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Waste Disposal

Discussion in 'Research' started by soulless, Feb 15, 2012.

  1. soulless

    soulless Troubadour

    I've just been reading the thread on water carrying and it occurred to me that I haven't thought of a suitable means of waste disposal for my world, would just making compost from all waste, food and bodily, be ideal in larger population or would this produce too much compost, what other means could be utilized?
  2. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    Depending on your tech,
    the channel next to the road, the gutter was where waste was dumped. Waste water was dumped too, but most wasn't cleaned out until a good rain.

    If there is a tanner near by, they would go around and collect waste for curing the leather, it would not be down wind of town, and not close, very nasty stuff.

    Not sure when the sewer began.
    Medieval Castle Architecture: Parts of a medieval castle - Toilets, Latrines

    Commonly castles used holes in the walls, that dropped waste into the moat, or a shaft in the ground.
    One picture of a castle taken recently still has the area below to latrines stained.
  3. Graham Irwin

    Graham Irwin Sage

    Well it's fun to consider for worldbuilding, but do you need to know about garbage disposal for your story?

    Star Wars had a whole scene in a trash compactor, but we still don't know the details of the empires waste removal systems.

    Sounds like, unless it were extremely important to your world or you wanted to comment on ecology, that your readers won't really need to know about garbage.
  4. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

    Ancient Rome had a sewer system. Perhaps you could do some research on it, maybe even base your own sewer system off it.

    London's sewage was vastly improved during the mid 18th century or early 19th century, before this, the river carried most of the city's sewerage to sea. The stink is what caused parliament to find the funds to carry out the improvements. It's probably too late in history for what you want, but might be worth looking at.
  5. San Cidolfus

    San Cidolfus Troubadour

    If you're going for a standard medieval Europe setting, the average home waste disposal system was not much more complicated than a window. The midden heap was the standard. It wasn't so bad in small villages, but towns and cities were filthy, disease-ridden places. There's a reason the life expectancy of folk back then was in the forties. Waves of disease cleaned out populations at least every generation; the bubonic plague most famously, but all diseases took their tolls.

    Fantasy tends to put a happy shine on standards of living and personal hygiene. Bathing was considered hazardous even as late as the 16th century. And oral hygiene? Forget about it!
  6. Drakhov

    Drakhov Minstrel

    Pretty much what Severin and Butterfly said - bodily waste (urine and dog crap especially) was highly sought by tanners for curing leather - ironically called 'pure' I read somewhere. Food waste was fed to pigs. Most medieval towns had people who collected the stuff from the streets - not sure if this was the general term but i think they were called 'nightsoil men' - i guess they collected the stuff and sold it to whoever would pay them for it.

    Or as Butterfly mentioned, the river was considered a very convenient method of waste disposal - the Thames was effectively an open sewer until fairly recently
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2012
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Actually, I sort of disagree with the uselessness of describing waste disposal. I think it helps set a scene. Think about how many times a day you go to the bathroom (or your dog does) or how much food waste there is to be thrown out or packaging..... I described a slum once, and I was sure to point out that is stunk of refuse and there was a body in the road which passersby merely stepped around; the rats chewing at the man's feet without fear.
    Soap was something cave men discovered when animal fat dripped into fire-pit ash. Cleaning the body and clothing with soaps, clay, or soda has been around since at least the egyptians, and contrary to popular belief, medieval people enjoyed bathing very much, ladies even bathing together in a small room off the kitchen built just for the purpose. Showers too have been around a long time, though only in special circumstances, and public toilets were common in many cultures with high population density (and sometimes not).
    I use a public bath house in my big cities, much like the romans had, (and some private ones for those with money) and public toilets are mentioned, but not described in great detail. Outhouses were used in even civilized countries until very recently by human standards, and there's no reason they aren't perfect for a fantasy novel set in city or country.
    I don't know if I do my part to show the shiny happy side of fantasy, but most of my characters enjoy the thrill of clean boots at least!
    If there was a fine for dumping your chamber pot in the street your characters would care, and Medieval cities had a whole long list of fineable offenses. While there are times in our history that were certainly filthy, not all of it was, and people gave thought to their environments at least as far as preserving their comfort if not for the ecology.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2012
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Sometimes I think people take this sentiment too far. Waste is a major part of life, and once you know some of the details of how it worked in reality and will work in your world, it can quickly become more significant than you might expect beforehand. It depends on your world and your tone. Having a large mound of refuse on your character's home, and burning it twice a month, could be a pretty compelling part of life. So is the filth of the city river and the smell of roadside ditches. Not to forget the importance of not eating with your left hand - the one used to deal with these things. It could be less relevant, if the story involves a lot of travel or focuses on warfare, like LOTR and a lot of other stories in the genre. But for a story set in the city, or focused more on everyday life, it should definitely be there.
    Sparkie likes this.
  9. Sparkie

    Sparkie Auror

    Well said yet again, Devor. If you have a 'dirty' story, you must write about the dirtier aspects of life.
  10. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Sewers actually predated Rome by at least two thousand years in one part of the world. The problem is that unless the entire city is planned from the ground up, they're extraordinarily difficult to build; usually by the time the population was large enough to justify the project it was too late for it to be realistic, and was generally limited in extent even when it was built as a retrofit.

    Urine was not just used in tanning: it was also an important mordant (a substance used to get dyes to set).


    I would also like to add a reminder, for those inclined to post "who would care?" type responses (not just here: I've seen these, or similar posts, in several threads in this section recently):

    This is the RESEARCH subforum.

    If you don't care, fine. You need not post here. If you think your readers won't care, fine. You need not post here. If you see the same question in any other subforum, and you believe the questioner is taking a topic farther than you feel anyone would be interested in, post there if you feel compelled to–your answer will still be just as useless to the person asking the question, but at least it will be in a less unsuitable place. This section is intended for people who do care, and who believe their readers might.

    At the risk of stating what ought to be obvious, the answer to "who cares?" is that the OP cares: otherwise, the question wouldn't have been asked. And in my view, it is rude to clutter up the thread with responses that do no better than to suggest there was no point in asking it. Especially in a subforum created specifically for providing detailed, real-world, researched answers to questions… a subforum you could easily avoid simply by not clicking on it in the first place if you are not interested in providing such answers, or learning from those offered by others.

    Please help keep this section useful for those who do care. Thank you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
    Fnord, Reaver and Ghost like this.
  11. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    Some cities used to export urine. If the colors on your clothes were set with urine, you could still get a whiff of it on wet days. :eek:

    It's interesting to know how this is handled in cities, but I'm curious about extreme environments like the tundra, deserts prone to sandstorms, areas far from moving water, and places where it's difficult to dig. Also, apart from tannery and dying, were there other industries in the world that used human waste?

    This is an interesting thread, soulless.
  12. Drakhov

    Drakhov Minstrel

    I'd say in environments like these you would only be passing through, not establishing a permanent settlement so it wouldn't become an issue - you wouldn't need to get rid of the garbage, you'd just leave it where it is and move somewhere else.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2012
  13. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    And in at least one period of Roman history, it was taxed.

    The permanent settlements, where they did exist, were so small in most such regions it hardly mattered: you could walk, or carry the local equivalent of the chamber pot, far enough away whenever you needed to. Assuming you didn't have someone who hauled it off to use as fertilizer… the main answer, as far as I'm aware, to the other part of your question. And no settlement would ever be built far from usable water—moving, unless it was well water—barring some reason I couldn't guess at offhand which made it seem worthwhile to bring the water to that location instead. Otherwise, that's very much a modern phenomenon. Water supply is such a powerful predictor of settlement patterns, in fact, that archaeological sites have been located simply by following ancient, buried stream beds only visible through infrared satellite imaging.
  14. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    Thought I replied with quote...

    ""It's interesting to know how this is handled in cities, but I'm curious about extreme environments like the tundra, deserts prone to sandstorms, areas far from moving water, and places where it's difficult to dig. Also, apart from tannery and dying, were there other industries in the world that used human waste?""

    Urine would not be a problem, it would evaporate very quick even the discolored spot would disappear within a day.

    The only problem in a desert would be protecting the very limited resource of drinkable water from contamination. But that would not be hard, simply dump well away from the source. Growth of organisms was not a problem, the moisture would be drawn out of the waste quickly, leaving parasites and bacteria nothing to grow on.
    During a rain, the waste could be washed into to the water source, since most water in the area did pool in the area of the oasis or well in the first place. (unless the well or cistern was man made.)

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