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Behold The Mighty Toilet

November 19, 2013

It’s a place of refuge from the chaos of kids, a deep thought space for those troubles at work and home, the final resting place of magazines, and the only way that I can actually manage to finish an issue of The Economist. And on November 19th we get to celebrate the white porcelain throne of my household kingdom - Behold the Mighty Toilet!

World Toilet Day  originated as an awareness campaign put together by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and the World Toilet Organization (WTO). On July 24, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly designated 19 November as World Toilet Day, urging changes in both behavior and policy on issues ranging from enhancing water management to ending open-air defecation.

I hope you’ll hear a lot about World Toilet Day this week.  The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for sanitation is woefully behind (and I’m not sure of anyone who thinks that it can be achieved in the time given). Remember the world sanitation crisis – 40 percent of the planet’s population does not have access to safe sanitation, impacting their health and prosperity. Additionally, as the world has looked towards solving for the MDG, growing evidence is shining a spotlight on the fact that more attention should be targeted towards the fecal sludge management of the entire system.

So, while hiding from my son and his friends the other day, trying to read The Economist, I was pondering what actually was beneath me. My home in Seattle resides in King County where around 250 miles of pipes, running through 42 pumping stations, take the ‘contributions’ of 1.5 million people to 5 treatment plants for processing. These treatment plants operate across a vast range, the piddling 0.09 mgd (million gallons per day) at Carnation, to a tsunami of 440 mgd at West Point during a rain storm – with the entire system processing 180 mgd on average. From our so called ‘filth’, the King County Wastewater Treatment Division (KC-WTD), our Wastewater Treatment Division, produces:

  •          1.2 million kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity (used to reduce the power that the treatment plants need to pull from the grid)
  •          1.83 million therms of natural gas (sold back to Puget Sound Energy – yep, not only do they keep our sewage treatment costs down by selling your poop gas, but if you have a gas fire in your house I have indirectly contributed to keeping you warm.  We won’t talk about how I’ve helped cook dinner for you on your gas stove.)
  •          28,108 dry tons of biosolids, which after post processing become LOOP and is used as soil amendment by many local farmers and landowners. (Eaten a Washington State grown apple recently?...just saying.)
  •          and 325 million gallons of reclaimed water, used for landscape irrigation, wetland enhancement, industrial processes and heating/cooling.

To do all this and keep us safe, KC-WTD employs around 600 people, requires $122 million dollars a year to operate and around $300 million dollars a year in capital equipment costs.

So on November 19th, while you perch on your porcelain pedestal, as we all do, please celebrate the luxury under you, a luxury that is regarded as one of the greatest health benefits in history and only costs the average household $40-50 per month. Then ask yourself, what makes us so special that we should have a functioning sanitation system while 40 percent of the planet is forced to make do with something completely inadequate and completely dangerous? 

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