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When the Sustainability Working Group at Occupy Wall Street wanted a greywater system for OWS’s kitchen, we were pretty excited to break off a few un-used cells from Poop and Paddle to reinstall at the park. The purpose of the greywater system is to 1) raise awareness about wastewater solutions and 2) to remediate the kitchen’s water so it can be used to irrigate plants in Zucotti Park.

With a kitchen that is working 24/7 to feed the thousands of people participating in the occupation, we are still working to keep the ever-fluctating kitchen staff educated on proper use of the greywater system. Information signs describing how the system works have been installed, and talk of a Permaculture Zine that describes how to make a DIY greywater system (and possibly how to make the many more permaculture installations that are soon to be installed) is in the works.

To get involved with the Sustainability Working Group at Occupy Wall Street email Besides the greywater system, an extensive composting plan that will connect the kitchen scraps to urban gardens via bike rickshaw is being put together, permaculture workshops are happening (seed bombs, Zucottie Park Re-Designs, etc), and waste re-use/reduction plans for the occupiers are being put together. Bring your own ideas or help out with others at any of the working group meetings!



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


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.

New York City sewer systems are designed so that, when it rains, the sewers fill up with water and cause sewage to overflow into nearby waterways. Called combined sewage overflows (CSO’s), these events dump 27 billion gallons of raw sewage into NYC’s waterways each year. This super 8 mm footage is a compilation of some of the best poops ever to float past the window of a houseboat that was docked on a NYC canal. 

Green infrastructure such as rainwater harvesting systems, green roofs, guerilla gardens, urban farms and impermeable surfaces (crack open your concrete!) all work to counteract CSO’s by utilizing rainwater as a resource rather than a waste product, thus keeping it out of the gutter. Get involved:

S.W.I.M. Coalition River Keeper NYC  Bay Keeper NY/NJ The Gaia Institute  Lower East Side Ecology Center  Green Guerillas




Our Rain Water Harvesting workshop was a success and the Bed-Stuy CSA Headquarters now has an awesome new RWH system that will be used to irrigate gardens (front and back yards), feed into their washing machine and water their chickens. The systems cisterns (700 gallon capacity) were built with salvaged materials, and the rest of the materials (PVC pipes, shallow well pump, etc) were made possible due to the support of the Citizens Committee for NYC.

photos by Anton A

photos by Anton A

Here is what the design called for:

Residents of the brownstone wanted to be able to have 15 gallons a day to water their front yard garden, and wanted to also have infrastructure in place to irrigate a roof top garden that they will plant in the coming year. They wanted 40 gallons a day accessible for washing machine use, and a minimal amount of water in the backyard for chickens and landscape. The challenges of this system were:

1) Both the roof and the 2nd Story balcony could not support very large cisterns

2). The roof is pitched to send water to the backyard (which happens to be the place where the least amount of water was needed.

3) The system had to be designed in a way that would allow possible adaptation once the roof garden was installed (i.e. adding more capacity) if needed.

Here is how the final design went…

Water falling off the roof travels down to the back yard and into the first flush. The purpose of the first flush (being constructed in this shot) is to divert the first bit of rainfall that hits the roof away from the cistern since it is usually full of pollen, leaves, bird droppings, and whatever else has fallen on the roof since the last rainfall.

After this initial bit of dirty was has been diverted, the rest of the rainfall is then directed to our main cistern. Consisting of (2) food grade 275 gallon totes (industrial liquid containers), the main cistern acts like a battery from which the other parts of the system can be fed. Since totes are meant to be stacked on top of each other, and since we are all about stacking functions, a tree fort was constructed on top of the totes ( tree fort pictures to come) to make sure that no space was lost in the back yard! The system is designed as a loop, and the totes are the starting and ending place for all water.

From the totes water is then pumped up to a 35 gallon food grade barrel on the roof. This barrel can then gravity feed down to the front yard, and also gravity feed to the roof garden (once it is installed). We used a Wayne shallow well pump for this job. It was considerably cheaper then any other pumps we could find that would fit the application. We’ll let you know how it works.

From the 35 gallon barrel on the roof, the water coming from the pump then overflows into a small (two 55 gallon food grade barrels connected together) cistern on a 2nd floor balcony. These barrels gravity feed to the washing machine. Rainwater washed clothes!

The overflow from this barrels then falls down back into the totes (main storage) in the backyard, completing the loop. The idea is that, one day, the pump will be hooked up to a solar panel, and whenever the sun is shining the pump will be circulating water throughout the entire system, making sure that water is available everywhere it is needed. For now, the pump will be run manually to replenish the system whenever necessary.

55 gallon food grade barrels can be obtained for free from soda bottling plants (they keep syrup in them), food shipping places (pickles, olives, marichino cherries all come in 55 gallon barrels) and overseas shipping companies. The totes (275 gallon stackable containers) were obtained from a soda bottling plant and can also be bought used (make sure they are food grade!) on Craigslist.

For connecting pipe to barrels we used:


bulkhead fittings

a PVC male adapter (plumbing section of your hardware store) with a gasketed lock nut (electrical part of your hardware store) and sealed with a little silicon.

The lumber for building stands for the barrels was dumpstered or obtained from Build It Green NYC

Have questions about building a rainwater harvesting system for yourself? Email us at







Rainwater Harvesting for the Brooklyn Home

August 6th from 11am – 4pm

Bed-Stuy Farm Share Headquarters, 497 Quincy Street Brooklyn, NY

Join Expedition Gowanus and Bed-Stuy Farm Share for a hands on workshop in rainwater harvesting. Thanks to the generous support of The Citizens Committee for NYC this workshop will be offered for FREE! The workshop will cover rainwater harvesting design basics, specific challenges faced by urban environments,  and low-cost solutions for landscape irrigation.  We will then work together to build and install a system on-site that will be used for front and backyard gardens, as well as supplying a washing machine.  No building experience necessary. Limited spaces available.  Please RSVP to

Who We Are:
Bed-Stuy Farm Share is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. It is a mutually beneficial partnership between local farms and our community. The farms bring fresh, seasonal, affordable produce to Bed-Stuy and we provide a stable,
financial base for the farms. Bed-Stuy Farm Share prioritizes purchasing produce from local farmers of color.
 Citizens Committee for New York City stimulates and supports self-help and civic action to improve the quality of life in New York City and its neighborhoods. We believe that residents are uniquely situated to define and act on the issues affecting their communities. When provided with modest support, resident-led volunteer groups can effectively mobilize community resources to improve quality of life. Citizens Committee supports their efforts by offering workshops, grants, training, networking events, helpful publications, a lending library, a meeting space and one-on-one assistance. We currently support over 127 resident-led efforts in all of the five boroughs.

More time building less time blogging. Heres the pics from last Saturday’s event. Thanks to Atom Cianfarani and Jack Watson for the workshops, Sharon K for the photos, and everyone who came out!                                            -SUSTAINABILITY SKILL SHARE-

explore our new base. sneak peak our new top secret project. build some crazy stuff.

We are getting ready for ‘Off the Grid and On the Water’, our urban sustainability residency program, and we want you to help! We will be BUILDING A MINI GREEN ROOF, RE-ORIENTING OUR SOLAR PANELS, ADJUSTING OUR RAINWATER HARVESTING SYSTEM AND RE-PLANTING OUR LIVNG MACHINE. Lets admit it, we will also be sanding, applying fresh paint and moving materials. Who knows, maybe some of you will have a skill or project you want to present/share too, and there will be even more to do! Bring your experience or bring your questions.




Thats right, early in the morning on June 10th the DOT lifted the bridges for Jerko The Gowanus Water Vacuum one last time.  Here is Phil Andrew’s song ‘My Canal’ that was part of our never released ‘Gowanus EP’. The song suits the day My Canal

We are so very sad to leave the inspiring canal, community groups and individuals who helped us while we renovated the boat in these early stages, but we are finally heading for new adventures, great projects and the unknown horizons of Far Rockaway!

Aided by a small, 2×4 wielding crew, and the amazing Captain Porter Fox, we slipped out of the canal to meet our tug.

And then off we went to our new home in Far Rockaway!

We are down here now meeting the neighbors, banging nails, slapping on fresh paint, re-orienting our solar panels, and getting ready for our sustainability residency program that will be launched in July. As far as we know ‘Off the Grid and On the Water”  is NYC’s very first ‘off grid residency program’ and we are very excited to launch it in only a few weeks!!

The residency program will provide free housing (on the boat)  in support of a local agriculture project that will be based right here in Far Rockaway! Stay tuned to hear how it all come together.

In the meantime, please contact us at to make an appointment to visit us down here at Marina 59 anytime in June. We will have a skill share/work day on June 25th and will also be unveiling our next project (hint: it involves a golden toilet, oars, and a homemade wind turbine) We will be building it right here in Marina 59!

The first sighting of the famous Gowanus muskrat was during an Expedition Gowanus meeting that was being hosted on the boat in the summer of 2010.  All eyes turned towards the water as a mysterious mammal swam right past the window and disappeared into the bulkheads south of the boat. At that time, we had no idea what it was. Ironically enough, the meeting that the mysterious animal interrupted was focused on planning the structure that would later support the boats floating garden/phytoremediation experiments. It was in this floating garden, a year later, that the animal was sighted again.  It was actually eating away (or attracted to?) our phyto projects! Early in the morning, and one stalk at a time,  the muskrat chewed at the garden’s phragmites and swam it back to its home somewhere in the bulkhead. There was plenty of time to snap photos and catch some super 8 footage. Excited to share the news with other local conservation/ecology groups who would find significance in the sighting, a photo was passed around via email. The story was soon picked up  and ‘Go Go the Muskrat’ (as in ‘Go Go Gowanus’) became a (very local) overnight star.

by Vince Musacchia and Six Packed Panels as seen in the Red Hook Star-Revue
In an email, Gowanus activist and urban planner Eymund Diegel stated that ‘the muskrat (Ondatra zibethica) is probably from the family of 6 that have been living in Brooklyn Bridge Park as of February 2011. Which means there are probably other ones along the Red Hook shoreline as well. There is also a known population in Spring Creek Park Preserve in Jamaica Bay, on the Brooklyn Queens border.
I thought they lived off aquatic plants like cattails, (it may have been attracted to stay by your floating gardens). They are also known to live off mussels, which is maybe what’s keeping it alive.”
If the first time you saw ‘Go Go’ was in a local paper or on this blog you are looking in the wrong place though. There are dozens of amazing community groups focused on the Gownaus Canal that would love to help you learn about and explore the canal and its brilliant cast of plant and animal characters. Take a canoe tour with the Dredgers, plant a garden with the Canal Conservancy  or learn crazy tidbits of Gowanus history with Proteus Gowanus. Who knows, you might ‘discover’ Gowanus’ next best secret…
Here’s another shot of Gowanus wildlife haning out in our first phytormediation project the ‘trash island’. It was winter so the plants aren’t doing so great, but the birds seemed happy and nested on the island for a few weeks before heading on. One day we’ll transfer all our Super 8 footage and you can see egrets, mallards, cormorants and more!

Well its been a long time since we’ve posted anything. We have been totally hectic and crazy, and only just now are we getting around to compiling the more significant moments into internet friendly form to share with you all. Lots of catching up to do!

Among these exciting moments was our visit from two different school groups this spring. The first group was a Rebecca Bogers  class ‘Problems and Issues in Urban Environments’ from Brooklyn College.

The class was studying sustainable cities and ways to work within ecosystem processes to lessen  harmful human impacts. They were parcitularly intersted in urbanization’s effect on the hydro cycle, watersheds, combined sewage overflows (CSOs), water treatment, etc.  We were the first stop on their four part Gowanus journey!

Early in the day we stopped by Jerko and talked about rainwater harvesting, wastewater management and combined sewage overflows.  We then did a tour of the ‘zero discharge wastewater system’ that we designed and installed on the boat.

From there we moved to 2nd Street to meet with Hans Hesselein of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy for a brief walking tour of the Gowanus and to hear more about the work of the GCC. The walking tour took us to the GCC’s station down at the end of  2nd Ave where the GCC is planting gardens, building bat/bird houses, experimenting with floating gardens and so much more! Here is a picture of the 2nd Ave boat landing that they installed.

Made from the old cobbles of  2nd Ave, the boat landing/garden area slows down and absorbs street runoff during rain events. In concrete covered cities, areas like this are vital to reducing combined sewage overflows (CSO’s), lessening the heat island effect, resupplying groundwater, etc.

In May we also had the pleasure of exploring (via land) the Gowanus Canal with Guerzon, (a senior at the Harbor School), his mentor  Christina Sun ( Ship Coop) and their tugboat blogging friend Will (Tugster Blog: ).  They were down at the canal while mapping the harbor You can learn more about Ship Coop at


This summer, Expedition Gowanus and Marina 59 present Off the Grid and On the Water; a two month residency program for individuals/organizations whose work and/or projects address issues in urban sustainability.

For July and August of 2011, residents will have full access to an off-grid houseboat at Marina 59 in Far Rockaway Queens for use as a meeting place, studio/workshop, live aboard, and/or other creative endeavors.

For more specifics, to find out about other upcoming Expedition Gowanus or Marina 59 events, and to apply for the summer residency program, contact  Applications due by May 20th, 2011.