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July 19, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Holy Crap!

An investigation into some of the shit going down in New Zealand

Poo is something many of us are very familiar with. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are four million people living in New Zealand and there are many more sheep, cows, pigs and chickens. All of us put together would create a substantial amount of poo. With this being VUWSA’s Environment Week, I was curious how all of this is dealt with, so I did a very small-scale investigation. I spent three hours on the internet finding out what it may take you a few minutes to read in this article. I will, for the sake of being brief, only mention three poo varietals: people poo, cow poo and factory-farmed poo.

People poo

As far as I have discovered, most regions deal with people poo (or human sewage, as the Greater Wellington Regional Council likes to call it) in their own fashion. So instead of looking at every city I decided to focus on Wellington. You’ll probably be pleased to know that the “Discharge of human sewage” is classed as a “Discretionary and Restricted Coastal Activity”. This means that you have to get resource consent before you carry it out.

So what happens to our “human sewage” in Wellington? It took me about an hour to discover this, and it was on page 67 of a District Plan. Prior to 1986, “untreated sewage effluent” was dumped into Lyall Bay at Moa Point (near the airport). Thankfully, this is now considered “no longer acceptable” and now our poo is treated at a nearby sewage plant before it’s shoved into the bay (there are also three other treatment plants, my favourite one is called the “Southern Landfill Sludge Treatment Plant”).

Cow poo

We have a hell of a lot of cows in New Zealand. These too create a hell of a lot of poo. This poo poses a problem for New Zealand because it is one of the main contributors to pollution in New Zealand’s rivers. The State of the Environment Report 2007/2008 from the Ministry for the Environment showed that 40 per cent of New Zealand’s swimming spots were not safe for swimming. One of the main tests used in this report was testing the amount of the bacterium E. Colli in rivers. While this is normally a harmless bacterium it acts as a way to indicate “fecal contamination”.

Once again, it is illegal to dump a cow’s poo into a river without first getting resource consent and second, treating it. There are also some pretty hefty fines for breaking these laws, for example the Crafar family was recently fined $40,000 for “wrongfully discharging effluent”. However, there’s a sneaky part of the law, because it’s not illegal if you just let your cows walk into a river and poo in it. It seems as though you physically have to get the poo down to the river yourself somehow.

But the best quote on this topic has to come from Green Party co-leader Russel Norman during his Dirty Rivers Rafting Tour earlier this year. Describing the Waihou river he said,

“Heavy rain on Sunday morning had washed all the crap off the land and into the river… By the time I launched my kayak from the Te Aroha boat ramp… the river was solid brown, full of sediment and dotted with great mats of weed. At times the stench of cow effluent hung over the river.”

Factory farmed poo

Factory farms present a similar problem to dairy farms, but on a much larger scale. Remember the huge fuss that was made of the proposed factory dairy farm at the McKenzie Basin? The poo from the proposed 18,000-cow farm would have been equivalent to 250,000 people. This goes some way to illustrating how much poo is produced by large farms. Another example is of a Taranaki pig farm of 10,000 where the owners built a pit to store the resulting poo. This pit has a capacity of 72,000 cubic metres. That’s a lot of shit! Just imagine the waste from the approximately 350,000 pigs,which are kept in factory farms around New Zealand.

One major problem from these farms is that an easy and legal way of disposing of this poo is to use it as manure on fields. However, this is a lot of manure and probably far more than can actually be used for farming purposes. The most amusing—and slightly grotesque—images are those of fields covered in poo from factory farms (not as a way of growing plants, but as a way of dealing with this vast amount of poo).

To conclude, it would be safe to say that we produce a lot of poo. It would also be safe to say that the more we produce, and the more we produce in one place, the harder it is to deal with. The problem is that we can’t live in a world covered in poo, so something may need to happen sooner, rather than later.

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