Biosolids Into Bricks

Biosolids are the disinfected remains from the water treatment process once we’ve flushed. It’s a good fertilizer but now it can be made into bricks, the bricks used in construction. Civil engineers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia developed the process. They look the same as fired bricks and when processed locally can save land, energy and reduce carbon emissions, thus becoming a green alternative.  Daily, for example, New York City has 1200 tons or 50 truckloads of what would become biosolids. As it is, what’s not used as fertilizer goes into the sea or landfills. Since population is growing and human waste grows with it, there is pressure to find alternatives. Although biosolids bricks meet industry requirements, they may not be as durable. A proposed usage would be for biosolids to be mixed with soil in some proportion. And given that we make a trillion bricks a year incorporating some biosolids into them would not be a small contribution to the environment.  As they decompose biosolids emit carbon dioxide, so the advantages of turning them into a green alternative become clearer and more compelling.

I may have a soft spot for viable green alternatives, but what impresses me about this one is that somewhere people had to overcome our usual reaction to human waste. They saw beyond!

How They Got To Congress

The NYT researched how each member of Congress arrived there and published a graphic which anyone can use. They compare Congress members as our unofficial aristocracy since they are in effect our ruling class. What they found is that they do not represent the average citizen. As a whole their history, opportunities, background, personal wealth, education can much differ from those of their constituents. An important conclusion they suggest is that it seems the US only has a limited number of ways to enter the halls of power. There may be some difference between Democrats and Republicans, for instance more Republicans house members were formerly in business are opposed to the number of Democrats. The implication is that one’s experience predisposes one to certain issues. In the case of those who were in business, they are more likely to be pro-business in their votes and the issues they sponsor and the type of bills they introduce.  Congress members are wealthier than the average American and that too makes a difference, sometimes sponsoring legislation that benefits their own class at the expense of others.

The United States is a representative democracy, meaning that those who make decisions on behalf of the people ought to represent them. The variance that exists between citizens and their representatives has become troubling. I have not read or heard any real answer to this, but if we want our democracy to regain its vibrancy, if we want Congress to be representative of the needs and aspirations of citizens, it would seem one way to start is by electing people who are more like us. And let’s note, that means we have to vote!

Drugs Expiration Dates Revelation

About 50 years ago the FDA instituted expiration dates on drugs, meaning that was the date, typically two to three years, until which they could guarantee efficiency. Well, it turns out that is not so. A toxicologist from the California Poison Control Center and a research pharmacist from the University of California San Francisco teamed up and discovered drugs can last often years longer. They studied 14 compounds and out of those 12 retained their efficiency. Of course the present system suits drug companies. The federal government stockpiles many medications which periodically have to be discarded. Nursing homes discard medications once a patient leaves and pharmacies certainly have to. All in all the researchers found that the waste in the health care system amounts to $765 billion a year, something like a quarter of health care spending. And drug waste account for a large portion of that.

ProPublica conducted the investigation that exposed these facts. Now it’s up to us to start using them. It will be a long time before Big Pharma owns up to this fact since it improves their bottom line, and it will equally be a long time before the FDA changes its rules. But we can heed this revelation and not go by the expiration date of given drugs. Two expensive drugs I was using, one a cream, another an inhaler reinforced the point the researchers made. I used them beyond the expiration date with no difference, and when I mentioned it to my doctor, she said “sure, that’s fine.”

Human Composting

Composting humans instead of burying or cremating them? Why not? The Washington state legislature is considering it. It is the brainchild of Katrina Spades who has been developing it over a number of years as a greener alternative. The idea is to find an alternative to existing methods of treating bodies after death. Not only are cities running out of land for cemeteries, both cemeteries and cremation leave large carbon footprints. Spade’s idea is to use natural chemicals to allow the body to decompose and allow it to return to the soil in about 30 days. The method saves a metric ton of carbon each time. She founded Recompose, a human composting company where the body is placed in a vat with wood chips, alfalfa and straw which work to decompose it. Her idea includes creating a comforting peaceful space for families not only to say good bye to their family member or loved one but also a place where they could come and contemplate as people do in a garden. If the Washington state legislature goes ahead and legalizes such an option, it would be the first in the world.

The idea reminds me of my friend Sanora Babb who wanted her ashes to be used as fertilizer for her roses. No doubt had re-composting been legal when she died she would have chosen it. What I also like is how the idea of human composting chips away at some of the entrenched religious habits and traditions which many have outgrown.