According to Johnny Phillips of National Geographic, the average person produces 50 liters of feces and 500 liters of urine annually. Stew on that while perusing this description of sewage's journey from the toilet to the river and maybe, someday, pioneering its way into your drinking water. In fact, you’re probably tracking some poop particles around your home or office right now because sewage overflows all the time, seeing as even in economic capitals, infrastructure is incredibly outdated. (If you're reading this from said capital, you can also reflect upon the tremendous privilege of flushing your own toilet since, as history has shown, improvements are usually made only after people get sick and/or die—a problem that still threatens 35% of the global population still living without safe sanitation.) 

Where does all the poop go?. Image 1.

We chose 8 cITIES across the globe
to retrieve our data

But sanitation can be fun! Some sewers represent feats of urban engineering, like Tokyo's, which is currently testing sewage's potential as an ever-replenishing source of insulation and air conditioning. And lately diving in there has even been yielding serious amounts of gold, and drugs. Find out who poops the most illicit substances in this detailed tour of where your waste leads. 

The average American uses 100 gallons of water per day 





notable for:

In 2012, NPR reported that Port-au-Prince was one of the world’s largest cities with no sewer system. “The cumulative sewage of 3 million people flows through open ditches.” That month, Haiti opened its first sewage treatment plant with plans for three more. Between the two they were expected to handle the city’s entire load. Still, there’s a long way to go til national toilets and proper irrigation.



tons of sewage produced per year (estimate)

Population: Difficult to gauge due to fluctuating economic conditions, a high birth rate, and slum living conditions. Estimates range around 3 million, between 3.7 million in 2015, 3 million, and 2.1 million in 2010

Where does the poop go? Previously, through the streets, into the ocean, and on a dump in Trutier. Treated sewage is now turned into sludge for agricultural fertilizer. 

Problems: Nepalese peacekeepers are thought to have introduced cholera to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Spreading through the country’s sewer systems, the disease has now killed around 9,000 people and affected 1 in 20 Haitians, according to Business Insider. In 2014, The New Yorker ran a profile on Haitian workers damned with the task of scooping cholera-infected sewage, bucket by bucket.

*This is actually unknown; number based on a very rough 2010 estimate of tons carried to a dump




notable for:

Ingenuity. 12,000 curbside openings called “washing outlets” flush the streets and debris, and giant iron balls rolling at high speed down the tunnels.



tons of sewage produced per year

Population: 2.24 million as of 2014

Where does the poop go? Into the Seine, after treatment.

Problems: Smell? 

History: Paris’s first sewage system was built in the 13th century above ground in the middle of the cobblestone streets, which contributed to the spread of the Black Death. The first underground system was built in 1370, but it still drained untreated to form a sewage brook on the bank of the Seine, “the stream of Ménilmontant,” which eventually emptied into the Seine. It wasn’t til the 1850s that engineer Eugene Belgrand designed the modern system of underground tunnels and fresh water aqueducts. In the 1870s, they offered popular underground boat tours through the sewer. You can visit it today at the underground sewers museum.




notable for:

Radioactive sludge; mining poop for gold; and currently looking into using its sewage supply as a plentiful and never-ending renewable energy source used to heat and cool buildings.



tons of sewage produced per year

Population: 38 million (WSJ)

Where does the poop go? Tokyo Bay (source)

Problems: In 2011, radioactive sludge was found filling up in sewage treatment plants after the Fukushima disaster. In 2013, Fukushima opened a treatment plant specifically for radioactive sewage.  

HISTORY: The first modern sewer system was built in Tokyo in 1884 but it wasn’t until after World War II that Japan adopted western toilets. Between 1993 and 2006, Tokyo built an enormous underground storm drain is used to divert floodwaters; it’s so large that CNN compares it to an underground Parthenon.

FUN FACT: In 2009, the Telegraph reported that prospectors found tens of thousands of pounds of gold in the sludge, “to rival production levels at some of the best mines in the world.” The boon was attributed to precision equipment manufacturers’ industrial runoff. Subsequently, the US began mining its own poop.  




notable for:

Like New York, Amsterdam has learned to adapt its sewage plants to the zeitgeist, transforming old sewage treatment centers into rock-climbing walls. Hip! 



tons of sewage produced per year

Population: 820,654 (

Where does the poop go? There is no way to find out where Amsterdam's poop goes. The Dutch are very private. The IJmeer?

Problems: Finally, Amsterdam recently began hooking its houseboats up to the sewer system, where the previous practice had been to dump straight into the canals. This was leading to the rise of waterborne pathogens in the canals and lakes. 

FUN FACT: Amsterdammers poop more cannabis than any other European population. (Apparently, checking out sewage for drug content is becoming a popular practice to monitor a city’s drug use.)

HISTORY FUN FACT: Until the 1930s “shit buckets” were a home fixture, emptied into holes next to the house.




notable for:

Recent pledges to make much-needed sanitation upgrades like hosting the 2015 “game-changing” World Toilet Summit. On World Toilet Day 2014, India pledged to create toilets for 600 million people– half the country’s population– without toilet access.



tons of sewage produced per year

Only 61% of which is treated

Population: 17.8 million as of 2014

Where does the poop go? 70-80% ends up in rivers or lakes, and “[N]early all of the untreated wastewater is discharged to the Yamuna River – a source of drinking water for cities downstream,” according to a 2014 report by Asit K. Biswas and Peter Braback-Letmathe. 

Problems: “There is no doubt that the river is a cesspool for Delhi’s waste,” reported the Centre for Science and Environment in 2009. A study by the Central Pollution Control Board shows that only 8 Indian cities treat more than 50% of their sewage. AECOM Capital reports in a Delhi sewer master plan [table, P 3] that only “55 percent of the population (9.9 million people) in urban Delhi has access to a centralized sewerage system.”


New York City

New York, USA 

notable for:

Masterful PR. The Digester Eggs are a modern designer sewage system which offer Valentine’s tours (described as “breathtaking”) and boasts of “illuminating the night sky.” Basically, they turn sludge into cakes into fertilizer, and the city has made hay.



tons of sewage produced per year

Population: 8.4 million, as of July 2014

Where the poop go? Newtown Creek, after treatment

Problems: Rain in New York is synonymous with “combined sewage overflow” [CSO]. The system can’t handle excess water, so untreated feces regularly overflows into streets and pipes, causing 377 million gallons of raw sewage to spill into the Gowanus annually, exacerbated by waterfront building. (If you live in New York, you’re probably tracking sewage residue around right now.) “CSOs are the largest category of our Nation’s wastewater infrastructure that still need to be addressed,” the EPA declared in 2002. 

FUN FACT: To be fair, Brooklyn and Chicago led the way in the US in pioneering combined-sewer systems [CSS] in the late 19th century.




notable for:

Making the cognitive leap between drinking sewage and widespread deadly cholera outbreaks– subsequently turning around foul Victorian above-ground shit disposal system.



tons of sewage produced per year

Population: 8.6 million, as of February 2015

Where does the poop go? Into an 82 mile underground tunnel which runs alongside the Thames and feeds into sewage treatment plants, and eventually, back to the river it goes. 

Problems: When it rains, raw sewage overflows into the river, between 39 and 55 million tonnes per year due to the inability of the Victorian sewer to cope with today's load. Last year, the city commissioned a £4.2 billion "super sewer" to handle its waste. 

Historically: London’s Victorian sewage system was disgusting. 

FUN FACT: There is more cocaine in London’s sewers than any other European city, the 2015 European Drugs Report found. The BBC notes that every 1,000 people “relieved themselves” of an average 737 mg per week in 2014.

*Estimated from reports that Londoners use an average of 167 liters of water per day




notable for:

In 2001, the LA Times reported on 17 women who were manually transporting sewage by boat. As of 2001, “4,700 tons of feces still travel to processing stations and landfills by boat, via the region's Venice-like creeks and canals,” they reported.  

Still, in 1999 Shanghai built Asia’s largest wastewater plant and has since built additional treatment plants and is reportedly going green, aka, recycling all wastewater for reuse.



tons of sewage produced per year

Population: 23.9 million as of 2013

Where does the poop go? East China Sea as of 2005; traditionally into the Yangtze and the Huangpu Rivers

Problems: In 1988, hundreds of thousands of people contracted hepatitis, and the LA Times wrote that “The Suzhou Creek, which flows through the center of Shanghai, is so polluted the water looks black.” (This was a city with a population exceeding the size of present-day Los Angeles and New York combined). That year, Pasadena and Chinese engineers teamed up to design a water treatment plant that empties into the estuary of the Yangtze River. According to the World Health Organization, about 70 percent of raw sewage and industrial wastewater was emptied into the Huangpu River and its branches in the mid-1980s.  


Bonus word


Noun \ˈfat-bərg\: A mass of festering food fat mixed with wet wipes and sanitary products found in a sewer system.

Example: In 2013, a Kingston sewage worker became a hero for three weeks of hosing out a bus-sized “fatberg” a 15-tonne (16.5 ton) berg of congealed fat threatening to block the entirety of the sewer system.