An Outhouse For The Sea

Green builder Adam Katzman wanted to experiment with building a "constructed wetland" to process sewage. Then he wanted to make the whole thing float. His paddle-boat-toilet, parked at a marina in Queens, demonstrates how rainwater and human waste can be converted to plants and clean water. It's a zero-waste waste disposal system.

IRA FLATOW, host: Up next, Flora Lichtman is here. Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Our Video Pick of the Week, and getting better and better.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: This is a doozy, this week, I think.

FLATOW: Yeah. I - I'm just going to read it all from our Web page. If you want to see the video, I'm just going to say, go to our Web page at sciencefriday.com. It's up there. It's also on our Facebook page. And the title of this is called "Poop and Paddle."

LICHTMAN: At once.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: At - at the same time.

LICHTMAN: At the same time.

FLATOW: Describe what this is about.

LICHTMAN: This is one-of-a-kind - I think, really, probably one of a kind in the world.

FLATOW: I was trying to think - I was writing notes on Facebook, saying, can I call this the only one of its kind in the world? And I'm going to - let's say it is.

LICHTMAN: Let's - if someone else has created this, I would like to see it. But the builder and inventor behind this - behind Poop and Paddle is Adam Katzman. And it's a boat that's also a toilet. It's mostly a toilet, sort of like a floating outhouse. But because it's a boat, there's no sewage pipes coming out of the outhouse, right? So you need to do something with that waste. And what he's built is this constructed wetlands that sort of encircles or fences in the outhouse, and then it's all on the water. And there are oars. And it's neat.

FLATOW: It's a great video.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. It's - I mean...

FLATOW: You give us a tour. Think of a raft that's like a 10-foot-square raft...

LICHTMAN: Right.

FLATOW: ...with an outhouse. It's got the half-moon on the door. It's got the shingles.

LICHTMAN: Yes, all the classic outhouse iconography. Yes, absolutely. But around the side are these used plastic barrels, and coming out of them are plants. And the way it works is that gravity - it's a gravity-fed system, and so the waste goes out of this marine toilet. You sort of pull this crank, and it goes into these buckets, and it takes 30 days - Adam says he designed it this way and, you know, there are - there's a lot of technical know-how that goes into this. He studied designs. He read books. It takes 30 days for a flush to make it through this wetland system. And then, by the time it gets through, it's clean water that then, you know...

FLATOW: He's growing snails in it to show that...

LICHTMAN: Yes.

FLATOW: ...and hyacinth, and water hyacinth...

LICHTMAN: Yeah, exactly.

FLATOW: ...to show how clean the water is.

LICHTMAN: Yes.

FLATOW: But when we say it's the only one of its kind, it has a special feature to it, that - there are paddles that you could paddles this raft around while you are sort of...

LICHTMAN: Right. Well, we were thinking of...

FLATOW: ...on the throne.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: People might line up for this. I mean, in New York, you know, everyone wants to have, kind of, an experience they can talk about at the next cocktail party. I think - I see a future for this. It's parked at this marina in Queens, actually. So...

FLATOW: Right. Can you - can - does he welcome people to come and sit in?

LICHTMAN: I think in the future he's planning to go to a few events, and then maybe open it up to the public, let people contribute to project.

FLATOW: That's - maybe people can improve or make their own. It doesn't look like it's terribly difficult to make.

LICHTMAN: He said that, you know, you have to know something. But, yeah, it's not that difficult. And this is sort of the interesting thing for me. You know, if you're going to have a cabin in the woods, for example - so you're not even on a boat, let's say - why wouldn't you build a constructed wetlands? Then you don't have to clean out your outhouse. It seems like a very reasonable technology for dealing with sewage which, you know, as we know, especially in New York, where this is sort of a timely topic because we had a sewage overflow in the last couple of weeks - you know, this seems like an interesting alternative to waste management.

FLATOW: Yeah. I mean, there's something there as a teaching vehicle, because it shows you how waste can be recycled.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I mean, actually, Adam - you know, we were, like, why did you do this? And he was pretty clear that this is really more for inspiration than practical applications.

FLATOW: I don't know. We could create trend. Well, let's ask everybody. Maybe other people will make one, and they could send us...

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

FLATOW: ...a photo of it, and we'll put them on our website.

LICHTMAN: I would like a little Facebook album of alternative toilets.

FLATOW: There's - World Toilet Day is coming up, right?

LICHTMAN: That's right. I think it's in a couple of months. So maybe - you have a couple of months to make your alternative toilet, and then we will revisit this topic.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: It's an - World Toilet Day is in November. I just looked it up. It's in November. And we've got a rowing or paddling, so to speak, on here.

LICHTMAN: It's going to be hard to top Adam Katzman's design, I think.

FLATOW: You got to see it. Go to our website at sciencefriday.com. It's Flora's Video Pick of the Week. It's up there on our website. You can see it in operation. It's in a beautifully shot...

LICHTMAN: Not graphically.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: No, no. Beautifully shot in living color. And, Flora, thank you.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Thanks for coming on. It's up there on our website at sciencefriday.com, where you can also download all kinds of other stuff on iTunes and things like that. I'll get to that in a minute.

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