9- Do-it-yourself Humanure

by PSEF crew

Humans are the only creatures who don’t recycle their waste back into the local landscape that produces their food. And the practice of removing our waste from that nutrient cycle is relatively new for us. Many societies around the world never abandoned the practice of collecting and returning human waste to the local environment, the widespread use of “night soil” in Asia being the most obvious example. Much ado has been made about poor sanitation in urban areas before the advent of sewers and flush toilets. Thermophilic (hot) composting allows the safe recycling of human waste on a home scale without the risk of spreading pathogens and parasites.

In the developed world, most human waste is collected in sewage systems and pumped to waste treatment facilities. It is mixed with everything else that gets washed down a drain and often with the street runoff from urban storm drains. It is now rather unsuitable for composting and direct application to agriculture as it is full of toxins. Processing human waste in home scale, dispersed humanure systems is a great way to recover this valuable resource and complete the nutrient cycle.

Building a humanure system is probably the easiest, least expensive “environmentally friendly” thing a person can do; all that is needed is 20 sq. ft of outdoor space. It saves you money, reduces water and energy usage, improves your immediate surroundings, and eliminates your contribution to a major global problem (dumping of treated and partially treated sewage into oceans and waterways).

We’re often asked if hot composting is effective at breaking down and disabling pharmaceuticals in human waste. Scientists have yet to explore this as humanure is still totally taboo in the West. What is for certain is that sewage treatment does not adequately neutralize these chemicals, and they are already contaminating our water on a global scale with disastrous results. A good measure against these risks is maintaining an awareness of the medicines being consumed by household members who use the humanure toilet.

Composting is a fascinating, educational process and will change your relationship to your poop. You can add an outdoor bathroom to your home with scrap materials, a bucket and a $15 toilet seat! And digging out the finished compost at the end of the process is a revelation! It is sweet smelling, full of life energy and definitely better than any amendment you will ever find at the nursery or garden center. You will begin to shed your Westerner’s dread of poop and an important piece of you will be brought back into reality — we are part of these processes, not separate from them and they are magical! Poop is magical! So are thermophilic compost microorganisms!

When we first built our humanure system we were surprised at how the new toilet remained odor free and at how easy it all was to throw together. We were also surprised at how pooping out in the garden in an airy lean-to with a honeysuckle vine growing through it quickly made pooping indoors seem a rather barbaric practice. Free bathroom, an end to poop-phobia and killer vegetables? Fuck Yes!