“The practice of injecting ‘waste’ products and toxic
materials into the arterial waterways of Earth is comparable to the idea of
using our own bloodstream as a disposal site for hazardous compounds.”
The world is divided into two categories of people: those who shit in drinking water and those who don’t. We in the western world are in the former class. We defecate in water, usually purified drinking water. After polluting the water with our body’s excrements, we flush the once pure but now polluted water “away,” meaning we probably don’t know where it goes, nor do we care.
This ritual of defecating in water may be useful for maintaining a good standing within western culture. If you don’t deposit your feces into a bowl of drinking water on a regular basis, you may be considered a miscreant of sorts, perhaps uncivilized or dirty or poverty stricken. You may be seen as a non-conformist or a radical.
Yet, the discarding of human organic waste into water supplies obviously affects water quality. By defecating directly into water, we pollute it. Every time we flush a toilet, we launch five or six gallons of polluted water out into the world.19 That would be like defecating into a five gallon office water jug and then dumping it out before anyone could drink any of it. Then doing the same thing when urinating. Then doing it every day, numerous times. Then multiplying that by about 250 million people in the United States alone.
Even after the contaminated water is treated in wastewater treatment plants, it may still be polluted with excessive levels of nitrates, chlorine, pharmaceutical drugs, industrial chemicals, detergents, and other pollutants. This “treated” water is discharged directly into the environment.
A visit to the local library for a cursory review of sewage pollution incidents in the United States yielded the following:
It is estimated that by 2010, at least half of the people in the US will live in coastal cities and towns, further exacerbating water pollution problems caused by sewage. The degree of beach pollution becomes a bit more personal when one realizes that current EPA recreational water cleanliness standards still allow 19 illnesses per 1,000 saltwater swimmers, and 8 per 1,000 freshwater swimmers.29 Some of the diseases associated with swimming in wastewater-contaminated recreational waters include typhoid fever, salmonellosis, shigellosis, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, pneumonia, and skin infections.30
If you don’t want to get sick from the water you swim in, you can always follow another standard recommendation: don’t submerge your head. Otherwise, you may end up like the swimmers in Santa Monica Bay. People who swam in the ocean there within 400 yards (four football fields) of a storm sewer drain had a 66% greater chance of developing a “significant respiratory disease” within the following 9 to 14 days after swimming.31 This should come as no surprise when one takes into consideration the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The use of antibiotics is so widespread that many people are now breeding antibiotic resistant bacteria in their intestinal systems. These bacteria are excreted into toilets and make their way to wastewater treatment plants where the antibiotic resistance can be transferred to other bacteria. Wastewater plants can then become breeding grounds for resistant bacteria, which are discharged into the environment through effluent drains. Why not just chlorinate the water before discharging it? It usually is chlorinated beforehand, but research has shown that chlorine seems to increase bacterial resistance to some antibiotics.32
Not worried about antibiotic resistant bacteria in your swimming area? Here’s something else to chew on: 50 to 90% of the pharmaceutical drugs people take can be excreted down the toilet and out into the waterways in their original or biologically active forms. Furthermore, drugs that have been partially degraded before excretion can be converted to their original active form by environmental chemical reactions. Pharmaceutical drugs such as chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, antiseptics, beta-blocker heart drugs, hormones, analgesics, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and drugs for regulating blood lipids have turned up in such places as tap water, groundwater beneath sewage treatment plants, lake water, rivers, and in drinking water aquifers. Think about that the next time you fill your glass with water.33
Long Island Sound receives over a billion gallons of treated sewage every day, the waste of eight million people. So much nitrogen was being discharged into the Sound from the treated wastewater that it caused the aquatic oxygen to disappear, rendering the marine environment unsuitable for the fish that normally live there. The twelve treatment plants that were to be completed along the Sound by 1996 were expected to remove 5,000 pounds of nitrogen daily. Nitrogen is normally a soil nutrient and agricultural resource, but instead, when flushed, it becomes a dangerous pollutant.34
Previous to December 31, 1991, when disposing of US sewage sludge into the ocean was banned, much of the sewage sludge along coastal cities in the United States was simply dumped out at sea. Nevertheless, the city of New York was unable to meet that deadline and was forced to pay $600 per dry ton to dump its sludge at the Deepwater Municipal Sludge Dump Site, 106 miles off the coast of New Jersey. Illegal dumping of sewage into the sea also continues to be a problem.35 A bigger problem is what to do with sewage sludge now that landfill space is diminishing and sludge can no longer be dumped into the ocean.
The dumping of sludge, sewage, or wastewater into nature’s waterways invariably creates pollution. The impacts of polluted water are far-ranging, causing the deaths of 25 million people each year, three-fifths of them children.36 Half of all people in developing countries suffer from diseases associated with poor water supply and sanitation.37 Diarrhea, a disease associated with polluted water, kills six million children each year in developing countries, and it contributes to the death of up to 18 million people.38 At the beginning of the 21st century, one out of four people in developing countries still lacked clean water, and two out of three lacked adequate sanitation.39
Proper sanitation is defined by the World Health Organization as
any excreta disposal facility that interrupts the transmission of fecal
contaminants to humans.40
This definition should be refined to include excreta recycling
facilities, as excreta are valuable organic resources which should not be
discarded. Compost toilet systems are now becoming internationally recognized as
constituting “proper sanitation,” and are becoming more and more attractive
throughout the world due to their relatively low cost when compared to
waterborne waste systems and centralized sewers. In fact, compost toilet systems
yield a dividend — humus, which allows such a sanitation system to yield
a net profit, rather than being a constant financial drain (no pun
The almost obsessive focus on flush toilets throughout the world is causing the problems of international sanitation to remain unresolved. Many parts of the world cannot afford expensive and water consumptive waste disposal systems. Or, in the words of Gary Gardner (Vital Signs 1998), “The high costs leave developing countries spending less than a third of what they should in order to provide adequate sanitation, according to WHO. . . Prospects for providing universal access to sanitation are dismal in the near to medium term. . . Despite the attention focused on sanitation, governments have not demonstrated the will to meet this growing challenge.” 41
Illness related to polluted water afflicted 111,228 Americans from 1971-85. Forty-nine percent of these were caused by untreated or inadequately disinfected groundwater.42 Approximately 155 million people in the US obtain their drinking water from surface water sources.43 Several American cities have suffered from outbreaks of cryptosporidia (protozoa which cause severe diarrhea) since 1984. These protozoa are transmitted when people drink water contaminated by infected human and other animal feces. Outbreaks occurred in Braun Station, Texas, in 1984; in Carrollton, Georgia, in 1987; in Medford and Talent, Oregon, in 1992; and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1993. The outbreak in Carrollton, Georgia, afflicted 13,000 people, and was caused by contaminated water from a water treatment plant. Hundreds of thousands of people have been afflicted by this bug, for which there is no treatment. The illness runs its course in about fourteen days in healthy people, but can be deadly to people who have weak immune systems.44
In 1995, there were still nearly 10 million people in the US connected to public drinking water supplies from surface sources that were not in compliance with federal standards for the removal of microorganisms. Furthermore, scientists estimate that up to seven million Americans still get sick annually from contaminated drinking water.45
Sanitation problems could be avoided by composting, instead of discarding, humanure. Keeping fecal material out of the environment and out of streams, rivers, wells, and underground water sources eliminates the transmission of various diseases. Composting effectively converts fecal material into a hygienically safe humus, yet composting the humanure of municipal populations is not even being considered as an option in most of the western world.
Not only are we polluting our water, we're using it up, and
flushing toilets is one way it's being wasted. Of 143 countries ranked for per
capita water usage by the World Resources Institute, America came in at #2 using
188 gallons per person per day (Bahrain was #1).46
Water use in the US increased by a factor of 10 between 1900 and 1990,
increasing from 40 billion gallons per day to 409 billion gallons per day.47
The amount of water we Americans require overall (used in the finished products
each of us consumes, plus washing and drinking water) amounts to a staggering
1,565 gallons per person per day, which is three times the rate in Germany or
This amount of water is equivalent to flushing our toilets 313 times every day,
about once every minute and a half for eight hours straight. By some estimates,
it takes one to two thousand tons of water to flush one ton of human waste.49
Or, in the words of Carol Stoner, “For one person, the typical five gallon
flush contaminates each year about 13,000 gallons of fresh water to move a mere
165 gallons of body waste.”50
Not surprisingly, the use of groundwater in the United States exceeds
replacement rates by 21 billion gallons a day.51
Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins
Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: