cover image Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

Chelsea Wald. Avid Reader, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-9821-1621-7

Science journalist Wald debuts with a thoughtful and funny survey of “today’s toilet revolutionaries.” The “Great Stink” of 1858, she writes, when putrid smells permeated London, necessitated the creation of a new sewer system; since then, the flush toilet and indoor plumbing have been the standard of civility. Wald argues a growing world population and an increasing need for clean water has made the modern toilet (and the “flush and forget” culture it created) “anachronistic” and unsustainable. Along the way, Wald interviews toilet innovators and sanitation engineers in the Netherlands who are working on “vacuum toilets,” and workers at a nonprofit in Haiti who struggle to provide sanitary living conditions in low-income communities (in 2017, Wald notes, 700 million people worldwide relied on “hanging latrines” or “bucket toilets,” which are emptied into streams or open sewers). Wald covers toilet concepts and decentralized wastewater treatment models that conserve water and provide useful by-products, like grass that can be harvested and fed to livestock and sludge that can be baked into bricks. At home with an awkward topic, the author lucidly discusses “pee-cycling” (including the extraction of phosphorous from urine to be used as agricultural fertilizer) and myriad designs for water-conserving toilets. The green-minded will find this insightful and entertaining study to be a fresh angle on a perhaps underappreciated environmental concern. (Apr.)