Bodily waste is widely considered a topic not to be discussed in polite company; it's something to be flushed and forgotten. But a new book argues that waste, in all its human and animal forms, is worth getting to know intimately.
"The Origin of Feces" (not to be confused with the 1992 Type O Negative gothic metal album "Origin of the Feces") explores the role that excrement has played in all aspects of life, including evolution, the development of language, public health, and sustainability.
According to author David Waltner-Toews, a Canadian veterinarian and epidemiologist, bodily waste can help solve various modern-day challenges, most notably the energy crisis.
For example, in Rwanda, the stuff is processed to produce methane for heat and electricity. In Sweden, the world's first bio-gas train uses energy sourced from a sewage treatment plant. In Nepal and India, cow dung provides energy for more than a million people. Poop collected from a dog park in Cambridge, Mass., produces enough methane to power a street lamp. An agricultural engineering professor at the University of Illinois converted two liters of pig manure into a quarter-liter of oil. "Not much, but it is a start," the book says.
Waltner-Toews takes as humorous approach to the scatalogical subject as you can; one chapter is titled "The Other Dark Matter." But at the heart of the book is a rather weighty message: "Unless we change how we think about" waste, he writes, "we are doomed to forever live in it."
WASHINGTON POST-BLOOMBERG--05-14-13 1446EDT