The miso standard
The toilet industry is going away from using 3/4-inch plastic balls to test flushing capabilities in favor of rounded-up miso @ $200 per KG tube.
That seems weird. But I don't get why they use rounded shape stuff. Most of the stuff I put in the toilet is shaped, well, like a banana.
Toilet industry battles over testing standards
Thursday, December 08, 2005 | By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, The Wall Street Journal
For decades, the toilet industry had a standard way of testing a toilet's flushing capabilities: tossing 3/4-inch plastic balls into the bowl and pulling the handle. But there was one problem: Toilets that are fantastic at flushing down 3/4-inch plastic balls sometimes falter under real-world conditions.
A few years ago, researchers began pondering a better test. After scouring grocery aisles for alternatives, they settled on using miso, which is made primarily of cooked soybeans.
Now, a group of water utilities and plumbing companies is pushing to make the miso test the new standard. This month, the group, which includes Kohler Co. and American Standard Cos., is rolling out a set of rules called UNAR -- that is Uniform North American Requirements for toilet fixtures -- which lay out a flushing standard that toilets have to meet. A key element of the suggested rules, which also include standards for toilet parts, is the use of a miso paste in testing.
The consortium's hope is that municipal water authorities across the country use the test to determine which toilets qualify for water-saving rebates. A growing number of cities and counties are encouraging homeowners to trade in water-guzzling toilets for more-efficient models. Ultimately, the consortium seeks something similar to the "Energy Star" label on appliances -- toilets would have the UNAR stamp only if manufacturers got them checked out by an independent testing company.
But not all manufacturers are crazy about the new test. They say it's more expensive. Plastic balls are reuseable; miso isn't. A 20-kilogram tub of the stuff costs about $200. This works out to just over $5 per test on a toilet, estimates Susan Hunter, manager of product development and quality assurance at Gerber Plumbing Fixtures LLC, which advocates using a variety of tests. And companies typically test a toilet hundreds of times with various media before putting a model on the market.
Even supporters of the test worry that there may be too much emphasis and importance being placed on the miso test. "It's a very good indicator," says Kathryn Streeby, a marketing manager at Kohler. "This, however, is just one in a battery of tests that we use to gauge a toilet's total performance."
The current focus on the miso test is part of an increasing fixation on flushing efficiency dating to the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which required that all toilets sold use only 1.6 gallons of water per flush. The standard before that had been 3.5 gallons, but toilets from the 1950s used as much as 5 to 7 gallons per flush. (According to the Environmental Protection Agency, toilets are the largest water user in any home.)
The new standard immediately put greater value on coming up with ways to avoid things like clogging and wasteful double-flushing -- common problems with many of the early 1.6-gallon models. Since 1978, toilet makers had been using the plastic-ball test, which involved dropping 100 balls into the toilet; the toilet had to dispose of at least 75 in one flush to pass.
But as pressure for better low-flow toilets mounted, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and toilet manufacturers began developing additional testing methods, such as dropping in sponges and tightly balled-up toilet paper to test for clogging. Seeking an even more accurate test, water-conservation groups approached Veritec Consulting Inc., a Canadian engineering company, which came up with the miso test.
Flushing-efficiency tests are purely voluntary -- besides the government's 1.6-gallon rule, there isn't any other toilet-related regulation that is enforceable. But if municipal water authorities start adopting UNAR, manufacturers will be required to have their toilets independently tested using miso if they want their toilets to qualify.
Many companies already supplement the plastic-ball test with their own methods. For instance, German manufacturer Villeroy & Boch uses sawdust and plastic granules.
But more U.S. toilet makers, including Gerber and American Standard, have gradually begun using miso, shaped into cylinders, in tests. Many started after Veritec began independently testing various toilets using the substance. Japanese toilet maker Toto Ltd., for its part, says it's been using the substance to test its toilets for at least 40 years. Most manufacturers are careful to call the substance "soybean media" at the request of the miso merchants who sell the product. (The miso companies also insist that toilet makers not mention their names in connection with their testing.)
Several water authorities familiar with the miso test and the UNAR proposal are supportive. Christopher O. Ward, commissioner of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, has written an open letter to the water-utility community endorsing UNAR, though he hasn't weighed in on the merits of miso.
Cindy Hanson, senior water resource specialist with the San Diego County Water Authority, says her agency will likely use UNAR as the yardstick when determining which high-efficiency toilets qualify for their voucher program.
In the meantime, to address manufacturer concerns about cost and nudge more of them toward soybean testing, Veritec recently began selling its miso product in reusable latex tubes. While these new versions don't work as well as the original, disposable version, water agencies and conservationists say they're still better than the little plastic balls.