The Scoop on Sewage
August 28, 2009 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Crap Happens. "Three hundred million Americans head to the restroom multiple times a day. The amount of sludge produced staggers the mind—7 million dry tons per year and counting. And it’s not even just crap—it contains residues from everything else we put down the drain, from the detergent in your dishwasher to the chemicals used at the industrial plant down the street."
posted by burnfirewalls (70 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
omg what a shitty post.
obligatory, post not reflected
posted by hypersloth at 7:57 AM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Can the United States continue to flush all that waste down the drain?

As long as there's a Mexico.
posted by swift at 7:59 AM on August 28, 2009


EPA: Chemicals found in Wyo. drinking water might be from fracking

Goddamn Cylons.
posted by total warfare frown at 8:02 AM on August 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


On topic, there's a lot of energy to be reclaimed in waste, and the link is rather good. Still wish the internet was more print-friendly for bathroom readers.
posted by hypersloth at 8:05 AM on August 28, 2009


7 million "dry" tons

sheeze, that's gotta hurt...
posted by HuronBob at 8:05 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Still wish the internet was more print-friendly for bathroom readers."

Wait, there are still people without monitors on the wall of the bathroom?????
posted by HuronBob at 8:06 AM on August 28, 2009


Wait, there are people with monitors on the wall of the bathroom?????
posted by hypersloth at 8:08 AM on August 28, 2009


"Wait, there are still people without monitors on the wall of the bathroom?????"

Or smartphones with loud buttons that are like sirens warning me to never use anyone else's phone for any reason ever?
posted by burnfirewalls at 8:08 AM on August 28, 2009




Ugh, soylent brown? Really sanko?
posted by Mister_A at 8:13 AM on August 28, 2009


When I was in Boy Scouts, we did yearly "urban campouts" in the dead of winter where we would sleep in some college housing for a weekend while the students were mostly away. My second year in the troop we stayed in Providence and during the day we toured some of the city's public services: police, fire, a radio station, and the wastewater treatment plant. We had a very thorough tour of the wastewater treatment plant and I never before smelled on odor so strong I couldn't see straight.
posted by mkb at 8:16 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I took my family on the free Wonders of our Water Works tour of the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant a few weekends ago. There was a good presentation, with plenty of time for questions, and then an hour's trip around the 200 acre site in an air-conditioned coach. Not once did we even catch a whiff of the noxious looking substances outside.

My children were a bit "Dad's taking us to a sewage plant! (eyes roll)" but seemed to enjoy it anyway. There are some impressive pieces of machinery out there to deal with everything we flush away.
posted by mdoar at 8:26 AM on August 28, 2009


Here in Milwaukee we just spread it on our lawns.
posted by danherwig at 8:27 AM on August 28, 2009


That does it! I'm never pooping again.
posted by jbickers at 8:31 AM on August 28, 2009


I worked for a while at a wastewater treatment plant in Toronto. The smell was bad, but not awful. hypersloth is right, there is a lot of energy to be reclaimed from wastewater. Enough to power the treatment plant itself (like at this LA wastewater treatment plant). But those guys at the JWPCP are pretty good. It's not often that a WWTP can produce more energy than it consumes. Even still, it should be noted that WWTPs are some of the biggest single energy consumers in a city, so that is still a considerable contribution to a city's energy consumption.

Anyway, anecdotal "ew" story that the guys at the plant I worked at recounted to me: those digesters are very good at turning poop (the word of choice amongst WWTP workers) into fertilizer, clean water, and methane. However, they are terrible at getting rid of hair. People lose a lot of hair down the drains/toilets, and that hair ends up collecting in the digesters, forming big hairballs. When cleaning out the Toronto digester a few years back, they needed a crane to remove a hairball the size of a VW Beetle. I am not sure what they did with it.
posted by molecicco at 8:33 AM on August 28, 2009 [18 favorites]


Everybody poops?

But also, related excerpts from The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters.
posted by emjaybee at 8:33 AM on August 28, 2009


I'm a pretty inquisitive guy, but that's more shit than I ever wanted to know.
posted by scrutiny at 8:34 AM on August 28, 2009


they needed a crane to remove a hairball the size of a VW Beetle. I am not sure what they did with it.

I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.
posted by scrutiny at 8:35 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Chemicals found in Wyo. drinking water might be from fracking

Man, they must use a lot of lube up there!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:37 AM on August 28, 2009


People take dumps "multiple times a day"? What the fuck are they eating?
posted by Zambrano at 8:38 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"they needed a crane to remove a hairball the size of a VW Beetle"

there it is, the end of the internets... once you've read that sentence, there's nothing left to look for...

somebody call google, it's time to shut down...
posted by HuronBob at 8:38 AM on August 28, 2009


New Beetle or old Beetle?
posted by Mister_A at 8:39 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


New Beetle or old Beetle?

They didn't clarify. I will guess old.
posted by molecicco at 8:41 AM on August 28, 2009


"they needed a crane to remove a hairball the size of a VW Beetle"

there it is, the end of the internets... once you've read that sentence, there's nothing left to look for...


Pics or it didn't happen.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:44 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rough guess for lifetime solid waste excreted by one person: six foot cube.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:46 AM on August 28, 2009


People take dumps "multiple times a day"? What the fuck are they eating?

It said people "head to the bathroom" multiple times per day. You might want to be drinking more water if you're only peeing once a day.
posted by explosion at 8:49 AM on August 28, 2009


Pics or it didn't happen.

No. No, please, please, god, if there is a god, no pics. I'll believe that it happened and then was taken away by angels and is now somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy if that will cause the pics to not exist. The ones in my brain right now are bad enough.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:49 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh and the most popular field trip for the kids I know in Baltimore is the yearly visit to the Golden Eggs of Poo in Middle River. I never got to go as a chaperone but both my children assure me that it was completely fascinating.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:51 AM on August 28, 2009


I've actually visited my town's waste treatment facility (which is in the middle of town, next to a grocery store and doesn't smell even a little bit). I went because my son, who at the time was 3 years old, requested it. During the entire tour, which was just our family, he nodded and said "mmm hmm" and "I see." It was hilarious and enlightening.
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on August 28, 2009 [16 favorites]


Rough guess for lifetime solid waste excreted by one person: six foot cube.

After a little research to back up my guess, available medical science seems to indicate a five foot cube, let's not make a contest out of this.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:00 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


People lose a lot of hair down the drains/toilets, and that hair ends up collecting in the digesters, forming big hairballs. When cleaning out the Toronto digester a few years back, they needed a crane to remove a hairball the size of a VW Beetle. I am not sure what they did with it.

Finally! Donald Trump explained.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:00 AM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Reading about this made me even more fascinated by the well and septic tank I live over. If the rural solution to crap is a bad one, I'm not clear on why.
posted by kmennie at 9:23 AM on August 28, 2009


A five foot cube for a lifetime? That's what I needed for the prep for one colonoscopy.
posted by digsrus at 9:36 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Holy crap.

On the upside, all of our anti-depressants and ADD meds and tranqs and birth control flow back into the water system and ultimately back to us...so we can all look forward to a future where, while pretty bleak, we'll at least be happy and sedated and able to have promiscuous sex with no worries about babies! Yes!
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:37 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


If possible, I recommend that everyone find a wastewater treatment engineer and befriend that person. They will never run out of great stories, and you will never tire of hearing them.

One of my favorites is the treatment plant that needed a bathroom, so they set up a toilet on the catwalk above the raw waste stream. It simply flushes directly into the sewage running below. Eliminate the middle man!
posted by rusty at 9:42 AM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I will never forget the city council meeting I covered once, where one of the councilmen asked another to define "effluent."

"Well, you'd know what it was if you were standing knee-deep in it, I can promise you that," was the reply.

Poop.
posted by NedKoppel at 10:05 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


they needed a crane to remove a hairball the size of a VW Beetle. I am not sure what they did with it.

The City of Toronto Water Guide was always reminding us not to flush dental floss down the toilet for the same reason.
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on August 28, 2009


one of the councilmen asked another to define "effluent."

"You're effluent in many languages."
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Rough guess for lifetime solid waste excreted by one person: six foot cube.

Amateur.
posted by GuyZero at 10:19 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


7 million "dry" tons

sheeze, that's gotta hurt...


Mind over matter.
posted by Elmore at 10:19 AM on August 28, 2009


After a little research to back up my guess, available medical science seems to indicate a five foot cube, let's not make a contest out of this.

You're both wrong: Science uses the Metric System.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:20 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


they needed a crane to remove a hairball the size of a VW Beetle. I am not sure what they did with it.

Called it a "moon rock" and gave it away to some poor sucker.
posted by orme at 10:29 AM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Six-foot poop cube?

I cast Magic Missile.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:36 AM on August 28, 2009


You're both wrong: Science uses the Metric System.

So what is the metric equivalent of a VW Beetle?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:40 AM on August 28, 2009


Sheeeeeeeit.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:44 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


So what is the metric equivalent of a VW Beetle?

Science drives Porsches.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:03 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"So what is the metric equivalent of a VW Beetle?"

.001 kilobeetles.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:14 AM on August 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


Science drives Porsches.

I guess that's why science gets all the chicks.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:15 AM on August 28, 2009


Water treatment plants can be great birding spots. My favorite is the Las Gallinas plant, in Marin County. After initial treatment in various tanks, the water is moved through a series of ponds. It's a beautiful area that attracts a huge variety of birds, and once the water has been moved through the ponds, it's used for greywater irrigation projects.
posted by rtha at 11:17 AM on August 28, 2009


Pee in the shower!! Save the Atlantic Rainforest!!
posted by the painkiller at 11:43 AM on August 28, 2009


7 million "dry" tons

I put a wet ton in there one day last week.
posted by jefbla at 12:01 PM on August 28, 2009


A certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is
your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us,
and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your
lean beggar is but variable service—two dishes, but to one
table. That’s the end.
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and
eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress
through the guts of a beggar.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:51 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


300M people depositing 7M tons of waste is about 42.85M people per ton of waste.

I mean, a ton is a whole lot of waste, but 43M is a lot of people, too. Doesn't seem unreasonable, to me.

(Not RTFMing, because I just ate.)
posted by paisley henosis at 1:52 PM on August 28, 2009


Well, you gotta feed those sewer monsters somehow.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:03 PM on August 28, 2009


Rough guess for lifetime solid waste excreted by one person: six foot cube.

How much is that in Courics? (seek to 1:00, may be US only)
posted by qvantamon at 2:45 PM on August 28, 2009




People take dumps "multiple times a day"? What the fuck are they eating?

It said people "head to the bathroom" multiple times per day. You might want to be drinking more water if you're only peeing once a day.


Maybe you should re-read that post.

From the way this is written, the author is definately implying that people take more than one dump a day.
posted by Zambrano at 3:17 PM on August 28, 2009


I don't do it every day, but some days have multiple dumps. It happens when things are going either really great or really bad. There's such a thing as being too regular people - live a little.
posted by GuyZero at 3:21 PM on August 28, 2009


paisley henosis: 300M people depositing 7M tons of waste is about 42.85M people per ton of waste.

No, it isn't. The millions cancel out, 300M/7M = 42.8571429 people, not millions of people. So a ton of shit requires fewer than 43 Americans. Wild.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:53 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Zambrano: People take dumps "multiple times a day"? What the fuck are they eating?

Fiber.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:53 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


People take dumps "multiple times a day"? What the fuck are they eating?

Fiber.


Seriously. You're supposed to poop two or three times a day. It's called regularity.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:04 PM on August 28, 2009


Since we're on the general subject of excretatory functions and whatnot . . .

I recall being a kid listening to some of the older folk in the family discussing the recent death of my grandmother's third husband. He had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, one of them said, when he just collapsed and died.

Someone else spoke up and said 'Well, you know, when you gotta go, you gotta go.'

This was a great source of confusion for me at that time as I couldn't figure out whether they were saying when it's your time to die, it's your time to die, or when you really have to take a shit, well you really have to take a shit.

I guess either one would have applied in that case.
posted by metagnathous at 4:06 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, you gotta feed those sewer monsters somehow.

Dr. Wood has an angle on this here:
Thanks for the video – I had not see it before. No, these are not bryozoans! They are clumps of annelid worms, almost certainly tubificids (Naididae, probably genus Tubifex). Normally these occur in soil and sediment, especially at the bottom and edges of polluted streams. In the photo they have apparently entered a pipeline somehow, and in the absence of soil they are coiling around each other. The contractions you see are the result of a single worm contracting and then stimulating all the others to do the same almost simultaneously, so it looks like a single big muscle contracting. Interesting video.

Do these count as "non-detectable levels of fecal coliform or salmonella, enteric viruses and helminth ova (i.e. parasitic worms) according to EPA-specified testing methods," Ms. Price?

Also I will never forgive you for this, Sys Rq. Nor will I sleep tonight. Does it have to pulse and breathe and contract and...suck..Oh god.
posted by JaiMahodara at 4:12 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seriously. You're supposed to poop two or three times a day. It's called regularity.

Indeed. My mighty intestines expel cubic gallons of the stuff every day.

There, on the throne. That's where I'm a Viking.

I am profoundly grateful to have had this opportunity to discuss my bowel habits on THE INTERNET.
posted by jason's_planet at 4:27 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Awesome post -- FOR ME TO POOP ON.
posted by Scoo at 5:38 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the way this is written, the author is definately implying that people take more than one dump a day.

Yogurt and granola.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:48 PM on August 28, 2009


I was lucky enough to find the full text Harper's Magazine Wasteland: A journey through the American cloaca, a fascinating article on the life-cycle of sewage. The photos, unfortunately, are for subscribers only.
posted by halogen at 6:52 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The City of Toronto Water Guide was always reminding us not to flush dental floss down the toilet for the same reason.--GuyZero

I've heard that the so-called flushable wipes that are meant for small kids also gum up the water treatment works quite a bit.
posted by eye of newt at 7:16 PM on August 28, 2009


"There was a guy—
An underwater guy who controlled the sea.
Got killed by 10 million pounds of sludge
From New York and New Jersey.

This monkey's gone to heaven."

.
posted by limeonaire at 8:23 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else wonder how many people were on the shitter in WTC1 or WTC2 when they got turned into toast? I do.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:48 PM on August 28, 2009


Does anyone else wonder how many people were on the shitter in WTC1 or WTC2 when they got turned into toast? I do.

[Officemate 1 just leaving the bathroom...]
Officemate 2: Dude, are you dead inside or something? Light a match in there!
[Officemate 1 strikes a match, plane hits tower]
Officemate 1: OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT WHAT DID I DO???
posted by qvantamon at 11:22 PM on August 28, 2009


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