The following subject matter is giggle-prone. Nevertheless, it’s serious technology.
I don’t know how other languages handle this, but in the United States we can have expressions that use ‘going’ #1 and #2 (urine and feces). This separation in language may have profound implications for what is called no-mix technology, specifically – the NoMix toilet. The NoMix toilet, developed in Sweden in the 1990’s, separates urine from feces for waste processing, a move that makes sense from a chemical perspective. Urine contains 80% of the nitrogen and 50% of the phosphorus that reaches sewage treatment plants, yet these are the components most useful for fertilizer. Separation at the toilet stage (in wastewater speak) could have impact on water usage, health concerns, and waste recycling – among other things. A new study from Switzerland indicates that there is broad support in seven European countries for this technology.
I know. It is hard to take this seriously. Yet we know that toilets – multiplied by the billions of units worldwide – contribute massively to wasting water, health problems, and the standard of living. Improvements in toilet technology can have significant and enduring impact. Just in the last twenty years or so, a worldwide campaign to make, sell, and use toilets that require far less water per flush has changed water use substantially. The NoMix toilet is along that line of approach, only somewhat more sophisticated.
Not that sophisticated, actually. The toilet has the normal exit hole for fecal matter, and a smaller forward hole for urine. The urine is collected separately, in a tank, and ‘harvested’ on a regular basis. The concept is not all that different than separation of waste types for recycling – plastics, bottles, cans, paper, urine…. Of course, urine is different, and yes this is another step that requires slightly specialized equipment, although the owners of backyard septic systems are quite familiar with regular visits by the ‘honey-pot truck.’
Wastewater management specialists have already spoken vigorously in favor of the NoMix approach. Urine processing has become a major problem because of the presence of hormones, medicines, and other toxic chemicals that have bad effects on water systems, fish, and animals – and sometimes humans.
Mostly, this approach to toilet technology is a good thing. However, there are the (not unexpected) problems: It requires that people install new toilets, storage tank, and piping. It requires regular collection of the urine. These are all not insignificant economic costs, mostly for individual families. Certain businesses will reap some profit from it. Then there is the social cost. Social cost? For the NoMix toilet to work, men will have to sit to urinate.
Think about it.
Like a lot of water problems, it’s easier not to think about it.