Rob Rhinehart, Silicon Valley-based software engineer and creator of the supposedly nutritious, taste-deprived goop Soylent, sacrificed his health in pursuit of something quite ambitious – saving the universe from drying out. Many scientists have discussed the looming water crisis, with some even predicting water supply to run out this century. It’s understandable then, that environmentally-conscious Rhinehart would want to act. But in order to preserve water, Rhineheart took rather extreme measures, carefully cutting down his water usage to two litres a day.
So how exactly did he cut water out from his life? In a blog post, Rhinehart wrote: “I brush my teeth without water and put on dry deodorant. Relieving myself in the toilet is not an option. For a moment I consider following Clinton’s advice: ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow’, but decide to go full Bukowski instead: ‘sometimes you just have to piss in the sink’.” Oh dear.
Adults should be consuming two to three litres of water per day to replace what we lose through sweat, urine, and so on. And the human body is made up of 50 to 75 percent water, so hydration is undoubtedly important – at the very least, for the sanctity of our kidneys. The amount of water we should drink on a daily basis, excludes what we inadvertently consume through food which is just as necessary. But this was a problem for Rhinehart.
Given water has a presence in most foods we consume, Rhinehart decided to stop food cold turkey. Instead, he consumed Soylent, a powder that contains most of the essential vitamins humans need to stay alive. Rhinehart raised $3.5 million to fund the commercialisation of Soylent through crowdfunding platform Tilt, as well as venture capital firms. But, even Soylent requires water to slide down a human being’s oesophagus. According to Rhineheart, the powder requires 1.6 litres of water, which meant he wasn’t depriving himself completely.
Then there’s the issue of having to mix Soylent in crockery. To avoid having to do the dishes – but for different reasons to everybody else – Rhinehart used disposable polystyrene cups.
That’s not all. In the aforementioned blog post, he also talked about not shitting because, you know … if it’s brown you have to flush it down.
“[Faeces] are almost entirely deceased gut bacteria and water. I massacred my gut bacteria the day before by consuming a DIY Soylent version with no fiber and taking 500mg of Rifaximin, an antibiotic with poor bioavailability, meaning it stays in your gut and kills bacteria. Soylent’s microbiome consultant advised that this is a terrible idea so I do not recommend it. However, it worked. Throughout the challenge I did not defecate,” he said in the blog post.
And of course, Rhinehart did not forget clothing. He explained that cotton uses 20,000 litres per kilogram, so he had to remove clothes made of cotton from his wardrobe. His outfit of choice is now some kind of jumpsuit – the kind that fumigators wear. Apparently, it’s called Nomex, a meta-aramid invented by DuPont in the 1960s. I’m no fashion expert, but I think the outfit would be complete if accessorised by a gas mask.
“Nomex is a fantastic material used in applications as diverse as circuit boards, loudspeakers, and clothing. Made via condensation from m-phenylenediamine and isophthaloyl chloride, its production uses no water. I found a Nomex flight suit on Alibaba and added a “Soylent” patch. I love it. It’s cheap, simple, comfortable, and fireproof, just in case,” Rhinehart wrote.
All insanity aside, the principle behind the challenge was admirable. Ultimately, he wanted to point out how wasteful we are when it comes to water.
“Water is the most popular beverage in the world, and still 20 percent of us are living without enough even to drink. Our foods, our bodies, and our planet are mostly water, and yet, we are spoiling and wasting what the cosmos has made at an unsustainable rate. I don’t expect anyone to live as I did during the challenge. Even I missed coffee and a hot shower. However, I do think it is important to be mindful of the network effects of one’s lifestyle. With water, as with most things, it is better to do more with less.”