Without Trucks, the Tallest Building In the World Would Become the Tallest Mountain of Poop (Updated)

When I saw the Burj Khalifa in real life I was truly stunned. The tallest skyscraper in the world defies belief. Today I learned something that also defies belief: all the poop produced there has to be removed by trucks.

Updated with video.

Let's do the math here. The Burj Khalifa has 163 habitable floors. It's designed to hold 35,000 people at any given time. Now, humans produce 100 to 250 grams (3 to 8 ounces) of feces per day. Let's say 200 in this case, since these people are well fed. That's 7,000,000 grams per day. Seven tonnes of poop per day. Now, add human-produced liquids (pee, bathing, cleaning their teeth...) and the water to push the poop down its miles of sewage pipes. I think a very conservative total would be 15 tonnes of sewage per day.

That's a lot of poop.

And all of it has to be removed by trucks. The trucks take all this poop to a sewage treatement facility outside of the city. It's the same with most skyscrapers in Dubai, according to Kate Ascher, author of The Heights. Talking to Fresh Air's Terry Gross, Kate said that these trucks are in a permanent line waiting to get into the sewage treatment plant, waiting up to 24 hours before they can unload their crap:

TG: Right. So you know, you write that in Dubai they don't have, like, a sewage infrastructure to support high-rises like this one. So what do they do with the sewage?

KA: A variety of buildings there, some can access a municipal system but many of them actually use trucks to take the sewage out of individual buildings and then they wait on a queue to put it into a waste water treatment plant. So it's a fairly primitive system.

TG: Well, these trucks can wait for hours and hours on line.

KA: That's right. I'm told they can wait up to 24 hours before they get to the head of the queue. Now, there is a municipal system that is being invested in and I assume will connect all of these tall buildings in some point in the near future, but they're certainly not alone. In India many buildings are responsible for providing their own water and their own waste water removal.

Yes, India and many other places in the world have this problem. India doesn't have the amount of money the Dubai and its real estate developers have. That's why this fact surprises me so much. A sewage system may be complex, but it's not more complex than building these huge structures or their monorail. [NPR, NPR Transcript via Boing Boing]

Image by Shutterstock/Patrick Dietrich

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