The toilet fights continue *

* totes clickbait title. No fights were had.

I had the privilege of presenting my dry toilet love at UnSchool. Bravely, I allowed half the session for the participants to debate dry vs flush (aka trash my ideas). I expected them to struggle with the dry toilet thing (aka totally trash my idea irretrievably) but it was about a 50/50 split for or against without any what I would consider fatal flaws. Win!

As I mentioned to the participants, I am not on a particular mission to convert everyone to dry toilets (except when I’m drunk or when there is yet another sewer spill into the Zandvlei estuary), but I want to give dry toilets a fighting chance. I don’t think we’ve properly considered dry toilets as a viable, liveable option. We haven’t yet thought about dry toilets as a great product (Johan (with  a hard J) had a good phrase here too, which I have now forgot).

After presenting my brief argument (half of this presentation (pdf, 5MB)), we had a ‘verbal fight club’ (first rule of verbal fight club is talk about verbal fight club, ‘coz it’s verbal) where the participants present arguments and then argue them with interjections from others, in a semi-not-chaotic way. It dutifully went around dry toilets for a while and then meandered into the bigger issues of what is behind toilets, in a gentle and transformative way. It was lovely.

We spoke about things like intersectionality, about how we all come from different places, have different baggage and expectations about toilets – especially bucket toilets – but how we all still need to take a shit. The groundedness of shit in itself was great. We didn’t talk about these things in and an abstract sense either. It was real stuff like if I live in a rich house then we’ll probably have rich service delivery, that it is good to start with ourselves and develop the products and use them ourselves, rather than for ‘poor people’ in a distant and patronising way, but that at the end of the day I am still rich, that my reach only goes so far and it is what it is.

Speaking to the group I remembered reasons why I like dry toilets – that I can intervene with a dry toilet, which isn’t possible to me with a flush toilet. We spoke about how to make change if bureaucracy is such a pain and if what we conventionally think of as governance is so linear in such a complex system and thus completely useless, which allowed me to make a plug for Future Water – trying to do research that engages with this messiness from the start , or the Resilient Futures project that links Economics and Law into the Engineering from the start, for the same reason. That one needs to play the long game, do the boring annoying stuff like understand how the City’s convoluted structures work (there was a phrase for this). That one needs to volunteer, because that gives you access to people and ways of doing that you don’t otherwise have, and helps you understand weird and complex things, that you need to belong to both big slow things (e.g. big companies or universities) and small agile things like start-ups or hobbies, but that they need to relate to each other with integrity, but that it all is a bit grey after a while…

The advice from the floor was encouraging – small changes, create a fun thing. How our motley crew of passionates are going about it  – Carlos and Henriette and Dominique and Dyllon and Ute and so on – just trying things out and learning as we go without trying to force anyone into it is just right. We are developing the EcoLatrine Hub and the SaniSavvy as demo parks for the love of science and inquisitiveness and how our shit fits into the bigger picture, creating a ‘bucket of knowledge’ more than being a bucket of shit. As Emma said, ‘you can’t change behaviour but you can change hearts’. People relate to authentic passion and seeing you play the long game.

I was not surprised by the reservations that the participants had about dry toilets. I was surprised by how willing they were to entertain the idea.

The presentation is available here (pdf, 5MB). It is a continual work in progress, comments about any aspect appreciated.


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