Here now is the fantasy table of contents for the fantasy second issue of Buttology, a fantazine for the spatial study of waste.
Examining The Waste Stream
“Garbage is the effluent of our consumption, and it flows backwards through the landscape of Los Angeles. Unlike liquid wastes, which drain downslope to the sea, the tiny tributaries of trash, from millions of homesteads, collected by a fleet of thousands of trucks circulating in constant motion, hauling to nodes of sorting, distribution, reuse, and, finally disposal, flow up the canyons and crevices to the edge of the basin.”
No Island is an Island
Mining and exporting its rich deposits of phosphates, formed from bird shit deposited over thousands of years, the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru had for a time the highest GDP per capita. But with the depletion of its major natural resource and the mismanagement of the trust fund set up to provide for its post-phosphate future, the country now has one of the lowest. It wasted away its island in return for not much.
To keep its economy afloat, it allowed the creation of secret offshore banks. Some of these banks' headquarters are no more than shacks, but through one of these shacks in 1998, “Russian criminals laundered about $70 billion, draining off precious hard currency and crippling the former superpower.”
In 2001 until 2007, Nauru agreed to settle Afghan and Iraqi refugees fleeing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and seeking asylum from Australia. With the millions of dollars in aid the government received in return, one would have expected decent accommodations for them, but living conditions were not much better than those at Guantanamo.
And then there was that deal it made with the United States to set up safe houses in China for North Korean defectors.
Runner-up in the Pamphlet Architecture #30 competition, and currently on view in the Burnam Plan Centennial exhibition Big. Bold. Visionary. Chicago Considers the Next Century (where it's one of a very, very, very few handful of projects that actually fit those three modifiers) is UrbanLab's proposal for an alternative wastewater treatment system for Chicago.
“[T]he Frog’s Dream project attempts to re-establish a sustainable relationship between city and suburbia. It proposes to transform the vacant McMansions, at the periphery of cities, into eco-water treatment machines, commercially known as Living Machines, in which a micro-ecosystem of plants, algae, bacteria, fish and clams are present to purify the water. A micro-wetland ecosystem will be formed around these mansions to sustain larger wetland animals and plants. The project also involves transforming the highway system into a multi-functional infrastructure that transports cars, trains and bikes, as well as forming a network to facilitate water transport between a city and its surrounding suburban wetlands.”
“The peri-urban Revitalization Element [puRE] is a catalyst for fostering sustainable development within existing suburban areas, by re-envisioning a classic suburban icon—the swimming pool—and transforming it into a productive, water-treating element within a community.”
Q&A with Rose George
Rose George is the author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. Last month in The New York Times, she answered questions sent in by readers about toilets, sewage and other topics about waste disposal in New York City. Here's a sample:
Q: Are there any ways to use the large amount of human waste generated by New York City for the common good, like turning it into drinking water or compost, for example, that would not require a huge financial commitment or a significant change in infrastructure?
A: Human waste is such a misnomer. It is an extremely useful product. As you point out, it can make biogas, for a start. In China, 18 million or so households get their cooking fuel by linking their latrine to a biogas digester (an airtight underground tank), tapping off the methane and cooking with it. It cuts down on deforestation and is cheap and infinite. There is really interesting stuff going on in Europe, too, where Lille in France, Stockholm in Sweden and a few other cities are running buses and taxis on biogas produced from sewage and household garbage.
In fact, the only waste about human waste is that it goes to waste; even in the 19th century, Karl Marx calculated that London was losing a fortune by throwing all that potential fertilizer away into its water system.
But back to biodiesel: Yes, there are companies working on that, including one in Canada which you can find if you search online for “biodiesel” and “human waste.” The trouble with sewage as an energy source is that the technology for now — even though it’s ancient (Marco Polo reported seeing biogas tanks in China in the 13th century) — it’s not yet cost-effective. Some wastewater treatment plants get gas or electricity from the process, but by no means all. It is often seen as prohibitively expensive, especially when the plants are struggling to run and meet all sorts of regulations.
Money is going into the wastewater infrastructure from the federal stimulus bill, which is great, but I would like to see more of it dedicated to exploiting this chronically and acutely undertapped source of energy. It will cost money, but so did putting in the infrastructure in the first place, and it will probably pay its own way eventually. It’s definitely a chronically and acutely underexploited source of energy.
Dying in the Dying-field
“Dying-places are ordinarily in homes or in hospitals, but this poor fellow has neither a home nor a hospital in which to die. We are here in a vacant space near the river—a sort of common littered with refuse and scavenged by starving dogs. It has been named the Dying-place, because poor, starving, miserable outcasts and homeless sick, homeless poor, homeless misery of every form come here to die. The world scarcely can present a more sad and depressing spectacle than this field of suicides; I say suicides, because many that come here come to voluntarily give up the struggle for existence and to die by sheer will force through a slow starvation. They may be enfeebled by lingering disease; they may be unable to find employment; they may be professional vagrants; they come from different parts of the city and sometimes from the country round about. They are friendless; they are passed unnoticed by a poor and inadequate hospital service; they become utterly discouraged and hopeless and choose to die. Their fellow natives pass and repass without noticing them or thought of bestowing aid or alms, and here it is not expected; they have passed beyond the pale of charity; it is the last ditch; they are here to die, not to receive alms.”
Tips for the next issue will be much appreciated. We're especially looking for built works, thesis projects, entries submitted to (ideas) competitions and proposals of a highly speculative nature.
BUTT: A Proposal for a Zine