Planet Poop, ‘We have a problem!’ Before we look at alternative uses for human and animal poop as promised last week, there’s the human poop lifecycle, a major global problem that we ought to flag up first. Since the earliest records of sanitation during the Mesopotamian civilisation flourished in the Euphrates River area (modern-day Iraq, Iran, and Syria.) Effectively, from 4000-2500 BCE until today, a) 25% + of the world population still has no access to basic sanitation and/or water, this means open defecation and a lack of hygiene that needs addressing, and b) those of us that have toilets and sewerage systems are using gallons of fresh water to flush and producing a mountain of poop that needs to be properly managed (in unison with continuing research and improvements) at sewage plants.
If we don’t resolve this and better manage all the animal waste (which account for about 80% of the world’s poop) as well as human waste, then the world faces a huge problem. Even if it were possible to have the majority of animal waste reused as fertiliser (which it presently isn’t), scientists say this is a major environment and health problem that urgently needs addressing. Think air pollution, water pollution, climate change, the dumping of excess waste and waste can poison wildlife, aquatic life and then ultimately enter the human food chain.
The Sh*t Hits the Fan. As the impact of bad management, lack of planning, investment and foresight, has little improved since the dawn of civilisation, now, as it was back then, rivers and oceans (today incinerated or in high cost landfill) still seem to be the major disposal options and therefore account for the many of the problems and challenges mentioned above. While urine and faeces do potentially have a wide range of applications they are not being given the attention and funding they deserve. Looking at the primary uses, it can provide nutrients for diverse ecosystems, be used as fertiliser or for soil conditioning in agriculture, burned as fuel, or dried and used in construction. Some medicinal uses have also been found.
A Mountain of Mess. Most importantly the big question of what to do with the growing mountain of waste is still largely ignored and remains unanswered. There’s just so much animal poop (primarily) but also human waste out there, that the shit has already hit the fan and it’s spinning off at an alarming rate. The proper disposal of human and animal waste is a major sanitation problem in the Third World and elsewhere, both in its quantity and as a serious health hazard. We’ll need improved international policies, investment, communication, and state-of-the-art technologies to address the impacts this has on global health. If we want to live sustainably and save the poor the planet and the environment we, as well as the industry, need to keep taking this subject very seriously and driving change.
Poo with a Purpose. When you get to the bottom of it there are some huge benefits in reusing sh*t, or getting creative with it that can greatly contribute to reducing the impact on our ecosystem. One major difference between human and animal faeces is how much of it is produced. ‘The average human produces around 1/4 – 1lb of poop [up to 1/2kg] per day. That’s in stark contrast to animals such as a cow 65lbs [30kg] per day or an elephant 100lbs [50kg] or even a pig 11lbs [5kg] as other recognisable examples.’ Just to expand on this to give a better overall picture, ruminant animals like cows also produce emissions when they belch or pass gas. In terms of these manure and global warming the chief offenders are beef and dairy cattle which produce about 62% of it. Put simply, livestock manure, which is the organic nitrogen that is excreted from animals is either deposited directly on pastures during grazing, or is collected, stored and processed. That treated manure then becomes available for application to agricultural soils, mostly land for crops. But whatever the stats and processes in all this, it’s collectively an enormous problem, so why aren’t we really ‘Getting our sh*t together?’
How can we #BeMoreDungBeetle and become better at waste recycling? As mentioned above, faeces can be used as fertiliser or soil conditioner in agriculture. It can also be burned as fuel, i.e. used to produce combustible gases such as methane, or dried and used for construction. Flies actually have a positive use in converting human waste into chicken feed (there’s a reassuring explanation;)) We’ve selected a few of the more recent articles that further enlightened us on what’s going on and where. We’ll get back to this subject in more depth again as the lesson we took from all of this is that we must continue redefining ‘waste’ and finding alternative applications.
- ‘A Proposal for Recycling the World’s Unused Stockpiles of Treated Wastewater Sludge (Biosolids) in Fired-Clay Bricks‘ from Buildings via MDPI, started appearing in the press in early 2019. While there are still some issues to iron out with the prototypes, it remains a strong possibility that a % mixed with the clay could still work, in other words biosolid-bricks are a topic worth keeping an eye on. We contacted Professor Abbas Mohajerani at RMIT who led on the paper and are just awaiting an update.
- There’s a company that’s setting a fine example with Human Waste Briquettes. It’s called Sanivation and they collect human waste from special toilets and turn it into sustainable fuel, which improves sanitation and reduces the environmental impact of burning wood. They partner with local governments to help meet the growing waste processing need from septic tanks and pit latrines. Sanivation design, build, and operate treatment plants so that they can be operationally sustainable. The plants transform faecal sludge into biomass fuels.
- Human Poop as fertiliser: [Additional updates to original article June 5. 2020., ‘Human poop as crop fertilizer?’ and from The Sacramento Bee, ‘From rabbit poop to tomatoes, a new vegetable swap has a little of everything.’
- Back to construction, on the BBC back in 2019, ‘Would you buy a home made from poo?‘ Where a Thames Water sewage plant in Beckton, East London used the waste to power electricity and they were producing ‘bricks’ in an effort to have a more positive effect on our planet and the environment.
- Animal Magic. In 2017 (as data is often not so immediate) The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN reported ‘ The largest share of total livestock manure Nitrogen inputs were in Asia (35%) and Africa (25%), followed by South America (16%), Europe (10%), North America and Oceania (4%).‘ So manure for fertiliser is still a biggie, and set to keep growing.
- Sheep, shearing sh*t is big business, literally! Aidan Smith for Farm Weekly explains, ‘Crawling under a shearing shed with a vacuum cleaner hose to suck sheep manure out doesn’t seem appealing to a lot of people.’ Aidan commented to us that, ‘The manure is usually spread out on the farm as fertiliser or for the home gardens etc.‘
Biodiversity, a Problem with an Opportunity! We’ve only really touched the surface but wanted to put these thoughts in your mind, and as you can imagine there’s a lot of this to wade through. Having mentioned ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ it’s time to look at ‘The Shit Museum‘ officially known as ‘Museo della Merda‘ in Italy [mentioned in a previous post.] If you wanted to wrap up all that we’re trying to put across, in one place that you can go see for yourself, then look no further. Pottery, energy, fertiliser and foresight…
‘In the province of Piacenza, on a farm which makes milk for Grana Padano cheese and includes seven production units. Here every day 3,500 specially selected cows produce around 50,000 litres of milk and 150,000 kilos of dung. Under Locatelli’s management, this quantity of excreta started to be transformed into a futuristic ecological, productive and cultural project. Using highly innovative systems, electrical energy started to be produced from the manure. Today the farm produces up to three megawatts per hour. The buildings and offices of the farm are heated exploiting the warmth given off by the digesters as they turn manure into energy. Not to mention the fertiliser produced. All these activities have drawn attention from various international institutions concerned with ecology and innovation, leading to widespread recognition and prizes, and making Castelbosco a point of reference.‘ Click here to find out more!
The Biggest Little Farm: While we’re on this subject, do watch (if you haven’t already) the recent Amazon release from back in 2018/19, ‘The Biggest Little Farm‘ where on barren land about an hour north of Los Angeles, a couple along with an expert mentor started to create a farm. This enchanting documentary is particularly poignant in these current times, as you witness an earthly paradise and imagine a new ‘Garden of Eden Project.’ This ecological restoration provides an environmental diversity for plants, humans and animals to coexist as nature does its thing. Apricot Lane Farm, is a farm for organic food production it’s a 200 acre biome of balance and sustainability. True to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ they must ‘meet with both triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.’ It is, as you’ll see, bringing hope for a better future.
Finally, in addition to this weeks main article, let’s quickly look at the work of Jim Bachor, a talented mosaic artist in Chicago, USA who has been getting very creative with potholes. One mosaic particularly caught our attention, it’s a sign of the times and as posts about loos and no. 2s are totally up our street (pothole pun intended) we didn’t want you to miss out on this. Also, mosaics and bathroom history also flow perfectly with the theme of one of our children’s books about the history of the toilet ‘It’s All About Poo!’ and so we loved Jim’s similar arty and humorous approach to an issue that drives most of us mad – potholes. But let’s start with a little more detail about mosaics. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia mosaics first emerged in the Bronze Age and subsequently with patterns resembling mosaics dating back to the 8th century BC in the Middle East and the 5th century BC in Greece. Things got more colourful when the Romans commonly used mosaics to decorate homes and public buildings, often in flooring.
As Jim explains about his work, ‘Trying to leave your mark in this world fascinates me. Ancient history fascinates me. Volunteering to work on an archaeological dig in Pompeii helped merge these two interests into my art. In the ancient world, mosaics were used to capture images of everyday life. Using the same materials, tools and methods of the archaic craftsmen, I create mosaics that speak of modern things in an ancient voice.‘ We have a mosaic timeline along the river Thames by Queenhithe dock, part of which you can see below, and hopefully these images might remind you of how bad waste management has been for thousands of years, but also to maybe inspire you to think about a mosaic in your bathroom designs. With Jim’s toilet roll embedded forever on the bathroom floor or wall, you’ll never be without tp ever again!
More news next week. Thanks for following us. Do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you, or get any updates, insights or suggestions on this, past or future posts e. firstname.lastname@example.org