The Humanure Toilet

The Humanure Handbook by Joseph JenkinsFirst off let me just bow to Joseph Jenkins, author of the ‘Humanure Handbook’, when I say Bill and Ted style, “We are not worthy”.

This man has single-handedly come up with the most practical, sane, hygienic, and useful means of dealing with human waste that I have ever heard of.  This is no light weight book.  The man did his research, and the final proof is the fact that he and his family have successfully put his methods to the test for the past 31 years without incident.

To be fair we would first have to deal with our abnormally ridiculous fear of the dreaded (potty mouth here) #1 and stop thinking of it as waste.  What a concept!  It’s useful!!!  How can we transform something called waste into something useful?  1) Thermophilic composting AND 2) by changing our mind about it, that’s how.  Unfortunately the first part is easier.

Technically the Humanure toilet is not a composting toilet at all.  It is a composting ‘system’ so I’m going to allow it into this category based on this technicality.  If you don’t like my grading system you can leave me off your Xmas card list this year. I’m ok with that.

The system includes three parts:

1) the receptacle

2) cover materials

3) a three sectioned composting bin.

These are not optional.  The table will fall over if you take away one of the table legs, but if you compare the expense and the ease of setting this up compared to the traditional septic system?  Please.

When talking to people I have discovered two main reasons why we haven’t embraced this glorious concept whole-heartedly and they are:

1)    We’re lazy. It’s wonderful to pull on the handle and forget about it. It requires no effort and it’s dealt with out of sight (literally) and out of mind.  However that convenience factor is a huge expense when you look at what the cost is of polluting our lakes and oceans, running up our pocket books to install and maintain black water, and don’t get me started on the 30 fresh gallons of water a day per person statistic.
2)    Ignorance about pathogens and disease. Now this is the one I was concerned about myself so I’m not pointing any fingers, it’s a valid concern.  I’m just saying that Mr. Jenkins did his homework, and learning about the thermophilic process put my mind at ease.  What starts off as effluent morphs into something completely different by the time it’s spent a year or two composting properly.  It’s like comparing a lump of coal to a diamond.  Add heat; give it adequate time and the final product is gardening gold.  If you’re not comfortable putting it in the vegetable patch then mix it in with your roses and see if you don’t take first prize in the neighborhood that year.

This system is simple. Take a 5 gallon bucket and put a toilette seat on it.  If you build a lovely toilette ‘area’ around the commode so the bucket ‘slides’ into some sort of cabinetry all the better. Use only one bucket size and build the cabinet to those dimensions and you should have a nice tidy spot for your business. You can store a number of clean buckets in the cabinet in readiness to replace the used ones that you simply toss a lid on until you are ready to deal with them.

The commode stays clean by following a simple rule. Always line a fresh bucket with a couple inches of organic matter.  Then cover your deposits with an adequate layer of organic sawdust, peat moss, grass clippings, leaf mold or rice hulls to prevent odors, absorb urine and eliminate any fly nuisance.  If you are having a problem with any of those three the solution is MORE cover material.  This acts as a bio filter and should cover over the entire effluent at all times.

Now for the part that requires our ‘involvement’.   After a couple of the buckets fill up you grab them from the cabinet area and whisk them off to the composting area.  A three bin system works best as it takes a year to fill up the bin on one side, and it should include ALL your compost including green manure, other animal manure, weeds from the garden, kitchen scraps etc.

The bin in the middle houses the ‘covering material’ such as straw, hay, weeds, leaves, grass clippings or whatever is available which again covers all fresh compost deposits at all times.  This will keep offensive odors down. How much to use?  Simple…if it looks or smells bad, cover it over until it doesn’t.

The third bin on the other side of the covering material is for next years’ compost.  The cycle of using the finished compost should be two years if you follow this method.

Now there are rules regarding how to compost properly so that nothing leaches into the ground, and to make sure your bin has heated up adequately to kill all the baddies.  I recommend reading the ‘Humanure Handbook’ from cover to cover before attempting to do so yourself as there are a 1000 useful tips to manage this closed loop system that I haven’t mentioned here or I’d be reproducing the book.  I have every intention of trying this method when Middle Earth Home is up and running especially for all the outbuildings. The ever sensible Taurus in me is particularly attracted to the notion that only one gallon of rain water is needed to scrub out each container and that too is added to the compost heap.  The fact that this system requires NO electricity, NO water, and costs next to NO-thing to create and maintain appeals to the cheap bastard in me …er, ah, I mean the self reliant and frugal part of me. I chafe over wastefulness, and I have a huge bug-a-boo up my wazoo for septic fields on all levels…I simply don’t think they are the best option for humanity to live in harmony with its environment.  It is a waste of my money to be ‘forced’ to install one due to archaic building codes; not to mention a waste of perfectly good composting material!!!

If I were to close my eyes, click my heels, and make a wish with my ruby red slippers it would be that we stop the madness of flushing our stuff into the waterways which causes an ugly cycle of pollution.  Instead we would all use common sense and mimic natures’ tried and true method of re-cycling nutrients back into the ground where the plants flourish from it, and we flourish from them in a beautiful dance of symbiosis.

Care to dance anyone?

One Response to The Humanure Toilet
  1. Karilee
    June 19, 2012 | 4:58 pm

    I’m pretty sure if I had ruby red slippers and a wish… I could come up with something else that I’ve longed for a bit more than efficient flushing, but I do see your point. Good explanation, thanks.
    Karilee´s last blog post ..New Logo Design Tips

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