When discussing where all our construction waste goes (locally, we take it to van der Linde Recycling for sorting and recycling), Devin rightly asked about the porta-john waste, “who sorts through that?” Due to our little fire episode with the porta-john and in honor of this month’s City of Charlottesville Annual Water Quality Report explaining “Where does my water come from?,” I decided to look into the life cycle of our traveling buildings (off-grid W.C.).

The new porta-john we got is from Allied Portable Toilets. They sent me a MSDS fact sheet on the chemicals they use during the hot season. They are manufactured by a company in Georgia. I called them up and they were very friendly. They would not tell me who they sourced their ingredients from, but it appears online that they may be produced both domestically or as far away as China. They say their Turbo Dripax product is formaldehyde free, and the primary ingredients appear to be fairly environmentally benign. However, a closer reading of the chemical properties of these ingredients made me start to wonder. I have an email out to some people at the EPA, so I will provide an update if I hear anything back from them.

Hazardous Ingredients: None
Components: 2-Bromo-2-Nitro-1,3-propanediol, Sulfamic Acid, Fragrance (Blend) Essential Oils and Fixatives. This mixture contains no known carcinogens.
Special Fire Fighting Procedures: Wear OSHA/NIOSH approved self contained breathing apparatus and protective clothing.
Hazardous Decomposition or Byproducts: None Known
Health Hazards: None known
Signs & Symptoms of Exposure Ingestion: A single dose of this product is rarely toxic by ingestion. Can result in abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Irritation of the mouth, pharynx & esophagus can develop.
Emergency & First Aid Procedures: Ingestion: Call poison control center. Harmful if swallowed.
Material is Released or Spilled: Flush spilled materials into sanitary or storm sewers. Use chemical absorbent and sweep up small spills. Contain and collect large spills.
Waste and Disposal Method: Dispose of in accordance with federal, state and local regulations.

When asked where the waste (human and chemical) is disposed of after leaving site, Lee at Allied writes: “Locally, it goes to the RWSA Moore’s Creek treatment center off of Route 20.”
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For anyone not familiar with where your personal waste water goes, the Moore’s Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is down in Woolen Mills. There has actually been some recent controversy about expanding the pump station at the end of Chesapeake Avenue that feeds to the Moores Creek treatment facility, as they are at capacity and have actually gotten some waste water into the watershed. Here are some links to get you up to speed:

http://www.c-ville.com/Blog/This_Just_In/Council_to_reconsider_sewer_pump_options/?act=post http://www.c-ville.com/Article/Development/Scents_and_sensibility

Basically, gravity takes all our waste down to Hogwaller. At the Wastewater Treatment Plant, the solids are pulled out and the waste water is throughly cleaned and put back into Moores Creek, where it goes out to the Atlantic (evaporates, becomes rain, comes down a mountain stream, is cleaned again, and then piped back into your house). The solids used to be laid out in fields and then sold as compost, but as of 2007 it is trucked to the Maplewood Recycling and Waste Disposal Facility in Amelia County to rest. I understand that this trucking of compost was a result of smell complaints from the Woolen Mills neighborhood. The odor problem feeds back to the current pump station discussion.

From personal experience, I can attest to the smell. It can be strong (and seems to still be there even after they started sending off the compost). However, I would argue that a community should have to deal with the waste that it generates. [How big our “community” is can be another discussion (5 miles, 500 miles? City, County, or State?)] We should set a goal to at least upcycle our “waste,” if we want to keep consuming as we currently do. Until we deal with all of the paper, plastic, metal, cardboard, and human waste, I am hesitant to say we are living “sustainably.” However, the first step in dealing with the byproducts of our lifestyle is to learn their actual cycle. We need to be critical consumers. Ask where your food and goods come from. Ask where the packaging goes after use. Ask where your waste water goes when it zips out the pipe in your house. By asking, we can get business and government to be more critical of the lifecycle of their products and slowly work towards a truly sustainable society.