Most of us have had to deal with a plugged drain at some point. I have coped with many as a homeowner. What do you do when that shower or sink drain starts running slower and slower? Typically I end up at the store buying a bottle of chemicals which I can pour down the drain, wait a while (in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions) and then follow with the hottest water possible. This technique tends to work, but I think about the drains of 9 billion people being cleared this way, and the consequences of the use of valuable resources and the cost of cleaning the waste water of those nasty chemicals. (See a mathematical “thought tool” at the end of this article.) So what can I do differently, and how might we remedy the common clogged drain in the future?
Some chemical drain openers do more harm than good. In my first home, built in 1940, I had a sink that plugged up often, and for which the chemical method never seemed to work well. I bought a plumbing tool, a metal snake, which I tried, and it was only slightly more effective than the chemicals, besides being messy and smelly and a general pain in the rear. I eventually had to have some of the drain pipes replaced by a plumber, and then learned that the old dry crystal type of drain opener (which preceded the current liquid products) had crystallized inside the pipes, narrowing them with a deposit that was very much like rock. Obviously that wasn’t a great solution, but the chemical drain openers didn’t seem that much better. So what better solution might there be?
Minor innovations can yield big, ecologically responsible savings. I then went browsing through the plumbing section of my local superstore, where I had a revelation. Next to the plumbing tools was a device so simple and inexpensive, and yet so apparently effective, that I had to have one.
This was my big clue: a simple flat plastic stick with a loop handle on the end and some notches in the sides that can grab matted hair and other stuff plugging a drain and break it loose. It’s flexible enough to snake down through twisty pipes, long enough to reach through most drain traps, and a bargain at twice the price – it’s only $1.99. Also, it looks like it could last for many years and survive many uses. When I consider that this tool requires only the chemicals needed to create the plastic and costs a quarter or less of the cost of a single chemical drain opener application, it’s a clear ecological winner.
This is the kind of solution we need for a better future. When there are 9 billion people in the world there won’t be enough chemicals to go around, or enough money as those chemicals can be expected to be much more expensive than today. Many solutions like this one are yet to be discovered, and while this one isn’t really new, but only a redesign of the standard metal plumber’s snake, it is a big reduction in cost and somewhat more convenient for the user as well. To find more solutions like these we need better education and more research, as this tool would not have been possible without decades of research into plastics, and that research is most effectively be done by well-educated people.
What can you and I do? We can vote for candidates who support public education and basic research, neither of which are supported by the huge business entities that dominate politics and government today, and we can tell our candidates and representatives how important education and research are to us and the future of our friends and families. Call and write to them, please, as your voice and vote are the most powerful means available for you to promote a better future. Hope for the future lies in the voices of the billions of voters and consumers in the world, as well as the creativity inherent in all humans, and we should never forget that. We can each be a part of the solution, even though we can’t avoid being part of the global problem.
Thought Tool: The Simple Math
If in the future we have a population of 9 billion people, and one drain for every two people (a conservative estimate, I think), that means there will be 4.5 billion drains. If 10% of those drains plug up every year (another very conservative estimate) that means 450 million drains will plug, requiring attention. If (reading the manufacturer’s directions from a bottle of common drain opener) clearing a drain requires 3 cups (24 fl. oz. or 0.1875 U.S. gallons) of chemicals, that means the world will need 0.1875 X 450 million, or 84.375 million gallons of chemicals every year JUST TO KEEP THE DRAINS OPEN. At $8 per bottle, which I remind you is today’s cost, that will cost humanity $675 million per year. Actual cost by then may be 3 to 10 times that due to resource shortages, if chemical drain openers are even permitted or available then.
One “The Stick” drain opener costs $1.99, and if it lasts 10 years it might be used to open 5 drains per year, or about 50 drains in all. If a bottle of drain opener costs $8 and opens two drains, that’s a cost of $4 per use. That means that the plastic drain opening tool replaces 50 uses X $4, or $200 worth of drain opening chemicals. And that doesn’t include the cost of removing the chemicals from our waste water, which is substantial and paid for by our taxes. Any time I can take care of a $200 problem for $2 I count it as a major success. Now … how can we find more of these opportunities?
As always, your comments are welcomed, and thanks for reading — Tim