July 18, 2013 by John Crapper
As Poop John the First I am called on to look at things from an ass-forward, bottoms up, waste-end first perspective. Consequently, I tend to see things a little differently than most people and reach some different conclusions as a result.
Humans are amazing in lots of ways. Our intelligence enables us to accomplish incredible things such as our technological and engineering achievements, our literary and musical masterpieces and our medical advances to name a few. We view ourselves as being special, our religions preach to us that we are, and we are surrounding by things we have done in this world that convince us it is true.
We cherish human life and go to great lengths to preserve it. When we die we have elaborate rituals to handle our remains. We wouldn’t think of disposing of a person’s remains in the same way we throw out the trash. Elaborate ceremonies are conducted to honor the dead before their placement in their final resting place. A proper burial is believed to be a sacred right of passage for the deceased. We anoint, bless, pray, sing, give speeches and place flowers as a means to properly say goodbye to our loved ones. Our bodies, our remains, are returned to Earth in the most respectable, dignified and reverent ways we can concoct because they are viewed as special and deserving of such treatment.
In light of this, I find it just a little odd the way we treat our own waste. In all other aspects of ourselves in comparison to animals we consider ourselves superior. Yet when it comes to our excrement we coil away from our own as if it was some lethal substance requiring immediate isolation from us for our own protection and survival.
Doesn’t it follow that if we consider ourselves superior to animals we should consider our excrement superior too? Shouldn’t it be considered more valuable? Shouldn’t it be handled with greater reverence? Shouldn’t we want to do something with it other than flush it into a sewer system where it is mixed with all kinds of industrial pollutants and contaminants? Since we are so special shouldn’t we naturally want to put anything coming forth from us to good use? Shouldn’t we consider our shit the best shit in town? We care a great deal about what goes into our bodies. We think our bodies are wonderful machines yet when we expel what our wonderful bodies can’t use we consider the process of it having passed through our wonderful bodies as turning it into something repulsive and toxic.
We consider ourselves rational beings capable of high level thought but it seems to me this particular rationality is totally irrational. When it comes to thinking about what comes out of our asses we are illogical and ass-backward.
Think about this for just a minute. In our stores we can buy multiple kinds of manure mixtures. We buy chicken manure, steer manure and dairy manure to spread on our vegetable gardens and planting beds. I’m a gardener and every year I buy a product called Booster Blend which is a 50/50 mixture of dairy manure and compost and gleefully spread it throughout my gardens each year. It’s a great fertilizer!
But our own excrement we flush down the toilet as quickly as we can considering it to be only disgusting waste and of no use. Animal poop is not as repulsive to us as our own, yet we consider ourselves superior. When they die do we go through the elaborate rituals afforded to humans? Do we handle their bodies with as much reverence as our own?
We have major problems with how we view and handle our own excrement and I contend it is causing us big problems. It is causing us to treat our own waste in a very ass-backward way. That needs to change. Our excrement is, in fact, just as valuable as the manure coming out of a chicken or cow. We need to come to terms with that and have a major attitude adjustment in our thinking in this regard. The concept and technology we need to start thinking about in this country is called ecological sanitation.
Globally, the practices of ecological sanitation have been a fact of life for many years in many developing parts of the world. For example, in China, it has been practiced for centuries.
However, the development of ecological sanitation in the Unites States is in its infancy. Composting toilet use can be mainly seen only in rural areas.
Most composting toilets used do not separate urine from the feces. ” All manufactured American composting toilets today combine urine, except one, “Nature’s Head”, which is designed for use on boats and has only been available since 2007 (Nature’s Head, 2010).”
“The law presents a major barrier in the USA to adoption of many ecological practices. Many sustainable practices, like greywater, rainwater, and composting toilets, are illegal under local and state building regulations. Because of this, early adopters of ecological practices in the United States are often breaking local or state laws. Though most do so without consequence, there is a history of a few “pioneers” being fined, losing property, and being forced to remove the unpermitted projects (Kettmanm, 2009).”
Although both our feces and urine are valuable resources and in the perfect world should be treated that way, in the real world accomplishing this is a daunting task both in terms of infrastructure and social acceptance. Initially, rather than trying to change our culture to embrace and implement all proven ecological sanitation procedures from the outset it might be more feasible to tackle its implementation in a more modest step-by-step phased-in fashion. Under this approach the practice of urine reuse would be promoted and implemented first.
“Urine reuse is gaining attention at the global level as scientists, agronomists, backyard gardeners, and development professionals look to this universally available substance for solutions to a variety of water and sanitation problems. Urine collection reduces toilet water use by as much as 80% by decreasing flushes (Larsen, et. al., 2001). This reduction in water use is not hard to imagine. Just think about the amount of water used flushing the urinals at any major sporting or entertainment event in the men’s bathroom on any given weekend. Just think of the water used flushing the urinals in all the bars across the country. It boggles the mind!
Urine collection would also reduce energy needed by sewer treatment plants to remove nitrogen (Wilsenach and van Loosdrecht, 2006). “Plant nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, can be captured from urine and used as agricultural fertilizer, reducing demand for chemical fertilizers. Each adult produces an estimated 1.5 liters per day, (WHO, 2006) which contains about 4 kg of nitrogen, 0.36 kg phosphorus, and 1 kg potassium per year. This amount is enough to fertilize about 300‐400 square meters of crop for each person (Jonsson et. al. 2004). The range of low‐cost options for collection makes backyard urine reuse accessible for all income levels and for both renters and homeowners.
For backyard gardeners, urine reuse would provide a free source of fertilizer while at the same time reducing household water consumption due to fewer toilet flushes . (Allen, L., and Conant, J. 2010)
Recent research also shows that urine may be an efficient source of hydrogen for energy (Boggs et al. 2009).”
As a first step on the road to changing our sanitation system to a sustainable green system the USA could and should encourage urine reuse by making appropriate legal changes to make the practice clearly legal, take steps to educate the public to increase public acceptance of the practice and provide incentives for its implementation into urban areas.
We need to bring back the piss pot!
Allen, L., and Conant, J.: Backyard Urine Recycling in the United
States of America: An Assessment of Methods and Motivations, PDF, April 2010
Boggs, B., King, R., and Botte, G. (2009): Urea electrolysis: direct hydrogen production from urine‐ Chem. Commun., 2009, 4859 ‐ 4861, DOI: 10.1039/b905974a
Josson, H., Richert Stintzing, A., Vinneras, B., and Salomon, E. (2004) Guildelines on the use of urine and faeces in crop production, EcoSanRes Publications Series, Report 2004‐2, Sweden.
Kettmanm, M. (2009): Getting Grief for Going Green, The Santa Barbara Independent, Sep. 10th, 2009
Larsen, T., Peters, I., Alder, A., Eggen, R., Maurer, M., and Muncke, J. (2001): Re‐engineering the toilet for sustainable wastewater management. Environ Science Technology May 1, 2001 / Volume 35 , Issue 9 / pp 192 A – 197 A. T.
Nature’s Head (2010): Composting Toilets for Marine, RV, Cabins, and Trucks. A Nature’s Head Composting Toilet, http://www.natureshead.net/store/index.phpmain_page=pr oduct_info&products_id=1 (date of visit: 3 February, 2010).
Wilsenach, J., and Van Loosdrecht, M., (2006): Integration of Processes to Treat Wastewater and Source‐Separated Urine‐ Journal of Environmental Engineering, vol 132, p 331
WHO, (2006): Guidelines for the Safe Use of Wastewater, Excreta and Greywater. Volume 4: Excreta and greywater use in agriculture. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
Backyard Urine Recycling in the United States of America: An Assessment of Methods and Motivations
This paper discusses the newly emerging urine harvesting movement in the United States of America.
Authors: L. Allen, J. Conant April 2010
- An Argument for Ecological Sanitation – “Ecosan” (bopdesigner.com)
- Poop dreams: A farmer on why we should care about manure (grist.org)
- 3 Composting Toilets for Green Building and LEED (green-buildings.com)