Discarded toilets in Seattle soon to flush in Latvia

January 01, 1995|By Seattle Post-Intelligencer

SEATTLE -- Flushed with success from its earlier recycling ventures, Seattle is moving into a new field: toilets.

The Emerald City is sending 200 used potties to Auce, Latvia, where they are to be used in a hospital. The unusual shipment was engineered by Mike Jansevics, a Latvian emigre who now lives in Shelton, Wash.

At his urging, the International Rotary Club is planning to renovate a three-story office building in Auce (pronounced ow-seh) for a hospital.

The not-really-portable potties were collected by the Seattle Water Department, which has begun paying commercial building owners $135 for each water-guzzling toilet replaced with a water-stingy one.

The department figured it would save money by avoiding or deferring the cost of building a new reservoir. To qualify for the rebate, a retiring toilet has to be flushed more than 30 times a day.

The used toilets have been piling up at the rate of 1,500 per year, said Al Dietemann, head of the rebate program.

"We didn't concentrate on how we'd dispose of them," said Mr. Dietemann. Plumbers were breaking them up and tossing the pieces in the trash, and that seemed a waste to Mr. Dietemann.

He placed an ad in a catalog for industrial materials, offering the toilets to developing countries. He got one call from a Chinese entrepreneur who apparently couldn't afford the shipping costs.

Mr. Jansevics heard about the ad from a fellow Rotarian, got government help with the shipping, and the Latvian deal was done.

It was the latest of a series of creative moves for the hospital.

The building is to be donated by Latvian's regional government, Mr. Jansevics said, and he has scrounged 50 beds from Vancouver Island. Swedish and American doctors will train the hospital staff.

The toilets were shipped from Seattle beginning last week.

"Like they say," Mr. Dietemann said with a chuckle, "one man's trash is another's treasure."

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