Let’s face it. We are all a bit shy when it comes to talking about poop. However, as a recent Glastonbury festival made clear, dealing with human waste in an environmentally friendly way is an issue which businesses need to take seriously.
It might feel somewhat childish to talk about poop, yet the really childish and irresponsible thing to do would be to not talk about it. So, what do businesses need to know about the pollution which we are all responsible for?
Poop is Good for the Environment… But Only in Small Doses
For tens of thousands of years, humans were hunter gatherers who lived a nomadic lifestyle. We’d roam for place to place, eating off the land and generally keeping ourselves to ourselves. We tend to call this kind of life “primitive”, but that’s not really fair. After all, early humans wouldn’t have had to deal with things like traffic, global warming and poop pollution. So, before we call early humans uncivilized or primitive, it’s worth thinking about what civilisation means and what it often entails.
During this period of history, human waste would have been just another natural part of the nitrogen cycle and carbon cycle in the same way that animal waste and plant matter is today. It was only after the Agricultural Revolution — that moment when humans all over the world decided to stop hunting and start farming — that the problems started. With all those humans bunched together in one place, waste began to pile up. It’s for this reason that even early Romans had sewage systems.
Businesses Should Learn from History
Jump forward to 19th Century London and the Great Stink is hanging over London. The human waste that Londoners were dumping into the Thames River was being cooked in the sun as the river ran dry. If that sounds disgusting, it’s because it was. This event — alongside the efforts of John Snow and other influential scientists — led to the Sanitary Movement.The Sanitary Movement was when cities in economically developed countries across the world began developing more complex sewage systems in order to deal with the needs of the modern city. It was a herculean feat of engineering, but what’s even more amazing is that these sewages systems are — by and large — the same ones which we still use today
However, as important as the Sanitary Movement was, it didn’t lead us directly where we are today. It would take several more years before people realized that directing human waste into a sewer and simply moving it away from a city wasn’t good enough. Sooner or later, we’d have to deal with that waste by treating it. This is exactly what we do now, and it is thanks to this movement that we have the more modern sewage systems of today.
The lesson for businesses from all this is that poop pollution is a perfect example of a problem which cannot be solved with a selfish, business-orientated attitude. If you only look out for your own business, you might not care where your business’ waste goes. With a lack of safety checks or awareness of their sewage leak, the Glastonbury Festival organisers certainly didn’t in 2014. The result was a polluted river.
When a river is polluted in this way because of a business’ selfishness, it is known as the Tragedy of the Commons. This economic principle states that if something is used by and benefits a whole group of people, the thing becomes no one person’s responsibility. As such, by using it selfishly, everyone encourages everyone else to use it selfishly, too. In the end, everyone loses because the resource is depleted or otherwise destroyed in some way.
It benefits no single business to protect a river from human waste but, if everyone had that same attitude, then the river would be destroyed. The river’s destruction would then negatively affect everyone. On a global scale, climate change is the ultimate case of the Tragedy of the Commons.
Businesses Should Do More than Simply Follow the Law
It’s because of the Tragedy of the Commons that the law requires businesses who aren’t hooked up to the national sewage system to have some kind of septic tank or on-site sewage treatment system.
This is the law in Ireland, where home sewage treatment systems and commercial sewage treatment systems need to meet the EPA’s requirements. In the UK, instances of people not being connected up the national sewage system are so rare that each issue is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
The problem is that businesses like those behind the organisation of Glastonbury Festival try to get away with doing the absolute minimum. This is not good enough.
Most people’s reaction to a business which can’t deal with its waste properly is disgust, and this is the right reaction. Yet, it’s more than disgusting; it’s also dangerous to allow waste to remain untreated in this way. As such, a business should find a solution which is fit for purpose, not simply a solution which follows the law to its bare minimum.
Businesses Should Find the Right Solution for Them
If you plan on growing your business, that means more staff. More staff means a need for a bigger sewage treatment system. This isn’t a place where you should be trying to save money. In this case, it’s most definitely better to overestimate the size of the system you’ll need than to underestimate. A concrete septic tank is often the best choice for a business because of its size and weight.
What’s more, it’s worth spending more money on a solution which is low or no energy. The aim of sewage treatment systems is to be environmentally friendly. So, while you are dealing with your staff’s waste, you might as well do it in a way which has the lowest carbon impact.
Waste Can Be Recycled
The final thing which businesses should bear in mind about poop pollution is that it can be a source of energy. Biomass fuel is still a relatively experimental idea in terms of energy production. However, the benefits of biomass fuel over fossil fuels are that it’s free and renewable.
These two benefits cannot be understated and, if you are able to fuel your business based on the waste your staff produces, you can become independent in a way which other businesses only dream of. Even if biomass fuel doesn’t become a commercially viable option in the next few years, it’s still worth thinking about anyway. After all, if the idea ever does take off, your business will be on the very front line.
James Clarke is the owner of Biocell Water. His company provides sustainable wastewater treatment solutions for homes and businesses.