POOP – It’s not crappy!

If we utilized whole lot of crap India produced per day through open defecation, we could light around 1,092,000 street lights or 72,800 stoves and 36,400 boilers everyday

By Snigdha Mehta
Published: Monday 08 December 2014

If we utilized whole lot of crap India produced per day through open defecation, we could light around 1,092,000 street lights or 72,800 stoves and 36,400 boilers everyday

Snigdha MehtaI was scrolling through my Facebook feed recently and came across a campaign initiated by UNICEF, called “Taking the poo to the loo.”Basically this campaign aims at ending open defecation in my country, India. I was glad to see people actually doing something about this huge problem. I kept reading and this bit totally caught my attention, “The total weight of excreta being open defecated daily in India is 65 million kilograms (143 million lb’s) per day. That’s a whole lot of crap!” Yes, this is crap, but you know what? This crap can do wonders!

Sanitation happens to be one of the issues I’m passionate about—largely because it’s so deeply concerning here. So, once I started reading, I could not contain myself—I started researching more studies related to sustainable waste management. I was taken aback when I came across some amazing sets of data on what this crap could actually do.

According to a case study done on a tiny island in Kerala, (Click Here for reference) the solid waste generated by one family (2 adults and 2 young adults) is enough to produce biogas that can be used for more than 3 hours of cooking by the same family. But how do they do it? They use a simple technology called Anaerobic Digester, which converts the domestic wastewater into methane gas. The methane produced is further broken into carbon dioxide and water, which helps in reducing the green house gas effect.Theamount of carbon dioxide released can be easily absorbed by newly growing plants. So the net release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is negligible, which makes this technology eco-friendly.

I read another case study from Tamil Nadu (Click here for reference). This case study explained how many street lights could be lit by using crap from a public toilet. This was an interesting lead. I made some rough calculations by extrapolating the primary data from this case study and my results were unbelievable. I thought I must have made a mistake and I checked my calculations several times for correctness. To my surprise, my calculations were right (at least mathematically) and it was amazing to know what 65 million kilograms of poop per day can do. So here are my estimates:

If we utilized whole lot of crap India produced per day through open defecation, we could light around 1,092,000 streetlightsor 72,800 stoves and 36400 boilers EVERYDAY! Not only this, the remaining waste from the digesters can replace literallytons of chemical fertilizers used in agriculture, and irrigate (after treatment) a substantial amount of agricultural land.

This model and scale of poop management can:

  • provide access to electricity and heating sources to a large section of Indian population,
  • ensure better health for women in particular,
  • create employment opportunities for people,
  • increase the skilled labor force,
  • reduce the cost of agricultural for farmers
  • keep farming away from the use of chemical fertilizers and
  • of course solve the basic problem of improving sanitation and public health!

There is no reason why our government should not adopt and promote these technologies. Especially when climate change hits us hard on our face everyday, its time we move to more sustainable energy solutions. Mitigating climate change requires a paradigm shift. I appreciate Modi government’s effort of setting the target of constructing 5.2 million toilets by end of August 2014, which is equivalent to constructing almost 1 toilet each second in India. It’s a welcome initiative and I also feel that we must make sure that we do inculcate sustainability in the minds of people. We must move away from ‘out of sight, out of mind’ view of poop and realize the potential it holds for millions of Indians who are still waiting to get access to sustainablesanitation and energy.There are many holistic approaches that use “crap” as a valuable resource and not as a waste. We must explore and adopt them.

Snigdha Mehta is Engagement Coordinator and Researcher, Project Survival Media

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