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.
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.
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…
- The Museum of London, ‘How Bazalgette Built London’s First Super Sewer.‘
- BBC 2017 ‘Work begins on London’s super sewer to stop Thames becoming a toilet.’
- The TV 3 part Series from 2018 [now available via Daily Motion] The Five Billion Pound Super Sewer.
- Wired, ‘London’s Super Sewer Won’t Solve The City’s Epic Poo Problem.‘ Dec 2018
- An update from the BBC in Feb 2020 ‘Inside London’s Super Sewer.’
- ‘Tunnelling Work Restarts on Super Sewer‘ from PBCToday May 13 2020.
The Toilet Tissue Issue. A few months ago pre-lockdown Helen Morris of Tissue World Magazine published an interview with Mark Hendriksen in ‘ConsumerSpeak.’ The worldwide tissue market is worth over £50 billion a year and TWM is the leading independent publication and online resource for the global tissue industry, publishing essential information, analysis and opinions on breaking trends in business, technology, regional developments and sustainability. At the same time as our article appeared in mid May, those in the know were writing a ‘pandemic special 3-parter’ with Helen having interviewed tissue mills and industry insiders to get their views on how the pandemic is impacting the tissue market [toilet paper being a major part of that] and their forecasts for the future. If you’re not in the Tissue Industry and heard of the much respected TWM, or you’re one of many toilet paper users, you may be interested to hear their thoughts.
Impacts on Brands, Business and Consumers. The links to the 3 articles are integrated below. We’re currently doing a short survey aimed at consumers which [although it’s still work in progress] is so far bearing out the observations made in these reports. What has been shown here is how the industry has stepped up to make a collaborative effort, which so clearly demonstrates how the they can come together if and as necessary with an ability to adapt swiftly to the new moments of the economy. The manufacturers and suppliers have also taken extra steps to keep their people and their families safe and healthy. These measures have included enhanced safety measures for office, mill and distribution centre operations. As we see it for our readers, the main (brand-consumer) bullet points taken from the articles are as follows:
- ‘The AfH [away from home] sector is especially hard hit as many nations shutdown social activity as restaurants, bars, flights and hotels temporary close down to adjust and safeguard citizens.
- An increase has been seen in demand globally for consumer products, that is; toilet paper, household towels, baby diapers, feminine care, and incontinence care products.
- Interestingly but not surprisingly, in view of stock shortages and concerns over store visits, direct-to-consumer (DTC) tissue brands operating on subscription basis also see a significant increase in demand and the surge in the number of subscribers. It is unlikely that these brands will be able to retain all of their newly acquired customers as impact of pandemic wanes. However, in regard to e.commerce and DTC, according to some traditionally retail only suppliers, ‘They believe that some of the e-commerce increase will be permanent even after the end of the pandemic.’ [TWM Analysis Part 1]
Winds of Change. It’s going to be interesting to see how many brands retain their customers, how many are ‘unfaithful’ and switch brand and who buys cheaper or non specific brands, and last but not least, though it seems more so in the US and the UK for example, who switches to bidets and the wash vs wipe. All this apart from the greater public awareness of how toilet paper is produced and the amounts of trees & water needed to make it, plus the carbon footprint with delivery. Start-ups, brand ethics, sustainability, flushing and the 3Ps, use of bamboo vs trees, giving back to help resolve world sanitation problems, plus bidets and budgets are all increasingly becoming consumer considerations.
Further Analysis. Next up in TWM’s chat with industry insiders, again, some fascinating nuggets of info and observations, primarily the consequences on daily life, freedom or movement, employment, operations and liquidity of companies, and the global economy as a whole. The manufacturing of TP and tissue was impacted when the pandemic started, then further disrupted by the panic buying, both of which hit the supply chain. ‘Orders for toilet paper and paper towels increased as consumer/household demand surged, while demand for products at airports, hotels, institutional spaces and other public venues softened.’ [TWM Analysis Part 2]
The New Normal? Finally, the 3rd article discussed the temporary uptick in retail, against the troubles in the ‘away from home’ [AfH] sector. Although titled as ‘USA Tissue’ the general findings apply to a number of countries. This then comes full circle, as the points made in Article 1 begin to repeat for both consumer and business activities/public services. The take-aways from this for us were:
- ‘It’s important to consider that the extent of economic fall out and high rates of unemployment will place an additional strain on many household budgets, with consumers rationalising further. Potentially diminishing gains for categories like paper towels and facial tissue, with toilet paper serving as a substitute in view of depressed incomes.’
- ‘However, the spike in demand is not necessarily all good news for the key brands. Aside from being temporary, the uptake in demand sees shoppers choosing first and foremost cheaper private label as well as stocking large bulk lower cost packages at retailers like Costco as well as discounters.’
- ‘With respect to consumer tissue and bathroom routines, in the past couple of years we have been watching the rising demand for bidets in the US.’ Which we’ve also observed but as mentioned, the US seemingly more so than other countries with TUSHY in particular.
- The major manufacturers are succeeding and TP consumption looks on track to keep growing. ‘However, direct-to-consumer (DTC) tissue brands operating on a subscription basis are proving to be agile when it comes to inventory management, and they engage with customers on an ongoing basis, also via popular social media channels, so are building longer-term customer retention and acquisition strategies.’ A thought for the bigger players to ponder as pandas join the bears, koalas and puppies in an effort to grab your bottom?
Just to wrap up, our weekly round up of the news and articles on loos & no. 2s…
- More news on harnessing the power of poop from, ‘Successful Farming‘, written by Jessica Wesson.
- The Proof is in the Poop. ‘How your poop is being used in the fight against COVID-19‘ from the San Diego Union Tribune, as more and more interest grows in epidemiology + wastewater. From CNN on the same subject, check out this video, ‘How poop could help warn of the next coronavirus outbreak.’ Finally, for now, yet another article from The South China Morning Post, ‘Singapore is checking waste water with people’s poo for coronavirus‘ by Dewey Sim.
- An article from Anthropocene in their weekly science despatch, ‘What to do about greenhouse gases from poo‘ by Sarah DeWeerdt.
- Sit vs Squat. Lastly, about one of our regular topics. An article by Michael Marshall in NewScientist recently reported, “Certainly, sitting upright to void isn’t natural. For most of our species’ history, people squatted, bending their knees and sticking out their bottoms. About two-thirds of people still do this. Of course, “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.” However, medical professionals are starting to implicate conventional toilet use in many abdominal disorders including constipation, bloating and possibly haemorrhoids. And a recent review of sitting upright to defecate even concluded that it was time to “put this unfortunate experiment to an end”.
Do Get in Touch. We’re always happy to hear from readers with any comments or interesting articles so do get in touch. Until next week…
Scoop the Poop. The past few weeks have seen more and more people out and about in the sunshine at parks and beaches. But at the same time public toilets have so far remained shut. This has led to a number of headlines highlighting the growing problem of ‘where to go when there’s nowhere to go’ and what’s subsequently been happening to these well-loved beaches and beauty spots. We’re used to the ‘scoop your poop’ signs and doggy doo’s bags and bins for our pets, but as for us humans? A more tongue in cheek sign at Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto, Canada recently served to highlight the issue, one that we felt needed to be discussed in this week’s post. Here’s that exact article by Jenny Yuen for The Toronto Sun in which she said, “Ten thousand people, no bathrooms, you do the math.” So we did – see below!
Scoop on the Poop. To focus on one country as an example, the UK has approximately 9 million pet dogs. One in four households in the UK has a pet dog, and they produce 1,000 tonnes of poop a day, or 365,000 tonnes a year [Hansard UK Govt.] and that’s about 85,000 times as heavy as a Hippopotamus [The Measure of Things.] Now that your imagination is ignited… That would mean that in theory if the UK population still had to poop their average 4-500 grams a day outside [LiveScience] then at 68 million people, we would be depositing the equivalent weight of approx. 68 million adult Pandas of poop in the open each year. That’s without accounting for the use of tissue to clean up after, which would mean mountains of mess throughout the land and widespread disease. Fortunately for us that’s not the case, but remarkably it is still the case for 1/3rd of the world population.
To be in the Loop. This may seem rather abstract but it helps us to add a perspective on outside pooping, and also introduces the more serious and less publicised point that open defecation (rare in the toilet owning world), is a huge problem for over 1 billion people worldwide [WHO] that still have to ‘go outside.’ An even higher figure if you add those without access to basic sanitation or water, which brings the total to 1 in 3 people globally. Add to that the extraordinary number of diseases associated to this scenario and you may be surprised to learn that those diseases include; cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. According to the WHO diarrhoea remains a major killer (432,000 diarrhoeal deaths annually). So far 380,000 deaths have occurred worldwide from coronavirus. But, better water, sanitation, and hygiene could prevent the deaths of 297,000 children aged under 5 years ‘each year’ from said diseases.
‘The Big Necessity.‘ There are many resources you can access if you want to know more, and plenty of statistics and eye-opening stories but our ‘take home on this’ is that while the problem is being addressed through a number of determined passionate people and organisations, this is nowhere near enough supported to stop the tragic and yearly consequences from being anywhere near adequately addressed. For what we consider to be one of the most ground-breaking, informative and unforgettable books on the subject, go buy Rose George‘s, ‘The Big Necessity‘ – it’s a fascinating read as she exposes the biggest single unexposed health problem on planet earth.
When Nature Calls. Meanwhile back to where we started, and a few links to get you through the weeks ahead until the public toilets reopen. Stay safe, stay aware and please leave no trace when pooping outside to keep other safe too. As an addendum, we just spotted an article in the Evening Standard by Lezlie Lowe, published today 5th June, entitled, ‘As lockdown eases we need to talk about toilets.’ Here, Lezlie reiterates the comments we’ve made and also those we discussed about improving public toilets for women, link here. Well worth reading as she’s researched the subject far more than we, and do buy her book too, ‘No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail our Private Needs.’ The other article that’s popped up since we published was in HuffPost on 6th June, where Sophie Wilkinson writes for ‘Opinion’, ‘Public Toilets Are An Equalities Issue. Why Don’t We Care?‘ Great to see these expert views on the subject.
- Huffpost: How To Pee And Poop Outdoors If Provincial Park Washrooms Are Closed.
- Road Trippers: Nature is calling: Here’s how to poop properly in the great outdoors.
- A classic list from Adventure Journal: Seven Ways to Poop Outdoors.
- The Manual: How to Poop in the Woods: A Guide for When Nature Calls.
We’ll be back again next week.
To jump straight to the quick quiz, scroll to the end of the post…
When it comes to toilet paper certain influences or advertising trends tend to set a preference. Which is your favourite brand, why did you choose it, and have you been faithful during the times tp went short? We’ll check your answers at the end of the article, and will publish the results in a couple of weeks from now. We’ll also look at the eco-friendly contenders such as Bamboo toilet paper and let us know if you’re now using one of the recent list of start-up’s who are emerging and catching people’s attention. There are a vast number of brands out there and, depending on which country you live in, brand names can specifically selected for your local market. Who are the big players and which of their brands may be familiar to you or the ones you’re using? This week we thought we’d take a look and get your feedback.
In terms of the biggest, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark are two of the best known (in the USA add Georgia-Pacific to that mix.) Although we’ll focus on toilet paper manufacturers and suppliers, they also have vast numbers of subsidiaries of which we’ll highlight those of particular interest associated to TP. Procter & Gamble are most famous for their Charmin® Brand, which interestingly is their global brand (not differing names in various markets.) But they’re the company that also do; Pampers®, All Good® and Luvs® diapers. Bounty® paper towels and Puffs® facial tissues, and then for personal hygiene; Always®, Always Discreet®, Just®, Tampax® and This is L®.
Whereas, Kimberly-Clark have a number of well-known brand names which, as mentioned earlier, you’d recognise depending on where you live; Andrex®, Hakle®, Cottonelle®, Scottex®, Page®, Neve®, Petalo®, Wondersoft®, Tela®, Scott® and Viva®, add Kleenex® in the professional list. Adult and feminine care products include; Depend®, Poise® and Plenitud®, various Kotex® products, Intimus® and Camelia®. When it comes to kids there’s; Huggies® + Pull-Ups® and Little Swimmers® and also Goodnites® & DryNites®.
Let’s now stick solely to toilet paper brands as we run through a number of other big players.
SCA in Sweden and their sister company Essity produce an array of famous names. Essity is the world’s second largest supplier of consumer tissue. Their brand portfolio comprises many strong brands; Lotus, Tempo and Zewa are the leading ones (France, Germany and Russia.) Cushelle, Velvet and Plenty (UK and Ireland), and Edet (Nordic region and the Netherlands.) Essity is the market leader in China through its majority shareholding in Vinda (see below.) Familia and Regio (Colombia and Mexico), respectively. Georgia-Pacific are the most famous in the USA for their Quilted Northern® and AngelSoft® rolls. Metsä Tissue in Finland makes the following toilet tissue brands; Lambi, Serla, Mola and Tento, Metsä Tissue is a notable supplier of tissue papers tailored for our customers’ own brands. In China the tp biggies include Hengan, with their Cha Yu Si Xiang series and Vinda‘s ‘Vinda‘ tp range (oddly enough same name as the co.) has been recognised as one of China’s most famous brands. Sofidel has a wide range of brands, again varying depending on country; Regina (their most famous), Softis (big in Germany and Austria), Le Trèfle, KittenSoft, Cosynel (Belgium), Nalys (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) and Lycke eco-care (Sweden.) We could go on, but let’s wrap this up before you glaze over, Nevertheless let us know if there are any of ‘your favourites’ that we’ve missed!
Finally let’s throw some new eco-brands into the mix. We’ve tried and tested the ones we can access in the UK, but can you see one you recognise (or have started using?) These disruptors and direct to consumer brands include; Who Gives A Crap, The Cheeky Panda, No. 2, Peach, Reel Paper, Bumboo, EcoLeaf and Greencane. After all of that, maybe your answer is, ‘None of the above, I just bought myself a bidet/bumwash?’ Well that’s good to know too.
If you could spare 1 minute we’d love your feedback on the following 3 quick questions… Please reply here with your answer to 1. and then choosing for 2. & 3. just choose between (a), (b) or (c). [We will not share your details and will delete all of the replies immediately they’re received and added to the survey.] Thank you.
- What’s your favourite Toilet paper brand?
- Did you choose it because of (a) an advert or (b) ‘always been used by or in our family’.
- Since the coronavirus have you (a) ‘been faithful to your brand’, (b) ‘switched and not gone back to it’ or (c) ‘converted to some type of bidet/bumwash?’
Have a great weekend and we’ll be back next week…