No Such Place: On Marine and Sewage

This is one of the consequences of a culture of flushing: we do not acknowledge our responsibility to those downstream; we protect one place at the expense of another. This is similar to other environmental problems where we cast away wastes or pollution into the commons, conveniently ignoring the fact that there is “no such place as away.” – Jamie Benidickson, Author of the Culture of Flushing, pub 2007

early sewage drainage

It’s evidenced ancient civilizations crafted and innovated a means of directing sewage waste from homes through simple and complex drainage systems. Excavated metal and terracotta drains as well as T-shaped connectors made of clay now sit in museums. There is a disproportion in countries whose black waters does not reach the sea before being sanitized.

The process of microorganisms breaking down sewage uses up valuable oxygen supply in the sea. Oxygen fish and other marine life need to survive and proliferate. When water becomes oxygen depleted in some cases the onset of dead zones and anaerobia are witnessed. Certainly we need innovative solutions for the many people who swim and drink in the same waters their excreta and agriculture waste end up. The agricultural waste especially releases leachates such as heavy metals into soils and therefore the groundwater supply. What amazes me is the ability of microorganisms and certain plants to clean the effects of such soluble constituents.

There was once a time when we discarded our wastes separately using our fecal and urine variables for gardens, spiritual and medicinal use and cleaning.  The tides are changing as people are returning to this practice even in heavy populated urban environments.

‘Uncleanliness is next to godliness’ was a slogan during the dark ages. Now we say the opposite.  Study the history of sewage and public draining systems the world over and you will find Rome in a selective chapter as an empire of public latrines and bathing. However the practice fell due to war and conquest. Revival of such systems would not return until the 16th century when chamber maids emptied chamber pots and architects build water closets in the new world along with private bathing and toilet out houses. Eventually the public toilet would be revived but you would seldom find a seat next to a person with out a door between you and public bathing unless in private enterprises were out of the question. Seems like the revival of the drainage system really kicked off at the heralding of the 19th century.

unnamedThe ocean has been a means of trade and travel throughout the ages. Think of the waste accumulated in the sea by sailors and their passengers. Think of those who without a harmful intent dump cooking oil, diapers, and apparently clothing into their drainage as a means to get rid of what they no longer want around. The water seems to only take filth out of sight but certainly not out of mind.

To this very day there is need for innovative policy to keep sailors from dumping their trash and excretions into the sea especially large cruise ships with thousands of people. Supposedly before now microorganisms were able to reuse these excretions as a resource. Now that water pollution has shifted over the past 115 years to include plastic, which makes up 90% of the trash found in the sea, marine life is perpetrated upon by something that is a true nuisance harder to degrade and rid. The most disturbing thing I’ve seen was while walking by a group of monkeys at a temple in Cambodia I witnessed them eating plastic bags out of hunger. Of course plastic bags are still fairly new in the scheme of things and evolution hasn’t caught up to some species letting them know that plastic is a toxin not suitable for the body system like we all know for certain plants and smells. Now you can only imagine what happens to shellfish and other marine life when it eats what is toxic. People then eat the fish or marine life and the problems transfer one digestive track to the other.

There is no such place as away! You can’t flush it away. Besides the ocean moves by currents that take matter from one shore to the next. We can’t protect one place and forsake the other. It’s out of sight not out of mind for those people, waters, and creatures affected by our decisions.

Solutions?

Eco-sanitation (Ecosan)

Public policy that demands and finds a way to foot the bill for innovative sustainable sewage treatment, diversion, and reuse

Open source technologies

Environmental awareness education so that people become empathic not apathetic to whats happening with their environment and the species who share that environment with them

The picture above comes from an experiment of the organisation LEAP testing waste water draining to the sea in the state of Sabah, Malaysia.

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