we need to stop being disgusted with recycling human waste

When it comes to humble toilets, most of us adopt a rinse and forget approach that considers human excrement as a waste. But in a world facing climate change, this ignores the fact that organic waste can and should be recycled back into ecosystems. Despite their Efficiencytoilets that recycle human waste are rare because most cultures consider them too disreputable.

Clearly the toilets remain taboo. This has left many people without a toilet who can safely contain and process waste Where to use large amounts of water to evacuate energy-intensive waste, overload sewerage networks and purification works.

Many solutions to environmental challenges center on new innovations and technologies. What if it was more than that? What if it was more linked to culture, behaviors, learned taboos and prejudices?

In our to research we wanted to explore the idea of taboos around the topic and find out what might change people’s minds about technology that recycles human waste. As people pursue greener lifestyles and reduce their impact on the natural environment, the way we think about what is waste and what has value must change.

Greener toilet technologies

People in positions of authority often make assumptions about what people will or won’t accept – without properly exploring how certain technologies might be adopted. There has always been community resistance to wind farms, for example. This resistance is often rejected by developers, when commitment with these communities can indeed lead to acceptance over time. Community ownershipwhere are the local people involved and enjoying financial returns, can also increase acceptance.

Toilets that recycle human waste could significantly reduce the amount of wastewater that currently overloads treatment plants and convert waste into organic waste. fertilizer and clean fuel biogas. This can replace or reduce the use of traditional wood fuels, which indoor air pollution and associated diseases.

Domestic biogas technology allows toilets to be connected to an anaerobic digester – airless units in which bacteria break down organic waste into clean, renewable biogas. This technology is more common in low- and middle-income countries, but has the potential to be used wider around the world.

Overcome the Resistance

Toilet-attached anaerobic digesters (TLADs) have been encountered with many resistance but there is surprisingly little information on how to allay fears and reservations or feelings of disgust about technology.

In Nepal, despite cultural taboos who oppose the use of human waste, there are reports of high number of TLADs. We wanted to see if we could learn anything about how people came to accept them. By conducting in-depth interviews with rural households, we asked them about cultural and religious objections to purity and pollution and how these were renegotiated to allow adoption of TLADs.

More importantly, we found that it took time for social norms to change and for initial feelings of resistance to be overcome. In some cases, households only installed TLADs after older, more technology-averse generations died.

Community leaders – or as we called them “risk takers” – played an important role in catalysing the adoption of anaerobic digester toilets. Risk takers were people who installed TLADs even when the rest of the community did not approve. Some TLADs worried that their home smelled bad or was unhygienic, but once they got to see one at work, they realized that wasn’t the case.

Other benefits, such as free cooking fuel that saves having to find firewood and no smoke inside the house, as well as better toilet design and less hassle. disposal convinced people of the usefulness of technology. Demonstrations by neighbors and opportunities to learn how TLADs work have been successful in encouraging people to install theirs.

How biogas and fertilizers are produced in a Nepalese household with an anaerobic digester.
Natalie Boyd Williams/University of Stirling, Author provided

embrace the future

From our findings, it is clear that policy makers should not base their decisions on initial public perceptions of toilet recycling. They have to convince people by demonstrating the technologies and explaining the benefits for themselves and for the environment. And they need to give people some time to get used to the idea and move past their discomfort with practices they find difficult.

In the community we studied in Nepal, most people adopted TLADs when it was socially more acceptable to do so. In Singapore, where drinking water from recycled wastewater is widely acceptedthe authorities have promoted positive media campaigns which communicated the scientific and environmental value, but above all, made use of recycled water complitly normal. Decision makers need to recognize the power of social norms and the positive as well as negative role that the media can play in the communication of information.

This study may also teach us something about our own resistance to recycling. In the UK, sewage and food waste are converted into biogas and agricultural fertilizer using industrial-scale anaerobic digestion – but smaller-scale biogas units remain futuristic. We need to move beyond initial reactions of reluctance and disgust to understand how change can happen when we have the right information, when we can see demonstrable benefits, and when we can help improve the environment.