Thompson Rivers University’s low-flow toilets have saved tens of thousands of litres of water each year since they were installed in 2005.
It could’ve been a conservation success story, but careless students and an inadequate education awareness plan flushed it all down the drain.
The decision was made last spring to replace a dozen low-flow toilets in the international building at a cost of $6,000 because plumbing costs associated with plugging became untenable.
“It is (disappointing) because we are supposed to be green but it costs a lot more to maintain so, in the end, I guess we have to replace them,” said Lincoln Chua, associate director, facilities infrastructure.
Problems arose because students kept flushing paper towels, which caused plugging on average three times a week, said Chua.
Roto-Rooter invoices for the international building from April 2012 to March 2013 totalled $2,400 in one year versus about $450 for the arts and education building, which has traditional toilets.
Signage stating that low water options can’t effectively drain paper towels didn’t get the message across.
TRU also tried removing paper towel dispensers a few years ago, leaving only hand driers, but a barrage of complaints nixed that plan, said Chua.
Exacerbating the issue is that the dozen problem toilets are located on the international building’s main floor, which sees a high volume of foot traffic.
Since the replacements last March, only one plumbing call has been needed.
The solution still isn’t sitting well with the university’s interim environment and sustainability director, however.
Jim Gudjonson said his department could’ve done a better job educating and informing students about the benefits of low-flow toilets.
“Our research suggests that when you can let people know why you’ve done something, the buy-in goes way up rather than people wondering, ‘Why am I being inconvenienced?’ ” he said.
Gudjonson said the campus may yet see the green technology return in high volume areas if higher functioning toilets or less durable paper towels can be found.
“The facilities (department) have a lot on their plates so if they have complaints or plug-ins, they just have to deal with it,” he said.
The building’s remaining 30 toilets are still low flow and Chua hopes they will remain problem free.
“If we can convince the main students that it’s worthwhile to keep the system in place and not throw paper towels inside, then it would go a long way,” he said.