Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we most assuredly live in desperate times. There are food crises the world over, energy continues to be a source of worry and pollution, and there are still many diseases that run roughshod over even the best and brightest of our medical minds.
If only there was a solution, something that could help us overcome our troubles and bring us that extra step closer to a brighter, better future. Some miracle substance, abundant and ignored, that could solve many of our problems – at least in part.
It turns out there is, and it’s been right under our noses for a long time.
Human feces. In as much as most of polite society wants little to do with poop, the truth is that it’s everywhere. Everybody poops, everywhere in the world, and humans aren’t that different from other animals on an intestinal level. We already use barnyard animals’ leavings for all kinds of things – why then would we ignore the bounty of seven billion human bottoms?
Yes, from energy to medicine, our poop has all kinds of amazing applications, able to transform the world we live in and make it a better one. Doubtful? Check out these five projects that prove we’re losing gold every time we flush.
5. Turning Poop Into Energy
First things first. Untreated, human waste does not play well with the environment. A bit here and there is fine, but we have this habit of collecting it all and tossing it all into one place. Concentrate that much waste in one place and you start to poison the environment. We see the same thing happen with runoff from farms.
This is mostly a problem in areas with poor sanitation. There are places that just don’t have the necessary infrastructure to deal with the volume of human waste that is present, and generally these places turn to the tried and true method of getting rid of stuff that humans have used for generations: toss it in the water.
So it’s a pretty remarkable solution arrived at by Fredrik Sunesson and his team. They take fecal matter, breaking it down and transforming it into various forms of energy, including biofuel and biodiesel. They do point out that it’s an expensive manner of gaining those types of energy, but the method also cleans up the environment. Nice little two for one from number two.
4. Using Poop As Fertilizer
The other form of energy (yes, plant food is energy) created by that process and others is fertilizer. Fertilizer, of course, helps plants grow hardier and healthier. It offers a rich source of nutrients – and it turns out human poop is a very good fertilizer, containing plenty of the phosphorous that plants crave.
There are a variety of ways that this can be done, and it’s not just something that happens in developing countries. Britain has a pretty large facility that churns out chunks of phosphorous from an intake of human waste, and, on a related note, some farms in Finland have experimented with spraying human urine as a fertilizer, and seen some good results from doing so. Both of these methods involve treating our waste, so it’s not like we’re straight up throwing human leavings onto crops… except for the estimated 200 million farmers in developing countries that are apparently doing just that.
3. Fecal Transplants
There are a bunch of diseases out there that result from an overabundance of bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Clostridium difficile is one such example, causing patients to experience symptoms that, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada “include watery diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal pain/tenderness.”
In more severe cases, invasive surgery can be required, complete with organs being chopped, removed, or diverted. That’s obviously dangerous, which is likely why fecal transplants are catching on the way they are. That procedure involves taking feces from a healthy individual’s intestine and transplanting it into the intestine of a person suffering from a disease related to bad gut flora. The Mayo Clinic claims the process is “quick, inexpensive,” and offers a “90 percent cure rate,” for C. diff, which is pretty incredible. It’s a procedure that’s been taking off in recent years, proof that human poo is finally getting the respect it deserves.
2. A Medicinal Korean Wine
This one is a bit controversial. In August 2013, Vice reported on a little-known Korean wine. Made for its medicinal properties, “Ttongsul” is typical in that it’s a rice-based beverage. It’s atypical in that it’s made with the fermented poop of a child. Vice’s reporting drew outrage after the outlet claimed the drink smelled and tasted foul, a claim one might expect to be made of a drink that boasts human feces as a main ingredient.
According to the Global Post, Japan’s RocketNews24 saved the day, heading to Korea to try out the drink and finding the claims to be untrue. So what does the wine actually taste like? Well, with cat bones also in the equation, there’s no question that there wasn’t a lot of hope going in, but RocketNews24, true journalists that they are, drank some of the wine and… found it tasted like the medicinal herbs that made up the other main ingredient. No poop flavour whatsoever. I guess it stands to reason that a medicinal drink that tasted like poop and cat marrow probably wouldn’t stand the test of time.
1. Poop Pill
This one is a twist on the fecal transplant idea from before. See, the fecal transplant isn’t as easy as just shoving one person’s poop into another. It requires making a poop milkshake (seriously, although salt water is sometimes used instead of milk), and then feeding that to a person through a nasal tube or with a special enema. It’s a fairly involved process and pretty uncomfortable.
Enter Canadian doctor Tom Louie, who has handmade pills from healthy poop and used them as an alternative vehicle to deliver the bacteria to sufferers of C. difficile. This process involves reducing the feces down to just the bacteria and then capping them in multiple capsules, just to make sure there’s no leakage on the way down. And it seems to work! There are no definites yet, since the poop pills haven’t gone through proper clinical trials, but preliminary results from Dr. Louie indicate they hold great promise.