Editor-in-chief Mitchell Scott goes deep down the drain to ponder pee in his Backside column from the Summer 2020 issue of Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine.
At least four times a day, I look down at a bowl of crystal-clear, drinkable water, precious in most places on Earth, and I piss in it. Then, eight times out of 10—depending on where I am and the colour of my pee—I flush, sending anywhere from three to six litres of now not-so-fresh water down the drain. If you add up my leaks for this year, plus my family’s and my town’s, and then consider every home, hotel, restaurant, and place of work with a flushable toilet worldwide, we have a problem. On average, every North American flushes about 22 litres of drinkable water down the toilet every day.
I’ve been trying not to do the loo for a while now. When I lived rurally, I had a mandate of urinating outside whenever possible. Now that I live in town, I tinkle in the shower when it works out, but don’t tell my wife; she thinks it’s gross. I still try to sneak outdoors for the odd squirt, mainly at night, but it’s dangerous. Nothing is worse than a neighbour catching you mid-shake. Yes, I put the bricks in the reservoir to displace water, and I let it mellow when it’s yellow, all that crap. No matter, it’s fundamentally wrong to pee into perfect water.
I’m not the only one wondering why the toilet issue can’t be better. In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, with a goal to solve some of the world’s sanitation problems. Since most developing countries don’t have the luxury of wasting 22 litres of water per person on pee and poop every day, many of the foundation’s solutions feature waterfree crappers. The World Toilet Organization (yes, it exists!) is pushing hard for toilet designs with “urine diversion,” which separates solids from liquid waste. Solids can be composted for fertilizer and harvested for methane gas, while urine can be used to produce phosphorous and nitrogen. There are even people trying to make a toilet surface so smooth that stool won’t stick to it! No streaks, no water. Brilliant!
We like to think we’re modern, but we are still behind. The rare family has a compostable toilet, but that option is a no-go since they are illegal in my town. And urine-diverting toilets didn’t take hold in pioneering countries like Germany and Sweden. It turns out we don’t have the political will to create septic systems advanced enough to do anything sustainable with our pee yet. Instead, by the billions, we piddle straight into one of the planet’s most precious resources and then spend bazillions making it clean again. But let’s face, it will never be what it once was.
So, please, help me. I’m confused. And I can’t hold it much longer.