We are happy to announce that our new project is done.  Let us introduce you to the Poop and Paddle!Vodpod videos no longer available.

Scifri Videos: Poop And Paddle, posted with vodpod

One of the main goals of the project was to create a system the cycled and recycled itself so much that it basically designed away the concept of ‘waste’. What better place to explore themes of ‘waste’ then from the perspective of a toilet.

In the natural world there isn’t such thing as waste, and natural systems cycle and recycle seamlessly. Take the nutrient cycle as an example. In the natural world, nutrients transfer from the soil to our food to our bodies and then back to the soil again.

When we break this cycle though (by flushing our ‘waste’ down a toilet for instance) we need to feed this broken cycle on both ends, which becomes an inefficient and energy consuming process.

With Poop and Paddle, the idea was to create a design that kept as many of these natural cycles intact as possible. With our obvious interest in water issues, the hydrologic cycle was chosen to experiment with.

So here’s how Poop and Paddle works:

Rainwater falling on the toilet’s roof* is diverted to a cistern where it is utilized as toilet water. A ‘contribution’ is made, the toilet is flushed, and the water (now classified as blackwater), is distributed through series of synthesized wetland ecosystems (called a constructed wetlands) that have been planted in 55 gallon barrels. Microbes and bacteria on the roots of the plants immediately start breaking down organic matter in the water.

What we consider to be ‘waste’, wetland plants consider to be ‘fertilizer’, and the plants are key to the remediation of the blackwater. This process, known as biofiltration, is an energy efficient, inexpensive way to treat waste water.

As the sewage is pushed farther and farther into the system, it is digested and broken down more and more by the plants, microbes and bacteria within it, until it finally emerges (weeks later) as pre-filtered effluent. While not fit for domestic use, the effluent is suitable for irrigation, and is used to water Poop and Paddle’s flower garden. Evapotranspiration sends the water from the flowers back into the atmosphere as molecules of pure H2O. These molecules form into rainclouds and the purified water falls back to the roof and into the rainwater cistern where it awaits a second pass through the toilet. Its a zero discharge system. Every input is used somewhere along the way, and whatever is left over gets cycled back in. There is no waste!

While constructed wetlands are used for both residential and commercial applications around the world (currently, at least three U.S. cities process all their municipal waste through a constructed wetlands, rather than through a sewage treatment plant), the idea was not so much to promote the idea of a constructed wetland as it was to promote provocative thought about the ideas of water, waste, nutrients, and the ways in which our manmade systems can either work with, or against, natural cycles.

As a matter of fact, a traditional humanure system (aka composition toilet) would have been a much more rational way of creating a closed nutrient cycle AND eliminating the need to even use water (composting toilets don’t use water), but we wanted you to have a lot to look at, and a lot more to think about.

We are proud to be showing Poop and Paddle at this years Maker Faire  on September 16-17 and then again at The New New York on October 1st. To find out how you can help us get there, or get the ‘full experience’ once we’ve arrived, drop a line to expeditiongowanus@gmail.com.


This project was made possible thanks to the generous support and donations of:

Build it GreenAtoms Eco, Gowanus Canal ConservancyAeon SolarNYPV Solar and all the Expedition Gowanus/FLUX Factory volunteers!

*In NYC, as in many cities, rainwater is considered a waste product. Rain falling on the roof of a typical NYC brownstone is ushered as quickly as possible into a gutter, then to a downspout, then to the sewer system, where it is mixed with all the other sewage on its way to the waste water treatment facility to be processed. Out of sight. Out of mind.
There are numerous problems with this. One problem is that rain never has the opportunity to percolate back into the soil, irrigate plants and recharge groundwater. Another problem is that, when most rain events occur, the sewers that carry this rainwater/sewage mixture overflow, and send raw sewage into local waterways. The green roof and rainharvesting system on Poop and Paddle represent some of the many different kinds of green infrastructure possibilities that can be adopted to address these problems. Rain gardens, green roofs, rainwater harvesting systems and impervious surfaces (break up your concrete!) all slow down water on its way to the sewer, and utilize it as a resource, rather than as a waste product.