Economic Multipliers (52)

Do you know what these are?

They help CREATE wealth in systems.

Composting toilets COULD be an economic multiplier for the whole world.


If I write: Composting toilets COULD be an economic multiplier for the whole world, why would my next sentence be: High rates of childhood asthma and coral reef infections in the Caribbean (north of South America) are linked to Saharan sand (northern Africa)?

If I write: High rates of childhood asthma and coral reef infections in the Caribbean are linked to Saharan sand, why would my next sentence be: Reforestation, sustainable vegetation, gardening, and farming projects lack sufficient land, resources and/or labor (but many, many people are currently trying to fill the gap)?

If I write: The problems in the world are overwhelming but YOU most likely have the capacity every year to do at least one thing that creates value for you, one thing that creates value for someone else and one thing that creates value for everyone globally, MY GOAL is to convince you (since the world that we create is a series of cumulative actions) that YOU can help change the world.

So … why COULD composting toilets be an economic multiplier for the whole world (see P.S. also)?

A flashback: In my youth, I sat in a bar with a bunch of other civil engineering students and watched a film about the history of water closets (toilets). I distinctly remember basso operatic voices singing ‘flush, flush, flush’ … (everything down to the sewage treatment plant or septic system) … obviously quite memorable!

If you get a civil engineering education in the United States or possibly any other developed nation, it’s unlikely that you will be introduced (in any depth) to composting toilets … mini sewage treatment plants … which is really unfortunate because they may be part of the solution to dealing with global warming (and a number of other things).

Oh … oh! I keep going off on tangents and have now just stated that I believe global warming is not a hoax. I even wrote (in December, 2011):

'I watched 'Six Degrees Could Change the World' (DVD, National Geographic) and the strongest argument made for being 'responsive' was that we are releasing (in a matter of a couple hundred years) carbon dioxide that took millions of years to store.

Since farmers are planting Mediterranean type crops in England (and having success), Texas is thinking perhaps they need to consider the drought issue (fortunately they have a large coastline with lots of water (just in the wrong place and not yet desalinized)), scientists in India and elsewhere recognize that if the glaciers are not renewed (they are not being renewed ... lack of precipitation coupled with excess melting), rivers that sustain billions of people will not be sustaining them in short order (10-20 years ... fortunately India has an even better coastline than Texas), bugs are on the move, etc., I think the focus should be on how you'd help people make money while taking care of the problems (while pretending that we didn't create so many of them) ...'

But back to composting toilets:

    • 'Plant’ projects need soil with nutrients.

    • Compost has nutrients and IF processed properly (this is VERY important), can be used as fertilizer and as a starter soil base.

    • Deserts lack soil and vegetation which hold sand and moisture in place (imagine ‘beating back’ a desert one square foot at a time).

    • Soil itself can be held in place with stones/tiles or sticks or woven materials like netting and basketry and/or placed in raised beds or pots.

    • If you have people, you have a readymade source of compost.

    • As you expand arable (plantable) land, you gain another source of compost (and energy): vegetative debris.

    • When they are of passive design (i.e. NO external energy source other than nature), composting toilets work the best in higher temperature climates. Deserts tend to be in warm/hot climates.

    • Because composting toilets are designed so you do NOT have ‘effluent’ (liquid waste), they limit the potential for surface and groundwater contamination (IF you operate them properly).

Now, when I write about composting toilets, I am writing about VERY small sewage treatment systems (that must be maintained). People who live ‘off-the-grid’ and/or have backwoods cabins many times buy systems like these (but it is also possible to build them yourself). They are normally suitable for 2-6 people and look and function much like a regular toilet (but most often need no external water supply).

Developed countries have been testing and using composting toilets (or variations on the theme) in park systems for years but do not NEED the compost to build soil bases … and THAT is the key:

    • … people … compost … soil … revegetation … more compost … more soil … more revegetation …

    • … less atmospheric dust … greater moisture retention … more arable land … greater ability to produce food … less water and health problems …

Imagine that the individuals who want to reforest and revegetate our world would like to ‘soak up’ a lot of carbon dioxide in plants (and along the way expect that they’ll inadvertently do several other good things as well). All we need to do is give them suitable soil and water.

Does anyone ever need to go to the bathroom?


P.S. Composting toilets are ONE form of sanitary treatment system. Sanitary systems and infrastructure are best evaluated when considering numerous relevant factors:

    • Population density and industry density and type (If ‘compost’ is used as ‘fertilizer,’ it’s imperative to make sure that anything in it would not be toxic to animal or plant life. At a treatment facility, any toxins would be in one place (concentrated and much easier to treat). Once ‘compost’ is ‘spread’ or ‘effluent’ is released, anything that is in it gets spread too. And sometimes communities need to think about how to NOT mix residential and industrial wastes because the problems with them and the practical treatment options for them are totally different.)

    • Climate, geology and topography

    • Current and desired lifestyles

    • Types of local diseases and drugs typically used: Not enough is known today about how drug use in communities affects waste streams and what the long-term impacts are on animals and plants as ‘residuals’ from those drugs end up in the water and soil and could be ‘taken up’ by plants and animals (including humans). Note: If science-minded students are looking for thesis topics, they could find a lot of opportunities in this area … but they shouldn’t be looking just for the problems (because I’m sure they could find a lot). If someone goes looking for a problem, they should also be looking for some solutions that could make sense because to my knowledge, no one is going to stop taking medications that keep them much healthier.

    • Per person cost and affordability of any kind of sanitary system and the short- and long-term economic benefits.

It’s possible to transition from one type of system to another (what developed nations did when they moved from individual to group systems) as economic bases (and environmental necessity) supported the transition. Interestingly, today many people in developed nations (but still a VERY small percentage) are ‘transitioning back’ because they want greater control over the quality of their waste streams.

P.S.(2) If you pull up a list of the countries that have been most active in installing composting toilets, you’ll note that many are NOT in the equatorial belt: That means that some aspiring engineering type might someday be presenting some new modified design that ‘capitalizes’ on their particular climate. Since it won’t be me, I hope we won’t have to wait long (and perhaps other designs already exist and I just don’t know about them: If YOU do, contact Wikipedia).

P.S.(3) You can tell what people prioritize on by what they spend their money and time on. I mentioned Texas earlier and I believe that if that state (in the next 30 years) spent even half as much money on building additional desalination plants to provide potable water for people, animals, vegetation and crops as they did (in the past 30 years) on building sports facilities from the professional level down to the junior high school level, it would be possible to turn that state into a rain forest! (I’m kidding a bit here … but only just a bit). For some reason, it’s easy to raise money for ‘play’ and not always so easy to raise money for ‘work’ … perhaps because the people you normally need to raise money from have already decided they’ve put in a good day’s work and need to play … and ‘work’ usually requires some economic justification whereas ‘play’ normally requires none at all: Clearly the key is to turn all the ‘work’ that needs to get done into something that looks and feels more like ‘play!'

P.S.(4) Desalination plants are VERY expensive to operate IF they are not predominantly run with passive solar energy or radiative cooling energy (preferably both) … and here is another area where I expect numerous aspiring engineering types to make their mark …