First things first. I think the human race would be more inclined to participate if ‘waste’ was rebranded ‘resource.’

In light of the exceptional drought in California, and the ‘slated’ increase in population for space ship Earth, INDEED, water management is paramount. To supply a great deal of the current and future inhabitants with water management flush and discharge sanitation systems is not sustainable or pragmatic long term.

Overall, I think what is needed is improved education on the whether (and how) local taboos surrounding excreta change when it is presented as a resource versus a threat. And so, I propose it needs to be rebranded with the operative ‘resource’ instead of ‘waste’.

Altho the aversion to humans’ excreta has been a major reason that has limited the spread of disease, what is not widely known is it was not until the 19th century that the links between bacteria and disease were fully understood. However, what we know now, is humanure, managed properly, is a rich, sustainable resource as a soil amendment and fertilizer for food propagation that doesn’t require a lot of water input–but today, has been mostly dismissed as a viable resource in most developed nations.

Over the past few decades, there has been a great deal of interdisciplinary research on the technical feasibility and social acceptability of two very different approaches that could be applied to managing human excreta/humanure; ‘sewer avoidance’ (separation at source and the use of on-site remediation methods e.g. composting toilets AKA ecosan/ecosanitation toilets), and approaches that dispose of sewage sludge using technologies like reed beds and ‘waste to energy’ (gasification and anaerobic digestion)–essentially, using humanure as a means to transfer filth into food.

Although Pliny’s Natural History, Book XXVII stated that “human excretions are the best possible fertilizers” (Laporte, 2000, p. 152), it received relatively little attention from scholars until the fourteenth century when Crescentius of Bologna first published his Opus ruralium commodorum in 1307. According to Laporte, “the symbolic equation of money and shit” (Laporte, 2000, p. 33) was formally registered when the Opus was translated into French, in 1532, under the title “Prouffits campestres et ruraulx”. The value of human waste as a fertilizer was again ‘rediscovered’ in nineteenth century France as the hygienists’ movement emphasized the superiority of human excrement and physicians urged agricultural communities to “incite serious contemplation amongst growers in a region whose agricultural fame rests on the very rational use of human secretions in their most natural state.” (Bertherand, 1858, quoted in Laporte, 2000, p. 120).

REFERENCES:

Laporte, D. (2000). History of shit. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. (translated by Benabid N and El-Khoury R).

Poo gurus? Researching the threats and opportunities presented by human waste, Sarah Jewitt, School of Geography, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, United Kingdom

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