Ecological sanitation is dinner topic

Most of the thirty odd Portlanders who gathered for dinner at a private home in the Laurelhurst neighborhood had had the same experience. When they had suggested ways to make sanitation more sustainable, there were always some friends and family members who simply refused to discuss the matter. Taboos about human excreta run deep. So, some wondered, how do we get pressing environmental issues on the table? What about inviting interested folks to dinner with the express purpose of discussing sanitation? Thus the genesis of what is likely to become a regular event. The May 4th event – “Talking Shit (over dinner) – was co-hosted by ReCode Oregon, Research Club, and PHLUSH.  Pearl Safeway Store Manager Ryan Sidwell and Pearl Bakery Retail Manager John Woolsey donated ingredients for the home cooked vegan feast. In welcoming the folks gathered on a balmy evening, Mathew Lippincott attacked the euphemisms that have  permeated social, environmental and legal discourse. “Through that work [of Recode Oregon], I’ve learned that I’m not taking a shit, I’m a depositing ‘black waste.’ What the heck is black waste? Where does black waste come from? I wrote down the official definition:”‘Black Waste’ means human body wastes including feces, urine, other substances of body origin, and toilet paper” (OAR 340-071-0100 (20)). That definition is the only time you will see the words urine and feces mentioned by the law…This confused, legalized prudishness is a major cause of problems.” Mathew went on to lay out our options for ecosan action: “Do it and don’t tell anyone, do it in somebody else’s country, or confront these regulations directly. The last one is hard, but that’s how systemic change will start. It means confronting taboos, ingrained traditions, and a century and a half finicky and specific plumbing rules.” After dinner, Jeff Holiman showed us a Bokashi bucket in which he is fermenting his family’s food waste and spoke a bit about fermentation and micro aerobic  treatment technologies.   Jeff has been researching Terra Preta, the rich dark soil of pre-Columbian Amazonia that results from biochar-enhanced fermentation.    Biochar efficiently sequesters atmospheric carbon, making Terra Preta an alternative to composting as a technology for soil restoration and waste treatment.  Jeff also demonstrated biochar production in a small metal reactor he’d built in a recent workshop. We’ve got a lot to learn – both about safe, evidence-based sustainable sanitation technologies and about an outdated regulatory framework that calls for change.  If you’re interesting in hosting a Talking Shit dinner in the future – perhaps a pot luck – please let us know.  

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