Author's Note

Weird, Fictionpress is the only site that allows author's to post ameteur essays... by ameteur I mean non-peer reviewed. Sadly, Fictionpress has no functionality for posting pictures inside the chapters, so no diagrams. I'll track down the diagram sources and provide a link to them if anyone is interested.

Also, thanks to WolfGoesBaa for borrowing me his account, though I suspect he's trying to increase his body of work through my work :). Now... on to the toilets!


1. Introduction

I have wondered who the toilet was named after and what horrible crime they had committed to be named after such a thing. However, after some researching, I found it would be a great honour to be named after it. This short paper will study the toilet, including the history of sewage treatment systems. Types of toilet will also be looked at, including compost toilets as well as toilets that are used during space travel.

2. The Anatomy of a Toilet

A lavatory is made up of two parts, the tank and the bowl. The first part of the flushing mechanism happens in the tank. The tank functions thanks to a couple of valves and the power of gravity, which assists in the movement of about 6 litres of water into the bowl. The flush mechanism activates when the handle lever is pushed, causing the flush valve to open causing the water blast down into the bowl. The flush valve remains open long enough for all the water to pass through before closing. As the water level decreases, the float ball drops, opening the inlet valve, which refills the tank with water.

The bowl is connected to curved pipe called the S-trap, invented by Alexander Cummings. It is the shape of this pipe that stops the odour of sewage from rising up from the sewer to the toilet. The second part of the flushing mechanism happens in the bowl and the S-trap. You will notice that when 6 litres of water rush into the bowl, the water level only increases slightly, this is because the additional water flows into the S-trap pipe, creating a siphon.

[Figure 1: Components of a Common Household Toilet]

2.1. Siphoning and Other Sciency Stuff

Siphoning is used to transport fluid from a container of higher elevation to one of lower elevation, where the transportation is fuelled by water moving from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure (How a Siphon (Syphon) Works, 2020). In our case, the container of higher elevation is the bowl while the container of the lower elevation is the sewage system at the end of the S-trap. When the S-trap pipe is devoid of water, the air pressure is too great for the water in the bowl to overcome, keeping it in place and the water level. However, when additional water is introduced to the bowl, it flows into the S-trap pipe, the pressure in the pipe drops lower than the pressure in the bowl, forcing the water to travel up along the curvature of the pipe to the outlet (Knight, n.d.).

[Figure 2: Left, an elevated container connected to another container, where liquid is being siphoned from the elevated container to the other. Right, Bowl connected to the curved pipe, which creates a siphon]

3. Sewage Systems

An important part of modern toilets is the plumbing and sewage system responsible for moving waste out and away from residential areas, without which, built up urban areas would be at risk of contagious diseases (Mulder, 2019). Sewage systems have existed before 700 BC with the most famous of these ancient sewers being The Cloaca Maxima. Initially designed to drain off storm and marshland water from the Roman Forum to the River Timber, it was later connected to lavatories and major bathhouses to drain away waste (Mohan, 2009).

[Figure 3: Cloaca Maxima. Left: interior of the Gloaca Maxima. Right: Outlet into Timber.]

3.2. Modern Sewage Systems

Modern sewage systems began in the 19th century and began taking a more important part in urban city planning (Mulder, 2019). In an ideal sewage system, the movement of water and waste is powered by gravity and in a situation where the waste needs to move uphill, a grinder-pump can be used to facilitate the push (Marshall, n.d.). Each household will have pipes running to the main sewer, where sewage will flow into pipes that grow progressively larger the closer to a treatment facility they get. At certain intervals, there will be a vertical pipe rising from a sewer, covered by a manhole, which will allow access to the sewer for maintenance (Marshall, n.d.). The sewer main will eventually end up in the outskirts of the urban area where the polluted water will be treated.

Once in the treatment plant, the sewage will go though three treatment phases. In the first phase, the sewage is collected into sedimentary tanks. While within the tanks, solids sink and settle at the bottom, where they are later disposed off either in a landfill site or incinerated (Marshal, n.d; Harris Plumbing, n.d.). The second phase involves the use of bacteria, cultivated through the addition of oxygen in aeration tanks (Harris Plumbing, n.d.). The bacteria consumes the remaining organic matter and nutrients before the water moves onto the next chamber, where the bacteria will settle out (Marshall, n.d.). At this point, 90% of unwanted matter has been removed from the water .In the third stage, chemicals and other disinfecting methods are used to kill off any remaining bacteria before it is discharged into rivers and lakes.

[Figure 4: Overview of Sewage System.]

4. Types of Toilets

So far we have touched upon flush toilets and the sophisticated sewage system they are connected to. In this section, an alternative to flush toilets will be looked at as well as how waste is handled that may or may not be connected to a sewage system. With the modern society's increase awareness of how our lifestyles impact the natural environment, it is important to touch on alternatives to flush toilets which aim to decrease the amount of water waste flush toilets produce. Also, toilets created that will cater for space travel will be looked at.

4.1. We're Seriously Dropping Dueces in Drinkable Water… Seriously

The single and biggest thing against the modern flushing toilets is the resource used in the flushing mechanism. Each flush uses clean water, water that could be used for cooking and drinking. Along with the water wastage, there is also the additional financial costs of building and extending sewage systems to newly developed or poverty stricken areas. Also, the cost of treating the polluted water before reintroducing it back to the environment results in additional costs.

4.2. Composting Toilets to the Rescue

Composting toilet use a dry system to manage and recycle waste, mimicking what would usually happen to human waste in nature. In nature, human waste would be broken down into fertilizing soil, which would in turn promote the growth of vegetation. For a composting toilet to be effective and accepted in modern society, it will need to do these three things:

1. Compost the waste and toilet paper quickly and without odour

2. Ensure that the finished compost is safe and easy to handle

3. Evaporate the liquid ( , 2006)

Some simple compost toilets will collect the human waste into a container. For easier composting of human waste, urine should be collected and left to compost in a different container than solid human waste. The container should not allow any leakage, protect the product from precipitation and have good ventilation to facilitate evaporation (Brunt, 2018). The contents for solid human waste should be damp, as this will facilitate the composting process but not too wet.

4.2.1 Pee Recycling

Composting urine is much easier than composting human waste. Urine contains Nitrogen in the form of urea, which is an important element that plants use to grow. For this reason, urine can be applied directly to a household garden or bigger agricultural projects and if the produce is edible, than picking of the produce should be done after 7 days. Preserving the urea long term may prove to be a challenge as when urine leaves the human body, Nitrogen begins to evaporate, converting the urea into ammonia within 7 days (Atlee, 2019). If one plans to preserve the urine over long term, than one should add acid, such as vinegar, to prevent the urea from turning to ammonia (Atlee, 2019). Some may have noticed that when they or another animal urinates on plants, they die. There could be two reasons for this, either fertilizers are already used in the soil, resulting in too much nitrogen being added when urine is introduced. Another reason may be due to the fact that urine contains salt, which will harm the plant, for this, the urine can be diluted in water before it is used.

Figure 5: Pee Recycling on a household level and a community level (Atlee, 2019).

4.2.2 Composting Kak

For composting solid waste, the waste will first be collected into a container bearing no leakage. Then cover material, such as saw dust is placed over the waste, this assists in drying it out as well as reducing the foul odour. The mixture is then allowed to dry out, after which, the dried out contents can be used as compost for gardens (Biodiversity Development Institute, n.d.). Experts suggest that if this compost is used on edible plants, then it should be dug into the soil of the garden rather than spread directly over the plant and also wait for at least 10 days before picking and consuming the plants.

4.3. Waterless Urinals

Speaking of waterless toilets, men and any brave ladies that have ventured into the men's room may have come across waterless urinals. These urinals save on water and electricity by not using the flushing mechanism, instead, they rely on chemical liquid and gravity. When urine enters the urinal, the urine flows into a chamber which has the aforementioned chemical liquid. The chemical liquid will be of less density than that of urine, allowing it to float on top of the urine (Pilaski, 2004). This chemical liquid will push the urine into the sewage system, while also sealing in any odour (Pilaski, 2004).

4.4. Toilets… In Space

We've looked at toilets on earth but what about toilets in space. Before we go to a galaxy far far away, we will have to consider how we will manage human waste during the journey to the final frontier. The main challenge with toilets in space is the lack of gravity in space. With all the toilets mentioned in thus far, gravity has played a role in the movement of human waste. Therefore, in an environment where the force of gravity is so low that you run the risk of releasing floating logs, a different system to direct waste without using gravity was created.

Space toilets use differential air pressure to suck up human waste, just as a vacuum cleaner would suck up dust from a carpet. These toilet vacuums cost around $19 million and require astronauts to train with them for effective use (Biscelegio, 2013). Training involves the astronaut using a positional trainer unit and a fully functional unit similar to the ones in space. The positional unit assist in training the astronaut to align themselves correctly while sitting on the toilet. An astronaut seated on the positional toilet will face a monitor with images projected from a camera installed beneath the rim of the toilet. The fully functioning toilet is similar to the ones that will be employed in space, with a suction cup attached to a pipe that will suck up all the liquid. For more solid wastes, the toilet comes with straps to secure the astronaut to the seat, sitting on the bowl, creates a seal that will facilitate the suction of the waste from the bowl into a bag that will be disposed of later.

[Figure 6: Space Toilet (Biscelegio, 2013)]

5. Butt Paper

We've focused on the movement of waste into and beyond the toilet, however, it is also important to focus on the other solid that is moves with the human waste, toilet paper. Before toilet paper, different civilisations used different materials to wipe themselves such as leaves, ferns, sand, shells, snow, etc. Toilet paper's earliest origins can be found in China in the 2nd Century, where paper, also used for wrapping and padding, was used as toilet paper and by the 6th century, toilet paper was widely used in China (Toilet Paper History, 2020). Joseph Gayette is credited with creating the first commercially packaged toilet paper named Gayetty's Medicated Paper, which were loose flat sheets of paper with his name printed on every sheet.

6. Conclusion

As we have seen, toilets are an important part of society. They give us an effective and sanitary way to manage and control human waste. This keeps large urban areas safe disease caused by unsanitary conditions. Though, the most commonly used type of toilet, the flushing toilet, has a few drawbacks, such as water wastage and the cost to build the infrastructure in poverty stricken areas. It is my belief that with the rising popularity and need for more nature conscious technologies, that the flush toilets may either get phased out or alternatively, technology to recycle water and reuse human waste will improve. Though it also seems that the toilet was not named after anyone as I did not find a Latrine von Toilet anywhere in my research.

References

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