Saturday, May 8, 2021

Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet by Chelsea Wald


Title:  Pipe Dreams:  The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

Author: Chelsea Wald

Read by:  Lisa Flanagan

Publisher: Simon & Shuster Audio

Length: Approximately 8 hours and 8 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Simon & Shuster Audio.  Thank-you! 

 If there ever was a book written just for me, Pipe Dreams is it.  Pipe Dreams:  The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet is a fascinating look into sanitation.  It covers all aspects from how toilets work around the world, to how sanitary sewers and wastewater treatment plants are designed, to current problems and new ideas on how to deal with them.  I am an environmental engineer and work in the wastewater industry.  This was the perfect book for me to listen to while I drove around to wastewater treatment plant inspections.  This book was very interesting and was correct on the technical information.  If you’ve ever wondered what happens after you flush the toilet, author Chelsea Wald does a great job explaining everything in this book.  She is factual, but also full of humor which made it so fun.

 I enjoyed that the policies and psychology of toilet use were also discussed.  It’s interesting how different parts of the world differ on how a toilet is used (squat versus sit) and whether to use toilet paper versus water.  She also talks about testing of the wastewater.  The single most interesting fact to me was the doing testing around the United States for drugs, it’s  been found that drug use is consistent among all socioeconomic levels and within different races/ethnicities.  The rush for toilet paper during COVID was discussed as well as newer items in the wastewater field such as PFAS chemicals.

 Items near and dear to my heart were also discussed including the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card and the sad state of infrastructure in the United States and world.  I worked on the wastewater section for the state of Wisconsin.  She took me out of my hard infrastructure bubble and got me thinking about other solutions for sanitation around the world.  Wald visits wastewater plants worldwide, which I thought was fascinating besides being a life goal of my own.  She also mentions the Milwaukee wastewater treatment plant and their inventive reuse of biosolids with their milorganite fertilizer product.

 Wald does an excellent job of explaining a lot of information in a fun way.  This type of information is often overlooked as no one likes to think about what happens after you flush the toilet.  It’s important to know for health reasons and for making prudent political choices to update infrastructure.  I could wax on about my great love for this audiobook for eternity, but I’ll stop now. Listen to this book and be prepared to learn and laugh. Lisa Flanagan is a great narrator.

 Overall, Pipe Dreams:  The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet is a fascinating and humorous look into toilets and sanitation.


  1. Great opening sentence, Laura! Toilet talk may be a bit taboo, but this book sounds educational and humorous. Wonderful review!