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The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time

By Mark Nelson

Look Inside

Mark Nelson, PhD, takes us on a global expedition to learn how we are wasting the world’s dwindling supplies of fresh water by flushing away a very valuable resource, our own human wastes!


Publication Date: June 30, 2014 ISBN: N/A Categories: , , , , , , Tags: ,

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Mark Nelson


Mark Nelson, PhD, is a founding director of the Institute of Ecotechnics and has worked for several decades in closed ecological system research, ecological engineering, the restoration of damaged ecosystems, desert agriculture and orchardry and wastewater recycling. He served as Director of Space and Environmental Applications for Space Biospheres Ventures, which created and operated Biosphere 2, the 3.15 acre materially closed facility near Tucson, Arizona, the world’s first laboratory for global ecology. Dr. Nelson was a member of the eight person “biospherian” crew for the first two year closure experiment, 1991-1993. His research inside included litterfall and decomposition in the tropical biomes, population dynamics and biomass increase, fodder production in the sustainable high-production agricultural system, and the constructed wetland sewage treatment system.

He is Chairman and CEO of the Institute of Ecotechnics , a U.K. and USA non-profit organization, which consults to several demonstration projects working in challenging biomes around the world; Vice Chairman of Global Ecotechnics Corp. and consults on wastewater reuse and recycling using Wastewater Gardens, subsurface flow constructed wetlands.

Beginning in the 1970s, Mark worked in the high desert grassland south of Santa Fe, New Mexico where he made hundreds of tons of compost, planted over a thousand fruit and windbreak trees, creating an oasis in previously overgrazed and eroding country. Since 1978 Mark has worked in the semi-arid tropical savannah of West Australia where he helped start Savannah Systems P/L a project centered on the pasture regeneration and enrichment of a 5,000-acre property in the Kimberley region.

Dr. Nelson has written and published a number of books related to biosphere studies, Pushing Our Limits (UofA Press), the Wastewater Gardener (Synergetic Press) and co-author of Life Under Glass and Space Biospheres.  He edited “Biological Life Support Technologies: Commercial Opportunities” and numerous chapters in books on space life support systems. His research papers cover such topics as ecological hierarchy, wastewater recycling through the use of constructed wetlands, and applications of closed ecological systems. Dr. Nelson is a Contributing Editor of the journal Life Support and Biosphere Science and a deputy organizer of the life science sessions on Closed Ecological Systems for COSPAR (the International Committee on Space Research of the ICSU).

Mark received a PhD in Environmental Engineering Sciences from the University of Florida. His dissertation involved the creation of Wastewater Gardens for protection of groundwater quality and coral reef health along the coast of Yucatan, Mexico. His M.S. was in the School of Renewable Natural Resources, University of Arizona; and his B.A. in Philosophy/Pre-Med Sciences was from Dartmouth College. Mark was a summa cum laude graduate from Dartmouth, Phi Beta Kappa and is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, the honors engineering society. Mark was awarded the Yuri Gagarin Jubilee Medal in 1993 for outstanding service to international cooperation in space and the environment by the Russian Cosmonautics Federation; and elected a Fellow of the Explorers Club in 1994 and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 2001.

He is currently working with artist Meridel Rubenstein on a project called “Eden in Iraq” bringing ecological wastewater treatment to the Marsh Arab communities of southern Iraq.

Additional information

Weight N/A
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Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

Pages 232


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Jose I. dos R. Furtado, Visiting Professor (International Development), Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London

Flourishing ancient civilizations recycled wastes, just like mature and complex tropical rainforest ecosystems: Mark Nelson shares his personal field experience on the relevance and importance of waste recycling today with humour, science and common sense, including his experience with Biosphere II… With some experience of traditional integrated farming systems recycling human wastes, and suburban wastewater reclamation experiments, in the tropics, I found Mark’s writing clear and inspirational; and would recommended his book for amateurs and professionals alike interested in promoting healthy communities.

Barbara Kiser, Nature
It takes 1,000 tonnes of water to move 1 tonne of human faeces, notes engineer Mark Nelson. His alternative to costly, unsustainable sanitation is constructed wetland — subsurface-flow gravel beds in which plant roots and microbial action purify wastewater for a full range of uses. Nelson, a veteran of the 1990s US survivability experiment Biosphere 2, has built “wastewater gardens” from Algeria to Australia, Mexico and beyond.

“It’s a fun read but also a pioneering, practical manual that should be available in every public library.”

Hugh Elliot, Senior Reference Librarian, Santa Fe Public Library, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Midwest Book Review

In “The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time”, Mark Nelson takes the reader on a kind of global expedition to learn how we are wasting the world’s dwindling supply of fresh water by flushing away a very valuable resource — our own human wastes! Mark Nelson is founding director of the Institute of Ecotechnics and has worked for several decades in closed ecological systems research. As one of eight brave souls enclosed in the pioneering Biosphere 2 experiment, Nelson realized how essential the proper use of human waste is to the health of the planet. This, combined with his lifelong love affair with constructed wetlands, led to the discovery of Wastewater Gardens, an important solution to some of our trickiest global environmental dilemmas. While the problems and case studies covered in this book are indeed quite serious, Mark’s approach to the subject makes for a fun, down-to-earth and very informative read… Very highly recommended for personal, NGO, academic, and community library Environmental Studies collections.

In The Wastewater Gardener (given to me by the publicist), Mark Nelson, a former inhabitant of Biosphere 2, makes the case that our feces taboo is holding us back from economic and environmental improvements, as well as inhibiting our ability to aid those in need around the world. You can’t just rescue valuable poop from the sewage treatment plant and hand it out as fertilizer, because by then it’s been polluted by medicines, metals, and whatever else people think it’s okay to flush down their drains…The more enterprising among us can research constructed wetlands as a source of water treatment and hydroponic gardening, or join the international Wastewater Gardens movement… (Excerpted from full review.)

Original Link to Full Review on Insteading

I’m extremely impressed with The Wastewater Gardener. This isn’t a book for one or two target groups, this is a book everyone should read. I love Mark Nelson’s writing style, it’s easy to read, sometimes amusing, and very insightful. It’s literally a book about shit that doesn’t stink.

Original Link to Review on The Garden Coach

The Wastewater Gardener brings a new idea to light when it comes to gardening. In an era of using clean water to water our gardens and fertilizer, Mark Nelson brings an interesting idea to the table. Using our own human waste to fertilize our gardens of fruit, vegetables, and flowers. All across the globe, this has been done with amazing results. But don’t take my word for it. Watch this quick video below to learn more about his unique gardening ideas. Talk about self sustainability! This might be an idea that freaks some people out. But in today’s world, we have to take new ideas into consideration (extreme or not) if we want to sustain our planet for future generations.

Original Review from AFulfilledMommy

“As ecologists say, everything is connected to everything, and how we manage and mismanage our shit, is a crucial part of the global challenge of our times,” writes Mark Nelson, author of The Wastewater Gardener. Since we at Green Building Elements write considerably about water, waste, and wastewater, this book caught our attention. And for good reason. This is a direct analysis of issues that require being addressed, understood, and mitigated, even in small, but smart steps… “There are several modern symbols of ecological crisis,” states environmentalist Tony Juniper, in writing the this book’s foreword “Gas-guzzling vehicles, airliners, coal-fired power stations and landfill sites are among them. While few people would add flush toilets to the list, there is increasingly good reason to see why that might be the case.”

Link to Original Review on Green Building Elements

In the book, Nelson offers a brief history of how we got into this “shitty” mess—and proposes a way to get out of it. Up until the beginning of the twentieth century, human feces were regarded as a resource—fertilizer, medicine, face cosmetic—not as waste to be disposed. Now, in our “modern, civilized” society, indoor plumbing has changed that. Dr. Nelson says, “While some praise indoor plumbing and the flush toilet as sterling achievements, for others, it is the height of insanity to use drinking water to dispose of human waste and then wash it away into large bodies of water, spreading the potential for pollution of all Earth’s water bodies.” … Dr. Nelson offers large-scale ideas for what he calls managing the “Fecesphere” as well as tips for individuals wanting to conserve water (composting toilets, low-water use appliances). He also asks readers to consider a simple idea each time they visit the loo: the travel itinerary of waste. Because, as he says, “We change the world one small step at a time, one flush at a time.” (Excerpted from full review.)

Link to Full Review

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