Mindful waste management
Every year, the 19th of November celebrates the creation of one of humanity’s most important inventions. Upon this modern marvel of engineering, man took his throne and sat firmly as the most advanced apex predator the world has ever seen. On this literal seat of power, bricks were laid that built the world as we know it today. It’s international toilet day!
Innuendo aside, international toilet day serves as a reminder of the ubiquitous issue of waste management, and the impact it has on our health and the environment. It is easy to forget that the modern toilet paved the way for the development of safe and effective sewage management systems that improved the quality of life of billions of people.
Yet today, 3.6 billion people do not have access to well managed sanitation systems (1). This lack of basic sanitation systems for roughly half of the world’s population is a serious issue with systemic consequences. The contamination of water bodies by sewage facilitates the degradation of water quality, both in terms of the spreading of bacteria and diseases that negatively impact human health, and the downstream impacts of this contamination on aquatic ecosystems and water security. These concerns are only heightened in countries where the majority of communities do not have access to toilets and appropriate sanitation systems, as contaminated water is often consumed directly in the absence of water treatment facilities.
Despite the stark comparison in the waste management systems in developed and developing countries, the handling of sewage and human waste remains a point of concern in developed countries. While the number of priority urban areas on the EPA watch list has steadily decreased in recent decades, to this day raw sewage from the equivalent of 75,000 homes enters Irish waterways in 34 towns and villages across the country (2). The negative impact of poor waste management is readily observable in Ireland, with pollution events causing an increase in the frequency of boil water notices and swimming bans nationwide (3,4).
The toilet is a great example of the simple features of modern life we take for granted. World Toilet Day serves to enhance awareness of the issues and dangers associated with waste management that are a daily reality for billions of people all over the world. The establishment of safe and high quality global sanitation systems is an essential step in improving the quality of life for these people, as well as safeguarding the crucial resource that is fresh water.
For more information on World Toilet Day, please visit: https://www.worldtoiletday.info/
For more information on WHO/UNICEF water supply and sanitation monitoring programmes, please visit: https://www.unwater.org/publication_categories/whounicef-joint-monitoring-programme-for-water-supply-sanitation-hygiene-jmp/
- WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) – Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000 – 2020 [Internet]. UN-Water. [cited 2021 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.unwater.org/publications/who-unicef-joint-monitoring-program-for-water-supply-sanitation-and-hygiene-jmp-progress-on-household-drinking-water-sanitation-and-hygiene-2000-2020/
- Agency EP. Urban waste water priority areas [Internet]. [cited 2021 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.epa.ie/our-services/compliance–enforcement/waste-water/urban-waste-water/urban-waste-water-priority-areas/
- Environment KO, Editor S. Swimming ban at three beaches following overflow at Ringsend wastewater treatment plant [Internet]. The Irish Times. [cited 2021 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/swimming-ban-at-three-beaches-following-overflow-at-ringsend-wastewater-treatment-plant-1.4283628
- Cullen P, Horgan-Jones J, Kelly O. Boil water notice reissued for greater Dublin area [Internet]. The Irish Times. [cited 2021 Nov 19]. Available from: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/boil-water-notice-reissued-for-greater-dublin-area-1.4072251