May 2012, Vol. 24, No.5


Walking on toilets

The City of Bellingham, Wash., has done something unique with old toilets. The old commodes are used in the city’s sidewalk concrete. The resulting concrete mix is called “Poticrete,” according to the city’s website.

Last year, the Bellingham Housing Authority implemented energy-efficiency and building retrofits to three residential buildings and replaced all of the buildings’ toilets. The authority wanted to reuse or recycle the 400 toilets, which were the largest wastestream from the project. But the old units were dirty, heavy, and hard to turn into anything but broken porcelain, according to a city news release.

The question of what to do with 400 old toilets sparked collaboration among the authority, the city’s public works department, Dawson Construction Inc. (Bellingham), and Cowden Gravel & Ready Mix (Bellingham). They decided to crush them and test the porcelain as an alternative to virgin aggregate. The tests demonstrated that Poticrete met city requirements for flatwork concrete, the website says.

The city used 229 m (250 yd) of Poticrete — the mix contains about 20% crushed toilets — in the Whatcom Creek Trail, the website says.

“The City hopes to revise the concrete specification to allow the use of similar materials, including crushed concrete, for flatwork concrete aggregate in City projects,” the website says.


Collaborative efforts improve Santa Cruz River

In the last 3 years, water quality and fish activity have improved in the Santa Cruz River in southern Arizona because of collaborative efforts to restore a healthy ecosystem. In 2008, only two indigenous longfin dace were found in the river, but by 2010, more than 1800 fish, including 600 dace, were found in the river.

Five years ago, a 13-km (8-mi) stretch of the river suffered a massive die-off of native trees near Rio Rico and the disappearance of fish, according to a news release from the Sonoran Institute (Tucson, Ariz.).

The Sonoran Institute and other groups, including Friends of the Santa Cruz River (Tubac, Ariz.) and the U.S. National Park Service, joined forces to track the health of the river to anticipate and help prevent future problems, the release says.

A recently published report, A Living River: Charting the Health of the Upper Santa Cruz River, the third in a series, found that water quality has improved since upgrades to the nearby Nogales (Ariz.) Wastewater Treatment Plant in 2009, including lower nitrogen levels and higher oxygen levels, the release says. Download the report from


University of Vermont phases out bottled water

Bottled water soon will be a thing of the past at the University of Vermont (Burlington). July 1 marks the end of a 10-year contract the university had with its beverage distributor. It also marks the beginning of the end for bottled-water sales on campus, according to a university news release.

The university plans to install 75 drinking fountains that include water-bottle refill stations across the campus by the end of the year. Sales of bottled water will end by January 2013, the release says.

This new policy has been driven by students, explained Gioia Thompson, director of the university’s Office of Sustainability, in the release. For years, students have been advocating to end bottled-water purchase and sales, she said. Their efforts have already shown results, sales of uncarbonated, unflavored bottled water dropped from 362,000 bottles in 2007 to 235,000 bottles in 2010.


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