The more things change the more they stay the same – never a truer word spoken. I interviewed my father before he died and we discussed some of the ways people coped during the Great Depression. I looked at photographs of front gardens coverted to grow vegetables (Permaculturists take note); saw a truck converted to run off a hot water cyclinder strapped to its deck, full of pig manure methane (Biofuellers take note); and heard stories of the Night Cart Man doing the rounds in the middle of the night, taking away the ‘nightsoil’ from the outside toilets (Humanure fans take note).
Here is an excellent Time Magazine article – leave your pre-conceived ideas at the toilet door – on the modern capture and use of “Humanure”. Its no surpirse that Mike Reynolds, the Biotect behind Earthships, has long been a fan of Humanure. The ‘movement’ (excuse the pun) sets out to address the ‘Problem’ of utility wastewater treatment and the ‘Opportunity’ of a great source of nutrients that gets flushed away every day.
I can hold my hand up and say that I was one of thousands of festival goers that used the composting toilets at Camp Bestival in the UK this year. The beauty was, as always, in their simplicity; they were nothing more than 44 gallon drums under a set of stalls made out of hessian-draped scaffolding. There was a large box of sawdust and scoops out front and you just took a scoop of pine sawdust (very arromatic) and added it after you’d finished. The whole thing – when contrasted to conventional festival portaloos – smelt great. I’m sure hardstanding loos with good ventilation piping would perform flawlessly.
The whole thing – when contrasted to conventional festival portaloos – smelt great.
But please read the Time magazine article, it makes a great case for including a composting toilet in your next design. The article points out that within a year the human waste-based compost is fully degraded and ready to go as a cheap, clean & natural fertiliser. Nancy Klehm as fan of composting toilets, mobilised 22 households in her neighbourhood to not flush their humanure. She collected 1,500 gallons (3,700 litres) of waste in just three months, which she will give back to the participants in spring as a rich bag of fertiliser.
“I’ve sent a sample in for a coliform test,” Klehm says. “There is zero detectable fecal bacteria.”
Whilst a number of us probably have ingrained phobias of ‘long drop’ toilets from the wilderness adventures of our childhood – composting toilets really are different. First of all, they are regularly emptied and not left to stew. They also combine a reasonable amount of sawdust that masks the inevitable smell and aids the rapid breakdown of the waste. The details of the aerobic/anerobic composting process I’m not so hot on, but the Humanure Handbook contains all the answers and more.
When contemplating your feelings on waste and especially Human waste, it probably helps to remember one thing:
“There is no waste in nature”