I spent my first year at UTD hovering in bathrooms, caught up in rapture between the ethereal methane atmosphere and the sometimes golden-glossed porcelain beneath. No, I wasn’t the ECS attacker; I was a commuter who periodically had to take a dump. Although the janitorial staff at UTD is superb, I could never entrust a public toilet seat with hygienically caressing the most tender parts of myself. Exasperated and semi-squatting in a secluded stall, I asked myself, “Isn’t there a better way to do this”? Absolutely.
The design of the toilet hasn’t changed much in the past 200 or so years, yet our current Western mores preclude us from trying out healthier, more sanitary methods. We have too easily rejected anal washing and forgone squatting for sitting. Had it not been for this apathy, we may have been able to develop long awaited poop-while-lying-down technology by now. Furthermore, our complacence has allowed for a world toilet crisis to emerge: much of the world is not privy to healthy, porcelain squatting privies, and they have not yet known the cool cleanliness offered by the rushing stream of a bidet’s blast.
The squatting toilet is often written off as uncomfortable and primitive, yet its positives have been too easily dismissed in favor of the Great White Throne. The minimalistic squatter offers ample health benefits and a simple, conservative design. Unlike sitting toilets, no contact is made between the toilet and the person using it. For this reason, the squatter is favorable in crowded public restrooms where hygiene is imperative. While using a sitting toilet, one’s recto-anal canal is kinked, leading to discomfort and potentially hernias. Squatting, however, transforms these canals into pristine pathways for poop, rivaling the romantic waterways of Venice.
In his collection of novels titled Gargantua and Pantagruel, the 16th century French writer, François Rabelais, astutely observed, “Who his foul tail with paper wipes, Shall at his ballocks leave some chips”. The French invented the bidet in the 18th century, effectively wiping out wiping.
A few weeks ago I tried a bidet for the first time, and it left me clean but awkwardly damp. Although the jet of water washes filth asunder, it can also lead to infections, especially in women since germs may be washed into the urinary tract. Despite the risks, I prefer the assured cleanliness of anal washing than the uncertainty of anal wiping—which is analogous to swabbing your poop deck with a dirty mop. However, if you feel that crust is a must, keep on wiping. Your use of Charmin may be charming, but a dingy dung-hole doesn’t make friends. Retrofit your home’s toilet with a bidet and enjoy walking about Scott-free.
Homes with squatting toilets can make use of separate bidets or a “health faucet”, which is essentially a dainty garden hose with a nozzle. In places where running water is absent, a devoted vessel of water and one’s left hand will suffice.
Wherever resources are scarce, people must make “doo” without a loo. A friend of mine recalls that there was never a toilet at her childhood home. Instead, there was a log stretched out over a pit, allowing her to shimmy out over the pit to do her business. Unfortunately, her mischievous little brothers would come and shake the precariously posited log.
Although humorous and benign, her story highlights an ugly problem. 2.6 billion people lack access to toilets, and open defecation has become the modus operandi in overpopulated slums. People risk embarrassment, sexual assault, and disease by defecating in reeking fields and fetid rivers. In areas with no effective sewage treatment, people drink, bathe, and inadvertently defecate in the same water. “The runs” run rampant, killing 1.5 million children per year. However, simply installing rows of toilets in these fields won’t solve the problem. Cultural ideals and habits are obstacles to using Western toilets and must be considered when selecting toilet styles and placement. Some may consider it to be taboo to poo on top of other people’s poop. Others may not feel comfortable drinking treated waste water. Furthermore, toilets themselves cannot treat waste, so an effective treatment system must be in place.
A coup de poo has begun against the Great White Throne. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has offered $41.5 million in grants to people looking to redesign the toilet. It’s time we started developing waterless toilets that don’t have to rely on a central sewage system. One of the foundation’s grants was awarded to researchers aiming to make a biodegradable septic tank, which would turn into farmland when fully decayed. Although a variety of pooping and cleansing techniques exist, 40% of the world has not been reached by any of these. While we sit and ponder on our porcelain think tanks, we should realize that it’s up to us to get off our asses (don’t forget to wipe or wash) and solve the world’s toilet crisis.