Sustainable Restrooms

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What is It?

  • Sustainable restrooms are those that conserve water, energy, and other resources while maintaining the health and well-being of those who use them.
  • Also known as: green bathrooms.

Why is it Important?

Sustainable restrooms at the Green Garage will:

  • Strengthen our relationship to the earth, e.g. effective water management, natural lighting, composting, recycled paper products.
  • Help restore the planet's eco-systems, e.g. garbage reduction and recycling, composting, water management.
  • Encourage people to work cooperatively to manage the flow of products, water and waste in to and out of the building.
  • Promote the idea that clean healthy restrooms can also be good for the planet.
  • Operate within a One Earth pattern of living (by encouraging less waste, better choices for the planet, simplicity of use.

When to Use It?

  • Our sustainable restroom management system will be used on a continuous basis at the Green Garage.
  • We will know the system is sustainable when people are comfortable with the system, when a small amount of garbage goes out every week (and that amount reduces over time), and when the amount of energy and water used is kept at minimal levels.
  • The system would not be sustainable if people felt uncomfortable with the system or embarrassed by their choices, or if the amount of energy/water used rose over time.

Green Garage Use of Sustainable Restrooms

Sustainability Goals

We are trying to keep the initial design simple at the outset (think simple hospitality), and will incorporate more components as tenants determine the need. This will keep costs down,therefore help lower rent for tenants, and better ensure that we have not overproduced the area with facilities that may not be required.

  • Provide people working at the GG and visitors with access to clean restrooms.
  • Make it easier for people to incorporate sustainable restroom ideas into daily life.
  • Provide some storage space for supplies, tools and products.
  • Minimize energy and water use through restroom design and use.
  • Minimize waste in our restroom management system.
  • Provide a center for recycling, compost and garbage.
  • Design an education program for employees that will describe our restroom and waste philosophies and practices. Education program will be modified with input from tenants.
  • Minimize the effort required to manage restrooms.
  • Connect with local suppliers, service providers and vendors effectively.
Strategy and Conceptual Design
  • Determine what you want to accomplish with restroom management system (such as access to clean facilities.)
  • Determine philosophies (such as a recycling/minimizing use/composting focus.)
  • Design restroom management space in building and/or nearby.
  • Determine elements of food program (such as recycling centers.)
  • Run prototypes of possible restroom management scenarios.

    • Paper hand towels

The largest single component of the waste stream in our restrooms is paper hand towels. Cloth towels were considered, but they would need frequent laundering and replacement. Hand dryers were considered, but they use and embody energy. Recycled paper hand towels are the best choice for us--and they can be composted instead of sent to a landfill.

On a recent visit to Steelcase in Grand Rapids, we discovered that they are composting the paper towels in their restrooms. Separate bins are set up to collect the towels. Betsy Hernandez has offered to share the Steelcase composting story.

Michigan Green Safe Products in Detroit sells recycled paper towels in several styles, and if we buy from them they can also collect and compost the used towels for an additional fee. We incorporate the used paper towels into our backyard composting system as a "brown" material. At home, you might use leaves, straw or shredded paper to make up the brown (carbon-rich) component of your compost pile. Our finished compost is used in the Green Alley and gardens around the building to enrich the soil. So far, we have about a cubic yard per year of finished compost to use in this way.

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    • Toilet paper

The second largest component of our restroom waste stream will probably be toilet paper. Since this is not an easily recoverable item, we are seeking a product that contains a high recycled content, or that is from a rapidly renewable source, and that quickly decomposes so as not to overwhelm our city sewers.

    • Hand soap

A natural, non-toxic, biodegradable hand soap is preferred. Anti-microbial ingredients are probably unnecessary and definitely controversial. A soap that minimizes packaging and fresh water use would be ideal. After looking around for a while, we found a product that is inexpensive and available at our local Target and other retail stores: Method Home and Personal Care. Method's hand soap dispensers are refillable, made from recycled plastics, and the refills are minimally packaged. The soap is made with mostly natural ingredients. This is what we chose for our restroom hand soap as our main supply.

    • Trash and recycling containers

The Doubletree hotel chain has trash cans in the guest rooms that are divided; one side is for recyclable items and the other side is for non-recyclable items. While the idea of one divide bin might work for us, the physical size of the Doubletree can is probably too small for us (about one cubic foot total), and it is expensive at $68 per unit. Both the Spurt and the Michigan Green Safe product lines have bio-degradable trash bags.

Proposed Materials / Suppliers
Development Story

The Restroom Management - Development Story page contains many images and videos documenting the process used at the Green Garage to design, build and operate our Restroom Management system.

Related Internal Links


To do

  • materials and suppliers need to be filled in when appropriate
  • resources will be filled in when appropriate

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