Toilet training

Posted: 1 March 2001

Joseph Jenkins, the author of Humanure Handbook, divides societies into two catergories: "Those who shit in their drinking water and those who don't. We, in the Western world are in the former class." Gar Smith reports.

In the United States, water use "exceeds replacement rates by 2.1 billion gallons a day." The flush toilet accounts for nearly half of the US domestic water consumption. According to Ecoforum, the magazine for the Nairobi-based UN Environmental Programme, standard flush toilets use 2,000 tons of freshwater to flush each ton of human waste.

A good step toward solving the water crisis would be to replace flush toilets with stand-alone dry-composting toilets. Many clean, odour-free composing toilets are already on the market.

"Correctly managed, these provide cost-free, pathogen-free fertiliser," Ecoforum reports. "Many far eastern societies have used dry toilets for centuries and...have been remarkably free of the faecal-borne epidemics that have plagued western history."

Redesigning urban landscapes to incorporate rain-catchment areas could help, too. Harvesting rainwater flowing off rooftops provides another time-tested path to local water independence.

Water harvesting, long practised in the underdeveloped world, is undergoing a renaissance in modern cities from Tyoko to Austin Texas, where both the University of Texas and the National Wildflower Research Center have incorporated rain tanks.

"Everyone already is drinking rainwater," notes Austin resident Mike McElveen. "The difference is how far the raindrop travels before we drink it." McElveen collects his water pure and straight from the sky and stores it in a 10,700-gallon home-built tank.

A note of caution: In some parts of the world, agricultural and industrial pollution has poisoned the rain. National Wildlife Federation tests revealed that rain and snow falling over Chicago and other Midwest cities can contain mercury concentrations 42 to 65 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended safety levels. Coal-burning powerplants and municipal incinerators are responsible for most of this mercury pollution.

Source: Extracted from Water Wars, Water Cures by Gar Smith, Editor of Earth Island Journal, January 2000.

See also: Lifting the Lid: An Ecological Approach to Toilet Systems, published by the Centre for Alernative Technology. (This book is found in CAT's Water Supply & Sanitation category in their Buy Green By Mail catalogue).