An Innovative Topic discussed in TED

In Winter’s (2016) TED talk, she expresses her thoughts on re-engineering the process flow of our by-products back into nature.  Similar to this idea is the use of greywater, which is gently used water from bathrooms, showers, etc., which appears to be dirty due to its contents but are great for irrigation systems of yards, parks, and green spaces (Greywater Action, n.d.).  Winter (2016) goes one step further; she wants us to the excrement and manure of our body, which is rich in bacteria and carbon to feed trees, yards, parks, and other green spaces.  She is suggesting that the use of manure never touches or comes to contact with people, but is buried under gravel and soil under areas to help foster a green space. This is considered as holistic (or closed-loop) waste/sanitation management because everything gets reused (Winter, 2016).

Rosen and Bierman (2005), suggested that manure is a valuable fertilizer, that is cost efficient, greener, readily available, and best for giving fruit and vegetable crops a nutrient source.  Charles (2013) agreed and stated that this is part of the natural cycle and manure from other animals have been used in organic farming.  Manure from animal and humans provide many nutrients and micronutrients, for plants and crops (Rosen & Bierman, 2005; Winters 2016). Nutrients from the food we and animals eat, don’t just disappear, but they reappear as manure and excrement, and the best thing to do is to bring it back to the source of the nutrients, plants (Charles, 2013; Winter, 2016). Other benefits to using manure include improvements in soil structure, soil water holding capacity, drainage, reduction of wind and water erosion, etc. (Rosen & Bierman, 2005).

The amount of manure use on plants can vary on a case by case basis.  A stingy application of this innovation can lead to nutrient deficiencies and low yields, while the excessive application can yield to excessive growth in some groups and lakes of certain chemicals, like nitrate, phosphorus, etc. (Rosen & Bierman, 2005).  The type of manure also matters.  Winter (2016) suggested using raw/fresh manure.  But Rosen and Bierman (2005) warn that raw/fresh it can have a high concentration of nitrogen, and in some cases pathogens.

Finally, impacts of this holistic approach to waste/sanitation management can be seen through the lens of climate change.  This innovative process can help provide carbon and many of the key nutrients and micronutrients needed to make trees grow, which not only reduces entry of carbon into the atmosphere from our waste product but with the new tree growth, these trees can remove more carbon dioxide from the air (Winter, 2016).  This is one of the many amazing feedback loops of reusing our waste that just keeps getting better.

Forces that impact the innovation

Legal – The Food and Drug Association finds manure a food safety risk, with harmful bacteria like e Coli. and Sal Manila (Charles, 2013). Winters (2016), said that some of the laws used to keep humans safe from getting sick of manure are outdated and were assumed that there was not going to be a reinvention to the way we should treat our waste.  Rosen and Bierman (2005), suggested that for farming it is best to apply this waste product 3 months before harvesting.  However, if we remove the farming aspect out of the picture, then there would be no need for the Food and Drug Administration to get upset about.  However, Winters (2016) stated that in some states there are laws on how we should deal with this particular type of waste, outside of just farming applications must be addressed to move forward with this innovative use of our waste. Laws must change, but treating this innovation as “better safe than sorry” without further research is not a solution (Charles, 2013).

Cultural –  People are uncomfortable about talking about their bodily waste products, which is what is slowing down how we innovate in waste management (Winter, 2016).  I agree with this thought; it is difficult to discuss it.  Out of all the different types of innovation that could have been discussed, I thought it would be best to bring this innovation into the light, through this post.  To help break down this cultural barrier to innovation in waste/sanitation management.