18 November 2013

Don't leave shit lying around

I'm going to tell you a story -- make an observation really -- in honor of World Toilet Day.*

This picture gives the first thousand words. I took it on 8 Jun 1999 near Zhaoxing, China

As you can see, there are five side-by-side outhouses (and a few chickens), all of them with "collection boxes" under the legs. These boxes are periodically opened and cleaned of nightsoil, which is spread onto fields as fertilizer.

So shit is a resource (a good) not a waste (a bad).

That's not the case in developed countries, where people flush their private waste into the collective sanitation system or in poorer countries where people without access to toilets leave their private waste in common fields and paths. 

So we've got two different problems (shit is seen as a bad instead of a good; people dump their bads into the commons) that can be addressed by turning shit into a good or ensuring that people take responsibility for their shit, respectively.

How do we get those solutions? Composting toilets can do wonders on a small scale, but densely populated places need to have toilets that drain to adequate sewage and treatment systems.

Bottom Line: Take care of your shit -- and help others take care of theirs.
* I am part of the #Blog4Sanitation movement setup by Splashdirect to raise awareness of the importance of global sanitation. Learn more about World Toilet Day.


  1. Amen, it's black gold.

    Also why you should never eat raw vegetables in China. Ever wonder why Chinese chefs use such intense heat for stir-frying? Very effective at killing microbes. :)

  2. On the subject of "turning shit into good" you might find the following business interesting:

    (Also, it is surprisingly challenging to earnestly refer a blog author to a business in a comment without it sounding like spam!)

  3. interesting insight...and maybe the impacts are negligible...but my hunch is that waterways near those outhouses suffer from high levels of nutrient impacts, particularly from nitrates. There are reasons why different states are looking to significantly restrict spreading of biosolids on agricultural enterprises. My utility pelletizes all biosolids, however, they end up being limited in their uses. Bottom line, your shit solution (pun intended) may actually be contributing to problematic legacy or direct nitrate contamination of adjacent water ways. The lesson (as always) is time, place manner and amount. Your insight by nature has to be very site and factually specific.

  4. I think a large part of the problem with use of biosolids from sewage treatment in the US stems from the following issue:

    1. Sewage systems originally meant primarily for disposal of human solid waste have ended up becoming the primary means of disposal for a lot of other stuff like industrial wastes, which vastly increase the toxicity and affect the treatability, resulting in an end product that cannot in fact be safely used for agricultural end products.


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