As we reduce the amount of water in our sewerage system by flushing less and reducing the volumes of water per flush there is, logically, less water to transport sewage away. So it is hardly surprising that an increasing number of households are experiencing poop pile-ups. The sad irony is the considerable amount of water often required to get things flowing again.
Emails to the City of Cape Town calling for guidelines on domestic sewerage management in a drought – have not resulted (yet) in any. We are in a water crisis – but don’t have to be deep in the proverbial with the risk of serious health impacts. Looks like we are going to have to develop our own guidelines by sharing common sense and experience. This is not the time to be delicate! It is time to manage our shit.
Guidelines to avoid sewer-cide.
Bathrooms guidelines. Reduce the load that the water borne system must carry. Do not flush anything except urine and faecal matter (No 2) and associated toilet paper into the toilet. The City recommends using 1 ply toilet paper. So no nappies, sanitary items etc. Bin them. A build-up of toilet paper in the bowl can also cause a plug if you only flush after multiple pees.
`Go Greek’ is the message being circulated by the water wise on social media. As in rural parts of Greece, place the paper used after a pee into a bin. Then either burn it, put it into the refuse or into your compost heap. Only choose the compost option if you have a well managed system. A dedicated bin in ladies toilets at schools, hostels, public toilets, etc. can work equally well with a hint of air freshener.
Or try the Go Wild option and pee in the garden. Urine has been used for generations as an excellent compost activator and a rich source of minerals. My husband went wild long before the drought and both he and the garden are thriving!
For households inspired by being ‘off – grid’ then compost or dry toilets are an option. There are varying levels of sophistication from an Ecosan dry sanitation system approved by the CSIR and SABS to a DIY bucket and sawdust system. The DIY bucket system is used only for No 2 and each deposit is covered with a layer of sawdust or finely shredded dry leaf litter which eliminates odours. Once the bucket is almost full it needs to be stored for a number of months to compost properly. The composted material is odourless and can be dug into the garden or added to your compost heap. Space needed to store the buckets may be an issue.
Getting back to water borne sewerage, hopefully by now most of us are using grey water or non- potable water to flush the toilet. Our showers are so short and only every alternative day so I am eyeing my neighbour’s swimming pool as a source of flushing water.
An important no no from the Kitchen! Excessive fat build up in pipes adds to the potential for blockages. Instead of pouring fat down the drain, pour it into a container and bin it. Scrape excess fat off dishes before washing them. This reduces the amount of water needed to wash dishes.
Advice and recommendations welcome. It is reassuring to note the following from the City’s water shortage disaster plan: “In order to preserve the integrity of the sewerage system, the water system will not be shut down completely, as this will cause the sewerage system to fail. To keep the sewerage systems in flow and running, the City will inject supplementary sources of water at strategic points. The available options for injection include treated effluent water, groundwater, sea water and non-drinking water. For each of the aforementioned options, consideration for maintaining public health standards will occur in order to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.”
If the ifs stack in our favour and if we can collectively reduce our water consumption, and if the City’s planned augmentation schemes are in time and if we get some good, unexpected rain this summer our dams may just make it to the winter rains and we will be spared the discomfort of blockages and DIY sewerage alternatives.
Kim Kruyshaar November 2017
For information on how dry or compost toilets work go to: http://humanurehandbook.com/humanure_toilet.html