Thanks to a unique public outreach effort, more than 200 Santa Cruz residents now know exactly what happens after they flush their toilets. Earlier this year, public works partnered for the first time with schools and arts organizations to raise awareness of the California city’s water footprint and enlighten the public on the sustainability, equity, and intricacies of modern sanitation.

“Follow the Flush” used humor to drive these points home. The city’s arts commission collaborated with FICTILIS, an artists’ cooperative in Oakland, and students in the Digital Arts & New Media program at the University of California, Davis, to teach residents about the path from toilet to treatment plant by figuratively walking them through it. Beginning at the university, residents encountered 11 interactive exhibits along a five-kilometer route to the city’s award-winning 7 mgd wastewater treatment plant.

The two-hour course flushed out the unknown regarding human waste and sanitation via games like Pin the Poop and Guess the Scat (wildlife poop), a Best Bathroom prize, water tastings, and waste mapping exercises, which all aimed to appreciate human waste in a playful way. Among those present were:

  • The People’s Own Organic Power (POOP) project, which uses art, theater, and education to create a conversation about sewage as a renewable resource
  • The Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) advocacy group, whose display emphasized recycling nutrients as a holistic alternative to conventional sanitation solutions.

Participants could start the walk any time between 9:30 a.m. to noon. At the wastewater treatment plant, optional tours explained the role microorganisms play in processing human waste.

Due to initial success, the Public Works Department hopes to hold the event again in 2020 with even more interactive stations and an abbreviated walk in addition to the 5k that would broaden participation.