This post might not be for the squeamish, but give it a chance! From a scientific standpoint, human feces can be very interesting; if nothing else, all the buzz around using methane gas (harvested from manure) as an energy source is huge. So hold on for this one: here’s 5 crazy facts about poop that may surprise you.
The Scoop on Poop
Using animal and human wastes for good purposes, such as energy production or upcycling, is nothing new. It’s only recently that we’ve been seeing a greater, and more serious, conversation about these ideas. Here’s some of the beneficial ways poop can be used for society.
1. Poop May Be Regulated As a Drug
There’s a nasty bacterial infection called C. Difficile that can cause severe diarrhea and bleeding for months to years. Fecal transplants (just what they sound like) while controversial, are thought to reintroduce the healthy bacteria lost to this infection. For some, this is the best possible hope, but finding a hospital that will agree to the procedure can be difficult—especially with the FDA getting involved: the agency wants to regulate poop as a drug in order to subject it to higher safety standards, but is this really the right approach? 
2. Poop is Being Turned into Park Benches
In the U.S, disposable diapers collect close to 3.7 million tons of municipal waste per year.  Because of this, one company has stepped in with a solution. By collecting dirty diapers, Terracycle will use the plastic parts to create plastic “wood” park benches and picnic tables.  This plan will expand an existing program that collects diaper packaging—possibly even offering cash for the used diapers. This idea of “upcycling”—turning our trash into something new—is nothing new, but it’s a great way to tackle this smelly problem.
3. Poop is a Source of Energy
Some wastewater treatment plants are working to convert our solid waste into something bigger. For example, one plant in Washington, D.C., is turning our poop into enough energy for 8,000 American homes.  The potential seems limitless, and agricultural waste is getting the treatment, too, with one Maryland chicken farm lending bird poop to power an entire prison.  But this is not just a U.S. thing—everyone has a need for new sources of energy. In Ghana, where sanitation can be an issue, one company is even turning poop into biodiesel and fertilizers. 
4. Poop as a Natural Fertilizer
Right now, synthetic fertilizers are big contributors to greenhouse gasses. It’s not the fertilizers themselves, but rather the process used to make them.  Some people want to change that by using human waste to create natural fertilizers. Our poop is full of nutrients, so it makes sense to bring this to crops. The trick, though, is to make the process safe for all involved.
5. For Many People, Pooping Isn’t a Good Experience
Not everyone is lucky enough to have easy access to a toilet. In fact, there are many in the world without any access whatsoever. This urgent need even prompted the United Nations to sponsor World Toilet Day to increase awareness. Sometimes the threat of violence can be very real (especially for women and children) when searching for a safe relief zone.  According to one report, 2,000 children die of diarrhea—often hygiene-related—each day, and cholera is also a concern. 
One Final Thought
Nowadays, you can even send in a fecal sample to learn what’s in your gut’s microbiome; however, there’s room for error as other bacteria can grow while it’s in the mail.  While it’s not a sure thing yet, this technology definitely has potential.
So…did you learn something new about poop? Tell us what you think in the comments.
- Park, A. Should We Regulate Poop as a Drug? Mother Jones.
- Environmental Protection Agency. Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States Tables and Figures for 2010. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Goldmark, A. Terracycle To Turn Dirty Diapers Into Park Benches. Co.EXIST.
- Mollenbeck, A. Blue Plains to turn your poop into energy. WTOP.
- The Star. Poop power: Ghana turning human waste into energy. The Star.
- Rosenwald, M. Maryland’s chicken poop: So powerful it can electrify a prison. Washington Post.
- Toness, B. Recycled lunch: Using human waste to grow food, and fight climate change. PRI.
- United Nations. 19 November: World Toilet Day. United Nations.
- Renzetti, E. On World Toilet Day, no relief in sight. The Globe and Mail.
- Engelhaupt, E. Here’s the poop on getting your gut microbiome analyzed. ScienceNews.