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‘Reinventing’ the toilet

November 23, 2011
By Ted Rowe , Marshall Independent

Possibly you missed hearing about the importance of last Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. It was National Toilet Day, though it probably should have been called World Toilet Day such is the importance of that device in improving sanitation worldwide.

While we in the U.S. take the toilet for granted, such is not the case in the world. Most travelers to underdeveloped nations soon realize this especially when visiting rural areas where in many cases there are no toilets or even what we would call primitive latrines. Approximately one billion people in the world eliminate in public. Every year about one and a half million children die of diarrheal diseases due to the lack of sanitation. More than 2.5 billion (yes, billion) people in the world have no access to safe sanitation.

Four months earlier, on July 19, 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced an effort to alleviate the problem. They have provided more than 42 million dollars in grants to "reinvent" the toilet. One of the biggest problems with our modern toilets and infrastructure is that we in the U.S. are used to using water that has been sanitized for drinking to flush our toilets. One of the biggest problems in much of the world, however, is the lack of potable drinking water, let alone using it to flush away waste.

Thus the Gates Foundation has as part of their guidelines for obtaining a grant that the cost for the reinvented toilet be no more than five cents per person per day. Even that would mean a yearly cost of almost 20 dollars, which would be prohibitive for many people, but would be a vast improvement over today's current technology.

Grants for a stand-alone toilet unit with no piped-in water, sewer connection or outside electricity have gone to a number of universities including the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University. Another grant will study the efficacy of solar power to operate a toilet and there is promise from using electrodes to convert the waste into carbon dioxide and hydrogen which could then be used to operate a fuel cell to allow night-time use of the toilet. Work is also continuing on a composting toilet.


If you missed National Toilet Day, you probably also missed National Toilet Paper Day Aug. 26. Even while traveling in Europe about 20 years ago, travelers were advised to always carry some TP with them as especially in public restrooms, TP was not readily available. For home use, most of us use the TP roll. A bit of trivia about TP is that about 72 percent of people prefer to have the TP roll installed so that the sheets go over the top rather than down and behind. What's your preference? Then also a typical roll of TP was good enough on the average for 71 people. Now who studies these things?


It is hard to be definite about the inventor of the flush toilet. Some claimed it was invented by Thomas Crapper, a plumber who lived and worked in London in the late 1800s. While Thomas Crapper was indeed a real person, he was not the inventor of the flush toilet even though he did have a number of patents on flushing mechanisms. Some people also claim that the word "crap" came from his name, but that claim is in doubt even though soldiers in WWI in England did indeed see Thomas Crapper's name possibly on man hole covers, some of which still exist today.


Last week I was in a discussion with several others at the Adult Community Center that had essentially two topics. One topic was memories of the Armistice Day Blizzard and the other was memories of past Thanksgivings.

The 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard covered both Nov. 11 and Nov. 12, with very warm weather reaching into the 60s preceding a rapid drop of as much as 50 degrees and winds that ranged from 50 mph to 80 mph. Though 49 people in Minnesota died in that blizzard, some of the stories at the Center had a humorous side with one family of brothers trying to get the family car out of the driveway on 5th Street to drive to a friend's house after some hours of shoveling, Dad was called out to help get the car back in the driveway. A second story was about some domesticated ducks who usually spent the day in the Redwood River, but instead had returned home before noon as though they knew the storm was approaching.

The Thanksgiving stories were also rather fun to listen to. Not everyone had turkey for Thanksgiving. Goose was sometimes the main Thanksgiving dinner item. Cranberry salad seems to also have been a popular choice for the Thanksgiving feast. A bit of discussion settled around mincemeat pie. There were some who questioned whether it actually contained meat. That intrigued me and I thought I had remembered canned jars of mincemeat in our basement "cold" room. So I did a quick bit of research to verify that real mincemeat usually has ground or chopped beef in it. I vaguely remembered the taste of mincemeat pie that we had being heavily apple-flavored. My research sent me to two grocery stores in town. One had sold out of canned mincemeat so I assume someone will have that this Thanksgiving. The other store still had some on the shelf. Whatever kind of pie you have, I hope you have a filling, grateful, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!



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