SEATTLE — A stack of old water-guzzling toilets piled up outside a Chinese herb shop in Seattle’s Rainer Valley neighborhood Wednesday.
Inside, herbalist Chan Yik Pan paused his careful measurements to watch as a new, super-efficient toilet wheeled past.
In total, 64 toilets were swapped out of King Plaza on Martin Luther King Jr. Way this week. It’s part of a special effort by Seattle Public Utilities to help small, ethnically owned businesses increase their conservation efforts.
“Collectively we’ll be saving King Plaza about a quarter of a million gallons of water annually,” said Arece Hampton, water conservation specialist for the agency.
Earlier this year specialists from Resource Venture conducted utility audits of the businesses at King Plaza and found that the old, inefficient toilets made up about 35 percent of the total water bill. Hampton said that with the new WaterSense-labeled toilets, business owners here could expect to see about a 20-to-30 percent drop in their utility bills.
It was that potential cost savings that caught property manager David Chen’s attention when representatives from Seattle Public Utilities offered to help him replace the aging toilets in King Plaza, which his family built in 1992. Chen expects his tenants to save a combined $5,000 per year.
Chen acknowledged that the toilet change-out project probably wouldn’t have been something he would have thought to do on his own.
“It’s not on your mind,” Chen said. “The economy is pretty weak so most people are just concerned about surviving. For small businesses, replacing a toilet is not really high on their priority list. It’s probably dependent on the landlord to do it and the cost can be prohibitive. But with the city subsidizing it, there’s a strong incentive for landlords to do it.”
And now that Chen has taken this step toward water conservation, he’s begun to take other steps as well.
“You start thinking about saving water from a toilet and then you start thinking about how to recycle more of your garbage as well,” Chen said. “Your mind goes into trying to save as well as being pro-environmental at the same time.”
The effort is part of Seattle Public Utilities’ “Get on the Map” program to help businesses become more environmentally friendly. About 140 Seattle businesses have qualified for the program. To qualify, businesses take actions such as recycling and composting, having a spill kit on hand and a plan to prevent oils, chemicals and other pollutants from entering stormwater drains, and installing water-saving fixtures such as high-efficiency toilets.
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