Poop has been around for as long as there have been animals to produce it. It's a constant, brown, smelly presence in all of our lives. But over the long stretch of history, humanity has come up with some brilliant and clever uses for it. Advance apologies for spoiling your lunch.
A recent proposal is to use human crap as radiation shielding from cosmic rays for astronauts travelling to Mars. The New Scientist reports on plans by the Inspiration Mars mission to stuff both solid and liquid waste products into bags and use it to insulate the walls of the spacecraft. A trip to Uranus (say it aloud) will ensure humankind touches down on the Red Planet.
Here, then, is a list of ten other uses for shit. If you can think of any that we missed, let us know in the comments below. Or indeed, if there are any classic puns that need to be...excreted?
Several thousand years ago, our thirsty ancestors on the Orkney Islands made beer using a kiln constructed from cow dung. In 2001, historians recreated the ancient recipe in laboratory conditions. Apparently, the beer tasted "quite delicious". Presumably, by that point they were "quite" shit-faced.
In 2009, a group of students from Prasetiya Mulya Business School in Indonesia won the Global Social Venture Competition with their "EcoFaeBrick". It's a low-cost sustainable building material made from cow dung; the bricks are 20 per cent lighter, with a compressive strength 20 per cent stronger than clay bricks, and their production doesn’t rely upon devastating quarry mining techniques. It simply relies upon bovines pinching a loaf.
Tin and silver mining is an important industry in Bolivia, but a dangerous side-effect is the acid water laden with dissolved metal that leaches from the mines. The toxic runoff pollutes water as it drains away, killing algae and fish. The best way to clean the water is to introduce bacteria that produces sulfates in the water, essentially binding the dissolved metals into iron sulfide and zinc sulfide, amongst others, so the metals sink to the bottom of the water. This is why llama dung is added to water treatment lagoons and wetlands in Bolivia, a method first pioneered in Britain using cow and horse manure.
Humans have been fuelling their fires with animal dung since time immemorial, but only now is this energy source beginning to be harvested on a larger scale. Industrial farming operations have tonnes of the stuff on their hands; solid manure can be burned, and liquid manure produces biogas, which is about 60 per cent methane, a.k.a. natural gas. Other projects underway will tap sources of chicken manure for electrical energy, cow manure to heat homes, and pig manure to fuel cars.
When the German army occupied northern Africa during World War II, many soldiers suffered from dysentery, but the resident populace seemed to be unaffected. The Germans discovered that as soon as the first symptoms of dysentery were noticed, the locals would would follow a camel and scoop up its fresh poop – and then they would eat it. It cured the dysentery because of a beneficial bacteria (Bacillus Subtilis) in the camel dung, which aided digestion and crowded out disease bacteria. The German medical corps then found a way to isolate the bacteria for the ailing soldiers.
For the reason outlined above, camel "apples" became a totem of good fortune for the German military, and they would deliberately drive tanks over the droppings for luck. The Allies took advantage by developing and planting land mines disguised as camel dung. The Germans eventually got wind of this, and began avoiding fresh piles of camel manure. In turn, the Allies refined their ploy with mines that looked like camel dung *but* had already overrun with tank tracks, and therefore appeared harmless to a tank driver. The term "clever shit" takes on a whole new meaning.
Doo-doo is largely composed of indigestible fibre, which helps keep an animal's system clean and running efficiently, and this same fibre is the primary ingredient in a unique form of stationery. In Thailand, elephant dung is collected, cleaned, spun, dyed and dried to make paper. It is usually sold to raise funds for elephant preservation projects and sanctuaries, and to support zoos. China followed suit and is now merrily producing "Panda Poo Paper".
Guano is the word used to describe sea-bird droppings, and also refers to bat and seal waste. Guano is full of nitrogen, particularly potassium nitrate used for gunpowder, and phosphorus used for fertilizer. A lack of predators on the islands off the Peruvian coast allowed birds to take a crap undisturbed for thousands of years, and the lack of rainfall preserved it, leaving dried deposits up to 150 feet deep. The "War of the Pacific" between Chile, Peru and Bolivia over 1879-1883 was partially fought over the right to exploit this goldmine of guano.
The most expensive coffee in the world is made with shit. Asian Palm Civet shit, to be precise, the byproduct of a small mammal that likes to feast on coffee cherries. For those that reside on the Indonesian islands where coffee is grown, the cherries pass through their system, only partly digested, and are excreted fairly intact. Farmers gather them up; give them a wash, and sell the coffee beans on the open market for extravagant sums as "Kopi Luwak". The digestion process is reported to add a wonderful aroma to the coffee.
Japanese scientist Mitsuyuki Ikeda has developed a “burger” made from soya, steak sauce essence... and protein extracted from human faeces. The price of the artificial meat is currently 10-20 times that of regular meat, due to the cost of research, but Ikeda is confident that this will eventually come down. The substance is low in fat and reduces waste and carbon emissions, though this probably won’t be enough to persuade consumers to take a bite out of a shit sandwich.