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Bathroom Talk November 21, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in environment, water efficiency.
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In Bluejay mansion, bathroom talk is only allowed when one is actually in the bathroom. And so I am typing this post while on the can. As far as you know. Happy belated toilet day, everyone! Friday was world toilet day! You missed it? Wasn’t this all over facebook, twitter, foursquare, or whatever this months’s thing is? Weren’t people foursquaring where they just popped a squat? Tweeting every turd? Digging every dingleberry? How many downloads of SitOrSquat were there?

WTD is actually serious business, The World Toilet Organization originated it to draw attention to the fact that most people in the world live without proper sanitation—think toilet scene from Slumdog Millionaire—and face unnecessary health risks as a result. The WTO is often confused with its better known sister organization with the same acronym, and this confusion is understandable given their missions. WTO the lesser aims to allow non-Western countries to shit as cleanly and efficiently as Western countries. WTO the greater aims to allow Western countries to cleanly and efficiently shit on non-Western countries. But I digress. The reason I brought up WTD and WTO is because I think that their charter is too narrow. Yes, there are serious sanitation problems in many parts of the world. And yes, these need to be addressed. But Western countries have sanitation problems as well and the WTO needs to draw attention to those as well.

What’s the problem with Western sanitation? It wastes too much water, uses too many chemicals, requires too much expensive infrastructure, and generates too much pollution. Of these, water usage is by far the biggest problem. The world will run out of fresh water way before it runs out of oil. Many places already have. In the US, large rivers like the Missouri and Colorado are already completely dry in stretches because all the upstream water is channeled away for agricultural, commercial, and personal uses. The Ogallala aquifer which sits under Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma has only about 30-40 years worth of water left in it. Attention, great plains farmers, now is the time to cash out! If only there was somewhere to cash out to! And as with everything else, things are only getting worse.

As much as the US needs to get off of carbon, we need to get off of fresh water. A human being needs 6 gallons of fresh water a day to satisfy basic drinking, cooking, and washing needs. The average American uses 80 gallons of water a day. A 5 minute shower is 20 gallons. Each flush of a standard toilet is 3.5. Then there’s the dishwasher. The clotheswasher. The flowerbed. The carwash. The grapes at the supermarket—growing grapes uses a ridiculous amount of water as you can imagine. Meat—animals drink water in addition to eating grain grown using water. And pretty much everything else that we buy—water is used extensively in manufacturing.

What to do? Well, use less water obviously. Take shorter showers. Eat less meat and fruits and vegetables that take a lot of water to grow—rice, berries, nuts. Buy less cotton—cotton is another incredible water hog. Take it easy on the carwashes. Use local plants in your garden that don’t need a lot of water. Don’t water your lawn. Install low-flow shower heads and toilets. Even better, install a composting toilet. Of all the things to use water for, flushing your shit to a treatment plant en route to a river seems the most asinine—ha! The next toilet I buy will be composting. I shit you not—double ha! I know what your first reaction must be—ugh! But you’re wrong. I’m not going to install a port-a-john in my house. A port-a-john is an open unflushed bowl in which water-soaked turd undergoes methane-producing anaerobic digestion. A composting toilet separates urine from feces and uses bacteria to digest excrement aerobically. Aerobic digestion produces less odor—not no odor, but a lot less—breaks down pathogens, and reduces volume by up to 90%. A composting toilet has to be emptied only once every three months, not every three days. And the sludge is black, mostly odorless, and can be dumped directly in the garden. Using a composting toilet is cleaner and more convenient than cleaning up after a cat, much less a dog. It’s really no different than using a conventional toilet.

If sanitation is developing countries is going to improve, composting toilets will have to be the way. There is no water-based sewage infrastructure—in many places there is no running water of anykind—no money to build infrastructure, and not enough water anyways. Just like the developing world skipped past landlines and went straight to cellular, here’s betting and hoping that they skip past centralized sewage and right to composting toilets. And as our own sewage infrastructure starts to break down, why pump billions of dollars into repairs? Why not move to composting toilets and spend public money elsewhere—education, healthcare, paying down the debt, or invading countries that have oil. The debt commission—is there a goofier combination of name and face than Erskine Bowles? Not even John Boehner—recommended a $0.15 a gallon gas tax. Hey Erskine, how about a $0.15 a gallon toilet tax? $3,000 tax credit for a hybrid car? Why not a $500 tax credit for a composting toilet? A little of this and a bit of that, I smell a toilet compost collection cottage industry—triple ha! And think of all that free, non-oil-based fertilizer!

The Philadelphia Eagles have announced plans to make Lincoln Financial Field “net-zero energy” . The Linc will produce more energy than it consumes using a combination of solar panels and Michael Vick powered wind turbines. Jeff Lurie, if you really want to go green, install composting toilets and waterless urinals also! And replace the water in the players’ squeeze bottles with beer. For the visiting team.

P.S. In his recent memoir, King George XLIII’s refers to himself as “The Decider.” Which I suppose is accurate since deciding doesn’t imply knowing or thinking. Anyways, when I first heard that I had faint echo of someone else calling themselves by the same moniker. But I couldn’t remember who. Then I saw it while reading Little Miss. Bluejay her bedtime book—Skippyjon Jones! The delusional Siamese cat who fancies himself the great Chihuahua sword-fighter El Skippito Friskito! SNL were ahead of their time with that 2000 skit of Bush playing with a ball of yarn.

P.P.S. Donovan McNabb’s contract. Funny.