Posts by markhendriksen

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“The only thing we have to fear is… fear of the rear itself.” Bidets are back…

‘When Did you and the Bidet First Meet?‘ According to the majority of dictionaries a Bidet is still described as, ‘A small, low bath in which a person washes the lower part of their body.’ That’s exactly how I remember seeing a ‘bidet’ for the first time in a relative’s bathroom. I didn’t have a dictionary to hand, there was no, ‘Okay Google…’ so I figured it was time to introduce myself. With the bathroom door firmly locked I checked out the white stand-alone low-level oval porcelain tub with taps. Positioned between the bath tub and the toilet, why would I even think about shuffling from the WC (with my trousers around my ankles) to go wash my bum? I guessed it was for washing my feet and I did. I ended up using 3 rolls of toilet paper to mop up the shower of water I’d sent cascading across the floor and took five attempts to flush the soggy evidence down the toilet. Departing none the wiser, until my second acquaintance on a trip to France by which time I’d figured it out and finally, in Japan, I got to feel the real deal. The question that struck me most, prior to trying out a bidet was, ‘Why having grown up with toilet paper would I want one?’ But the new bidets are easy to install, hygienic and above all they’re changing peoples perspectives.

Why Bidets Got a Bum Rap. Way before my first encounter, America a big potential market for bidets, had failed to adopt them (the low-level sit and wash version) because they got a bum rap. Many Americans associated the stand-alone bidet with sex-workers, having seen them being used in European brothels during World War II. The question of space and additional plumbing for bidet fixtures in, ‘the smallest room‘ didn’t help its cause either, added to which the use of toilet paper was gathering pace. Travelling even further back in time, long before the Romans sat in their rows of toilets with a ‘sponge on a stick‘ to mop up after themselves, the world was already awash with ‘washers.’ The options for the finishing touches included; stones, leaves, grass, corn cobs, animal furs, sticks, snow, bits of porcelain, seashells or simply your hand.

Toilet Paper is ‘On a Roll.’ The Chinese are credited with inventing the new alternative, toilet paper, as far back as 1391 and by the late fifteenth century it was widely available throughout China. Fast forward to 1596 and, rather like computers, the invention of the modern WC/Toilet provided the hardware for a wider audience. The software sales (toilet paper) took a further 260 years to take off when eventually in 1857, Joseph Gayetty of New York, marketed a modern commercially available toilet paper, ‘Medicated Paper, for the Water-Closet.‘ The first perforated toilet paper rolls were finally introduced in 1890 and by 1930 toilet paper was widely manufactured and ‘splinter free.’ Since then toilet paper has gone ‘on a roll‘ (pun intended) for wipers worldwide as being, ‘The go to, when you go do!‘. The appearance of toilets in every home coupled with improvements to the softness and strength of toilet paper and its extensive sales and marketing went on to influence a social change, and social conditioning in countries like the US and UK (still two of the leading wiper countries.) With bidets (in their original format) failing to take off and get deep enough into the human psyche, the momentum was lost and led to a generation of toilet owners (in the USA, UK, much of Europe and many East Asian countries) becoming keen wipers and subsequently dedicated toilet paper users. Until now that is…

Douche and Dab’ or Wipe. It’s a long time since bidets first appeared in France back in the late 17th century, and although the first flushable toilet was invented in England (1596) WCs/Toilets didn’t gain popularity until 1851. It took approx. 100 years longer to establish themselves in the modern world. In 1980, the first ‘paperless toilet‘ was launched in Japan by manufacturer Toto. Since the 1980s technology, design and functionality have gone on to transform the product, the experience and the accessibility of both toilets and bidets. In regards to ‘wash vs wipe,’ billions of ‘washers‘ around the world had their cleaning experience happily established for ages. In many parts of the world [e.g. South East Asia, The Middle East, India and some European countries] washing has always been the preference over wiping. Their culture is a flip on the way ‘wiping society‘ thinks with our reliance on toilet tissue. For the residents of many nations, washing with either bowls, ‘bum guns’ (washing wands) and/or bidets are ‘the main event,’ the toilet paper is the ‘(back) side show,’ or even a complete no show. In trying to persuade people, it’s far easier to ‘upgrade’ a habitual and established washing method, rather than change the habits of a lifetime, i.e. get them to exchange ‘douche and dab,’ for the waterless wipes with toilet paper. Quite understandably when you put it like that.

Team Wipe vs Team Wash. This has meant that for some while ‘Team Wipe‘ have been sitting on their backsides (so to speak) focussing on how they could upgrade their own experience with things like softer or more eco-friendly tissue options. Meanwhile, manufacturers and designers for ‘Team Wash‘ have been coming up with a range of smart new inventions and health benefits to enhance their offering. You’ll no doubt be familiar with toilets with built in bidets, and functions such as; wash, dry, self-clean, funky lighting, music, automatic seat open and close, health checks and a whole lot more. But hey, I hear you! 😉 ‘That’s all very well but it’s not so easy to make the switch if your current set up is a standard toilet, plus toilet roll holder(s)… and there’s a great range of toilet rolls to choose from these days.’ Okay, let’s get to the bottom of all this.

Changing Your Perspective. The recent panic buying and fear of running out of toilet tissue has been a timely opportunity to grab the wiping world’s attention with alternatives to just using toilet paper. For the toilet paper consumer as it were, trying to sell something to ‘attach to a toilet and wash your butt,’ is no easy task. There have been various attachable bidet patents and inventions dating back to the late 1800s, the most recent appears to be from 2010. Having said that, only in the past few years have ‘attachable bidets‘ begun to get spotted by the ‘wiping community.’ The outbreak of coronavirus led to toilet paper ‘shortages,’ and then the closure of many public toilets left people with another dilemma, ‘how to go on the go.‘ Media attention turned from toilet paper to bidets as a solution with more and more headlines and greater press coverage (yep, there’s even a travel version in case you’re caught short outside). Once the public had embraced the possibilities of a bidet and were loving the buzz of other ‘new’ peripheral toilet temptations (Aesop Post-Poo Drops or Poo-Pourri as examples) the whole bathroom experience began to inspire a new audience, a wider following and a big fan base. Perspective has changed.

The Generation Game Changer. That game-changer (life-changer) for ‘the wipers’ has a lot to do with the coming of age of ‘attachable bidets‘ and for many Millennials and Generation Z they make total sense. With no history, nor necessarily any memory of ye olde off-putting bidets, ‘The Attachables‘ are grabbing their attention, and this generation are technologically immersed, care about planet earth and constantly discussing the endless list of environmental issues. Another advantage, if you rent your home, is that this is an inexpensive way to get a bidet installed, and take it with you anywhere you go. In exploring the world of attachable bidets there are some brilliantly designed alternatives out there, with all sorts of functions for all sorts of people. However, making a bidet appealing enough to promote change isn’t just about what it does, ‘it’s about what it does for you.‘ That vital part of the persuasive process takes a brilliant marketeer [Miki Agrawal] and an innovative new approach [TUSHY.]

Reasons to be Cheerful not Fearful. One of the other reasons for the attachable bidets new resurgence and success is its simplicity, in 10 minutes you can easily convert your current toilet into a bidet and… it looks good too. Costs vary but a ‘classic‘ starts at around $89 (approx. 60-100 rolls in toilet paper money;)) making it very affordable. That’s quite tempting vs the considerably greater expense of having to buy and fit a completely new smart toilet/bidet with wash, dry and other multi-functionality built in. But fear not toilet paper fans, bidets do not necessarily equate to ‘no toilet paper whatsoever’ because with bidet attachments you’ll still need to dry up afterwards. The preferred methods being toilet paper (biodegradable) or bum towels (ideally bamboo in both cases.) After all, whatever age, you’ll still have your toilet rolls (or bum-towels) close to hand. You decide how much toilet paper you use and/or how often you get to use the bidet – so sit back, relax, and… ‘ease your way into your new bidet.

Hello TUSHY. Let’s get back to ‘TUSHY.’ Founded by Canadian born New Yorker Miki Agrawal back in 2015. Miki, CEO Jason Ojalvo and their team have been making a big splash by changing consumer perceptions (and misconceptions) about using a bidet, or ‘making a clean start‘ so to speak. Miki, whose parents are Indian and Japanese (so she knows about bidets and the washing ways) is a disruptive innovator whose marketing approach mixes, ‘hygiene + humour, entertainment + environment‘ which confronts and cuts through traditional taboos and bravely challenges the status quo. ‘TUSHY‘ have jumped the obstacles and put attachable bidets ‘front of mind for your behind.’ Apart from convincing people that using a bidet is the best way to clean your butt, and in spite of the stiff competition, they’ve got a lot of people’s attention! The TUSHY bidet attachment is also environmentally friendly, squeaky clean, saves you money, it’s fun, totally natural to use, and it makes you feel, ‘It’s the way to go if you’re in the know.’

Health, Hygiene and Environment. Environmentally the big plus about bidets is they save water, a lot of water. Another is ‘Trees vs Bamboo’ as millions of trees are cut down to make toilet paper, check our article, ‘Is Wiping our Bottoms Wiping out Forests?’ Bamboo offers a sustainable future. As numerous stats clearly illustrate bidets are good for the environment, healthier and the most hygienic self-care option. But tell that to people a couple of years ago and ‘yer, right!’ The fact is it’s Miki has managed to get that message out there, got it across and got it to stick. The ‘better for you‘ factor is backed up by a long list of positive personal stuff that’s going to benefit us by using one including; not using our hands and/or spreading germs around, avoiding haemorrhoids, washing with water is non-abrasive, it can help with IBS, UTI’s and periods… quite a lot of which gets covered in their most recent (and amusing) advert, ‘Time To Get With The Clean Poop Program, People.’

The TUSHY Talk

Taking the ‘Boo!’ out of ‘Taboo.’ It would be fair to say that in my personal opinion, in terms of converting the unconverted and taking the ‘Boo!‘ out of ‘Taboo,‘ TUSHY (with their bidet attachments, bamboo tp, bum towels and travel bidet) are currently the greatest influence in moving washing back to the no. 1 spot for our no. 2s and suchlike. But there’s another great ‘finishing touch’ to the TUSHY story and that’s the fact Miki Agrawal is also a philanthropist, ‘TUSHY is passionate about fighting the global sanitation crisis and has helped almost 60,000 families gain access to clean toilets in India.’ TUSHY, ‘Thank you from the bottom of our hearts… and the hearts of our bottoms!’

We’ll be back in a week or two with another of our independent takes on the world of taboos, loos and no. 2s… As ever do get in touch with any comments or feedback. Have a great weekend! Well be back in a couple of weeks as heading off to our B&B in Corfu to check all’s well.

[All photos in the article are copyright of HelloTUSHY]

‘Finishing Touches.’ The touch-free future of our Public Toilets & Restrooms.

‘We want to make an impact on human wellbeing, by changing the definition of a toilet break. ‘ OneHundredRestrooms

How easy is it to lose touch? As demand for touchless products increases, could bathrooms be entirely touchfree and perhaps, more importantly since coronavirus could we see more TouchFree Public Toilets, office buildings and common public areas. This week we’ll take a brief look at everything from the more familiar touchfree moments, such as ‘automatic doors, taps, soap dispensers and hand dryers’ to the less imaginable ‘totally touchfree toilets’ featuring lids that open and close automatically, automated washing and drying functions, self-flushing and cleaning.

Public Inconvenience. A public inconvenience has recently been experienced, spotlighted and amplified by the closures of numerous public toilets following the outbreak of coronavirus. We touched on this in our article, ‘Beauty Spots’ where to go when there’s nowhere to go? ‘ on June 4th. Press and media reports on the subject caused much debate as closures headlined around the world. To distinguish, when we talk about ‘Public Toilets‘ we refer to old and new stand-alone ‘wash+WCs’ in parks or on street corners, which are by far the most challenging to manage and improve. The others, which we’ll refer to as ‘Toilets for the Public,’ are the ‘restrooms‘ that sit within shopping malls, airports (public transport hubs) and similar private/public spaces, petrol stations, restaurants, bars, hotels and offices. The majority of which are ordinarily far better managed by nature of their locations, constant checking, attendants, higher quality fixtures and fittings, hygiene and cleanliness, and the all-important key to their overall success… funding, or clever funding models.

Why do Public Toilets Matter? There’s reams of government information about the provision and accessibility of public toilets and the importance to us all as a society. Issues they addresses include; public health, older and/or disabled people, women, families with young children and tourists, hygiene, cleanliness, safety, privacy and of course funding. There’s equally as much written about the failures of public toilets in addressing those issues and about the lack of accessibility or sufficient number. In our modern day society public toilets should be a well-respected service for the community, providing a clean and hygienic, safe and welcoming environment. If they are not treated as such by the public, nor supported, funded, maintained and well managed by politicians, local governments, architects and planners alike, then it impacts our society and society suffers, particularly women, children and the disabled. Perhaps rather altruistically, better public toilets could be a catalyst for change in public opinion and perception about their worth and necessity. To give some perspective, for 2 billion people (25% of the world population) public toilets, access to water and/or any basic sanitation doesn’t even exist.

‘Back to the Future.’ As ever, the more cutting-edge technology, innovation and design that’s introduced and succeeds, the greater the chance of its increased use and integration on a grander scale. We’ll get back to the wider subject of the outside ‘Public Toilets‘ in another post. This week we wanted to showcase a Dutch company that we’ve been keeping an eye on and their vision for the future, ‘OneHundredRestrooms‘. One strapline is, ‘We Create Moments for Better Wellbeing‘ and since they started back in 2017 ‘health & hygiene’ has been part of their DNA. As health and hygiene is increasingly more relevant to us all, their concept to disrupt with a difference is succeeding by contributing to improved hygiene, sustainability and innovation whilst creating publicity, awareness and acceptance of a change for good. These days, where everything can be connected and smart, toilets and bathrooms remain a very undervalued and untapped area. However, they potentially offer the perfect environment and place to take care of yourself. As more and more people look for ways to monitor their complete well-being, and do so continuously, in privacy and without having to change their daily routines. Not forgetting in light of the global pandemic there’s now a general health-driven purpose to getting insights into personal and public health conditions. As recent epidemiology and science studies of waste have highlighted by acting as an early warning sign for coronavirus outbreaks.

The Motivational Mirror

OneHundredRestrooms. The OneHundredRestrooms concept can transform your trip to the bathroom into a visit to a wellbeing hub that offers and introduces new intelligent toilet technologies. These can provide insights into our personal health during a moment when we pause and refresh. It’s not all high-tech as the touchless products with sensors can partner those adaptations that can be operated by avoiding the need to touch surfaces with our hands i.e. foot-switches, or using our elbows or wrists. OneHundredRestrooms provides an environment in which you can take care of yourself and grab a little ‘me time.’ The experience includes; Roca In-Wash® Inspira Smart Toilets. There’s a self-check area offers solutions to monitor health indicators like weight, blood pressure, length and body mass index, or perform a skin analysis. The restrooms are kept super clean by their ‘comfort crew’ and are spacious, relaxing, soundproofed and ‘non-touch.’ You can buy all of your ‘on the go’ essentials such as baby diapers, tissues, tampons, plasters or first aid kit from their vending wall. There’s a disabled room, family and nursery rooms and even a shower room. Before you leave you can stop at the ‘motivational mirror’ while washing your hands, then give feedback at the rating pad and suggest improvements or ideas. These wellbeing hubs provide a ‘5-minute wellbeing boost,’ a far cry from our usual perceptions of public restrooms. In the near future OneHundredRestrooms plan to have; medical toilets, skin analyses, drowsiness detection, alcohol checks and a whole lot more.  To quote OneHundredRestrooms COO Andy Donaghy, “Feeling safe about the hygiene of public spaces is more important than ever. After all, hygiene and health go hand in hand.”

Technology. Experience. Environment. Good technology creates a desirable experience and should encompass environmental impact as high priority. Toilet and bathroom technology need to be part of a good experience, and with the knowledge you’re helping the environment. Appreciably, for domestic bathrooms, not everyone can afford a high tech smart toilet. For example, if you look at an early game-changer like the Neorest® NX2 from Toto Japan, (approx. $17,000) it clearly illustrates the technological possibilities with, wait for it… a self-cleaning retractable pinpoint accurate ‘wand’ (washlet) to wash and dry your rear (bits and butts) and you are in control of the pressure and temperature. It actively fights bacteria, waste and limescale by spraying a ‘pre-mist’ into the toilet bowl using electrolysed water to prevent waste from accumulating. The toilet bowl itself is coated with a special zirconium coating, the hydrophilic properties of which ensures that waste and bacteria are effectively eliminated. To add to the self-cleaning process and the pre-mist, there’s and an integrated UV light that combines with the zirconium coating to trigger the decomposition process, making a toilet brush unnecessary. It also has a number of additional convenient features, such as a sensor-based toilet lid that opens and closes automatically, a heated seat and a deodoriser to absorb unpleasant smells. Plus, (in case you were wondering) a remote control – ‘with no place to hide it!’

Is the New Night Out a Night In? However, that’s not all that ‘Smart Toilets‘ can do for you. The Grohe Sensia Arena has a ventilator system in the toilet that shields and extracts odours, before processing them through a carbon filter. There’s a lot of innovation and ideas out there right now and Kohler’s Numi 2 adds to the previous list of accessories; high-quality built-in speakers and lighting features that can be paired with the speakers to create different ‘spa-like’ environments within a bathroom space. An Amazon Alexa is built into the product and provides voice control of Numi’s features as well as access to tens of thousands of skills. But, regarding add-ons that keep you glued to your seat? I thought you were meant to be on and off the toilet PDQ as it’s the healthiest option for your undercarriage. Unless, in view of future social distancing, those speakers and multi coloured lights are the closest you’re going to get to a wild night out in Berlin? The focus has to be on the real benefits to ourselves and our families. That includes being touch-free, aiding health, our wellbeing and use of environmentally friendly services to save water, recycle or offer sustainability. Touchless products with sensor technology are ideal for this scenario. They avoid us touching surfaces and can also reduce water consumption, bringing us back to the perfect marriage of technology, experience and environment.

Our Daily Routine, parts 1, 2 and 3. I guess we’ve all had that experience when we’ve found a restroom that had something, or some ‘gadget’ that we went on to tell our friends or family about (my Dutch wife loves the serenity of the restroom at Schiphol Airport where you hear the sound of the sea, I like the picture of a fly, strategically positioned in the urinals.) The main point here is that amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life OneHundredRestrooms‘ concept is a personal ‘experience’ and it’s got lots of genuinely useful ‘gadgets.’ It is incredibly convenient and provides a really easy way to get a health check, whilst going about your normal business (no.’s 1 and 2.) For just €1 you can get an entry ticket with multiple benefits, visitors get all of the aforementioned services and even free drinking water. As the retail ads say, ‘it’s value for money.’ If you can add all that together as a no.3 during your toilet break, and do so in an oasis of calm and relaxation, then… ‘what’s not to like?’ It’s definitely my next ‘go to’… when it’s time to go!

[Thank you to Marielle Romejin, co-founder and Chief Brand Officer OneHundredRestrooms for use of the photos and her kind help with providing us with information for the above article.] We’ll be back next week.

Toilet Paper (from trees) is back in the Headlines. ‘Is Wiping our Bottoms Wiping out Forests?’

Back’side’ to the Future | Trees or Bamboo?

Toilet Paper: It’s not (as the panic buying highlighted) about shortage. It’s about sustainability.

When you wipe your bottom you may be unintentionally wiping out forests. In last week’s post we wrote about supporting renewable energy that protects our world. The focus was on Biogas as a sustainable energy source, using cattle poop mixed with food waste as the basis of our article. However, fortunately cows don’t use toilet paper/tissue as do such an increasing percentage of the human race. The reason we mention it is the world’s biggest manufacturers use a lot of trees and a lot of water to make toilet tissue. We’ve all been made aware of, and many countries are beginning to react about, the destructive use of plastics which are proven to be damaging to both land and sea. But, why would we necessarily think that toilet tissue, ‘That flush-away daily cleanser we simply pop in the toilet and it disappears,‘ would be anything for us to be remotely concerned about?

Meanwhile, the Amazon burns and Forests are being cut down at an Alarming Rate. The really important issue here (rather than the recent occurrence of toilet paper panic buying) as WHO recently pointed out, is ‘The world has lost 178 million hectares of forest since 1990.’ That’s seven times the area of the UK! With that staggering statistic in mind – add to that how much devastation can be historically, and presently, aligned to cutting down trees for toilet paper production (let alone the amount of water and chemicals used in the process.) We can clearly see that we have reached a crisis point in regards to the impact on our forests, the amazon and our planet. This leads us onto the introduction (if you’d not heard of them already) to an organisation that is kicking up about the use of trees for TP [toilet paper] and we wanted to give that some publicity and their findings an airing…

Trees or Bamboo… and gallons of water too! In this brief article we have no intention of sending you to sleep with reams of information, facts and figures, but we wanted to flag up a few things that may be of interest, or an influence on your choice of which toilet tissue and certain other products to use [e.g. kitchen towel, face tissues, and even wet wipes.] As a comparison, let’s take a quick look at the key ‘need to knows‘ regarding toilet paper/tissue and the advantages of bamboo for sustainability and similarly the environment. We’re focussing on ‘Bamboo vs Trees.’ But in regard to their importance on earth – Trees are essential for our planet and exactly why they have to be saved and protected, not used for toilet paper. Trees are vital, as the biggest plants on the planet they give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilise the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife.

‘Bamboo instead of Trees for Balanced Sustainability. The Benefits.’ Bamboo is a very fast growing, renewable and an easy-to-grow resource. It is an extremely versatile material with countless uses, including; construction, clothes, food and fuel. Bamboo shoots are used in Asian food preparations and in Japan, the antioxidant properties of bamboo skin can prevent bacterial growth and are used as natural food preservatives. Bamboo is well-known for being a Panda’s favourite meal. No fertiliser, pesticides, or herbicides are needed for them to grow, as unlike most crops bamboo requires no agricultural chemicals to thrive. Bamboo absorbs carbon dioxide and releases 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere, more than a similar community of trees. The list is endless and the more we learn about bamboo it’s obvious as to why, ‘it’s a true miracle of nature.

The Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] are moving and shaking regarding TP from trees, as it’s not on most peoples radar or list of priorities, but ought to be. A number of you in the know may be following Shelley Vinyard from the NRDC, a campaign expert who has written many articles on the subject of boreal forests. Shelley provides a clear and well-researched view. For further reading, and to expand on the focal points we’ve made above, here are a few sources of useful information from NRDC to check out: ‘All Your Questions About Toilet Paper Answered‘ from June 24 2020, ‘The Issue with Tissue.’ Another useful resource is Mongabay who frequently comment on deforestation with their, ‘News and Inspiration from Nature’s Frontline.’

Is Bamboo the New You? or ‘What’s the most climate-friendly tissue paper for you and our planet.’ By way of an introduction. To find out about the hottest new influencers in the world of bamboo toilet tissue and our more eco-friendly household products + where you can buy them – here’s a list of links to just a few of the many game-changers (in no particular order) to get you started. Each offering alternates to TP from Trees [availability of brand may depend on your location]:

The Cheeky PandaWho Gives a CrapBumbooCabooNo. 2ReelTushyBim Bam BooPurePlanetClubSilknSoft

We’ll leave you with a few last thoughts to ensure we protect this precious asset. ‘How can we harvest bamboo in sustainable ways to save the bamboo eco-system, to plan not only a scientific but also a holistic approach to bamboo cultivation? Also, the impact of industry on the biodiversity, local peoples lives and those animals for whom it’s their home? These questions are crucial if we are to build a sustainable future and long-term access to Bamboo, an important resource but that, in harvesting it, we don’t destroy it as a habitat, or ignore its value as continuing climate change reboots the natural order.‘ This is a subject we’re going to return to, if you have any comments or want to tell us about your experience with bamboo and or sustainable toilet paper please get in touch. We’ll be back next week…

‘Six Million Chickens.’ As Tonga’s Minister of Agriculture aims to produce electricity from poultry manure. We learn about ‘The How’… from a Cow.

Companies like Vanguard Renewables are key to the future of our communities and Planet Earth.

The Potential of Poop. How to harness the powers of poop has been a topic of conversation for centuries, and although animal waste has been used as a form of agricultural fertiliser there’s a lot more waste (manure) these days and its use as an energy resource is a brilliant solution. It’s been gathering pace in Europe for over 10 years and over time around the world. One thing’s for sure, that it impacts our entire planet, our present, our future, and by default, ourselves. Today there’s a world of difference and plenty of new challenges in addressing an age-old problem. Forward thinking companies, farmers and governments have been figuring out and implementing clever solutions for the, ‘what to do… with so much poo?’ The benefits for you and I? More natural fertilisers mean more natural and nourishing crops, there’s a better use of our growing mountains of food waste, less landfill and turning animal poop into renewable energy helps reduce the planet’s greenhouse gases.

Redefining the Best Renewable Energy Resource. Although Solar power, Hydropower, Geothermal and Wind Power are perhaps the more familiar renewable energy sources. Bio-Power as a renewable energy source has recently been getting more and more attention. By comparison it has greater benefits for planet earth and its inhabitants as it uses waste. Manure and food waste provide a constant natural flow of ‘fuel’, and therefore a 24/7/365 solution. In other words it’s a resource that’s not dependent on the whim of the elements, sun, air, water nor digging up the planet to dip into its natural resources.

Bio-Power: Although we’re taking a look at an American company this week to tell the story, European countries have been on this for some while. Germany being by far the largest biogas producing country in the EU (over 10,000 plants (and the UK taking second place (1,000) (IEA Bioenergy.) But there’s a wide-ranging presence in numerous countries worldwide [WBA.] For example, the Chinese government’s recent development plan for biogas plant deployment is aiming for over 3,000 large-scale plants across China. Getting back to the subject of manure and just how much of it there is, according to ciwf.org and Statista: In the USA alone there are just over 9 million dairy cows (2 million in the UK) Europe 24 million, India has the greatest number iro 58 million and total worldwide figure is iro 100 million cattle.

The logistical challenges are a part of the collective thinking with that amount of manure, added to which, all of the burps and farts that are releasing methane into the atmosphere, are producing a potent greenhouse gas (approximately 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.) According to National Geographic, ‘About 20% of the warming the planet has experienced can be attributed to the gas.’ In case you’re wondering, we’re not going to start ‘counting our chickens’ in this particular post, cow poop is a perfect example in itself!

Greenhouse Gases. There are ways that destructive greenhouse gases (that would be escaping into the atmosphere) can be put to good use. By mixing manure (there’s plenty) with food waste (btw, much of our food waste fits the profile) in ‘digesters’ which can be used to produce natural gas. It’s an obvious expense to set up initially and to manage on an ongoing basis, but it offers a win-win for all. Tonnes of manure can be taken care of when, with clever logistical planning, it’s mixed with ground food waste from grocery shops, schools, restaurants, breweries etc. (ordinarily put into landfill.) The food waste once collected, is ground down and turned to slurry, then used in combination with manure to create (useful) methane.

Anaerobic Digesters. In simple terms that waste that is then processed in anaerobic digesters (i.e. with an absence of oxygen.) Biogas plants rely on anaerobic digestion, a fermentation process in which waste is digested by microbes to produce methane gas (biogas). The same process you or I, might use to make fermented sourdough, sauerkraut, kimchi and suchlike (yep, we make all of that stuff at home) and it’s all great for your digestive system, but we digress. To quote Power Technology, ‘The combined waste can be converted into biofertiliser and spread directly onto fields, or the biogas itself can be used interchangeably with natural gas as fuel. In other words, it can capture the methane emissions and be used to make renewable energy.’ In turn that can be partly used, for example, to power the farm where the digester is located, and the rest can then return an income by being fed into the national grid. The whole set up is more sustainable, environmentally friendly and certainly economically savvy.

Poop and Food Waste is Lighting up the World. Unsurprisingly from what we’ve written, so far in the USA (as is the case elsewhere in the world), there’s been a great deal of attention and enthusiasm about all this. A company called Vanguard Renewables are the leading the way for dairy waste and FoodWaste, organic food waste-to-renewable energy. in the north-east. Within just 5 sites, they are already recycling approximately 200,000 tons of on-farm and off-farm organics per year. As pictures speak louder than words, take a look at this ‘easy on the eye’ explanatory infographic and the youtube clip below:

Let’s put that in 3D – click here to see how it looks in situ!

Here’s a quote we received from John Hanselman, Chairman and CEO, Vanguard Renewables:

Dairy farmers are under huge pressure, and this thought that we can take their farm manure and combine it with recycled food waste, power the farm, send power to the grid or the renewable natural gas pipeline, and then power the farm’s survival, for me, is one of the best things that we do,” John Hanselman, Chairman and CEO of Vanguard Renewables said. “When Vanguard Renewables began, we saw ourselves as a renewable energy company that happened to be located on farms. We had that wrong. We’re actually a farm-based dairy manure and food waste recycling company that happens to make renewable energy.

Food Waste is Fuel. So before we wrap up on this topic we hope to have at least put this growing solution to a major problem on your radar.’ In a nutshell anaerobic digesters; reduce greenhouse gases, provide intelligent food waste recycling, create more natural fertilisers, support renewable energy, improve waste [manure] management, reduce landfill, reduce overheads at farms, and provide energy for the national grids and local communities. Bloomberg ran an article last week that perfectly illustrates many of those benefits as, ‘Millions of gallons of stale beer became a hangover from lockdown.’ Although as Power Technology reports, ‘Biogas production is not suitable for every location. As larger production relies on an abundant supply of waste manure or crop materials,‘ in other words it’s not so practical in urban areas and there are other small ‘corrections and improvements’ being made along the way, any of which are far outweighed by the list of benefits.

The Winds of Change. However, we feel that investment in Anaerobic Digesters for renewable energy vs Wind Turbines and Solar should be a strong if not the leading contender. First, wind only produces electricity, whereas digesters are three-fold, they can produce either renewable electricity or renewable natural gas, but also agricultural fertiliser. Digesters offer so much more in terms of environmental benefits. Also, importantly, digesters operate 24/7/365 and are not dependent on the wind (or the sun in the case of solar) so it’s a consistent renewable energy production. In the case of on-farm digesters, they help support farms that need a diversified income source to survive. Finally, food waste is such a huge issue [30%+ of food is never eaten] and of equal significance is food waste diversion from landfills. All of which should be,A big motivator for governments (as many have already) to be supportive of anaerobic digesters and schemes to facilitate their large-scale deployment.’

So far, as Power Technology pointed out… ‘investment into the sector is not particularly popular with certain governments, which are instead putting money into the more developed alternatives of wind and solar.’ We’re hoping ‘the winds of change’ will favour digesters, biogas and biomethane, as a global ambition and global solution in the near future – with climate change acting as a key driver. As a closing question on which to ponder, could it be that the likes of certain other renewable energy companies, are the ones that are actually… our biggest ‘waste’ product?

Please Note: This article is a personal take on Renewable Energy, ‘an introduction to the process and its potential.’ For more detailed research data and information, and/or to check the accuracy of any aspect of our post, there are links above, and any number of open resources to which you can refer. We’ll be back again next week.

Additional Related Press Article: ‘Warren Buffett & Pig Poop: Unpacking The Blockbuster Dominion Energy Pipeline Deal’ published 9th July 2020 by Steve Hanley for Clean Technica. YouTube RNG Also, worth checking out are TO-SYN-FUEL who demonstrate the production of Synthetic Fuels and Green Hydrogen from organic waste biomass, mainly sewage sludge.

London, as so many cities have done for millennia, uses its river for waste. In 1858 disease and ‘The Great Stink’ led to Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s super-sewer for 4 million people.

150 years later the population is now closer to 10 million. This is what’s happening…

Forward Thinking BC. To get a handle on how advanced the thinking was on ‘waste management’ thousands of years ago, the Mesopotamians had already figured clay sewer pipes around c.4000 BC. Utilised to remove wastewater, and capture rainwater in wells. But, let’s fast forward through history… The world continued to progress their early sewer/sanitation systems as other ‘influencer countries’ went on to build their own versions in places such as; Egypt, Greece, Rome, China (first toilet paper), Pakistan, India [Indus Valley & Harappan civilisations] and so on. All of which points to the fact that over the 1000s of years since then, until the mid-1800s, not much progress (in terms of 6000 years of sewage management) had been made. The investment in Tideway is the biggest single sewer investment in Europe since Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s day.

copyright Hendriksen & Hopson ‘It’s All About Poo’ [A History of the Toilet.]

Heading Downstream. Since the dawn of civilisation, human settlements had grown and evolved best around rivers where, within close proximity, fresh water could be sourced – and wastewater crudely diverted downstream to be diluted and supposedly ‘vanish.’ Importantly for this brief article, by comparison to today, the world’s population was smaller, people used less water, planet earth was greener, it was way ahead of any industrial revolution, and there weren’t factors like ‘travel and tourism’ nor other modern-day developments to take into account.

A Changing World. In this regard, the world was relatively well looked after for many millennia i.e. none of the ‘nasties’ pollution, chemicals, plastics, and certain industries destroying our environment and ecology, about who we so often hear about in the news. Wars and weaponry were also far less sophisticated and caused less damage to ‘less’ infrastructure. Back then the earth’s surface had less ‘ground’ taken up by houses and other buildings as well. This led onto natural drainage being a whole lot better and, on which note, brings us onto rainwater, the importance and unpredictability of which we’ll explain about in a short while. What hasn’t changed is that ‘Everybody Poops.’

Better Sanitation for All. Before we move on to Sir Joseph Bazalgette and what he did for London, something that’s worth flagging for the sake of perspective and comparison is global sanitation. Even now in the 21st century 25% of the world still doesn’t have access to basic sanitation and/or water. The impact for all of us, as major contributors to what goes down the loo [toilet] and regarding what needs to be done with our waste, is a priority in keeping all of us healthy. It is an ongoing challenge for us and a far greater one for the less fortunate 25%. Sanitation needs to be on everyone’s radar and in our conversations, ‘Out of Sight should not mean Out of Mind.’ Diseases spread, and diseases travels – as the current pandemic has clearly shown. Let’s look back at London 1858, and then we’ll return to 2020.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette. The name Bazalgette (pronounced Bazal’jet) is synonymous with Sir Joseph Bazalgette. His proposal was an ambitious solution to what the press at the time in 1858 called, ‘The Great Stink.’ His colossal project was accepted and it became a turning point for an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. This wasn’t ‘just a bad stench’ it was also related to a substantial number of deaths from the water-borne transmission of diseases [typhoid and specifically a cholera epidemic.] A toxic cocktail of human excreta, slaughterhouse waste, and industrial chemicals poured freely into the River Thames, turning it into an open sewer. Between 1831 and 1866, approximately 40,000 people died from cholera in London alone (2% of the population) an equivalent of 200,000 people today.

We should bear in mind that the population of London at the time was c. 2m. Bazalgette had the foresight to construct for a population of 4m, double that number. The cost in today’s terms would be roughly £1bn. Currently, London is heading towards a population of 10m, add to that ‘transient’ tourists/visitors to London, estimated to have been around 20m+ in 2019, and that’s a lot of waste to move out of town (or any majorly populated area in the world for that matter.)

In brief, here’s what happened back then. Bazalgette’s scheme was an extraordinary feat of engineering involving the construction of major new ‘intercepting sewers’ that would gather sewage from the existing collection of sewers at the time, and move it further down the river. On the north bank of The Thames, sewage would be carried eastwards as far as Beckton, eight miles east of St Paul’s Cathedral, to be stored and then discharged on the outgoing tide. On the south bank, the sewage would flow as far out as Crossness, two miles further downstream of Beckton, and discharged there. The project was completed by 1875. However, at the time, although it moved out of the more populated areas of London it ended up ‘downstream’ but still back in The Thames. In other words, the problem hadn’t gone away, it had gone elsewhere.

Sewage Treatment Works. What was missing from the original big idea was that no ‘sewage treatment works‘ were part of the plan at the time, i.e. no separation of effluent and water before to sending it back into the river. It wasn’t until a disastrous accident in 1878 caused the underworld and earth to collide, when a passenger steamboat sank after crashing into a coal-carrying ship downstream from the two pumping stations… just after they’d pumped 75m gallons of raw sewage into the river. The resultant pressure from MPs in the 1880s forced the first ‘treatment works’ for raw sewage, where the solid waste was ‘settled’ and subsequently only the liquid waste was discharged into the Thames at Beckton, and also 2 miles farther along at Crossness. The Bazalgette drainage system was passed to the London County Council and they appointed a Chief Engineer, Sir Alexander Binnie, to be responsible for all of their infrastructure. He designed the first sewage treatment works (originally just lime settlement) at the ends of the sewer outfalls created by Sir Jospeh Bazalgette.

However, that wasn’t quite the end of the problems. By the time Bazalgette died in 1891, 5.5m people were living and defecating in inner London. 1.5m more than anticipated just 30 years earlier. The other key part to operating and improving London’s sewers were called ‘combined sewer overflows.’ In the USA a more descriptive term is used, ‘storm-water regulators.’ All of which brings us back to a typically British subject, ‘the weather.’

What’s Caused the Latest Stink for the UK? Today, we have the benefit of Sir Joseph’s incredible construction and the ever-improving ‘sewer treatment works,’ but new challenges like ‘wet wipes’ and all sorts of other things that shouldn’t get put down the toilet (except the 3Ps.) Apart from the dangers of bacteria to ourselves, bacteria in sewage can also absorb the dissolved oxygen from the water, killing off fish and water-dwelling plants as well. All of which brings us onto one other equally significant call of nature apart from our own, and that’s rainwater. Rain needs to drain for which reason even now, 150 years after the original ‘Bazalgette’ sewers were completed, around 40 million tonnes of raw sewage still spills, untreated, into the River Thames every year. The present-day population, (as mentioned previously) has now more than doubled. Fortunately, a few years ago, the European Commission [EC] and European Court of Justice made a new ‘stink’ about the latest problems, which subsequently resulted in the new £4bn construction project known as ‘Thames Tideway,’ owned by a consortium of investors, and it’s respectfully called ‘Bazalgette Tunnel Limited.’

Professor Chris Binnie (great grandson of Sir Alexander Binnie), chaired the Thames Tideway steering group for 5 years and we got in touch to ask, in relatively simple terms, what’s going on with London’s sewers – now due for completion by 2024 and referred to as the ‘Super-Sewer.’ However, ahead of his reply, let’s try and make all the pieces finally fit neatly together. We’ll begin, as we did, by figuring what ‘combined sewer overflows’ means and why, as the old saying goes, ‘when it rains it pours.’ If the storm is too great for the sewers/drainage pipes to cope with there’s what’s called a, ‘combined sewer overflow‘ [CSOs.] These are a collection/system of pipes and tunnels designed to simultaneously collect surface runoff (the flow of water occurring on the ground surface from excess rainwater) and sewage water – in a shared system. When this relief structure is overloaded valves are opened that still release the combined wastewater, untreated sewage and runoff into the Thames.

Map credit & copyright Tideway

From Bazalgette to Bazalgette + ‘Combined Sewer Flows.’ If the CSOs are only used occasionally, that’s considered an acceptable amount of ‘nearly just stormwater.’ But if the frequency increases greatly, so does the, ‘not so pleasant addition to the stormwater’ that ends up back in the river. As Chris Binnie explained, “The European Commission had given guidance that 20 ‘spills’ per year might be the limit. Without doubt, there were about a dozen CSOs that exceed such a frequency. So, the ECJ found the UK in breach.” To help do the math, there are about 50 combined sewer overflows happening in London each year. Chris added that, “Over the last 10 years all the sewage treatment works have been upgraded and now meet the required standards including spill frequency, so the only issue was with the central London combined sewerage system.” In 2016 Thames Tideway began constructing a giant tunnel, seven metres wide and it will run for 25 kilometres to intercept sewage that would otherwise pollute the river, click the link to Thames Tideway to dig deeper (excuse the pun;)) The aim is to capture, store and move the vast quantities of raw sewage and rainwater across London connecting to 34 of the most polluting CSOs via transfer tunnels, and taking sewage (that would normally be pumped into the Thames) to a treatment facility at Abbey Mills in east London – designed many years ago by a certain Joseph Balzagette.

A Breath of Fresh Air. Work on the ‘super-sewer’ started 4 years ago, we’re halfway there. It’s backed by investors but, in case you weren’t aware, at some point it will appear as a cost on your water bill too. This isn’t only a matter for London and a future post will look at other world cities facing similar challenges. Ultimately, this won’t be the last time London’s sewers need to be better figured out for the future. Global sanitation is probably the world’s biggest and most important issue if humanity is to survive. Ask the WHO, UN, WTO, UNICEF and, and, and – it’s not a sexy subject but unless we overcome this Taboo, we are burying our heads in the sewers – that, as it was back in 1858, will be extremely dangerous. A few subsequent articles on the project, and their links, can be accessed below. Meanwhile do contact us with any comments or questions. We look forward to returning next week with another post on ‘loos and no. 2s.’ Until then have a good week…

  1. The Museum of London, ‘How Bazalgette Built London’s First Super Sewer.
  2. BBC 2017 ‘Work begins on London’s super sewer to stop Thames becoming a toilet.’
  3. The TV 3 part Series from 2018 [now available via Daily Motion] The Five Billion Pound Super Sewer.
  4. Wired, ‘London’s Super Sewer Won’t Solve The City’s Epic Poo Problem.‘ Dec 2018
  5. An update from the BBC in Feb 2020 ‘Inside London’s Super Sewer.’
  6. Tunnelling Work Restarts on Super Sewer‘ from PBCToday May 13 2020.