Articles, Blog

The taboo secret to better health | Molly Winter

November 18, 2019

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)


  • Reply Badoocee September 5, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Interesting indeed.

  • Reply RAUL FERNANDEZ September 5, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    is this TEDx?

  • Reply MikeDD86 September 6, 2016 at 12:59 am

    aww man her lisp…. haha

  • Reply Yamile Lopez September 6, 2016 at 1:14 am

    hmmm maybe feceases and urine?

  • Reply scivolanto September 6, 2016 at 5:07 am

    What about bacterial and parasitic infections? That's the main issue I think, and it's hardly addressed here.

  • Reply Karin Godfrey September 6, 2016 at 6:46 am

    I wish I could give her 5 thumbs up

  • Reply Dattucha September 6, 2016 at 7:03 am

    Molly Winter you rock

  • Reply oldmanerik September 6, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Great talk.

  • Reply Bluh Bluhhh September 6, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Fucking lisp.
    Couldn't watch this video because I couldn't stand the lisp.

  • Reply Dan Nelson September 6, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    An answer to why more renewalable methods are not used is because of laziness by the urban worldview.
    Farmers and folks in rual areas have appreciated compost and integrating waste back into the ground for decades. The most common method used by the general homeowner is a septic system.

  • Reply Richard Rider September 6, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Also, creating methane gas by using ALL of our human remains, our bodies when we're dead. I've been for this for years…rr

  • Reply Anne Heaton September 6, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    This is amazing, amazing, amazing!

  • Reply Quitschi September 6, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Hu, I think what this video really needs are some more clickbait words in the title.

  • Reply Allon Vorlete September 6, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    Her lisp is sexy.

  • Reply Cubs September 7, 2016 at 1:24 am

    ………………………she kinda cute tho

  • Reply Nick Dannunzio September 7, 2016 at 1:27 am


  • Reply Paul Mathew September 7, 2016 at 2:26 am

    shuffering shuckertash

  • Reply Gary Matlock September 7, 2016 at 2:54 am

    White liberals are con artist

  • Reply Gary Matlock September 7, 2016 at 2:56 am

    Basically, this white liberal is asking for government money.

  • Reply Rachel Milner September 7, 2016 at 3:43 am

    How feelings can drive innovation.

  • Reply JC Stanton September 7, 2016 at 5:00 am

    how did this get put on the main Ted channel, I can't even listen to the information the woman drives me crazy. If you want to know the real taboo secret to better health drink your own piss, look up urine therapy, it's great

  • Reply Roxanne Dyer September 7, 2016 at 5:44 am

    So funny & smart, Molly…

  • Reply Roshan Mohan September 7, 2016 at 9:06 am

    The title should have been Advanced Potty Training.

  • Reply Eduardo Martins September 7, 2016 at 11:50 am

    You lost me when you said you are from Portland..

  • Reply JaiUneGuruDeja September 7, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    You are a winner, Molly Winter. Thank you!

  • Reply Erik Sandved September 7, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    Okay hire me please!!!

  • Reply Susan fromBflo September 7, 2016 at 6:56 pm


  • Reply Tom Sawyer September 8, 2016 at 2:17 am

    To answer the question posted by the speaker the reason more of this doesn't happen is because waste products are a lot more than the steak and beer you had yesterday. In all that waste is included detergents , unused drugs , consumed drug waste , maybe petroleum products , detergents and who knows what else people can think of to dispose off. The sad fact is there isn't a waste facility on the planet that can remove all this stuff at an economical price. Dumping this stuff all over the place is putting all kinds of pollution back into the earth.

  • Reply mossyhils September 8, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Great communicator and love the ideas too.

  • Reply ahadd100 September 8, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    God I just ate lunch now I feel like throwing up!

  • Reply Stephanie Streicher September 8, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    Great Talk! I loved the daily duty line.

  • Reply ONLY TRUTH September 9, 2016 at 1:34 pm


  • Reply Daniel Wahl September 9, 2016 at 10:11 pm


  • Reply Telly Vin-a September 9, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    mr. hankey approves this ted talk

  • Reply Liz C September 10, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    so… how do we get all the prescription drugs out of our waste?

  • Reply Parker Lake September 11, 2016 at 4:53 am

    After the first minute of this, I had to tap out.

  • Reply Alexandria School of Science September 11, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    India is doing this right?

  • Reply Tony Pelliccio September 11, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Well where I live in Providence, RI they within the last few years found a different solution to combined sewer overflow or CSO. They drilled a tunnel 300 feet under the city, that's 26 feet in diameter and 3 miles long. It stores everything. And then processes it.

  • Reply Samuel Herrera September 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Great talk! I'm well and truly convinced! She's also super cute too.

  • Reply hiramkhackenback September 13, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    I can talk about a better world in my head, making a video about it just seems a waste of energy. 100 years ago this was just blah blah and 100 years in the future it will be blah blah still.

  • Reply Byte Aesx September 14, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    I'm wondering how old is she. Gorgeous…

  • Reply julian correa September 15, 2016 at 1:27 am

    totally agree !

  • Reply team 89er September 15, 2016 at 8:57 am

    its really hard to watch a woman on a stage dan with some sign says BEND…

  • Reply TheAkiyata September 15, 2016 at 10:27 am

    But If we excrete all those drugs from our system how would we refine it out of the fertilizer? Or would we just consume it…

  • Reply Pencilbender September 15, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    that lisp though.

  • Reply Suneel Jain September 17, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    this is fantastic.. nature friendly idea

  • Reply EquinoxIV September 17, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    She mentions all the hormones and other medical residues in human manure. Then she wants to dump that on our fields as fertilizer. Not a good Idea. In fact, here in Germany, since a few years, farmers are not allowed anymore to use treatment plant sludge as fertilizers and we burn it.

    One other thing: water recycling is probably a good idea in places where water is scarce. The actually environmentally sustainable thing however would be to not have millions of people living in deserts like Arizona. But that is a different discussion. Anyway, in places with plenty of water, water recycling in residential buildings is just a huge waste of energy. I had construction plans on my desk a few weeks ago, where instead of one sewage pump for back flow protection of the lower levels they had seven (!) pumps for using grey water and rain water. Madness.

  • Reply mohannad amasha September 18, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    I'm guessing the Egyptian government saw this video

  • Reply Jesse Seavers October 19, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Whoohoo! Finally! Someone speaking potty wisdom.

  • Reply M80 October 20, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    good leg:body ratio

  • Reply TheCanofAir October 28, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Her lisp adds attractiveness to her

  • Reply Kayote Immerson December 14, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    she is hot

  • Reply Greg White January 2, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    I don't know guys, I'm still thinking of whether everyone's poo and pee is usable for raisin great plants, lawn, etc. If someone is infected, sick seriously, have tons of medicines, is it safe to use their feces an urine too? Nature can nutralize them or are they still dangerous? I really don't know…

  • Reply MassDynamic March 10, 2017 at 1:55 am

    I think this system will be used for space travel and colonization outside of Earth

  • Reply Jikrin July 9, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    I never knew a lisp could be so attractive.

  • Reply Tristan Luke September 19, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Great lady, great speech! Extremely important topic.

  • Reply Bob Jacobson January 14, 2018 at 2:05 am

    Her comment regarding the "brown stuff" having its dark color due to bacteria is not entirely correct. Here's a quote I copied from a Google search: "The normal brown color of stool occurs due to the presence of bilirubin. Bilirubin is formed as a breakdown product of hemoglobin (from red blood cells) in the liver and is secreted into the bile, which enters the intestines."

  • Reply The Woke Enchilada January 22, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    I love her I love her!!! So happy:)

  • Reply lettersquash February 2, 2018 at 1:09 am

    100% behind this and sorry people are so weird about it. This is what nature has been doing with waste since before animals. Also, if we could stop being fed masses of unnecessary drugs by drug companies and their doctor lackeys, we'd have less of that chemical pollution down the toilet. And stop washing every godamn thing with detergent so much, wrecking your natural skin oils and making your sebacious glands work overtime to compensate…and quit with the fucking bleaching everything while you're at it. Stop killing 99.9% of bacteria – you make the other 0.1% real pissed! Yikes, this has been brewing, hasn't it?

  • Reply A. Valverde February 3, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    I think it's a great idea. But what would happen if this idea is implemented everywhere, even in countries like China or India with big population. I wonder if this idea implemented in the real scale would be equally beneficial to the planet. If so, then…what are we waiting for?

  • Reply Re3iRtH February 4, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Where is the "better health" part? Half way in already. Sounds like a clickbait gimmicky title.

  • Reply Graham Howell February 5, 2018 at 11:38 pm

    "Those marsh plants" look like invasive Phragmites

  • Reply Heba Madi February 8, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Why dose all ted talkers ( women) wears flash red dresses

  • Reply Pipper Bruce February 15, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    I would like to live in a Ted talks

  • Reply Lisa Figge February 16, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    code change campaign into a soil amendment so much what i want to do

  • Reply bloatedman March 4, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    Mass murder in South Africa, right now.

  • Reply Roedy Green March 6, 2018 at 3:10 am

    Your body is smart. It disards urine and feces. People are stupid. They will do anything some twit on the internet recommends.

  • Reply G Mallory March 8, 2018 at 3:00 am

    DOODY. for the win. I've heard of treatment companies fertilizing timber stands to produce high-end hardwood lumber. design to be beautiful! 9:44

  • Reply Betsy Singh-Anand March 8, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    The pasture over the septic tank leech bed is always the nicest …..

  • Reply tastyfrzz1 March 11, 2018 at 12:42 am

    Probably not a good option in Sub zero climates.

  • Reply 3D Possible March 13, 2018 at 10:50 pm

    Pee on trees = win

  • Reply Victoria P March 14, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    Sharing Sharing Sharing!! 💁🏼❤️

  • Reply Joe M March 18, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Wonderful presentation. 'Thanks', Molly!

  • Reply David Coomber March 21, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Well use the childish words it will fit the narrative

  • Reply AndysGeneral March 22, 2018 at 1:26 am

    Plants do not directly use manure. Microbes make it usable by separating it from carbon making it (scientifically speaking) non-organic

  • Reply 18ricco March 24, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    I love this I mean come on when we touch down on Mars is this or is this not gonna be what we do so why not do this here on earth I would love to put ypu together with people from my city of Pittsburgh! !!! Let's talk who do I have to talk to???

  • Reply ResidualSelfImage March 24, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    The grass is always greener under the septic tank…..

  • Reply ResidualSelfImage March 24, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design….LEED v4 standard….deals with wastewater management….

  • Reply #1Lazer March 25, 2018 at 6:43 am

    I enjoyed this video, well done.
    Wow, what a novel concept- returning what happens naturally to nature! Mind blown! Maybe next you can tackle the issue of burying people in concrete boxes. It takes up so much space, and previous life is hindered from contributing to future life.

  • Reply Victoria P March 25, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Well, in our culture it is very ok to have such a smoothie for crops and trees , smoothie out of cows' poo though … so i guess when we stop eating crap we can have a smoothie out of our poo too 😁

  • Reply Elaine Marie March 25, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Disarming when speaker has a lisp, especially on a delicate topic.
    I recall my concern as a little girl in the 1960s about the obvious pollution in our skies, waterways, and lands. I was growing up in San Francisco, California, and a clarion call went out. Early on, I was becoming at ease with toilet content talk. You see, I became a second generation female scientist in my family. My mother was the pioneer, and not much later, I followed in her footsteps.
    The first Earth Day in April 1970 was a game changer for me. My class went on a field trip, and we cleaned up litter in a formerly pristine watershed area. I knew we could do better.
    I was enthralled by my Mom's shoptalk of sewage reclamation projects. It simply made sense. I was able to see in my short time as a Bay Area resident, a dramatic turnaround in the levels of air and water pollution reduction. We were seen as progressive, but to me it was normal.
    Funny, I'm Native American, but on my paternal side. My mother is a pragmatic farmer's daughter, from mostly Dutch-German extraction parents. My becoming an Environmental Chemist was easy for me, and as an adjunct, I was eventually able to lead ceremonies honoring Mother Earth.
    My only surprise is that half a century later, waste reuse is still considered a radical idea.
    Let us Walk in Beauty, Walk in Balance.
    Thank you.

  • Reply Tom Starling March 25, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    May I suggest "global potty training"?

  • Reply Jj Jones March 28, 2018 at 9:02 am


  • Reply Adventures with Frodo March 29, 2018 at 4:12 am

    Pos title. I thought I would get a good rant in about some stupid health far. But this is just s……

  • Reply Vga1968 March 29, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Very informative !

  • Reply Dick March 31, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    This channel is so rehearsed

  • Reply Satwinder Sandhu March 31, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    Wow Molly, what a great talk. I’m in London and I live in a high rise apartment building on the River Thames. I know there’s a sewer outlet just downriver from us. I am now curious to find out where my sewage goes and what innovations London is or isn’t investing in. Thank you!

  • Reply BR5491Z1Z April 3, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    i thought human waste couldn't be used because of the transmission of diseases

  • Reply the cHroNic nOize co. April 7, 2018 at 7:13 am

    Ka ka

  • Reply lxmzhg April 7, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    so what is the bottom line here?

  • Reply John Di Francisco April 26, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Wow. My little fetish thoughts don't seem so bad now. %P

  • Reply Kryptonite May 11, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    america has always been held back from innovation because of our collective queasiness

  • Reply whisperingsage June 5, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    She would love Joseph Jenkins Humanure Handbook

  • Reply Tubby Pidge June 25, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    We have this it's a septic system

  • Reply Andrea Bortolotto August 27, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    The problem is that cash talks! I work at a wastewater treatment plant that had let the costly systems that transformed treated sewage solids into class A "biosolids" (fertilizer for farms) fall into disrepair and neglect many years ago. Many plants just lack the infrastructure, and who would be responsible for that bill? Taxpayers, who would try to leave the area. I want to see more places repurposing water, but it's going to take us more time and money.

  • Reply studio226 new media and design January 25, 2019 at 1:34 am

    Hi Molly Winter!! Glad to have you onboard. Excited to grow! Love and light to you and your good work!

  • Reply Jorge O. February 26, 2019 at 11:54 pm

    The Aztecs did this. Their gardens were fertilized with their waste. It worked.

  • Reply Jer Tanner March 14, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    Sanitation systems today have nothing to do with whether or not it's illegal, but more to do with the resistance of leaders in sanitation industry, who want to keep money and jobs as is. They cannot make as much off of these natural systems. Otherwise, I agree with you.

  • Reply Vinny Lamoureux May 29, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    Excellent. Now please tell me how these ideas can be used to eliminate septic tanks on a single use basis.

  • Reply Pat Mclean June 1, 2019 at 3:23 am

    Capitivating speaker. Interesting topic.

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