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  • Whenever I get to travel for work,

  • I try to find out where my drinking water comes from,

  • and where my poop and pee go.

  • (Laughter)

  • This has earned me the nickname "The Poo Princess" in my family,

  • and it's ruined many family vacations, because this is not normal.

  • But thinking about where it all goes is the first step in activating

  • what are actually superpowers in our poop and pee.

  • (Laughter)

  • Yeah.

  • And if we use them well,

  • we can live healthier and more beautifully.

  • Check out this landscape in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • Just notice what kinds of words and feelings come to mind.

  • This landscape was watered with treated sewage water.

  • Does that change anything for you?

  • I imagine it might.

  • And that's OK.

  • How we feel about this

  • is going to determine exactly how innovative we can be.

  • And I want to explain how it works,

  • but what words do I use?

  • I mean, I can use profane words like "shit" and "piss,"

  • and then my grandma won't watch the video.

  • Or I can use childish words like "poo" and "pee." Eh.

  • Or I can use scientific words like "excrement" and "feces." Humph.

  • I'll use a mix.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's all I got. (Laughs)

  • So, in this suburb,

  • the poo and the pee and the wash water are going to this treatment plant

  • right in the middle of the community.

  • It looks more like a park than a treatment plant.

  • The poo at the very bottom of all those layers of gravel --

  • not touching anyone --

  • is providing solid food for those marsh plants.

  • And the clean, clear water that comes out the other end

  • is traveling underground to water each person's yard.

  • So even though they're in a desert,

  • they get their own personal oasis.

  • This approach is called Integrated Water Management,

  • or holistic or closed-loop.

  • Whatever you want to call it,

  • it's in conflict with the status quo of how we think about sanitation,

  • which is contain, treat, push it away.

  • But in this approach, we're doing one step better.

  • We're designing for reuse from the very beginning,

  • because everything does get reused,

  • only now we're planning for it.

  • And often, that makes for really beautiful spaces.

  • But the most important thing about this system

  • isn't the technicals of how it works.

  • It's how you feel about it.

  • Do you want this in your yard?

  • Why not?

  • I got really curious about this question.

  • Why don't we see more innovation in sanitation?

  • Why isn't that kind of thing the new normal?

  • And I care so much about this question,

  • that I work for a nonprofit called Recode.

  • We want to accelerate adoption

  • of sustainable building and development practices.

  • We want more innovation.

  • But a lot of times, whole categories of innovation --

  • ones that can help us live more beautifully --

  • turn out to be illegal.

  • Today's regulations and codes were written under the assumption

  • that best practices would remain best practices,

  • with incremental updates forever and ever.

  • But innovation isn't always incremental.

  • It turns out, how we feel about any particular new technique

  • gets into everything we do:

  • how we talk about it,

  • how we encourage people to study,

  • our jokes, our codes ...

  • And it ultimately determines how innovative we can be.

  • So, that's the first reason we don't innovate in sanitation.

  • We're kind of uncomfortable talking about sanitation,

  • that's why I've gotten called "The Poo Princess" so much.

  • The second reason is:

  • we think the problem is solved here in the US.

  • But not so.

  • Here in the US we still get sick from drinking shit in our sewage water.

  • Seven million people get sick every year,

  • 900 die annually.

  • And we're not taking a holistic approach to making it better.

  • So we're not solving it.

  • Where I live in Portland, Oregon,

  • I can't take Echo for a swim during the rainy season,

  • because we dump raw sewage sometimes into our river.

  • Our rainwater and our sewage go to the same treatment plant.

  • Too much rain overflows into the river.

  • And Portland is not alone here.

  • Forty percent of municipalities self-report

  • dumping raw or partially treated sewage into our waterways.

  • The other bummer going on here with our status quo

  • is that half of all of your poop and pee is going to fertilize farmland.

  • The other half is being incinerated

  • or land-filled.

  • And that's a bummer to me,

  • because there are amazing nutrients in your daily doody.

  • It is comparable to pig manure;

  • we're omnivores, they're omnivores.

  • Think of your poo and pee as a health smoothie for a tree.

  • (Laughter)

  • The other bummer going on here

  • is that we're quickly moving all the drugs we take into our waterways.

  • The average wastewater treatment plant can remove maybe half of the drugs

  • that come in.

  • The other half goes right out the other side.

  • Consider what a cocktail of pharmaceuticals --

  • hormones, steroids, Vicodin --

  • does to a fish,

  • to a dog,

  • to a child.

  • But this isn't just some problem that we need to contain.

  • If we flip this around, we can create a resource

  • that can solve so many of our other problems.

  • And I want to get you comfortable with this idea,

  • so imagine the things I'm going to show you, these technologies,

  • and this attitude that says,

  • "We're going to reuse this.

  • Let's design to make it beautiful" --

  • as advanced potty training.

  • (Laughter)

  • I think you're ready for it.

  • I think we as a culture are ready for advanced potty training.

  • And there are three great reasons to enroll today.

  • Number one:

  • we can fertilize our food.

  • Each one of us is pooping and peeing something

  • that could fertilize half or maybe all of our food,

  • depending on our diet.

  • That dark brown poo in the toilet is dark brown because of what?

  • Dead stuff, bacteria.

  • That's carbon.

  • And carbon, if we're getting that into the soil,

  • is going to bind to the other minerals and nutrients in there.

  • Boom! Healthier food.

  • Voilà! Healthier people.

  • Chemical fertilizers by definition don't have carbon in them.

  • Imagine if we could move our animal manure and our human manure to our soil,

  • we might not need to rely on fossil fuel-based fertilizers,

  • mine minerals from far away.

  • Imagine how much energy we could save.

  • Now, some of us are concerned

  • about industrial pollutants contaminating this reuse cycle.

  • That can be addressed.

  • But we need to separate our discomfort about talking about poo and pee

  • so we can calmly talk about how we want to reuse it

  • and what things we don't want to reuse.

  • And get this:

  • if we change our approach to sanitation,

  • we can start to slow down climate change.

  • Remember that carbon in the poop?

  • If we can get that into our soil bank,

  • it's going to start to absorb carbon dioxide that we put into the air.

  • And that could help slow down global warming.

  • I want to show you some brave souls

  • who've had the courage to embrace this advanced potty training approach.

  • So those folks in New Mexico --

  • why did they do it?

  • 'Cause they're in a desert? 'Cause they save money? Yeah.

  • But more importantly, they felt comfortable

  • seeing what was going down the toilet as a resource.

  • Here's an average house in Portland, Oregon.

  • This house is special because they have a composting toilet

  • turning all their poo and pee, over time, into a soil amendment.

  • Their wash water, their shower water, is going underground

  • to a series of mulch basins,

  • and then watering that orchard downhill.

  • When they went to get this permitted,

  • it wasn't allowed in Oregon.

  • But it was allowed in five other states nearby.

  • That was Recode's -- my organization's -- first code-change campaign.

  • Here's a great example where the Integrated Water Management approach

  • was the cheapest.

  • This is three high-rise residential buildings in downtown Portland,

  • and they're not flushing to the sewer system.

  • How?

  • Well, their wash water is getting reused to flush toilets,

  • cool mechanical systems,

  • water the landscape.

  • And then once the building has thoroughly used everything --

  • aka, shat in it --

  • it's treated to highest standard right on-site by plants and bacteria,

  • and then infiltrated into the groundwater right below.

  • And all that was cheaper

  • than updating the surrounding sewer infrastructure.

  • So that's the last reason we should get really excited

  • about doing things differently:

  • we can save a lot of money.

  • This was the first permit of its kind in Oregon.

  • Brave and open-minded people sat down and felt comfortable saying,

  • "Yeah, that shit makes sense."

  • (Laughter)

  • "Let's do it."

  • (Applause)

  • You know?

  • I keep showing examples

  • where everyone's reusing everything on-site.

  • Why?

  • Well, when we look at our aging infrastructure -- and it is old --

  • and we look at the cost of updating it,

  • three-quarters of that cost is just the pipes snaking through our city.

  • So as we build anew, as we renovate,

  • it might make more sense to treat and reuse everything on-site.

  • San Francisco realized that it made sense

  • to invest in rebates for every household

  • to reuse their wash water and their rainwater

  • to water the backyard,

  • because the amount of water they would save as a community would be so big.

  • But why were all these projects so innovative?

  • The money piece, yeah.

  • But more importantly,

  • they felt comfortable with this idea of advanced potty training.

  • Imagine if we embraced innovation for sanitation

  • the way we have for, say, solar power.

  • Think about it -- solar power used to be uncommon and unaffordable.

  • Now it's more a part of our web of power than ever before.

  • And it's creating resiliency.

  • We now have sources of power like the sun

  • that don't vary with our earthly dramas.

  • What's driving all that innovation?

  • It's us.

  • We're talking about energy.

  • It's cool to talk about energy.

  • Some folks are even talking about the problems

  • with the limited resources where our current energy is coming from.

  • We encourage our best and brightest to work on this issue --

  • better solar panels, better batteries, everything.

  • So let's talk about where our drinking water is coming from,

  • where our poo and pee are actually going.

  • If we can get over this discomfort with this entire topic,

  • we could create something that creates our future goldmine.

  • Every time you flush the toilet,

  • I want you to think,

  • "Where is my poop and pee going?

  • Will they be gainfully employed?"

  • (Laughter)

  • "Or are they going to be wreaking havoc in some waterway?"

  • If you don't know, find out.

  • And if you don't like the answer,

  • figure out how you can communicate to those who can drive this change

  • that you have advanced potty training, that you are ready for reuse.

  • How all of you feel

  • is going to determine exactly how innovative we can be.

  • Thank you so much.

  • (Applause)

Whenever I get to travel for work,