Who Else is Peeing?

Every morning, I get out of bed and first thing, relieve my bladder.  This is neither unusual nor restricted to the middle-aged and above crowd.  What might be unusual (probably is), is the question that so frequently comes to mind in that moment: Who else is peeing?

Let me be clear up front, I’m wondering about demographics, not individuals.  (“Is Newt Gingrich peeing right now?  Is Callista?”  That’s just sick.)  I apologize (really!) if that image is now stuck in your head and I further apologize for all the numbers I’m about to throw at you, but demographics is number intensive and again, think of the alternative.

WikiAnswers says the average daily urine output is 1.5 liters (or about 49.8 ounces).  For simplicity sake, let’s say the average person evacuates her or his bladder four times a day for 30 seconds each, making equal contributions of 11.8 ounces per visit to the WC.

Since WikiAnswers did so well on the urine question, we’ll take its word that global population is 7.009 billion people or seven billion to make it easy on ourselves.

Now we’re down to simple arithmetic.  Seven billion, divided by 2,880 (the number of 30-second intervals in a 24-hour day) means that there are 9,722,222 people (or thereabouts) peeing at any given time.

This leads to what I really think about during my morning pee.  What volume of urine is flowing onto various parts of the Earth and its waterways at any given moment?  How deep and wide is Urine River, which flows night and day?  If each of those 9.7 million people is releasing 11.8 ounces, that equals 114,722,219 ounces or 896,267 gallons of urine flowing at once.  Double that and we get 1,792,534 gallons per minute of global urine.  In one 24-hour period, it amounts to 396,093,750 gallons.  That’s a lot of pee.

I started punching some of these numbers into Google, just to see what would come up.  (I make no claims for the validity of these statistics.)  Go ahead, find some of your own.

If it were water, it would be enough to cool a nuclear reactor.  Apparently the Diablo Canyon (CA) and Indian Point (NY) nuclear reactors, both take in and discharge water at the rate of 1.7 million gallons per minute, although it’s cooler than pee when it arrives and is warmer than pee when it leaves.

It is alleged on one page that in 2005, US consumption of gasoline was 396 million gallons per day (almost 10 million barrels, which may be off, but seems to be in the right ballpark).  If only pee were gas…

The Florida Current, which seems to be a page devoted to some state policy issues, says six utilities in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties discharged 396 million gallons of wastewater each day in 2005.  (What is it about that year?)

I did not have an agenda when I started to write about pee (I still don’t).  I merely decided to take my morning meditation further for once and see where it led, which was to nuclear power plants, gasoline and wastewater.  That’s the problem (or one of them) with my profession.  I can never escape it, it seems.

The larger and more haunting theme here seems to be the staggering number of people on the planet and the impact we have on it, even with our most unavoidable secretions.  (Don’t get squeamish, I’m not going to take this to its next logical step.)

Which is more disturbing, runaway population growth (an ever-rising river of pee one-fourth the size of the Mississippi – for now) or the fact that treatment works in just three Florida counties equals the urine burden of the whole planet?

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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