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Vermicomposting ‘Humanure’

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]

Written by Compost Guy on May 2nd, 2008 with 4 comments.
Read more articles on Composting Toilets and Worm Composting.

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4 comments

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Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com DeAnander
#1. May 3rd, 2008, at 7:01 PM.

Hi, thanks for the link! However I would like to mention just one thing — I wrote the article and I am not a “he”, but a “she.” Could you correct that please?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Compost Guy
#2. May 3rd, 2008, at 8:01 PM.

Hi DeAnander,
I’m SO sorry about that! In hindsight I have no idea why I was so confident you were a “he” (I’m normally much more cautious when uncertain).
If it’s any consolation, people often think I’m female (mixing up first and last name) – well until they see me anyway (think ‘Mr. Clean’)
😆

Anyway I’ve made the changes. Thanks for letting me know!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Red Icculus
#3. May 4th, 2008, at 12:09 PM.

If you can get past the “yuck” factor and take proper precautions, this has potential as a great resource for sustainable living.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Ethan Bodnaruk
#4. April 20th, 2009, at 7:31 PM.

Was so happy to see Joseph Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook mentioned here. It really is a fun and revolutionary book. I also thought it was a very insightful comment above that people always worry about health in humanure composting, but don’t give the pesticides and environmental damage created by our current system any (or much) credence.

Composting is FUN and it’s so good for the world, and it creates mindfulness in what you do and (cheezy as it sounds) your connection to the world around you! I have a relatively new compost pile and when I think about adding gray water to it, I think “wow, now it’s exciting and fun to want to make sure my graywater pathways are healthy – i.e. biodegradable, env. friendly clothes detergent, etc. – because it’s now part of my own nutrient cycle and part of this activity I enjoy so much!”

I just had an idea lately that it would be fun to set up a group on facebook, or craigslist, or something to find people who are interested in all sorts of green projects and would be willing once in awhile to help someone out with one. That way a “green” community could be built up locally in an area, people could meet each other, and could lend a helping hand to spread around good projects. People who are less confident can do a project or two with others and then they’d be able to take a lead on another project, and this could accommodate people with little time (just do one project a month or everyother month for an afternoon) and with a lot time (wanting to do this stuff all the time). Does anyone know of such a thing? I live in the Washington DC area and will start to explore!

Watch out, compost guy – you’ve got some competition! I want to be a compost guy too! 🙂

ebodnaruk@gmail.com

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