Sustainable Development was defined in 1987 by the Brundtland Commission as development that ‘meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Defra defines Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) as a means to achieving economic growth whilst respecting environmental limits, finding ways to minimise damage to the natural world and making use of the earth’s resources in a sustainable way.
As part of Defra’s work on SCP, ten roadmaps are being developed to identify sustainability impacts and to propose corrective interventions across a range of environmentally ‘challenging’ products and services, including the subject of this study; water closets (WCs).
On first consideration, the major environmental impacts of WCs would seem to be the large amount of water used during operation over their lifetime, together with the subsequent waste water treatment and the associated pumping of the materials to and from the WC. It would appear that the chief and obvious means to assuage environmental impacts is simply to reduce water usage.
However, if the best means to reduce water usage were to involve replacing WCs, matters become more complicated, because of the impacts of producing new units, scrapping perfectly serviceable, if less efficient, old units and all the associated transport. Taking all these impacts into account, perhaps it would be better just to use the extra water?
This study will gather available evidence on the environmental and social impacts associated with WCs across their entire life-cycle, from extracting the raw materials used to make the WCs, through their usage, to the disposal of the WCs at end of life. Together, the collated information will identify where in the life-cycle the major impacts occur, and will be used to investigate, for example, how the number of years over which a WC is used can affect its overall impacts.
The study will go on to examine the effectiveness of current attempts to reduce the identified impacts, and to recommend any further interventions that can make a real difference. This will be the key output of the project – a list of steps that can be taken to reduce the environmental and social impacts of WCs.