Get over the 'Poo Taboo' expert warns
A UTS sustainability expert has warned that a revolution in sanitation is needed world-wide to preserve dwindling water supplies and recover increasingly rare nutrients needed to grow crops.
Toilets that safely capture urine for recycling phosphorous, and treat solid human waste for recycling must become a common feature in homes and businesses in Australia according to Associate Professor Cynthia Mitchell.
Professor Mitchell who works with the Institute for Sustainable Futures told a gathering of water and waste stakeholders this week that it was time to put our “poo taboo” aside and adopt radical new approaches to sanitation.
“Not enough is being done here in Australia to manage human waste sustainably or to save taxpayers dollars wasted on maintaining ineffective infrastructure,” Professor Mitchell said. “It’s money down the toilet.”
"Every time we miss the chance to demonstrate new ways of doing sanitation it is a wasted opportunity. And we are missing these opportunities left, right, and centre.
“Individual buildings could be adopting it for themselves in the short term and new developments in the medium term. For example, the Carlton United Brewery site should be made into an example that leads the nation and demonstrates a whole new way of thinking about sanitation, focused on reclaiming all the resources, rather than treating them as pollutants.
“A revolution in sanitation, as dramatic and far-reaching as the construction of London’s sewers during the Industrial Revolution, is needed in Australia. It is time to put our “flush it out of sight” mentality aside and see the very real social, environmental and economic benefits of recycling poo and wee,” she said.
Urine is high in phosphorus, a finite resource that is essential to life and continued food production and traditionally has been mined from the ground. The world is fast running out of mined phosphorous which is bad news for Australia’s ancient and phosphorus-poor soils that make growing food without fertilisers a struggle.
Urine may be the answer. Cities are becoming phosphorus ‘hotspots’ because of urine in sewage, and rapidly increasing urban populations, while global ground reserves of phosphorus are unlikely to last more than 50-100 years.
“Urine will soon be too precious to flush down the loo,” Professor Mitchell said. “Already in parts of Europe urine separating toilets are being introduced. Sweden has set a national target that 60% of phosphorus in organic waste, including sewage, must be recycled. At least 30% of that goes to fertilise agricultural land.
“There is no reason why Australia should not be forward thinking in introducing the same technology here. New houses, buildings and factories could be fitted with urine separating toilets while existing structures could be retrofitted with the technology.”
Vacuum and composting toilets are other innovations that Professor Mitchell said Australia must investigate.
“Flushing poo and potentially harmful pharmaceuticals away with lots of water and transporting it to a large centralised location for disposal is incredibly wasteful, polluting and expensive to taxpayers,” she said.
“It would be madness for water-poor Australia not to investigate the widespread adoption of these new efficient and effective technologies. It would be wise for our long-term prosperity – and it would be a great opportunity for the entrepreneurially minded out there who are looking for the next “big thing”.