Half the world is wasting water.
Other Half = not enough.
In this post:
we invented waste-water treatment plants
The beginnings of Wasted Water,
“Toilet: A Love Story”,
WHY NOT CONSIDER A NEW GRID? (Not Based on Water)
Do you understand how long this Eutrophication has been going on…
…a list at the bottom of the 7 posts on the subject of water-sanitation-toilets
above photo: Ivan Bandura on Unsplash
This whole thing started, because I want to talk about leaky toilets. It is a long time grievance of mine. Where I live they are everywhere! People do not monitor and fix their toilets.
If there is a reason this all must change, it is human population growth. No other animal species on Earth, can keep itself alive and growing, like humans.
We are loosing massive quantities of drink-quality water down drippy toilets. To deal with the flush toilets, we invented waste-water treatment plants:
- We pump water from nature (using energy),
- clean it and add chlorine (more energy),
- pipe it through a city (using lots of infrastructure and energy for pressure) into our toilets in our homes, etc.
- Then we flush it down the drain (after it gets dirty again) and
- pipe this dirty water, that includes tons of chemicals – not good for nature – to a waste-water treatment plant (more infrastructure using a lot of energy) to treat and clean the water and then
- put it back into nature. But it is still full of nutrients that should be in the ground not in water. In the water the nutrients make big problems – Eutrophication.
Do you know what Eutrophication is? A eutrophic stream, river or lake happens when too many nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous are thrown or runoff into the water. Algae, plankton and other microorganisms love these types of nutrients, and given the chance, they will take over. If they do, they can have serious negative effects on other organisms like fish, birds and even people.
Drinking water is no longer safe.
We get very alarmed when there is an Oil spill that can suffocate fish, stick to feathers and fur, suffocate birds and mammals, etc. But all the other stuff that we throw in the water, is ignored.
This looks like a Circular system. But it is full of mistakes.
What a waste!
And on the way…massive quantities of drink-quality water drip down these toilets every day.
Ms. Tamara Avellán (Research Fellow- Water Resource Management Unit, United Nations University) has looked into this problem. The invention of the flush toilet, or water closet (WC), in 1596 may have begun the end of open defecation outside of homes, but the flush toilet probably stands as one of “the most wasteful innovations” in human history.
Think about it!
We have solved a sanitation problem, by wasting huge quantities of drink-quality water….on a planet that has a finite supply.
OK sure – We are probably not going to stop using water sewer systems over night. The flush toilet was supposedly invented in 1596, but toilets using
water and water sewer systems have been around much longer. Where there was none, much of the refuse was thrown in rivers and other bodies of water anyway (bad) ………if not used for fertiliser (good).
The beginnings of Wasted Water
>>The Egyptians had what appears to have been a workable, viable water sanitation system starting in the New Kingdom (16th century BC) for the wealthy. Most ancient Egyptians simply dumped their waste in canals or open fields.
>>In the Indus Valley civilization (now parts of India and Pakistan – c.2,600-1,900 BC) streets were built on a grid pattern and networks of sewers were dug under them. Toilets were flushed with water.
>>On the island of Crete, the Minoan (from 2,000 to 1,600 BC), built water drainage systems, which took away sewage. Toilets were flushed with water.
And the famous Romans?
>>The Romans collected rainwater and sewage. The wealthy had their own toilets. There were public lavatories. No privacy just stone seats next to one another without partitions of any kind. Water from the public baths or aqueducts flowed continuously, in troughs, beneath the latrine seats.
The sewage was delivered to the sewers beneath the city, and eventually to the Tiber River. In 315 CE there were 144 public latrines in Rome.
Ancient Rome is famous for its sophisticated plumbing systems. Modern archeological studies (of old excrement) suggest that its sanitation technology was not doing well for their residents’ health.
>>Before 1850, most toilets in China did not use water. There has been a very long history of using human manure in agriculture. It was only in the 20th-century that China began to really build water waste pipelines. Until the late 1970’s, there was a big manure commercial supply-chain that took the human refuse to the country-side, for use as fertiliser. Flush toilets only appeared in China in the second half of the 19th-century.
There were far less humans in the world back then. But with a history like this, how can we fix the problems?
And to think that in many places around the world, today, there are still millions of people that “go” outside in the fields and streets. If it is not a lack of water it is tradition …….
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’
In Hindi = “Toilet: A Love Story”
This Bollywood movie is the story of Keshav and Jaya who fall in love and get married. However, Keshav’s village does not have a single toilet, which creates a big problem. Jaya – leaves her husband for failing to provide a toilet. It’s based on the true story of Anita Narre, whose protest against defecating outside not only got her husband to build a toilet, with government aid, but inspired what the Indian press called a “toilet revolution” in her village in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
The map below shows the theoretical change in the percentage of Indian Households with their own toilets between 2014 and 2017.
On October 2, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the “Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) Mission, a massive campaign to clean up the country’s cities, towns and rural areas. Eliminate open defecation (OD) by launching an educational and promotional campaign, constructing household-owned and community-owned toilets and establishing a mechanism to monitor their use.
And so, it seems, another continent has fallen victim to the flush toilet. But maybe India can show us how to switch from “flush” to “dry” and save water for drinking.
Like this idea……………….
Bernelle: “While I have a (completely) “dry” toilet in an affluent (medium density) urban environment, I can not, yet, suggest that people at large use this. The practitioners …seem to agree that flush toilets remain the best default option … I don’t know how much of that is user psychology. I don’t think we’ve explored the options from the city planning, health, waste management and engineering sides… hence my interest. ..It’s worth taking a leap and seeing where it goes. So, one step at a time.”
WHY NOT CONSIDER A NEW GRID?
(Not Based on Water)
The Toilet Board Coalition point of view:
In the 19th Century, supporters of the early water sewer systems faced conflict from scientists, who advised that we should reclaim nutrients. With no treatment plants, sewers were (the scientists argued) no more than systems for flushing soil nutrients into the sea. But in parallel, development of mineral fertilisers was also progressing. The current combination of water sewers and mineral fertilisers, is the present system used in the UK and most developed countries. The great success of these innovations fixed the “linear model”, that is still used today. It operates with “one-time use of many resources”. So, back then, scientists argued for a Circular Sanitation system and lost. But circumstances have changed:
- From 1900 to 2011 global population has grown x4. Linear systems, which worked with resources that seemed limitless back then, are not workable now in the 21st century. Visible symptoms include soil depletion, water pollution, and growing resource shortages.
- Systems long-established in the “developed world” may not work in developing countries. This is very true where major infrastructure is missing. In energy and telecommunications, decentralised frameworks work and can scale up. (But water sewer systems on go one way.)
- The biological cycle as a whole is missing, with hardly any systematic recovery of biological waste. Instead of using biological processes (based on nature), many low value, short-life products use expensive materials. This creates a serious waste issue.
- The signs are that new ideas could expand the range of re-use options for Toilet Resources. So the argument, lost in the 19th century, may win today. Current Status of Toilet and Sanitary Treatment, as seen in the map below, makes it clear that toilet provision is still lacking, and treatment even more so.
Where something so essential to human life is missing, it means that there is still “Demand”. Demand means business opportunity. It means jobs. It means innovations that could supply the “Demand” with new Earth harmonising solutions!!!!
Bernelle: “When it comes to complex, diffuse streams, biology beats chemical and physical processes. Most engineers agree with me but use that as a reason to abandon it to nature, which is was what wastewater treatment was for the last 100 years. We knew that biology does *something* so we should allow space for it in a big tank, but that was it. It’s only now, really, that we are starting to really understand how it all works and fits together, so that is what I do.
Through our work we’ve coined the term ‘wastewater biorefineries’. In short it is creating value from wastewaters, using biology,… As I mentioned, we learned about bugs, plants and we’re heading into animals now. The ‘reactor systems’ we look at can be classified by these big technical terms below, but the bottom line is, if we use all of them, we can create robust, resilient ecosystems, using many different metabolisms. I think this is particularly valuable as we’re moving into Water Sensitive Design and more green infrastructure in the urban environment.
>>Heterotrophic microbial: great control, well understood, good C removal. “bacteria”
>>Photomixotrophic: nitrogen and phosphorous removal, greater energy contribution from photosynthetic activity “algae”
>>Macrophyte bioreactor: polishing step, nitrogen and phosphorous removal “plants”
>>Solids: (dominant group expected to be fungal organisms), bioprocessing of high solids content “sludge”
Do you understand how long this Eutrophication has been going on….1000’s of years!….when the ancients started to build sewer systems and before that. Present day pollution only makes the process happen 100 to 1,000 times faster.
Disease and death are merciless, and most of them are caused by water contaminated by humans.
To stop eutrophication is to return to harmony with planet Earth.
There are new innovations that can do this!
It is not hard to understand why so many of the “ancients” used water. Not all of them did. Can we learn from them?
How to fix all this? Let us continue the discussion……
7 posts on the subject of water-sanitation-toilets, covering the following issues:
#1 Leaky toilets are everyone’s business!
#2 The beginning of Wasted Water.
#3 The natural way to empty our Bowels?
#4 We have 12 years to cool off planet Earth!
#5 Dry Toilet sanitation systems for our growing population
#6 Online Tools to Re-Invent with the Have-Nots.
#7 What is wrong with the Have’s? Plenty!