Of recycling, Mr. Banerjee said, “you don’t have to be brilliant, you just have to observe the poor, and you’ll see what’s possible.”
I’ve been observing the poor, and I’m seeing a culture who has it’s shit together in a few literal ways.
First goythas (pronounced with a hard t, again).
These disks of poo are all over the place in the villages around Bodhgaya. Binay tells me they are considered richly spiritual as well. Holy shit. You’ll see women or children making manure pancakes (just dung, straw and water) all over the place. It’s simply one of the daily chores. I saw two boys making this the other day, the older one slowly adding water while the younger (figures!) was elbow deep mixing the mass. They are then hand flattened and laid out to dry, or more commonly, slapped again a brick or concrete wall to dry.
[A side note: I'm thinking of marketing these in the US, but using my own... um, dung. I'm thinking Geebler Cookies for the regular size, and then I'll make small stove pellets and call them Feces Pieces. I'll be posting an order form soon.]
So, a cow and/or water buffalo = lawn mower + fresh milk (this is very important because there’s very little refrigeration) + plough power (though not relevant for most folks I don’t believe) + fuel. And what’s not happening? The poo is not being hauled into a pit to poison the ground water and release methane gas into the atmosphere. Though the difference actually has more to do with localization than waste management. The localized management of cattle, as opposed to giant factory farms, makes the pit of shit a non existent dilemma.
There’s an even more eco- (nomical/logical) option as well. Here’s a slick and simple system from Makaibari. First, the dung is mixed with rainwater to make a sludge…
…that is then drained into big underground tanks:
The biogas is released out the top and that’s that. The hose runs to the kitchen and powers the gas burner:
Ideal but expensive. These units each cost 35,000Rs (nearly $800US) to build. His system paid for itself in less than two years of saving 440Rs per fuel canister per week (roughly $500 per year)… but the upfront investment is very hard to come by. And this doesn’t count the cost of the dung input.
Most of the villagers just buy the canisters and sell or compost the cow dung.
Another small biogas unit from Makaibari
Then there’re the toilets. A conversation about shit could not exclude these. I’ll try to be delicate. I’ll just say that these squat toilets seem to be better in every way, and it’s a shame that “western” toilets are on the long term plan for every household, the way we hear that India and China want to “catch up” to us on car usage. And to be fair, the squat toilet probably scores very low on the sanitation scale, compared to a western. But consider this:
-smaller material input
-smaller physical footprint
-minimal water usage, just a couple of cups of water manually applied
-quick, efficient and healthier-for-the-body position (one that requires little or no toilet paper!–and healthy knees.)
-relative comfort for those who like to sit for long times–but the toilet itself is to blame for the the longer sit!
-gallons of water per use. Even the lowest flow are around one gallon of processed potable water. Crazy compared to using two cups of recycled rainwater.
We’ve got a ways to go (return) in the upper Waste-rn hemisphere. It’s possibly a problem of language. We use “resource” to describe dinosaur poo but use the word “waste” to get rid of the (eewww!) stuff that our lives produce every day. Perhaps a daily chore of elbow deep dung churning would help us get over our squeamishness and get our shit together.