Guts, Butts and Better Health. If you were ‘Born to Run’ then you might think of Bruce Springsteen or Mo Farah. But if you’re ‘Born to Squat + Wash your butt’… you’ll be one of billions of people around the world who have that process built into their psyche from birth. Even, if you were ‘Born to Sit + Wipe‘ then either way the likelihood is that that’s going to be your pooping plan mapped out for the rest of your life. But, as the Korgis sang, ‘Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime’ irrespective of whether you learn or are taught to ‘wash or wipe, sit or squat or decide to swap the way you go and clean up at some point along the way.’ Ninety nine percent of the time, the first option is going to be habitual and relate to your childhood experience – and it’s rare (or unusual) for people to change. This effectively means the ‘influencers’ on your toilet time are your parents, with their habits usually having been passed onto them by their parents. ‘Sitters‘ can’t head far back through their family trees to trace the origins of why they are ‘sitters’ and who taught them, because stand-alone sit and flush toilets are a relatively new thing, having been introduced as recently as the 1890s. To find any mass take up of the seated option you’d have to leap frog 1000s of years to your Mesopotamian, Greek or Roman relatives for examples of the original bums on seats.
Wipe or Douche and Dab, Sit or Squat. Appreciably, nowadays many people are opening their minds, and behinds, to new possibilities, as has been illustrated by the increased popularity of bidets, attachable or built-in, and switching from only wiping to wash and wipe. The differences are often not the subject of much discussion – but wash and wipe is more ‘douche & dab‘ – the wiping part (and use of toilet paper) is greatly reduced. Meanwhile going from sit back to squat is taking a little longer but gaining an increasingly loyal following. To make or persuade someone to change the habits of a lifetime is some achievement. TUSHY have led the way by converting thousands of people who wipe to using an attachable bidet. The manufacturers of toilets where bidets are ‘built-in’ are already well established so this achievement by TUSHY is quite a coup. If you wipe? Well, to be more precise you are going to wipe if you’re a sitter, squatter or washer no matter what, but you’ll ‘be more dabber’ if you wash.
Where squatting’s concerned toilet manufacturers are not addressing the issue themselves by making it an option for their sit on loos, in spite of growing evidence that sitting isn’t good for your health and wellbeing. The changes are happening through companies like ‘SquattyPotty‘ who are cleverly marketing and selling freestanding ‘foot-stools’ to raise your legs and mimic a squat. One final point to add before heading onto the original question about our kids is about the environment – not your personal environment for toilet time, but options to help planet earth. Options about what you use for the way you choose to wipe or dab. The new choices of bamboo tp [toilet paper] vs traditional and what’s out there these days – that’s the best for you, your children and their future in regard to less plastics, biodegradable products and other eco-factors that lead to a safer more sustainable world.
Elimination Communication vs Toilet Training. When researching the topic of washers vs wipers, from the bottom up so to speak, I came across the phrase that best distinguishes what happens in the countries where for children squatting is the norm [Asian countries; India, Indonesia and more] vs as a generalisation the ‘western world’ where sitting has become the norm. ‘Elimination Communication vs Toilet Training.’ Both train your children when, where and how to go, but while the nappy – potty training – sit down on the loo is one method. The other is no nappy, with a cloth under the bottom while being carried for example. It involves no potty, is all squatty and also relies on parents’ ‘sixth sense.’ In simple terms, those parents learn to read their babies’ cues such as; squirming, turning pink, shuddering, making faces or certain noises and (eventually) the babies learn to hold back until their parents give them the signal by whatever means works best for them but usually vocal. Whatever the method each success may have a reward element for the child too. Having said all that, the ‘free bum’ is thought to be the better choice for a child, its health and environment with fewer non-biodegradable disposable nappies, plus no rashes or potentially related infections, nor having to cajole kids out of their nappies as they grow older.
More of a Question than an Answer. What all this boils down to is a few questions that we’ve been bouncing around, and after reading this maybe they’ll be your questions too? These relate more to sitters and wipers than squatters and washers, in spite of the increasing crossover between both. Let’s use millennials as an example. Assuming I’m a sit and wipe kinda guy, grew up that way and have three children, two are in, or about to exit the world of potty training, and the other one is 5yrs old – so now a fully-fledged sit down wiper. My partner and I decide, after looking at the options after the ‘paper shortage‘ during coronavirus, that it’s time to go the washing way. We buy a bidet and start doing the ‘douche and dab.’ What do we tell the kids about this new accessory? Do we re-train them? What might they tell our parents when we go visit next, or vice-versa, or do we go for the ’embrace all methods’ and cover all circumstances. What are their friends going to think and say? What if it comes up at school where there’s unlikely to be a range of bidet options available? How about public toilets and restrooms which would not have bidets or ‘bum guns’ either? Just some of the sudden burst of thoughts that may either boggle your mind or possibly change your mind in making the switch. No kids? Then no problem. But, if you’ve had, or are thinking of having them they need to be part of the plan in your toilet making decision process… somehow.
Wipe Butt Squat. The same applies to a lesser extent with the squat adoption to a foot-stool, i.e. you are sticking with wiping but have bought the ‘squat’ accessory. That should be easier to explain as the new ‘leg-raiser’ that’s just appeared in the bathroom won’t necessarily be used by children until their bodies are fully developed. A thought for adults is, if it’s spotted by visiting friends and relatives, which it will be unless you hide it, it is certainly bound to be a talking point, or if not mentioned at all, by default it becomes the ‘elephant [foot-stool] in the room’… your bathroom to be precise.
Hardware, Software, Compatibility, Great Instructions and Aftercare. In conclusion, may we therefore, initially ask for answers to our questions, from manufacturers and the many brilliant disruptors who have brought eco-friendly, healthier, sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives to our attention and are converting more and more people each day. How do you see the short, medium and long term plan and/or marketing and educating the children and other newbies needed to turn this ‘Tushy Tots Train’ into a locomotive? We love bamboo products, biodegradable materials, saving trees, saving water, the squat, helping people stay healthy and for longer. There’s a target audience that can help achieve that given your help but its this transition period and a wave to ride to keep that momentum. Maybe it’s about inclusive, educational, engaging and entertaining books for kids that show the new normal is normal, and taboo less taboo by opening up about how the whole world poops rather than ignoring other cultures? Do please reply to the article and to those many people who may be having the same thoughts – we’ll come back with the responses in another post. Also, any consumers who may have had a few thoughts or experiences sparked by all this, do throw over any questions to be answered and we’ll endeavour to get those Q’s answered.
The children’s charity ERIC has an excellent Guide to Children’s Bowel Problems it’s a must for new parents! You can download the guide here (and do please support their charity and good work). Have a great week! Want to ask any questions or add comments: contact us here.
‘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.’
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]
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]:
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…
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.