What's All The Commode-tion? Why, It's World Toilet Day!

Nov 18, 2019

Here’s some news you’ll definitely want to take sitting down: Tuesday is World Toilet Day. We’re sure you’re already on the edge of your seat. If you can handle it, KLCC’s Brian Bull plunges into issues raised by local toilet advocates on this solid occasion. 

The modern toilet: a device often taken for granted, but providing a great service in terms of sanitation, disease control, and basic human dignity (though the toilet paper seems nearly out of reach).
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

So here’s the poop: people on Earth squeeze out 640 billion pounds of fecal waste a year. And even in this day and age, about 2.5 billion people lack proper sanitation. 

A compostable, waterless toilet that uses sawdust.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Laura Allen is a sustainable water advocate with Greywater Action. She says lack of toilet access can spread disease and environmental contamination.

“Dirty water is one of the biggest causes of death – especially for young children – and having safe toilets is a way to help promote clean water and have people have healthy lives.”

It’s estimated half a million children die each year from lack of sanitation.  So no butts about it…commodes are important. Allen is especially excited for waterless toilets that convert personal poo – what she calls ‘humanure’ – into compost.  She shows one off at a Eugene residence.

“You lift up the lid, and then below it is a chamber where the composting process happens," she tells KLCC.

Laura Allen, co-founder of Greywater Action, a West Coast organization for sustainable water advocacy.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

"So when you use the toilet, you add a little scoop of sawdust, and that brings some carbon into the picture, it also creates air spaces so that the aerobic bacteria - which decompose the material – can do their job.” 

Allen lifts a heavy lid to a compost bin specifically for "humanure" (people poop) which takes about a year to break down before it's usable for landscapes.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

The material takes a year to break down.  Allen says it can then be buried in the landscape, or near fruit trees.  

And in case of a natural disaster – like an earthquake – waterless toilets can provide victims relief, if sewer infrastructure is damaged.

Even billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is making a stink over commodes.  Last year in China, at an event called the Reinvented Toilet Expo – yes, that’s its name –the Microsoft founder famously spoke on the issue next to a jar of poop. 

He also released a video on his foundation’s work on toilets that don’t require power or water, and use chemicals to convert human waste into fertilizer.  

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and representative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in a video about a reinvented toilet that uses chemicals to render human waste into fertilizer.
Credit Bill Gates / YouTube

“Several reinvented toilets are being tested right now in Durban, South Africa," says Gates, as footage shows residents walking along reddish dirt roads and tin-shanty homes. 

"Durban’s a good place to run these tests, because the city is growing fast, and many people there don’t have modern sanitation.  Which means that even if they have access to a toilet, the waste can get into the environment, and make people sick.”

There are other options for those who don’t have sewer hookups to begin with.  Omar Nelson shows me an appliance in his wife’s Eugene studio that gives new meaning to the term, “hot s**t.”

“This is an Incinolet, it’s an incinerating toilet. It takes your bodily waste and converts it into hot air and ash,” he says.

The electrically-powered device cost Nelson $1600, which is still cheaper than installing a sewer line.

Nelson explains how it works.

An incinerating toilet, that renders human waste into ash.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Nelson: “To start with, you open it up and there’s a paper liner that goes into the toilet.”

Bull:  "Kinda folds in there like a paper coffee filter folds into an automatic coffee maker."

Nelson: “Exactly.  Then you do your business.  And there’s a lever on the side, push it (CLANG), then you put the loaded paper into pit, then you close the lid.  Push the button (WHIRRR) … the chamber inside heats up to something 1000 degrees and burns it all up to nothingness."

Bull:   "A thousand degrees, wow! How long does this normally take?"

Nelson:  "Takes quite a while. I think 45 minutes."

Bull:  "Huh.  Like baking a cake, I guess."

Nelson:  "Exactly." 

If this information dump on poop hasn’t left you feeling too wiped, there’s more.  World Toilet Day is being observed at Whirled Pies in downtown Eugene Tuesday night (11/19). There’ll be a presentation on compostable toilets, a question and answer session, and a trivia game. 

Organizers seem to be on a roll.

Copyright 2019, KLCC.