Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Big Necessity: adventures in human waste - Rose George

This was not an easy book to read. I did, at times, consider going and reading something else, because it is distressing. Very...

The book is about human waste, poo/shit in particular, although urine is also addressed.

There are more than 7 billion humans on the planet. An adult human produces some 250 gms of faeces a day - children somewhat less - let's say 200 gms of poo on average.

That means 7 billion x 200 gms - about 1400 million kilos of poo per day. Multiply that by 365 days per year... and yes, you can imagine. We are drowning in shit.

Shit is full of bacteria and parasites. Billions of people in the world have NO toilet, no, not a pit, not a latrine, they have no toilet facilities whatsoever. This means that their waste goes into the local fields and wasteland - where the flies have a field day - before flying off to walk all over any nearby food, and the effluent seeps into the water tables. Or they shit in the street, not because they want to, but because they have nowhere else to go. When the rains come, so does cholera.

In some parts of Africa the 'helicopter toilet' is common. Shit in a plastic bag, whirl it around your head, let go...

The charities and politicians are interested in clean water, because it is high profile, acceptable, but you can't have clean water if there is no safe disposal of effluent. Toilets provided are often pit latrines, with no way of emptying them. Once full, or without maintenance, they are pointless, and people go back to the traditional open air methods.

Even the so called 'civilised' west, where we have flushing toilets... where does that go? Into the rivers or the sea, or the 'sludge' is treated, and then spread onto farmland. This sounds like a good idea, get the nutrients back into the soil, but it isn't. Vast quantities of chemicals, some toxic, are also fed into the sewage system, these cannot be detoxified, they are also spread onto our land, where our food grows.

Did you know, that the thing that terrifies London sewage workers most is FOG? Fat, Oil and Grease. It clogs the sewers of London, building into thick, hard layers. They aren't allowed to use jack hammers on it any more, but it still needs to be removed. Where does it come from? Restaurants disposing of excess fats down the sinks and toilets. The Leicester Square areas is supposed to be particularly bad.

The whole topic is, quite simply, disgusting. But I don't actually know what we can do about it.

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