Up Shit Creek

By Elizabeth

“From a sanitary viewpoint, poor cities on every continent are little more than clogged, overflowing sewers.”

-Mike Davis, ‘Slum Ecology’

In all this reading about slums and their problems with waste disposal (as it pertains to health, hygiene, water sanitation, etc) I could not help but think of the dry toilets I encountered in my travels to New Zealand and Mexico, where we were studying many of these same issues (focused primarily in an environmental context but regardless, the outcome is the same).

In both these places I was shown (and used- thank you) dry toilets which seemed at the time to be the obvious solution to so many urban/waste/water/environment/health woes. I still don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about these!

“Less than 10% of homes in metro Manila are connected to sewer systems” (Davis, 139)

The beauty of these toilets is they do not have to be connected to anything- dry toilets do not require any elaborate piping systems OR water.

The toilets I encountered on my trip required no electricity, but simply a manual addition of wood chips after each use. This, in combination with another (also simple, non-electric) built-in system for separating wet and dry waste, resulted in a simple and efficient processing of waste into compost. “The way nature intended” (but sped up). As Davis states in another section of this same chapter, “Cities need an alliance with Nature in order to recycle their waste products into usable inputs [for farming, gardening, and energy production.]”

I found an incredible youtube video (the production-value of which should be an inspiration to anyone pursuing a degree in Media Studies) that explains/advertises the Biolet toilet. It is a form of dry toilet that, while designed for smaller numbers of people (ideally 4 per toilet), and reliant upon electricity (however this could be achieved through solar power), still gives the general sense of how the toilets operate and how well they could service many of our urban waste problems if developed and implemented properly.

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5 Comments»

  jessica wrote @

And this speaks to the need for low-cost, affordable, (and often design-driven) interventions on the ground that can make huge differences. Here as a video excerpt on dry toilets from Brillembourg, Klumpner and Feiress’s Caracas: Informal City (2007) – http://wn.com/Dry_Toilet-Barrio_La_Vega. Dry toilets were also mentioned in one or both of the Brillembourg readings this week.

  99hooker wrote @

I like how at the end the toilet doesn’t work and needs repair – this is a VERY common problem … my friend spent 2 months repaiting solar systems in Thailand from the Carter administration that had been unused for a decade – money is almost never put aside for maintenance

  99hooker wrote @

(My repsonse was to Jessic’a video not the biolet one)

  elizazeph wrote @

I guess my curiosity is that they just seemed to be mentioned in passing, when to me they present a potentially viable solution to the myriad problems discussed, and thus deserve attention and exploration on a much more thorough level.

  cindypound wrote @

dry toilets are not only a great idea for low cost, affordable waste management solutions, but they actual reflect the kind of sustainable design that is going to have to be part of modern life going forward if we have any hope of slowing down environmental catastrophe. water is among the most precious and scarce resources on the planet. long after we’ve been warring over oil, we’ll be warring over clean water. to use water to transport our waste product doesn’t make any sense from a sustainability point of view.


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