Recycling toilet2

Published on October 15th, 2008 | by ziggy

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Don't Flush That Poo Away: Composting Human Waste with the Humanure System

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October 15th, 2008 by

Isn’t it just so convenient that we flush our poop away, down the toilet, never to return? I mean, literally speaking, but metaphorically, too. We flush away our poop, like it’s a problem that we don’t want to deal with. But little do we realize, there’s value in everything, even that which might stink, and which we’d rather send away down a porcelain bowl.

Pooping is a natural process, and doing it in a bowl of drinking water (which must only later be treated with nasty chemicals so that we can reuse this same water) is a horrific waste, and polluting, too. That’s where the humanure system comes in.

The term “humanure” refers to human waste which is recycled by methods of composting, and which can later be used for gardening or agricultural purposes. Before you think: “I don’t want dookie on my daisies!”, remember that everything (everything natural, that is) breaks down in due time. So let’s talk about humanure, and how human waste can be more effectively recycled and reused, instead of letting it continue to pollute ever-precious drinking water supplies. Perhaps by the end of this post, you too will think that flushing your crap away is just as crazy as any other form of pollution.

Make your own humanure system

The term “humanure” has been popularized by Joseph Jenkins in The Humanure Handbook, a down and dirty guidebook to recycling human waste for use as a soil amendment. How does one create their own humanure system for purposes of recycling human poo?

Well, instead of using a toilet, you might choose to use the bucket system, which is essentially a five gallon bucket. (See above photo for an example.) After doing one’s business, sawdust or straw is sprinkled on the bucket’s contents to prevent odor, add carbon, and absorb liquids. (Believe me: it really does keep down odor.) Humanure can then be dumped into compost bins, where it decomposes and cures after one to two years. After this time, you are left with nothing but purely organic matter, something quite like dirt. As long as the humanare is given enough time to decompose, there should be no fear about the spread of pathogens, and this material can be used as a soil amendment in gardening or agriculture. It’s that simple! It’s nature at its finest.

After using the humanure system at my home, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage for well over a year, it feels very strange to me to use a restroom or bathroom where I must flush away my waste. It just feels so… wrong. Really!

For the full details on humanure and making your own humanure system, I highly recommend The Humanure Handbook, which is actually available for free online (in multiple languages, no less!) Human waste is someting to be embraced (well, ok, not literally), and recycled, not flushed away to continue polluting sensitive water tables.

(Image credit: Jenkins Publishing)

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About the Author

I'm a 26-year-old currently living at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri, an intentional community devoted to sustainable living and culture change. Things you might find me doing here (other than blogging) are building with natural materials, gardening, beekeeping, making cheese, candlemaking, and above all else, living simply. You can read about my on-going natural building projects at: http://www.small-scale.net/yearofmud



  • Zeech

    Dr Daniels radio program on this subject is really really interesting. It’s online in podcast form. She doesn’t just go over the medical benefits but also the potential of making money from it rather than simply give it away by flushing it. Check BlakeRadio Network for “Healing with Dr Daniels – Who Owns Your Excrement? – Jun 10,2014″

  • Joey

    What if I wanted to get started with recycling the poo but did not have this kind of toilet built. . . What if I just want to take it outside and bury it near the plants or something! Give some ideas of something that can be started now! :D

  • Joey

    What if I wanted to get started with recycling the poo but did not have this kind of toilet built. . . What if I just want to take it outside and bury it near the plants or something! Give some ideas of something that can be started now! :D

  • http://Web Alex

    The problem with “biosolids” and sewage treatment is that any useful organic matter is contaminated with toxic wastes from industrial and medical facilities in the area.

    Treated sewage sludge isn’t tested for heavy metals or other carcinogens.

    Treated sludge might be a tenable solution if industrial waste is treated separately.

    • http://Web Dan

      Actually testing of biosolids for heavy metals is required – see the Milorganite website. But the testing does show heavy metals so that isn’t much of a comfort. However, as the Milorganite website notes, so does all commercial chemical fertilizer. Since chemical fertplizers are an EPA accepted dumping ground for what would otherwise be hazardous waste we ought to expect that one. And some of the organic people don’t get off free here either. What goes in the cow comes out with the poop – see http://blog.friendseat.com/cattle-feed/ for a horror story on that! In the long run keeping your diet restricted to organic produce grown on organic farms which only use manure produced on the same farm and then saving your own urine and manure for personal use seems to be the safest way to beat the toxins. But if you eat out or grocery store produce you will probably have some of those pollutants even in your own poo.

      By the way – if keeping your poo for fertlizer is a put off for some it is nice to know that most of the nutrients we eat comes out in the urine. See the excellent PDF file at http://www.sei-international.org/publications?pid=1582 .

  • Pingback: Slower-Paced Compost Pickups Increases Composting Rates – CleanTechnica

  • Infinimac

    @Peggy: I just have to respond. I'm so sorry about your dogs and I hope the puppy survived. Please be aware that waste has to be treated and any operation, no matter how large or small, has to prevent access to untreated waste (sludge) prior to treatment (when solids become biosolids). Human and other animal solids can be rendered practically edible when treated properly, which the vast majority of treatment facilities do. I hope your brother-in-law has his operation under control, including any chemicals used to treat the material that might have spilled and come in contact with your dogs.

  • CAVEMAN

    I agree, this is a nice case study. Normally we grow with the stigma that excrement is dirty and useless. Nice article.
    I think we can profit from shit or do something useful with it definitively.

  • EcoCampNewbie

    I am currently in Yangshuo, China building a “Eco Camp” using only environmentally friendly products such as bamboo hemp etc this stuff is quite easy to work with. My problem is what to do with MY waste whilst i’m out there building the camp i have a unlimited supply of recycled charcoal bricks could i use them to filter the water and waste.

  • http://solarglobalgreen.com Solar Global Green

    Mount Rainier National Park is the proud owner of the first self recycling toilet in the U.S. thanks to a donation by the Japanese environmental group Groundwork Mishima. The toilet has a low energy consumption, self-contained, self-cleaning water recycling system with no odor and, get this, the seat is heated.

    http://solarglobalgreen.com/pg/blog/justin/read/1489/the-poop-on-biotoilet

  • http://optimumhealth.wordpress.com Millie Barnes

    Six months ago I decided, as an experiment, to use a sawdust toilet for a month…see how I felt about it; was it reasonable considering my lifestyle, how committed was I to going that far. Bear in mind that I am an extreme environmentalist, always have been…but this felt real radical, strange to share with my children, they were pretty grossed out. But, I have to say, I live in the middle of town, neighbors just feet away on the other side of the privacy fence…and there is no smell, no flies, every time the yard needs mowing, every week or so, I empty the bucket. Cover with grass clippings, no problems. Food scraps go in, yard clippings, paper, meat, fat…all composts to a high heat. No buying fertilizer after next year!

    • duggy duggan

      how long does it take for waste to become mulch?

  • Peggy Woods

    Came online seeking articles about the safe use of human manure in regards to agriculture. My brother-in-law set up a pellet making operation using human waste from a local sewer plant. My dogs simply walked through some that dropped from their conveyor belt. The 14 year old was dead in 5 days from the toxins absorbed into his system,we are fighting to save my 6 1/2 month old German Shepard/ Rott puppy who has been vomiting for 4 days. Tell me again how safe this is!!!!

  • BLAHH!!!

    WOW!!!

  • crackgerbal

    I dont agree with your statement that drinking water is treated with nasty chemicals. I am a civil engineer, and we treat drinking water with one chemical and that is chlorine as a disinfectant. Which is proven to be safe. Most the contaminants are taken out of the water by letting bacteria eat the wastes, and then it is further filtered, settled and disinfected.

    Although the whole system of using clean water to flush waste is, well wasteful. Grey water systems would be better and more sustainable. Where water is nto so widely available, they are using composting toilets. For instance, the group Engineers Without Borders, which i am a part of, has taken it upon themselves to design composting toilets for developing nations.

    The need for a more sustainable system in the US is needed, but I think that using gray water would be easier, since the infrastructure is already set up for this at least in part. In addition, the waste from standard waste water treatment plants do go to compost, in many cases, so in effect it is still environmentally friendly.

  • Kev

    Yes, they do the same here with ours. Therefore, I’ll leave it to the licensed, regulated municipal service to process my flushies into farming compost instead of collecting turds in a barrel.

  • Mr. Money

    Here in Boston the city takes all our poop and turns it into fertilizer pellets that it then sells to farmers. I remember back in grade school (early 90′s) a presentation by one of the workers from the sewage plant on the system. He even brought in some of the pellets to show us that there was no odor and that it simply was not as crazy as we all thought at first.

  • Peter

    It will be interesting to see how methods such as this can be implemented in high-density cities. How could composting toilets be designed into a large apartment complex, for example? Many things will have to be rethought for that sort of change to happen, including health and building codes.

  • http://dancingrabbit.org Liat

    I completely agree with Ziggy on this matter. We have been taught that human fecal matter needs to be piped away in the sewage system, BUT we also are taught to buy composted cow manure for our gardens. Why not use our own waste (after its been composted) and put it back into the earth to grow yummy organic food? Flushing poop away is like flushing money down the toilet.

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