Category Archives: North America

Wastewater treatment made simple … by a 5-year-old

Five-year-old Wally has built a wastewater treatment plant with Lego. Watch him explain how it works.

 

Robin Nagle: What I discovered in New York City trash

New York City residents produce 11,000 tons of garbage every day. Every day! This astonishing statistic is just one of the reasons Robin Nagle started a research project with the city’s Department of Sanitation. She walked the routes, operated mechanical brooms, even drove a garbage truck herself–all so she could answer a simple-sounding but complicated question: who cleans up after us?

Robin Nagle is an anthropologist with a very particular focus… garbage

Trash Dance – The Movie

Trash Dance Still – Night Performance. Photo: Andrew Garrison

All over the world, “unseen men and women [...] do the work that most of us do not want to do”: collecting our waste. Seldom, do they get a chance to be in the limelight.

In 2008, former scavengers from India joined leading fashion models on the catwalk in New York.

In 2009, 24 garbage collectors and 16 of their trucks staged a trash ballet in Austin, Texas. More than 2,000 people came to watch. Director Andrew Garrison turned Allison Orr’s choreography into a prize winning documentary that premiered in 2012 and is now available on DVD. Watch the trailer and an amateur video of the original 2009 performance.

Sanitation promotion history: US New Deal posters

Posted created in 1940 by John Buczak for the US Federal Art Project. Collection Library of Congress

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the US Government launched a series of economic programmes collectively known as the New Deal. The largest  of these programmes, run by WPA, the Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration), employed millions of unemployed people to carry out public works projects. Most famous was the WPA Federal Art Project (FAP) that employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.

The FAP created over 200,000 separate works including 2,000 posters. Shown  here are several posters promoting sanitation and hygiene from the WPA poster collection of the Library of Congress.

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Sewer Diving in Mexico City, Mumbai and Delhi

Watch BBC presenter Dallas Campbell help unclog a sewer in Mexico City in the BBC programme Supersized Earth. It ain’t pleasant.

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USA: sanitation workers figure in presidential election campaign

“We’re kind of like the invisible people. He doesn’t realize, you know, the service we provide,” says sanitation worker Richard Hayes, who has picked up the trash at Mitt Romney’s Californian house.

Hayes and fellow sanitation worker Joan Raymond appear in an online ad campaign by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The campaign suggests that Republican presidential candidate Romney is benefiting from government services while threatening to cut them back. Representing 1.6 million public service workers, AFSCME is supporting President Barack Obama in the 2012 US election.

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Caltech’s prize-winning solar-powered toilet – video

A video demonstrates the working of the prototype of the solar-powered toilet that won the first prize of US$ 100,000 in the Reinventing the Toilet Challenge issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Solar-Powered Self-contained Human Waste Water Treatment System was developed by Prof. Michael Hoffmann‘s research group at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

In 2011 the Caltech team was awarded a US$ 400,000 grant to create a toilet that can safely dispose of human waste and reuse water for just five US dollar cents per user per day.

Solar energy powers an electrochemical reactor, which converts human waste into fertiliser and hydrogen, which is stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy. The treated water can be reused to flush the toilet or for irrigation.

The toilet, which could cost US$ 1,000 or more per unit according to the Seattle Times, is still a prototype and would need to be adapted before it can be launched commercially.

Source: Marcus Woo, Caltech, 15 Aug 2012 ; Theodoric Meyer, Seattle Times, 14 Aug 2012

USA: Amnesty and WaterAid “Give a Crap about Human Rights” campaign

From now until World Toilet Day, 19 November, WaterAid USA and Amnesty International USA are urging people to Give a Crap about Human Rights by supporting the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act.

This Act would help provide 100 million people with “first-time, sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation within six years”.

The “Give a Crap about Human Rights” campaign is part of Amnesty’s Demand Dignity Campaign sub-programme on the human right to housing. This includes work on equal access to services for people living in inadequate housing – and clean water and sanitation are crucial services, and basic human rights.

Go to the Give a Crap about Human Rights web page for more information.

Source: Amnesty International USA,

International hygiene study: scores for personal and household hygiene in 12 countries presented

In the wake of Global Handwashing Day, the Hygiene Council has released more findings from its international HABIT Study (Hygiene: Attitudes, Behavior, Insight and Traits). Below are charts comparing handwashing and household hygiene scores for 12 countries.

Percentage of respondents who wash hands 5+ times daily

Percentage with High Household Hygiene Score

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Occupy Wall Street’s greywater treatment system and “sanitation working group”

6 October 2011, Day 21 of Occupy Wall Street.. Photo: David Shankbone / Wikimedia

Protesters participating in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York have constructed a greywater treatment system to recycle dishwater contaminants. The filtered water is used for the plants and flowers in Zuccotti Park where the protesters have their base camp.

The Wikipedia entry on Occupy Wall Street has a separate section on sanitation, which was becoming a “growing concern” according to the owners of Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Office Properties. “Sanitary conditions have reached unacceptable levels”, they said, claiming that protesters were refusing to cooperate to clean up the park since their arrival on 17 September 2011. The protesters do, however, have a “sanitation working group” that sweeps and picks up garbage. In a comment on the Occupy Wall Street forum, one user said:

The Brookfield statement explains that they usually hose down the plaza and they have not been able to since the protestors are there. That’s about the only thing the protest is preventing.

Members of the OWS Sanitation Working Group. Photo: @wesupportoccupy / Twitpic

In a report on the popular US satirical programme the Daily Show, owners of nearby restaurants and delis voiced their irritation among the growing number of protesters using their toilets.

Source: Wikipedia – Occupy Wall Street ; FoxNews.com: Zucotti Park (User Submitted), OccupyWallStreet Forum, 07 Oct 2011 ; John Del Signore, Gothamist, 07 Oct 2011