Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

New York City's Poop Train

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Most of us don’t give a second thought to what happens after we flush, but our daily leftovers have to end up somewhere. In New York City, where residents create approximately 1200 tons of sewage every day, this is not an issue to poo-poo—and for 20 years, the answer was a train loaded with our refuse that left the city and traveled 1600 miles out west, where farmers made the best of a stinky situation. New York City's Poop Train, and the controversy surrounding it, were featured in a 2013 episode of the podcast RadioLab.

Thirty years ago, the treated remnants of a city’s sewage—known as “biosolids” to those in the industry—usually went into the ocean. But in 1988, the government realized this wasn’t the best idea and gave municipalities three years to figure out where else their sludge could go. In addition to finding a new place to put it, the EPA ruled a portion of the biosolids had to be used in a way that would benefit the environment.

New York City, which already had a population over 7 million, had been dumping its sewage 106 miles out in the ocean. (This was an improvement on the 12 miles out it was dumping sewage in 1987, but still not ideal.) A solution needed to be found, and fast.

So the city decided to turn the sludge into fertilizer. The EPA ruled that, after treatment, biosolids are perfectly safe to use on plants, and often, are better for the plants than chemical fertilizers. They are rich in nutrients that help plants grow, and the application of biosolids to the soil has been known to stimulate root growth and help the soil better retain water.

This wasn't a new idea—the city of Milwaukee had been selling their biosolids as a fertilizer called Milorganite since the 1920s—but there was something about putting big city sewage on their crops that made farmers pause.

Although they accepted sludge from other locations, states feared the material from New York City would be disease-ridden and toxic. Alabama outright rejected the biosolids, and in Oklahoma, even after farmers begged for the material, a plan to ship 1150 tons of biosolids to the state was defeated due to public outcry. “No part of Oklahoma will be sacred,” wrote Tim Cagg, the chairman of Concerned Citizens for a Clean Environment. “These profit seekers will not be around when we must clean up the damage in years to come.”

Eventually, some farmers in Colorado said they would try it. Just before before Earth Day 1992, 17 train cars filled with several thousand tons of big city biosolids left the station and headed to a new life on Lamar, Co. farms. “At first people wanted to flee the land when they found out New York’s sewage was on the way,” farmer Douglas Tallman said at the time. Tallman’s enthusiasm for the product got him nicknamed “Sludge Judge” in local politics.

Initially, only three or four farms volunteered to take the waste. But then the farmers started to notice some changes. One farmer’s wheat crop yield increased by a third after using biosolids. The sludge also appeared to keep away aphids, prairie dogs, and other pests. Soon, there was a waiting list for farmers who wanted to get their hands on New York biosolids.

New York kept producing, and the farmers kept buying. Trains were now running twice a month to Colorado. The longest train the state received was 153 cars of the stuff. At its peak, 10,000 acres a year were being covered with sludge from the big city, but the demand was so great, 50,000 to 75,000 acres could have been covered if there had been enough product.

The one problem, though, was the cost. Shipping waste on a rail line wasn’t cheap, and the city started looking for other options. Despite demand, in 2012, the train stopped running.

Today, New York City biosolids are treated in ways that cost about half as much and are either stored in a landfill or mixed with other substances to neutralize soil acidity. About 50 percent of all biosolids produced nationally are currently being recycled to land in all 50 states. Anyone who would like to use the product can apply through the EPA’s website. However, there are no plans for the New York City poop train to leave the station again.

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These Are the World's 10 Most Expensive Cities

While Americans in big cities may complain about how expensive the cost of living is, according to a new report, places like New York and Los Angeles don’t even come close to the expense of international cities like Singapore. As Travel + Leisure mentions, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s biannual report on the world’s most expensive cities has named the Asian city-state the most expensive place on Earth to live for the fifth year in a row. No U.S. city even cracks the top 10.

The Intelligence Unit’s survey tracks prices of 160 products and services in cities across the world, including food and drink, clothing, rent, utility bills, transportation, and more. It’s designed to help companies calculate cost-of-living analyses for employees traveling and living abroad, but it also just provides an intriguing snapshot into how the rest of the world lives, and just how expensive your next vacation might be. And, of course, it allows you to feel a little better about your own city. Next time you want to complain about your rising rent, New Yorkers, know that residents of Seoul have to pay 50 percent more than you for groceries.

The prices used in the calculations are converted to U.S. dollars, meaning that the whole thing is tied to how much the dollar is worth—if the euro is worth more than the dollar, you’ll need more dollars to buy things in Paris. A weakening dollar is one reason the report gives for the lack of U.S. cities in the top 10 list, even though American cities are becoming more expensive relative to past years. (New York, currently in 13th place, was in the 27th spot five years ago.)

Without further ado, and with our deepest sympathies to their denizens, here are the top 10 most expensive cities across the world:

1. Singapore
2. Paris, France
2. Zurich, Switzerland
4. Hong Kong
5. Oslo, Norway
6. Geneva, Switzerland
6. Seoul, South Korea
8. Copenhagen, Denmark
9. Tel Aviv, Israel
10. Sydney, Australia

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

19 Must-Visit Stops on Mexico City's Metro

About 5 million people ride the Mexico City subway every day—but most commuters don’t realize how much there is to do and see without ever having to go above ground. From piano stairs to a space tunnel, exploring the attractions hidden within the metro just might be the most fun you can have for 5 pesos (about $0.25 USD). These Mexico City metro stations settle the old question once and for all; it’s both the journey and the destination.


Talisman station (line 4) has a mammoth logo for a reason: Mammoth fossils were unearthed during construction of the metro, and you can see the bones—which date back to the Pleistocene—on display there.


space tunnel at La Raza station
Sharon Hahn Darlin, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

How do you make a long transfer fly by? Transform it into a walk-through space tunnel illuminated by a glow-in-the-dark night sky, the highlight of the science museum located within La Raza station (lines 3 and 5).


Viveros (line 3), a station named for the nearby nursery, is in full flower: It was recently given a jungle makeover complete with imitation palms, jaguars, and snakes to raise awareness for the preservation of southern Mexico’s Lacandon Rainforest.


Complement your day trip to the pyramids at Teotihuacan with a stop at the Pino Suarez station (lines 1 and 2), where you can see a 650-year-old pyramid dedicated to Ehecatl, the Aztec god of wind. Tens of thousands of users go through the station daily, making the pyramid one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico. (Though it's referred to as Mexico’s smallest archaeological zone, the National Institute of Anthropology and History doesn't consider it a "proper" archaeological zone "due to its size and the fact of being located in a Metro Transport System facility.")


Hidalgo (lines 2 and 3) may be the most miraculous of all of Mexico City’s metro stations: In 1997, someone (possibly a street vendor) discovered a water stain in the shape of the Virgin of Guadalupe in one of its floor tiles. The apparition attracted so many pilgrims that metro authorities eventually had to remove the tile, which is now enshrined just outside one of the exits (follow the signs for Iglesia), near the intersection of Paseo de la Reforma and Zarco. And if you happen to visit this station on the morning of the 28th of any month, you’ll be swarmed with pious commuters carrying figurines of Saint Judas Thaddeus—patron saint of delinquents and lost causes—who is venerated at the nearby San Hipolito Church.


No time to visit the vast National Museum of Anthropology? You can still catch reproductions of Mesoamerican statues at the Bellas Artes (lines 2 and 8) and Tezozomoc (line 6) stops.


miniatures on the Mexico city subway
Randal Sheppard, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Miniature maniacs shouldn’t miss the scale models of Mexico City’s main plaza at the Zocalo stop (line 2). They depict, in tiny form, the metamorphosis of the capital from the Aztec Templo Mayor to the present-day Metropolitan Cathedral. (And bonus points to anyone who can spot the cat who lives in this station.)


The music-themed Division del Norte station’s (line 3) free karaoke corner draws a crowd gathered to watch fellow riders belt out boleros and ballads on their way to work. The unassuming abuelitas laden with bags from the market always have the most impressive pipes.


piano stairs at Polanco station
Victor.Aguirre-Lopez, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Don’t take the escalators at Polanco station (line 7), because the stairs are a giant musical piano keyboard. Finally, here’s your chance to live out Tom Hanks’s piano dance scene from the movie Big.


The Guerrero stop (lines B and 3) is a tribute to the legends of lucha libre, with costume displays and murals dedicated to 45 of Mexico’s finest masked fighters.


The largest bookshop in Latin America can be found in the long passage between the Zocalo and Pino Suarez stations. The underground emporium known as Un Paseo Por Los Libros sells titles from textbooks to manga and also hosts free workshops, lectures, and movie screenings.


murals in the Mexico City subway
Thelmadatter, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Any visitor to Mexico City should check out Diego Rivera’s murals—but on your way, don’t forget to look up at the murals that decorate many metro stations. Particularly impressive are Guillermo Ceniceros’s ambitious chronicles of art through the history of time on the walls at the Copilco (line 3) and Tacubaya stations (lines 1, 7, and 9). On the kitschier side, see how many famous faces you can pick out in Jorge Flores Manjarrez’s I Spy-style mural of pop stars at the Auditorio stop (line 7).


A museum of caricatures located inside the Zapata stop (line 12) is an homage to Mexican cartooning, including plenty of satirical interpretations of the mustachioed revolutionary who gives the station its name.


If Chabacano station (lines 2, 8, and 9) feels unsettlingly familiar, it might be because it was used as a shooting location for the subway chase scene in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall. Legend has it you can still spot splashes of fake blood on the ceiling.


Museo del Metro de la Ciudad de México
ProtoplasmaKid, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Has this metro adventure turned you into a super fan? Do a deep dive at Mixcoac station’s (line 12) sleek Metro Museum, where you can learn even more fun facts about the subway’s 50 years of history while you wait out rush hour.


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