Sanitation Policy Advocacy in Flush-and-Forget America

November 15, 2010

10-03638_PMG_WTO_web_200x275_FINAL-1Following on Singapore, PHLUSH was invited for the second year in a row to speak at the World Toilet Summit. This year the annual event was held for the first time in the US.  Convened in Philadelphia Oct 31-Nov 3, 2010, the Summit was jointly organized by the World Toilet Organization and the International Code Council and was part of a huge convention and exposition organized by the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.   PHLUSH co-founder Carol McCreary presented Sanitation Policy Advocacy in Flush & Forget America  The study  explores why it’s so hard to “talk toilets” in the US, ways to frame the conversation and appropriate arenas for policy advocacy. 

Sanitation is the silent science, simply absent from most private and public discourse in the United States apart from scatological literature and toilet humor. “Flush-and-forget” operates at individual, household and societal levels.  The time to start the conversation is overdue. To involve everyone in the search for options that are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable, we need to reframe key sanitation issues. This presentation explores five frames in which advocacy can take place.  It highlights work currently underway and proposes five arenas for citizen advocacy, policy reform and code change.

First is global equity, putting access to sanitation on a par with the right to clean drinking water. Through aid and trade, inappropriate sanitation systems have been exported to the developing world. Many now feel the responsibility to develop and bring to scale alternative systems for rich and poor nations alike.

Second is operations cost. Urban sanitation has become a sophisticated process of fouling drinking water only to clean it up again. The costs need to be recognized and technical and scientific hardware and software allocated more productively.

Third is disaster preparedness. Infrastructure failure is likely in regions vulnerable to cataclysmic events, such as earthquakes. Contaminated drinking water supplies and non-functioning sewer systems threaten community health within days.   Training can help ?households and neighborhoods prepare while making salient open discussion of sanitation.

Fourth is food security. Agriculture now relies on rapidly disappearing natural resources. All living things need the nutrients in fertilizers which run off the land, cause eutrophication and cannot be reclaimed. Peak Phosphorus allows us to frame the problem and the solution. We have sustainable supplies of human waste to close the nutrient loops.

Fifth is green building, both at the household level and in urban planning. As demand grows for energy-efficient buildings, rainwater capture, and gray water reuse, on site treatment and recycling of human waste must become commonplace.

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Our Mission Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking seismic event with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

Our Vision Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.

Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was founded in Portland, Oregon and today collaborates with groups across North America.

PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

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