obviously hasn't used a toilet for the past decade and, consequently, is full of shit.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

If she is importing without much scrutiny, please import assorted (& retarded) climate change deniers from Canada and keep them. They have been reduced to write articles on topics like "Help, help, the scary fluorescent light bulbs are going to ruin the environment". They just haven't thought of toilets yet, but they will, any day now.


Of course, to get the best response from one of the new toilets, you need to pour large quantities of DDT into it daily.

a benefit of the newer toilets i've noted is that with the lower volume in the tank, they don't overflow when blocked, they just fill up and sit there. That improvement alone is enough to sell me.

Our regular toilets at work frequently don't swallow everything on first flush. My neighbor got a low-volume toilet that has some kind of pneumatic assist--and it swallows shit like a Republican voter.

Maybe it's cuz the toilets in the southern hemisphere swirl in the opposite direction?

I worry that these envirozealots will take Howard Stern seriously when he advocates that we just recycle toilet paper.

Anyway, I would consider it an honor and a privilege if you would add my blog "The Tygrrrr Express" to your list of linked sites
if you feel the quality is high.

I came across your blog through Michelle Malkin's website, since I enjoy her writing.

Happy summer.


I used to get annoyed reading M. Devine's drivel until somebody told me that they had been told by MD herself that she doesn't really believe what she writes, she only writes to be provocative. Nowadays, it's impossible for me to take her seriously.


The only zealot here is Devine who's recycling decade-old foreign horror stories.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Ian, I suspect Eric is unlikely to ever see your response. Suitable to the topic at hand, his comment was just a 'bot dump.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink


His blog is a bot dump. a kind of e-Monument to unreason.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

In browsing Jon Eakes' site, I came across one woo-rich column on measuring the magnetic flux inside one's home. It sounded a bit like a cross between Bob Vila and Deepak Chopra:

We have transformers all around us: Large powerful ones are on the power poles outside our houses, smaller ones are in our microwave ovens, most of our florescent light fixtures, halogen light fixtures, radios, TV's, computers, stereos -- and our cell phones work by sending out radiation as well.
Many people from the holistic health movement feel that most if not all of this radiation has a negative affect on our health, on the bioelectro-chemistry that is our human body.

But the man does seem to know his toilets; I'll give him that.