Midas Dekkers’ latest book De kleine verlossing of de lust van ontlasten [Relief, or the urge to excrete] is all about a big taboo: poo! He describes in frank and lurid detail exactly what happens to all our poo and piss.
Now human excrement must surely be an interesting subject for a former agricultural university. Yet for all the attention we pay to what we put into our digestive systems at the top end, we do not take much interest in what comes out the other end. Whereas it is a highly valuable substance. We know all there is to know about animal manure. Animal rights should help ensure we do not drown in animal excrement in the future. But when it comes to human manure, we know remarkably little. We dump it straight into the sewer. No cycle, no ‘human rights’ in this regard. Nothing at all in fact – it’s just not done to talk about it. As a student I once calculated that at least 10 percent of all the nitrogen that gets into the environment comes out of human backsides. So why shouldn’t we divert a little attention from further increasing meat and grain production to recycling our excrement?
Farm shops are at an advantage here: they could institute a barter system. A dump for the farmer and a cauliflower for the customer. Or a bottle of milk for every bottle of piss. But what if you don’t do your shopping at the farm? No problem. What could be finer that squatting over your compost heap every morning (coffee and newspaper to hand) to do your business. In your own back garden or perhaps in a communal toilet in the park? Listening to the sounds of spring and doing your bit for global sustainability. Rural Africa has been doing it for centuries: it is called ‘night soil’ there. We would call it ‘sustainable innovation’