From an award-winning science journalist, a lively, informative, and humorous deep dive into the future of the toilet—from creative uses for harvested “biosolids,” to the bold engineers dedicated to bringing safe sanitation to the billions of people worldwide living without—for fans of popular science bestsellers by Mary Roach.
Most of us do not give much thought to the centerpiece of our bathrooms, but the toilet is an unexpected paradox. On the one hand, it is a modern miracle: a ubiquitous fixture in a vast sanitation system that has helped add decades to human lifespan by reducing disease. On the other hand, the toilet is also a tragic failure: less than half of the world’s population can access a toilet that safely manages bodily waste, including many right here in the United States. And it is inefficient, squandering clean water as well as the nutrients and energy contained in the waste we flush away. While we see radical technological change in almost every other aspect of our lives, we remain stuck in a sanitation status quo—in part because the topic of toilets is taboo.
Fortunately, there’s hope—and Pipe Dreams daringly profiles the growing army of scientists, engineers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and activists worldwide who are overcoming their aversions and focusing their formidable skills on making toilets accessible and healthier for all.
This potential revolution in sanitation has many benefits, including reducing inequalities, mitigating climate change and water scarcity, improving agriculture, and optimizing health. Author Chelsea Wald takes us on a wild world tour from a compost toilet project in Haiti, to a plant in the Netherlands that harvests used toilet paper from sewage, and shows us a bot that hangs out in manholes to estimate opioid use in a city, among many other fascinating developments.
Much more than a glorified trash can, the toilet, Wald maintains, holds the power to help solve many of the world’s problems, if only we can harness it.