I came across an excellent article yesterday evening called Humanure Composting. It not only covers the author’s own personal experimentation in this area (which believe it or not, makes for intriguing reading), but it also offers insightful commentary on the topic of human waste management in general – effectively highlighting how, despite our so-called advancements in modern sanitation, we have in a sense gone backwards.
Here is a great excerpt from the article:
The fundamental (so to speak) error in the way we have thought about human wastes for a couple of centuries is to think of them as waste at all, i.e. as dross or discard, a substance with no value — or a substance with extreme negative value (dirty, pathogenic, icky). The collection of humanure and urine into centralised processing centres to be biocidally or biotically neutralised and then dumped into bodies of water means that we have interrupted the nutrient cycle, turned what should be a circular energy diagram into a linear one. Instead of returning the excess or byproduct of our metabolic function to the soil that produced the food we ate — as every other living creature on Earth does in a healthy biotic system — we have intervened; we “flush away” our own metabolic byproducts and (in modern times) dump them far, far from the fields which fed us. We thus impoverish the soil (by removing nutrients, minerals, elements which are not replaced), and increase the cost of agriculture by having to replace artificially the missing nutrients, etc.
If this is a topic area that even remotely interests you, I highly recommend that you check out the full article: Humanure Composting (on the ‘Feral Scholar’ blog).
This is one of those topics that will almost certainly make some (if not many) readers squeamish. After all, we’ve essentially been programmed to think of our ‘waste’ products as dirty, disgusting, and dangerous – better known as the ’3 Ds of Doo Doo’ (ok, so I just made that up) – so it can require a pretty substantial paradigm shift to wrap our heads around the notion of dealing with our own wastes in any manner other than what is considered the ‘norm’ (i.e. the porcelain genie that makes it magically disappear).
As many readers probably know by now, I’m very passionate about this idea of wastes being ‘misplaced resources’ – hence the Compost Guy motto, ‘turning wastes into resources’. As such, the topic of human waste is certainly a topic of interest (not in any sort of creepy, obsessive way, of course – haha), and something I’ll definitely be writing more about here. Aside from blog posts, I will be putting together a resource page all about composting toilets as well.
Back to the article…
The author was originally inspired to start her own humanure composting experiment after she read Joe Jenkins’ “Humanure Handbook” (incidentally, a book I myself own and plan to write more about here) – but rather than going the thermophilic composting route, she opted for vermicomposting. I’ve heard of numerous examples involving the successful use of composting worms in a compost toilet, so I wasn’t too surprised to learn how well they thrived in her outdoor humanure heaps. Nevertheless, I was in awe of her bravery for trying this out in a small suburban yard (not in a conventional composting toilet, or even a rural property), with neighbours only a short distance away. In fact, she continued with the project for 2 years (likely without anyone suspecting a thing) – clearly a indication that such practices don’t necessarily create a horrific, smelly mess, at least not if done properly.
I’ve been looking forward to someday having my own composting toilet. To me, the idea of flushing it all away (along with countless gallons of clean water) just doesn’t make much sense. I could only imagine what would happen if we (society) put more focus on these materials as nutrient resources. As the author of the article points out herself, it’s pretty crazy that we have such strong feelings about the safety concerns associated with human waste, yet we have zero issues with spraying all sorts of nasty pesticides (and other chemicals) on our properties (among countless other hazards we just don’t take the time to consider).
Anyway, despite my keen interest in all this, it’s not too likely that I’ll be making my own low-tech humanure bucket system (as the author did) anytime soon – it’s enough of a challenge just keeping my wife happy with all the worm bins (and other experiments) in the house!
[tags]humanure, human manure, poo, doo doo, feces, composting toilet, compost toilet, joe jenkins, humanure handbook, urine, compost, composting, vermicomposting, worm composting[/tags]