Molly Winter is a designer, researcher, and illustrator focusing primarily on wastewater treatment and sanitation innovation. She is the director of Recode, a nonprofit that works on legalizing innovation beyond just sanitation and accelerating adoption of sustainable building and development practices. She has created visual explanations for organizations including Beacon Food Forest, People’s Food Co-op, Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, Medical Reserve Corp and USA Today. Molly’s work has been featured in MIT’s Design Issues, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Smith magazine and Sustainability Review.
The Sanitation Secret
In her talk “The Taboo Secret to Better Health,” Winter asks us to see what goes down the toilet as a resource. A resource that can help fight climate change, spur innovation, and even save us money.
She begins by describing the process of Integrated Water Management and praising it for it’s through and through reuse design.
“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,” says Winter. “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.”
The Issue With Taboo
The problem with this approach, however is that people are uncomfortable with upsetting the status quo. The problem is especially relevant when it comes to sanitation.
“The first reason we don’t innovate in sanitation is because we’re kind of uncomfortable talking about sanitation. That’s why I’ve gotten called ‘The Poo Princess’ so much,” says Winter. “The second reason is: we think the problem is [already] 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.”
Encouraging Sanitation Innovation
Through her nonprofit Recode, Winter is also hoping to change that status quo and encourage people to embrace sanitation innovation.
“If we flip this around, we can create a resource that can solve so many of our other problems,” says Winter. “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.”
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