Human communication

Can faeces be used as a renewable resource? Professor MSU’s new movie has the answers

When journalism professor Troy Hale started researching his most recent film, he realized no one had done anything like it.

The concept? An environmental documentary film about the incredible danger and simultaneous power of human faeces. So Hale got to work.

The finished film, titled “Sh-t saves the world“, came out earlier this summer. The documentary focuses on the massive amount of fecal matter that covers this planet, and the environmental and health issues that come with it. The film also offers several positive uses for reusing and recycling our own waste.

“At its essence, it’s an environmental documentary,” Hale said. “But by adding that comedic element to the idea of ​​the documentary, I think the message gets across a little bit better.”

The film features footage inside MSU’s Communication Arts and Sciences Building and includes an interview with Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Dana Kirk. Hale said at least four MSU students worked on the project, including his former student Zoe Kissel. Kissel had originally helped sell the film to a sales agent and his brother Dylan Kissel, who completed the final audio mixing of the documentary.

Hale managed to create his film while working full-time at MSU by recruiting a friend to take his place on a shoot when he couldn’t – enlisting another friend in California to shoot footage in San Diego and Mexico.

“When I traveled to Australia, I had images there,” Hale said. “My parents wanted to take the whole family on safari to Tanzania, and I said, ‘Well, that’s great, I can shoot animals there, that would be great. I found there was a lot of information that was viable for the movie while I was there.

The film focuses on the pervasiveness of human waste across the world and the problems associated with it. The documentary uses the history of toilets and the lack of proper waste disposal in the past, to show how crucial it is that we keep our waste and water separate, highlighting how waterborne diseases such as Cholera spread before humans understood how contaminated water can cause disease. The film also covers modern issues – like how 90% of waste water in developing countries is discharged untreated into bodies of water.

However, Hale wanted his film to have a positive message.

“There are a lot of environmental films that are all about all kinds of problems…and there really aren’t a lot of solutions towards the end,” Hale said. “You feel depressed by what is happening. And this movie says “look, this is what all these people are doing to recycle human waste and turn it into electricity and mine it for precious metals and turn it into fertilizer, and whatever else you can think of.”

In the film, Kirk explains how he worked with the Detroit Zoo to build an anaerobic digester, which uses animal waste from the zoo to generate electricity which the zoo then uses to power facilities such as its animal hospital.

Additionally, the film shows how companies like Michigan’s Digested Organics can turn organic waste like manure into clean water and how wastewater can be used to create carbon-negative building bricks.

Hale said the response to his film has been overwhelmingly positive, however, he plans to take a year off from filmmaking.

“Right now I’m spending a lot of time doing marketing and answering emails from all these organizations and looking for partnerships, doing media…even after your movie comes out, there’s so much work to do,” Hale said. Hale said he was contacted by several organizations, including the Seattle Zoo, about his film.

“Sh*t Save the World” is available on a wide range of streaming platforms including Amazon, Apple TV, Vimeo and YouTube.

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