Closing the poop loop

The Loodown

Everything you need to know about the poop loop

agriculture

An estimated 1--2% of the world's total energy consumption is used to make fertiliser. The The Haber Process extracts nitrogen from the air in order to create ammonia. This process has almost single-handedly allowed the human population to increase fourfold over the last century.

The Haber Process has facilitated modern agriculture. Large stretches of land are cleared in order to grow one crop -- a monoculture. The deforestation and the lack of additional crops makes everything very vulnerable and causes many ecological issues:

  • deforestation: Trees are vital to all life on earth. In the UK, only about 13% of our land is forested, which is one of the lowest in Europe. Because modern agriculture takes up so much, reforesting efforts are limited.

  • eutrophication: Ammonia is liberally applied to fields in order to increase stock yields. Excess ammonia washes off into waterways which causes large algal blooms. These use all the oxygen in the water, asphyxiating water creatures.

  • disease: Like humans in cramped conditions, pathogens can easily spread amongst tight-knit plant species.

  • vulnerability to weather: A field of the same species will respond exactly the same to weather events and so can be wiped out. An array of species will mean not everything will react the same, and so providing more resilience.

  • insect armageddon: Due to lower resistance to disease, monocultures cannot fight insects easily. Pesticides are sprayed, which is killing vast numbers of insects worldwide.

  • top-soil erosion: Without tree cover, soil is exposed to the wind. Many crops cannot hold the soil together, so it is stripped from the land. Soil in this system therefore degrades over time, which means more deforestation, fertiliser, and pesticides are used -- feedback loops are thus born.

  • flooding: A lack of soil means water is not absorbed and so heavy rainfall washes straight off the land and into rivers, taking more soil with it.

sediment dumping: Top-soil washes into rivers and reservoirs which causes sediment build-up -- changing the course of the water and affecting aquatic wildlife.

sewers

Over the same time as we developed modern agriculture, sewers have been deployed across the developed world. The Great Stink of 1858 forced Parliament to deal with the cholera epidemic that had been spreading across the UK. They employed Joseph Bazalgette to develop the first sewer under the city. This carried human faeces and other matter away from the River Thames. Over time these engineering projects have virtually eliminated cholera. However, sewers require a vast amount of energy, water, and manpower.

They also do not stop faecal contamination -- only 14% of our rivers are considered to be in "good health".

The average flush of the toilet uses between 6L and 13.6L of water per flush. If the average person goes to the toilet around 8 times per day, that is between 48 and 108.8L of water per day. That equates to 17,520L - 39,712L of water per person per year, or between 3 and 6 million swimming pools of water across the UK! Every single one of those flushes uses drinking water. So we spend vast amounts of energy to make water drinkable, we poo in it, flush it away, and then yet more energy is spent cleaning it up again! Whilst this is only a very small percentage of the UK's total carbon footprint, it has a very negative effect on our ecosystems. Over periods of low rainfall, our water extraction can cause ecosystems to die entirely.

Worse than that -- raw sewage ends up in our ecosystems. Around 39 million tonnes go into the Thames alone. Polluted rivers have been implicated in deaths, killing gold-medal rower Andy Holmes. This poses a drastic health risk.

Population growth means that our existing sewers, already under huge amounts of strain, will be under even more strain. We simply cannot keep building "bigger and better". We need to redesign the way that we handle our "waste".

humanure

Agriculture and sewer systems are trashing the planet. We need to rethink the way we do these things. And that's where Loo World Order comes in! We are looking to revolutionise the way that we poo, with health and ecological benefits.

Human poo is loaded with goodness, and before modern agriculture changed everything, it was used to fertilise fields. A composting toilet collects humanure which can then be used to grow plants and food. We are investigating ways of using the humanure in aquaponic systems in order to grow food in a safe way.