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Living Lightly column

That which cannot be spoken about

By Alan Hewett

We don’t speak about it much, going to the toilet that is. We have even developed a lexicon to describe it. We go to the bathroom, the dunny, the john or the loo. The latter expression is particularly interesting. It evolved from the French, “regardez l’eau.” This was shouted by servants in the eighteenth century as they emptied chamber pots from second storey into the street below. It translates as ‘watch out for the water’. One can imagine the smell, lack of hygiene and health risks the inhabitants of cities were exposed to due to lack of proper sanitation.

In first world countries we now take our sanitation systems for granted. Yet there are 2.3 billion people throughout the world who do not have access to a toilet.

That means annually 20 million tonnes of human waste goes into our waterways and oceans, fouls the land and causes widespread disease

Bill Gates has attempted to address this problem through his ‘re-invent the toilet project’. A utilisation of pro-sanitary technology in developing countries. These are designed to combat disease and turn human waste into a useable resource at low cost and with no water or sewer systems.

Examples are a solar powered toilet that extracts water from human waste and reuses it for future flushing, or a model that uses a nano-membrane filter with faeces digesting anaerobic bacteria inside to filter clean water out of waste.

The World Health Organisation estimates that for every dollar invested in sanitation there is a five dollar global economic benefit through lower health costs, increased productivity and fewer deaths.

The use of clean water for flushing toilets in our homes is a waste of a resource. Older toilets use 13 litres per flush. Modern toilets use a more modest 6 litres. Then there is the use of toilet paper. On average a person uses twenty seven rolls per year, approximately 384 trees in a lifetime.

A justification for using recyclable paper?

Perhaps the answer lies in using composting toilets. No water is involved and uses natural processes to recycle human waste. Waste and toilet paper are composted efficiently without odour whilst ensuring it is safe to handle and any liquid is evaporated.

Not ready to switch? At least we’ve progressed from the chamber pot.