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Durable life-style: Cook on poop

by Nomad Wed May 24th, 2006 at 05:28:30 AM EST

Yes, this is a diary about toilets.

The lovely city of Sneek in the province of Friesland has a remarkable premiere for the Netherlands: 32 new houses have been equipped with a new toilet.

Before you conclude that the rest of the Dutch are squatting across a hole in the ground, this toilet is a class apart. It's the culmination of various co-operating groups to demonstrate the DESaR concept: DEcentralised SAnitation and Reuse.

With this toilet in your house, you reduce 80 percent on water use, create fertilizer for agricultural purposes and in the long term you could even cook your meals on biogas extracted from what gets flushed down the toilet every day so casually.

From the diaries - whataboutbob

According to this folder (pdf!) from the ministry of Economic Affairs, the DESaR concept is based on the separation of different fluid flows used in a modern day house.

At first sight, only flushing is noticeably different from your ordinary toilet: instead of litres of water flushing your waste away, a vacuum pump - similar to those in aeroplanes - is now used. This alone reduces the amount of water significantly: from an ordinary 7 litres (!) per flushing to 1 litre, a reduction of 80 percent. However, flushing while sitting on the toilet seat I would not recommend.

But that's only where the story starts. "Black Water" (in the figure above depicted as "Brown Water") is the descriptor for the toilet waste that gets sucked to a central tank, which is located in the garage of one of the 32 houses. There, the waste material is brought to normal air pressures and a yeasting reaction starts - producing methane and CO2 which can be used to produce electricity. The first estimates predict that about 10 percent of the houses (so 3 out of a total of 32) can be sufficiently powered this way.

To the residue left in the tank, magnesium is added which sets off a chemical reaction that creates struvite, a common natural mineral which can be used as fertilizer. This is a known geochemical trick which was in the works for a while now, but a practical implementation was always hard as a technological transition was needed. DESaR seems to pull it off. "Struvinoirs" designed for restaurants whereby only the components in urine ("Yellow Water") are converted to struvite should also still be in the works, although I've not heard much about them lately.

The DESaR concept is a centralised sanitation - yet it is decoupled from the national sewer grid and in that sense it is decentralised. Because of that, and the severe reduction in water, the dissolved materials left in the remaining watery substance are now sufficiently concentrated that it becomes economically interesting to also extract those back. You should think of medicinal residues, hormones, toxics from cleaning materials. Scale matters: at about 500 houses also these materials can be extracted from the waste water. For the demonstration project this is therefore a bridge too far.

But bigger plans are in the making: the city council of Sneek wants to install these toilets also in the 1200 - 1500 houses still scheduled to be built.

DESaR reduces energy, water and nutrient use. It is economically interesting by turning the differences with the sanitation system needed to run an optimal, centralised sewage into an advantage. The demonstration in Sneek is the culmination of science research at the University of Wageningen, and the corporation of the city council with at least 5 commercial companies. It shows how decentralisation at the region level can have a decisive impact on how our western society moves away from a rampaging consuming society to a more durable one. A trend which is similarly visible in the United States where city councils and even States have put legislation in place that is already stricter than the Koyoto protocol on CO2 emissions.

And now I'm back to researching think tanks... I wanted a more thorough research on this subject, but this project has been making national headlines today so I'm overtaken by the ordinary press. I won't have it.

well it's about time :-) but I do point out that waterless toilets can be done with extremely simple low technology -- sawdust and redworms and time -- and then you don't need the electricity to power the vacuum pump, or to mine the magnesium to add for the chemical processing, or all the fancy plumbing and tankage, or indeed much of anything except some old biomass, worms, a suitable bucket, a comfy seat, and a worm box/compost pile.  and a few minutes fof labour per person once a week to empty the buckets (separate for pee and poop).

for a condo, hotel, dorm, apaatamentu or similar concentrated dwelling form, the more complex centralised power-dependent system is probably justifiable as the energy it consumes is more than offset by the energy savings of the multifamily unit (big win in heating and water delivery and so on).

of course Chinese villages have been using biogas digesters for years and years and years to generate cooking fuel.

affluent western notions of human waste management are right up there with SUVs as primary indicators of social psychosis imho <grin>  1) throw away a valuable resource, deliberately interrupting the nutrient cycle and starving the soil;  2) waste a lot of potable water; 3) introduce a lot of artificial toxins ih processing to "neutralise harmful products" in the blackwater before 4) dumping the hypernutrified water into local rivers, streams, near-shore ocean areas where it causes all kinds of havoc and mischief from excessive nitrogen concentration plus the chemical processing cocktail... and of course 5) the icing on the cake is a random melange of half-digested medications, toxic cleaning and cosmetic products, etc.

and yet our culture thinks that the flush toilet is an emblem of advanced civilisation -- when it oughta be an emblem of colossal cluelessness, right up there with the other moai of our times.

I'll bring some more links to this party when I have a mo to riffle through the files.  good topic Nomad.

[btw don't you owe me a diary or a post on noise from wind farms?]

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 06:32:36 PM EST
You're a durable extremist, De... Not everyone wants a waterless toilet... and I hope I can make you consider the position that for the Netherlands there is really no scarcity in water... Durable is fine, but it can come in different degrees in my book, depending on the differences in environment. You're not going to see me denounce waterless toilets in arid areas. There was an interesting project in Utah to safe water I read on in 2002 when I was there, but of course I threw it away. I won't be surprised if waterless toilets are the bomb over there.

And you're not going to make plumbers happy campers with your suggestions either, although I see a commercial opportunity in introducing weekly "Bucket Turners", coming at your place once a week to "relieve" the faeces buckets.

I've been too long disconnected from my lectures on natural element cycles to remember on magnesium, so you have the point there.

In practically every nature-oriented culture, (human) waste has been incorporated within the lifestyle; it makes so much more sense to stop seeing it as waste-only.

On the wind noise topic, did you see this reply?

by Nomad on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 07:03:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what alarms me is that my "durable extremism" doesn't nearly go far enough to ensure sustainable survival for current human population, let alone 10 bio souls in another 10-20 years or so.

we keep coming back to a threeway collision between
(1)  a fantastic attempt to provide the masses with an ersatz copy of the lifestyle of barbaric kings (to which a dangerous percentage of humanity has become habituated and now regards as an entitlement),
(2) an irreversible drawdown of planetary resources as a result of (1), and
(3) a resurgence of tribal/patriarchal fundamentalism arising in part from the fallout of (1) and (2), and directly militating against sanity (in the form of reducing birthrates, slowing growth, etc.) and towards madness (nationalist and race war, exterminism, fantasies of hegemony)

despite our superficially k-selected behaviours we seem to have r-selected memes encoded deeply in our religious (I include neolib economics and race-supremacist ideologies as forms of religion) wetware, long after its adaptive value has passed.  worldwide, with resource bankruptcy staring us in the face, we are seeing religious and political leaders shouting "Breed more, breed faster, don't let Them outbreed Us," and the barons of commerce shouting "Consume more, consumer faster."  pouring gasoline on a fire won't put it out -- except the hard way (burn everything combustible in sight and reduce the playing field to ashes).

all of which is taking us far from waterless loos, but just shows-ta-go-ya that I really can't consider myself an "extremist".  what is extreme -- hallucinatory, insane, Martian-anthropologist-would-need-a-Valium -- is the wacko, illusory, divorced-from-biology, divorced-from-physics, divorced-from-basic-integer-math culture that we busy little meme-termites have managed to build.

I think I'm in Kassandra mode again, is there some Alt-Shift-something key that gets me back out?

anyway thanks for posting summat cheery :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 07:29:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...to print that comment and hang it above my desk. Sheer brilliance. "Meme-termites" had me in stitches.

Try Alt-Shift-Milkshake at the Dairy Queen. Sometimes you must just surrender. ;)

by Nomad on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 07:37:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for the kind words :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 07:50:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the wind noise topic  no I hadn't, now I have, it was a great read, thank you, and I share your quest for silence...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 07:30:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gardez l'eau! > loo

Good subject Nomad! just right with my breakfast.

Thomas Crapper has much to answer for...

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed May 24th, 2006 at 01:00:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From think tanks to septic tanks and back, huh, Nomad?

Great diary.

Right up there with Sven's diary on human biogas.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 06:39:46 PM EST
I think some think tanks will be smelling pretty bad, so I might just be mentally preparing myself.

And you were the one, I recall, taunting me to do a diary on cow flatulence... Hey, what goes around, comes around.

by Nomad on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 06:48:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
sneek....priceless...straight out of dickens or sterne...

as in sneek preview of a movie coming soon to (very) near you!

why doesn't every european gvt get off its sorry ass and MANDATE this continent wide, starting ....yesterday!!!!

just brilliant, another piece of the puzzle, blissfully low tech as well...

nuke this!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 08:08:40 PM EST
Coincidentally, on Tuesday Diane Rehm interviewed W. Hodding Carter on her radio show about his new book Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Wed May 24th, 2006 at 10:24:00 PM EST
Good one. Also goes back to the comments DeAnander made upthread: flushing toilets are still glorified. The point probably should indeed be made that ordinary flush toilets were a big boon for human hygiene (short-term strategy). Yet it now seems time for re-inventing the toilet once again (long-term strategy).
by Nomad on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 03:14:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I was going to make the point that urban sanitation, running water, sewers, disinfectation of sewage, were necessary to root out many nasty diseases transmitted by feces. As usual, we have gone overboard but we will be forced to come around by water scarcity.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 03:22:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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