If It's Yellow Let It Mellow ...

Is a urine-diversion toilet the answer to our waste problems?. (Photo: E. v. Münch/SuSanA Secretariat [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)

A recent New York Times op-ed piece by Rose George, “Yellow Is the New Green,” has become a popular item of discussion in the green blogosphere over the last few days. Since this is the eternally circumspect Gray Lady that we’re dealing with, George's piece isn’t potty-mouthed as you might think. But here are a few choice excerpts to clue you in as to what exactly the subject matter is:

“Each week, New York City sends about 800 Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth of sewage-polluted water into nearby waters because there’s nowhere else for it to go.” “Before engineers scoff into their breakfast, consider that since at least 135,000 urine-diversion toilets are in use in Sweden and that a Swiss aquatic institute did a six-year study of urine separation that found in its favor. In Sweden, some of the collected urine — which contains 80 percent of the nutrients in excrement — is given to farmers, with little objection.” “Although half of sewage sludge in the United States is already turned into cheap fertilizer known as ‘biosolids,’ urine contains hardly any of the pathogens or heavy metals that critics of biosolids claim remain in mixed sewage, despite treatment. “It’s been more than 100 years since Teddy Roosevelt wondered aloud whether ‘civilized people ought to know how to dispose of the sewage in some other way than putting it into the drinking water.’”

I’ve you haven’t stopped reading by now; I’m guessing you gathered that the article is about urine-diversion or NoMix toilets. These solid and liquid waste-separating toilets are an increasingly popular form of “ecological sanitation,” especially in rapidly developing countries with sub-par sewer systems like China and India. In the U.S., urine-diversion toilets are still a relative anomaly although composting toilets have acquired a small group of followers. It’s unpleasant to think about, I know, but the environmental benefits of urine-diversion toilets are great: They curb pollution, and require less water and energy.

I’ll stop with the teasers and let you read the article in full since George, after all, is the author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. She obviously knows her number ones from her number twos and her bidets from her dunnys.

Given the eco-perks, I like the idea of a NoMix toilet. However, when it comes to the WC, I’m a bit sensitive to anything new (or antiquated) or tricky to use. After traumatizing experiences using an electric, incinerating toilet in Washington state, a squat toilet in Italy, and some kind of public trough-like contraption on the streets of Amsterdam, I’ve decided that a flush (preferably low-flush) toilet is just fine by me. Go ahead and call me a toilet traditionalist ... I’ve been called worse.

Would you consider installing a urine-diversion toilet in your home or is the flush model something sacred and not to be tampered with?

Here’s some more bathroom reading while we’re on the topic:

• Thoughts on NoMix toilets from TreeHugger’s Lloyd Alter

A Dutch site on eco sanitation

An article from the UN Environment Programme titled “Eco-Sanitation Technologies Offer Natural Waste Treatment”

• A recent post of mine about the eco-perils of soft, quilted TP that American's can't get enough of

Via [New York Times]