Help me avoid my girfriend's pee
May 3, 2007 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Are these environmental suggestions outweighed by these consumptive actions?

My girlfriend is very into environmental behavior on what seems to me to be a very selective basis. I just moved in with her and her 'suggestions' are driving me batty. Can anyone suggest a way to calculate the environmental impact of the following? Obviously, I'm just looking for ballpark answers here.

She wants me to do these things:
* Wash and reuse plastic straws, ziploc bags, and plastic grocery bags.
* Not flush the toilet when it's just urine. (I wake up to a toilet full of her pee every day--ugh).
* Use 'eco-safe' liquid soap rather than normal liquid soap.

I don't want to do these things, and I think that these actions have a minute environmental impact compared to these things she does:
* Ask that I not use her Prius (45 mpg) and use my old car (23 mpg).
* Take frequent trips by airplane (2 US-Europe trips and 3 domestic this year).
* Subscribe to the Sunday NYT on paper rather than reading it online.
* Buy many items made of leather (requiring the care and feeding of livestock).
* Buy roughly 5 pairs of shoes and 30 items of clothing per year, rather than making do with her current 50 pairs of shoes and walk-in closet stuffed with clothing (I'm not suggesting that she buy nothing, but just cut back).

It annoys me rinsing an old ziploc bag when I think that not driving her car is 50x worse for the environment. Any way to do comparisons here aside from wild guessing?
posted by underwater to Science & Nature (44 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
While I agree that your suggestions are probably much larger effects than hers, I think this question is something of a false dilemma.

Doing all of these things is probably environmentally better than none, so for each thing, it's a matter of deciding what changes in your life you're comfortable making.
posted by JMOZ at 10:57 AM on May 3, 2007

And that doesn't really answer your question, so for calculations, that's somewhat tough in many cases. Calculating your carbon footprint (both real, and hypothetical if you were to reduce your travel and drive her car) is fairly straightforward. Calculating the water "wasted" by flusing is simple; you should be able to find how many gallons each flush is. I'm not (by any stretch) an expert on eco-safe soap, but I would bet the manufacturers make claims which you can attempt to verify.

As for the straws and grocery bags: reusable straws are available, and I'm pretty sure reusable canvas grocery bags are MUCH better than even reusing grocery bags. My wife and I are often frustrated that the choice people make is "paper or plastic" (both of which have significant environmental impact) rather than, "paper, plastic, or canvas." It might not make a huge difference (then again, maybe it does), but once you get into the habit of bringing the canvas bag with you, it's soooo easy.
posted by JMOZ at 11:02 AM on May 3, 2007

The issue about whether you can use her car sounds like a larger-scale autonomy issue. I would leave it alone. She (I'm guessing) wants to preserve some of her own space -- ie, a space that she's totally in control of, as opposed to the apartment you now share.

JMOZ is right, the more environmentally good stuff each person does, the better. It sounds like you resent her trying to be holier-than-thou, and you're trying to get revenge by making her feel like a hypocrite and making her see that your way is right. It comes across as ugly.

You should decide which things are intolerable for you and which things you're willing to compromise on. Eg, the pee thing? She should compromise on that (ie flush) unless your area is in a crisis water shortage; you can agree to wash out your used plastic products. If she's unwilling to compromise, that seems like a bigger problem not to be resolved by factual debate.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:06 AM on May 3, 2007

I'm a little surprised that she is using plastic at all. Why not paper bags? Washing out a plastic bag just sounds nasty to me.
posted by GaelFC at 11:13 AM on May 3, 2007

Are you looking for argument fodder, or are you genuinely trying to be more conservative in your use and practice of environmentally unfriendly stuff?

My personal take is: don't use plastic bags or straws, and you won't have to wash them. Leather is a by-product of the meat industry- buying shoes doesn't increase the demand. (are you suggesting she but shoes made from petroleum products?) If she has shoes she hasn't worn in months, she should donate them. Paper is recyclable, but electricity comes from petroleum, so who know about the NYT. But seriously, even environmentalists argue about all this stuff because there's no cut and dried criteria for being as green as possible. You can investigate all these options to work together to be more conscious of sustainable pribciples, or you can investigate them to have more ammunition in your fights. What is it exactly you want to do?
posted by oneirodynia at 11:14 AM on May 3, 2007

Also, there are a number of useful previous questions on these topics. Click on the tag "environment" to get a list of some. Then you can substitute different strings for "environment" in the URL (eg green, environmental, eco-friendly, etc).
-general green living
-more general green living
-educational resources
-green cleaning products
-environmental impacts of different meats
-about carbon offsets for flying
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Here's a suggestion- stop using straws altogether. What a worthless waste those things are. Also, I have to ask- what's your beef with re-using grocery bags and choosing eco-friendly soap? It's not some zero-sum game you need to play with her habits; "a minute environmental impact" > 0.

As LobsterMitten said, I agree that this squabble is much more about autonomy than the environment. I find it interesting that the things you're wishing she would do could just as easily be viewed as expenses you wish she wouldn't make.
posted by mkultra at 11:19 AM on May 3, 2007

Can you compromise on the toilet issue? Would you be kind of okay with it if she flushed the morning pee, so that you don't have to wake up to a bowl full of urine?

Agree that there's no reason to be buying plastic bags or straws if she's aiming to reduce waste. Get tupperware instead of using ziplock bags.

I don't really understand the objection to eco-friendly soap, though. Sorry.
posted by desuetude at 11:19 AM on May 3, 2007

I don't really understand the objection to eco-friendly soap, though.

To be fair, I haven't yet found an eco-friendly dishwasher detergent that didn't suck ass. Which is annoyingly ironic, since a dishwasher is more environmentally friendly for all but the smallest loads.
posted by mkultra at 11:26 AM on May 3, 2007

There has been some recent discussion (though of course, now that I'm looking, I can't find links) about how many products that are marketed as "eco-friendly" are less eco-friendly than just using what you already have, for example. There's a tendency, when we let environmentalism be taken over by business, to start thinking of all environmental decisions as decisions about what to buy, rather than about how we can avoid buying things.

For example, why not use bar soap rather than liquid soap? Plain old Ivory bar soap generates less packaging waste than the most eco-friendly liquid soap.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:31 AM on May 3, 2007

Test your water impact here. Not flushing would have less than 1% impact on my total water foot print.
posted by gmarceau at 11:35 AM on May 3, 2007

My answer is skirting the rules of AskMe, but it seems as though this question is a cover for an underlying one. I really think this is not about concern over environmental impact... You're freaking because you just moved in together and all of her habits are beginning to annoy you. And really, if your relationship is poised to move towards marriage, becoming comfortable with your significant other's bodily fluids is vital (which is not to say that my husband and I tinkle all over our walls, but we've both been ill in ways that require a strong constitution on the part of the other...).

Take the advice of others above and talk this out with your girlfriend and come to a compromise, otherwise these issues might end up taking over and poisoning your relationship.

(also, I grew up with "if it's pee, let it be; if it's brown, flush it down" - I don't always do that since flushing is kind of habitual, but I don't flush pee at night either in an effort to not wake up the house over a little urine.)
posted by stefnet at 11:37 AM on May 3, 2007

I agree that it does seem that you're looking for argument fodder. If you're not, I apologize.

On the other hand, based on your description, it does seem like she may get a little holier-than-thou sometimes, which would bother most of us. Nonetheless, you ought to try to discuss this with her, without it escalating to a heated argument. Just look for compromises. Do the things she suggest that wouldn't bother you. Explain that there will always be things you can't or won't do to be green, and that everyone makes such choices everyday, and that you're just not willing to do some of the things she suggests. A good way to start the conversation might be to present her with some shiny new canvas bags, so as to say, "hey look, I care about you and the environment, and aren't plastic bags annoying?" I would imagine she would enjoy the gift and take it as a sign of goodwill. Then you can caveat into, "but I don't enjoy day old pee being one of the first things I see in the morning."
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:42 AM on May 3, 2007

I'll suggest it. Wash the bags in the urine in the toilet. Urine is generally sterile.

Oh, that's too gross? Sorry, armchair psychiatrist here. It sounds more like you're fighting for the sake of fighting, rather than discussing why you're conflicting (are you/she angry about something?

Both of you could/should do what you can for the environment as much as you can; but don't drive each other crazy fighting about it. Tell her that the pee in the toilet grosses you out, and when you poo, you don't like the idea of spashback.
posted by filmgeek at 11:43 AM on May 3, 2007

tell her to pee in the sink. Pee doesn't need a toilet bowl full of water to help it go down the pipes.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:44 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's possible for toilets to flush the right amount for the (ew) need. If you're willing to go to the trouble and expense, I'm sure you can find the needed modifications. I'm with you though; not flushing at all is a conservation measure too far for most of us.

But after a few months of rinsing out ziplocs, it's starts too seem kind of "batty" to throw them out after one use. If the two of you care enough about each other, you can find compromises that make you a very "low impact" couple (without being total weirdos).
posted by Doctor Barnett at 11:45 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, you all are right, these are autonomy/moving-in issues more than environmental. But I asked because I want to know if I'm being ridiculous and I care about the environment too. I just wouldn't choose Ziploc as the place to take my stand.

JMOZ--yes, it's a false dilemma, but no one can do everything and I'm interested to know where I should focus my compromise.

LobsterMitten--no revenge involved, but I'm having trouble getting her to compromise on anything and I do think that some facts might change her mind. She is not budging on the toilet thing, for example, and I just find it disgusting. I really do think that she is only holding onto that one because she honestly believes that it contributes to a water crisis.

desuedute--eco-friendly cleaning products suck. Sorry.

mkultra--I cannot have my morning smoothie without a straw. But it's not about expenses, we've got separate finances and we're both fine with that.

oneirodynia--"she should donate them"? Ha ha ha ha ha ha good luck.

This is not about ammunition for fighting, but for figuring out where/how to compromise between us on issues motivated by environmental concern. I think if we both became convinced, for example, that using straws was significantly damaging, but flushing wasn't, then we could figure things out better. It's hard for us to move past "it's good/no it doesn't really matter" without any facts. We both are used to doing these things differently.
posted by underwater at 11:47 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: And on preview--we're not really fighting about this, it's just that our discussions are coming to a standstill.
posted by underwater at 11:49 AM on May 3, 2007

I agree with the not flushing, so no help for you there, although if the toilet isn't a low-flow one, you may get somewhere by pushing to replace it with a more efficient one. Another water-saving option is to use water collected while waiting for the shower to heat up for flushing - just pour it in the bowl. Saves water, and you don't have to look at her pee.

I've found this book from the Union of Concerned Scientists to be helpful with these sorts of questions, and it will back you up on the relative importance of cars and planes over plastic bags. One of their basic principles is to focus on the large things - large in terms of cost, weight, and time - rather than the paper/plastic issue.

I'm sure you know this, but some of these things may just be the kind of personal idiosyncracies that one puts up with for love and co-habitation. In other words, all of the ecological evidence in the world may not change your girlfriend's mind.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:49 AM on May 3, 2007

Double posting to ask - what about stainless steel straws? No plastic involved.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:52 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I haven't yet found an eco-friendly dishwasher detergent that didn't suck ass. Which is annoyingly ironic, since a dishwasher is more environmentally friendly for all but the smallest loads.

I am very happy with the Seventh Generation dishwasher detergent. I have foudn the trick is to use less than you think you need.
posted by terrapin at 11:54 AM on May 3, 2007

I don't understand the people here who think you are "fighting for the sake of fighting." It seems to me that you're not. Your girlfriend is selectively and hypocritically demanding that you follow her highly ideosyncratic policies, which were chosen for her maximum comfort and wellbeing rather than for your maximum comfort and wellbeing, and that you do so without compromise. That is both unfair (to the extent that it prioritizes her preferences rather than your collective preferences) and irrational (to the extent that she expects her personal action to make an appreciable difference). You're being perfectly reasonable here, it seems to me, unless you knew about all of this and agreed to it going in.

That said, this calculator may be of some use to you. Also google "personal environmental impact calculator" for additional links, I'd imagine.
posted by gd779 at 11:55 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Regarding not flushing the toilet: whether or not this is of environmental benefit depends a lot on your local water supply and waste water system. Assuming you live somewhere that uses surface water, then it only really makes an environmental difference if your local utility is taking a large portion of the water from a river. Water may or may not be an issue for you, but you'd need to do some research to find out.

On another note, washing out ziploc bags doesn't seem like a terribly imposition to me.

If you care about these issues, why don't you find ways to reduce your personal footprint, rather than complaining about your girlfriend's footprint? Seems kind of like the US saying that they can't reduce their CO2 output because India and China won't be reducing theirs.
posted by ssg at 11:56 AM on May 3, 2007

Ooooh, another cool gift (I'm thinking about getting one myself, which is what reminded me of it) would be a "navy shower" head, so that you can just turn the head off, rather than the tap. That way, when you turn it back on, it's still hot. Showers use crazy amounts of water. This would be a good one to say, "hey, I really can't deal with not flushing, but I agree that wasting water sucks, so lets take navy showers." Then, if it still turns into a fight, afterwards you can have makeup sex while taking a navy shower. Though not having constantly running hot steamy water kinda ruins hot steamy shower sex.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:57 AM on May 3, 2007

This is what I meant to link to.
posted by gd779 at 11:58 AM on May 3, 2007

First off, your three transatlantic plane trips COMPLETELY BLOW AWAY EVERYTHING ELSE YOU DO. I am serious, if you drive a 23 mpg car, and have even a moderately efficient home, those trips could account for more than 50% of your energy use and a similar percent of your carbon footpring on an ANNUAL BASIS.

As with any budgeting effort, don't get bogged in details. Slash the big ticket items and worry about low level operational efficiency later. Lose three transatlantic plane trips and you lose 50% of your carbon and energy footprint. Easy.

For the consumption side of your question, you need the book Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things. I STRONGLY reccomend that book. Really.

That'll give you some good background on the things side. I would imagine that you waste more energy and comodities washing your straws out than is used making them, bags might be a wash because there's more expensive plastic in them, but using canvas bags at the store will save more than either put together.

Don't drive either car if you don't have to. The prius and your car are probably a wash overall because of the extra hazardous junk involved in making/destroying the batteries in the hybrid. (I was absolutely shocked to learn how hard it is to safely dispose of batteries)

Screw not flushing. Fill one or two half gallon milk jugs with sand or some other heavy stuff and sink 'em in your toilet tank. There, you're saving a gallon every flush, so she can feel better flushing every time.

Ditch your plastic bags entirely and use tupperware. That'll be another big one because you can use the dishwasher which is more efficient than the sink anyway.

Also, buy frozen fruit at the supermarket and use that to make your smoothies. That'll help your budget, and cut out the foam cup and straw issue.
posted by OldReliable at 12:15 PM on May 3, 2007

Fill one or two half gallon milk jugs with sand or some other heavy stuff and sink 'em in your toilet tank.??

Really, So having to flush 3 times a much to get everything to go down somehow saves water? Low flow toilets and reducing the size of the tank are a fools economy.
posted by Megafly at 12:58 PM on May 3, 2007

That's BS, most toilets are overpowered and you know it. A half gallon doesn't make a difference for all but the deadliest deuces, which probably take two anyway, but will add up in the long run. In the end the shower is a significantly bigger deal anyway.
posted by OldReliable at 1:16 PM on May 3, 2007

Here' the previous thread with discussion and resources.

Rather than fight about it, why not sit down and collectively come up with a set of changes (not practices) that you're each willing to make. Agree to review and engage in new ones, say every 2 months. Environmentalism is more about engaging in an ongoing process rather than a fixed set of behaviours.
posted by kch at 1:21 PM on May 3, 2007

we have conversations about things like this at my house, and we've figured out that we both care about the environment but just tend to prioritize different actions primarily based on what sacrifices we're each willing to put up with. for example, i'm kind of a maniac about not driving anywhere that's humanly possible and having housemates because we really don't need all the (heated) space in our home for just ourselves, while my partner seems to care a lot more about not buying plastic stuff and saving and trying to reuse just about anything that might get thrown away. sometimes we have to compromise, but whenever we can we just each do our own thing-- like i walk to do errands, and he reuses our trash. i suggest trying to remember that you are both making contributions in different ways, and asking her if she is so concerned about certain things to make the effort involved, such as washing the straws and plastic bags. if she really cares about it, she will probably be willing to do it. or maybe you could make some sort of exchange system, like if she washes the annoying stuff that she wants washed that you don't want to wash, you will do some other eco-friendly thing for your household like managing a compost pile, buying carbon offsets (if you believe in them) or whatever else you are comfortable with.

on a more specific note, a simple greywater system could be a good compromise for the toilet. take out the "u"-looking part of the pipe under the bathroom sink with a wrench, then put a five-gallon bucket or whatever fits under there to catch the water from the sink. it is simple to flush the toilet without using any extra water by pouring several inches of water from the bucket directly into the bowl. hopefully your girlfriend would be ok with this compromise because it doesn't waste any water on flushing (in fact it's an ecological improvement, because you pretty much never have to use the flusher on the toilet regardless of what you're flushing-- but guests or people who don't want to use the system still can use the flusher.)
posted by lgyre at 1:29 PM on May 3, 2007

I agree with Gingerbeer and OldReliable; the stuff she's doing has a certain feel-good/"warm fuzzy" appeal to it, but in terms of measurable environmental impact, those plane trips are the real killer in terms of carbon production. She's picking and choosing the stuff she wants to be "eco-friendly" about; fixating on the little stuff like saving a gallon of water here and there, buying the Prius instead of a Civic, so she can feel better and/or ignore things like plane travel, or whether your appliances are energy-efficient, or how well-insulated your house/apartment is. It's sadly typical, though.

I think what you really need to consider is whether any "discussion" you have about this is really going to be rational or not. I've met lots of people like your girlfriend, and very few of them are actually open to being swayed by rational arguments. You can say whatever you want, but at the end of it, you're just going to end up looking like the baby-seal-killer, even if you can argue like Clarance Darrow.

Ultimately, if you've just moved in and are dealing with this stuff, I think you should take it as a warning sign. Just think: this is supposed to be the "honeymoon" period, when you should just be enthralled with living with each other. If you're arguing over little stuff now, just think of what it's going to be like after a while, when a big portion of the novelty (and some of the physical/sexual attraction) has worn off.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:44 PM on May 3, 2007

I suggest a trade. In return for agreeing on a house policy of always flushing the toilet, you will agree to eat at least x lunches or dinners a week without meat. Or take shorter showers. Or pay for some trees to be planted. Or spend a morning every month picking up litter on the beach with her. Basically anything not to see that bowl full of pee in the morning. If she's satisfied that you're more than making up for it, she can flush without feeling guilty about it, and you're both winners.

If you're going to live together you're going to have to learn with each others idiosyncrasies. She has a right to be irrational and so do you. A lot of problems in relationships come from the idea that whoever can come up with the best argument should automatically get their way; people just don't work like that when it comes to emotional matters - and that's what this is.
posted by teleskiving at 1:46 PM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Underwater - If I were you, I wouldn't put up with crap like the non-flushing as long as she is making 5+ plane trips... including multiple trans-Atlantic... every year. It's simply ridiculous. She's negatively affecting your quality of life for bullshit feel-good reasons while being an absolutely huge polluter herself.

I really wouldn't put up with it.

Of course I'm currently single as you might guess.
posted by Justinian at 2:09 PM on May 3, 2007

Neither of you are living particularly green lifestyles, at all. Flying and driving are bad, bad, bad. Period.

What's the issue with the toilet - is it a 13L model, or something? Changing the toilet (yes, even though it is just a rental, and you will lose that investment) is really a very easy and inexpensive thing to do, and think of the good you will be doing in the world (i.e. the next tenant, and so on). Especially easy because you both have cars, and Home Depots are everywhere - remember to check that the 6L you buy is tested and works well, Kohlers are good. It can be the last thing you do with that gas guzzler, before you trade it in for a bicycle.

Whether leaving the pee sit is a good plan or not must depend in large part on the content of the pee. Had any Asparagus lately? First pee in the morning? I wouldn't like to see that stuff sitting around very long..

Plastic, like pee, is a matter of degree. I rarely use straws, but they do get thrown away (they aren't exactly easy to clean, unless you get to them right away). I use a backpack when grocery shopping, and I use the few shopping bags I do get for city refuse collection (garbage, compost, cans and paper). Zip locks get cleaned if it seems easy, and tossed if it seems hard. That leaves plastic bags from produce, which I avoid when it is practical (separate bags for garlic and ginger?!?! Try no bag for either!), but I still end up with a bunch of them, and they are regrettably tossed out..

It is easy to cut your plastic bag consumption down, and that should be done. On the other hand, as long as you dispose of them properly, they aren't that terrible..
posted by Chuckles at 2:31 PM on May 3, 2007

Low flow toilets and reducing the size of the tank are a fools economy.

A good low flow toilet works better than an average old style toilet. A bad low flow toilet is a nightmare. The City of Toronto's list of selected models is a good guide, no matter where you live (a lot are expensive models, but if you keep looking you will see $200 choices too).
posted by Chuckles at 2:48 PM on May 3, 2007

Having rather limited information about your distress, I can only conclude that hers are emotional choices and you are seeking factual evidence for such. That's not speaking the same language and your argument is doomed to failure.

As stated several times, you cannot easily calculate these things, and that's probably for the best. If you value your relationship, you should be talking to her, not us.
posted by kc0dxh at 2:56 PM on May 3, 2007

Playing I'm Right And You're Wrong is certainly a fast way to get out of a relationship, and then you won't have these problems at all!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:40 PM on May 3, 2007

Point out to her that she's not actually saving much water by not flushing after peeing, since the next civilized human being who uses the toilet will flush before they go, anyway. It only saves water in the case that she happens to use the loo twice in a row, and how likely is that, anyway?
posted by kindall at 4:59 PM on May 3, 2007

PS -- Suggest that if she really wants to save water, you two should shower together more often.
posted by kindall at 4:59 PM on May 3, 2007

Here in oz, our toilets have a full-flush and half-flush option, for 1s and 2s respectively (you call that a water crisis, this is a water crisis). Maybe you can get them over there. Not flushing is just not cool. Urine is not sterile. Things do grow in it. I would argue that in the interest of personal hygiene and public health, that it gets flushed (don't you recycle your water anyway? and if not, then you clearly don't have too much of a water issue).
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:48 PM on May 3, 2007

Tell her she can have your flush, and you'll pee in the sink.
posted by Caviar at 7:26 PM on May 3, 2007

It's unlucky for you that your girlfriend has the hobby of feeling good when doing those 'green' things, whereas you have the hobby of enjoying a clean toilet in the morning. You need to figure out whose hobbies it will be easier for you to change; yours or hers?
posted by hAndrew at 7:31 PM on May 3, 2007

In some cases, you're arguing over the wrong shit. Instead of washing disposable stuff, you have to buy reusable stuff: tupperware instead of ziploc, canvas instead of plastic, etc. And reuse jars.

In other cases, perhaps you're being childish: you "can't have [your] morning smoothie without a straw"? you are revolted by your girlfriend's pee?

In any case, the driving and flying (and perhaps air conditioning?) are your big problems. Reduce them, donate the saved cash to a worthy cause or invest it for retirement, and the rest is icing.
posted by pracowity at 9:13 AM on May 4, 2007

Like most of the above posters, your girlfriend gets off more on the idea of helping the environment than actually doing anything meaningful about it, which basically means consuming less. And it is obvious by your list that she is doing the exact opposite, which either hypocritical or at the very least shallow and short-sighted.
This is the reason you are posting. Because it's really annoying. Of course, you can't very well just tell your live-in girlfriend that, so I would say that you should come to some kind of compromise- such as demonstrating your willingness to wash you smoothie straws in exchange for her toning down her rampant consumerism. It's either that or find a less-annoying person to live with.
posted by tjvis at 1:29 PM on May 4, 2007

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