Who Gives A Crap

The good part about running a blog instead of being a journalist is that you can write about stuff you really like and also insert your own opinion as well as asking your readers for their comments. This obviously happens outside the conventional (dev aid) world with its often streamlined, corporate communication policies which sometimes avoid mentioning open issues like the following initiative which I read about today in the recommendable EcoSanRes mailing list.

If you’re interested in sustainable sanitation issues, make sure not to miss out this valuable exchange on first hand experiences with participants from all over the world. Yes, it’s just an old-fashioned mailing list that will sometimes clog up your inbox, but it’s the tool people use to communicate (hello 2010, hello RSS feeds, hello blogs, hello Facebook, hello Twitter, hello LinkedIn/Xing…).

You’ll notice that I took this wonderful headline as an opportunity to include my 2c in the beginning because it’s something I’ve been meaning to mention on this blog for a long time. Also, if YOU feel like there’s a story that needs to be published here, please feel free to contact me and I will have a look at it. Thank you!

Now back to the main topic: “Who Gives A Crap“.

Who Gives A Crap actually is a very interesting and thought-provoking initiative that aims to support water & sanitation projects in the developing world via the sale of sustainable toilet paper.

Yes, this may sound like a joke because a) what’s (environmentally) “sustainable toilet paper”?, b) why only focus on developing countries? (~ developing in which sense? within the watsan/sanwat sector? hmm..) and c) the guys behind this are otherwise busy running “a website that fundraises for development aid organisations using internet advertising”.

Nevertheless, as the distinguished Professor Ralf Otterpohl from the Institute of Wastewater Management and Water Protection @ Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg (Germany), pointed out in an e-mail reply today (on this said mailing list): [they are] “…touching an important issue. The cultural gap between washers and wipers shows that both sides are doing something strange.”

I couldn’t agree more. Both, using only dry paper OR only water with your bare hands aren’t sustainable solutions. Yes, people have been practising each method for ages, and probably everyone has perfected his/her own method of anal cleansing over the years and will teach/show his/her children accordingly – but are these methods really sustainable?

Wet toilet paper? Ralf goes on arguing that wet toilet paper is “not suitable for wastewater treatment plants of vacuum blackwater systems”. Ha! I am a huge fan of vacuum systems and wet toilet paper, but this revelation is something new to me. No wonder the toilet paper on planes (=> vacuum toilets)  is so thin and instantly dissolves. Also note that there are different types of wet toilet paper.

So with the situation being that we currently have many different sanitation systems all over the world (toilets, and the wastewater treatment, if any), and humans that are increasingly travelling all over the globe within hours, expecting similar standards all over the world, it begs the question if there is one unique and sustainable system that will fit everyone…(?).

One system for everyone. One toilet system – seat or squatting toilet & one cleaning procedure –  but obviously different treatment systems, adopted to the local climate/conditions (water, electricity, maintenance, etc.). Will this be possible? And is it a desired solution?

I don’t know if these are the right questions to ask when it comes to the complex matter of sanitation & treatment options, but then: how come we’re looking for sustainable treatment and reuse options if the cleansing process itself – the “interface” between users and a toilet – already is an unsolved issue by itself? And also part of the problem?

Ralf Otterpohl goes on telling us about the Terra Preta Sanitation (TPS) that partly consists of a disposable “food-quality” cleaning cloth, moistured with a lactid acid bacteria. Hey, doesn’t that sound like the desired sustainable toilet paper? And “food-quality” already sounds like a very smart Cradle2Cradle approach.

Terra Preta Sanitation (TPS) is a low-cost dry sanitation system based on urine diversion and the addition of charcoal to the system that produces lasting and highly fertile soils with properties similar to the recently [re]discovered manmade Terra Preta (black soil) in the Amazon region. Through natural processes of lacto-fermentation (silage) and vermicomposting, fecal material is converted into Terra Preta like soils that can be utilized in (urban) agriculture and also act as a carbon sink. (source)

Terra Preta Sanitation, a system designed for use in urban areas, with a separate collection of used toilet paper in a bucket. I already like the concept and that it has been re-discovered as a traditional method.

Wait….! You were first talking about sustainable toilet paper and now you’ve switched to a sustainable treatment system for urban areas that generates fertile soils? How’s that supposed to mix up? And why should I Give A Crap??!

Because you should. It starts with eating and doesn’t stop when you go to the toilet. There needs to a working closing-the-loops system in place that helps us grow food and also provides a secure and comfortable way for hygiene standards. Wet toilet paper that adds value to a system, if you will.

Coming back to the video above: would you buy (any) sustainable toilet paper and fork out an extra dime for it?

And: would you be willing to switch your existing cleaning method for any new – better – option? (similar to the already popular & separate collection of glass, paper and bio waste, which also required some behaviour change…)

Author: jke

Hi, I am an engineer who freelances in water & sanitation-related IT projects. You'll also find me on Twitter @saniblog and Instagram.

One thought on “Who Gives A Crap”

  1. Sure. It was wonderful to hear Hector speaking on Terra Preta sanitation at the World Toilet Summit. We are especially interested in urban / peri urban solutions. Look forward to following this blog and spreading the word in Portland, Oregon. Please follow us on @PhortlandPHLUSH Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human – PHLUSH.

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