When we think “eco-green,” we think about low-volume irrigation, native plants, stormwater recycling, rain barrels, and the like.
We think about projects that blend with the environment and make the most of natural resources while having the smallest possible environmental footprint.
Rarely do we think of “hardscape” and “eco-green” in the same sentence, let alone the same article. But the city of Bellingham, Washington, has managed to do some innovative green thinking in a traditionally non-green area: sidewalks. They did it by recycling an unlikely resource . . . toilets.
When the Bellingham non-profit agency Sustainable Connections replaced 400 public housing unit oldstyle porcelain toilets with waterconserving low-volume commodes, the agency found itself with 5 tons of porcelain on its hands. There were only two choices: take it to the dump, or recycle it.
They called a city engineer, Freeman Anthony, who cleverly contacted his normal concrete supplier and asked about recycling possibilities. The supplier suggested that they crush the commodes to smithereens, and then mix the crushed potties in with a regular concrete mixture.
In a published report, Anthony is quoted as saying that, “Originally, we were 40 percent toilet by volume and that was a little boney, you might say, because they are jagged little pieces. We backed it off to 25 percent and that seemed to be the magic number.”
The city used the porcelain/concrete amalgam–affectionately called potticrete—to replace a six block stretch of sidewalk in downtown Bellingham, called the Meader Kansas Ellis Trail Project. The project earned a silver “Greenroads” certification, which is a rating system for the roadways industry that parallels the well-known LEED certification system for buildings.
To cap off the project, and bring attention to the unique composition of their hardscape, the city placed a toilet-seat plaque directly in the sidewalk. It might not rival the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it in the interest of building a green and sustainable planet, it’s likely far more meaningful.