Humanure: The forgotten black gold

For those of you that aren’t sick of me talking about sustainability I’ve got something that could rock your world. First I’d like to say that I am in no way as sustainable as I could be but I am curious to learn more and that is why I write about these things, to spark somebodies interest and hopefully help them in their own sustainability journey. I know composting your own shit is not going to get everyone as excited as me and I can understand that but if nothing else it is an interesting perspective on one of our biggest waste streams, POO!

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I am in the process of reading “Humanure Handbook: A guide to composting human manure by: Joseph Jenkins and it is blowing my mind. I am passionate about sustainability and yet I didn’t really think about where my shit goes once I flush the toilet for most of my life. This massive waste stream that every human is contributing to daily didn’t really get the respect it deserves until reading this book. It brings up the question; “what’s crazier, pooping in our water, then having an expensive facility to remove it and treat the water with toxic chemicals OR safely composting it and turning it into a valuable resource?” Composting animal manure is a regular practice for farmer’s that is widely accepted so why does human poo get such a bad rap? It is a foreign idea to most that our poop can be composted easily, inexpensively and with little to no smell (I admit this is a new idea to me as well, the spark was lit when my partner have me this book). Our sewage systems today have broken the natural “flow” and nutrient cycle where our waste is put back into the soil enriching it for new life to flourish, there aren’t any septic tanks in nature…

There are plenty of commercial composting toilets you can buy which I hear work well but have no experience with, This would work well if you live in a city or don’t have room for a compost pile. The method I am using is the “sawdust toilet” and all you need is a couple of 5 gallon buckets, sawdust from untreated lumber ( in abundance at any saw mill) other compostable materials and a compost bin at least 4′ x 4′ x 40″.  Start the bin with 18″ of dry material such as straw, hay, yard clippings or weeds. Start filling a 5 gallon bucket (which can easily be fitted with a toilet seat and a nice looking box to house it if you’d like) with your turds, covering with a layer of sawdust after each use. When the bucket is full add it to the compost pile and cover with straw, all other food scraps can go into the same pile. Continue to add to the pile by digging a small depression in the center, emptying bucket and re-covering with straw, then rinse the bucket and put wash water on the pile and return bucket to the bathroom for the next “round”.

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It should take anywhere from 6 months to a year to fill the bin depending on your family size and “output”. Once filled the pile needs to sit for a year to complete the process. The heat in the pile and long curing time will kill pathogens and you should be left with some beautiful black gold. There is some controversy on whether or not humanure should be used on food crops, the author of  “Humanure handbook” Joseph Jenkins had been using it on his families vegetable garden for over 20 years with no ill effects. For the fecophobes out there ( I’m not sure which side I fall on yet) the end product can be used on trees, flowers and all other non-food plants.

Maybe I’m crazy but since I started using the sawdust toilet and composting my poo each trip the bathroom is a joy to me. Every “deposit” is a contribution to the soils fertility and not a waste of water that requires all sorts of resources to clean up after I flush it away. Humanure gives a whole new meaning to Potentially Useful Material!

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