If you have ever purchased manure at the local hardware store for your garden, you may have wondered why you are paying for feces. After all, there are not many differences between animal manure and human manure. Not only is human waste a valid resource for agriculture, but flushing it down the toilet is also polluting our water systems. In a time when fresh water is scarce, this just does not make any sense. Imagine if SHTF and our only valid sources of fresh water were all polluted with human waste.
You may think that this concept is a bit disgusting, but until the 1700’s the recycling of human waste was the standard worldwide. Garbage collectors would collect garbage and human waste separately so it could be reused for farming. The invention of the flush toilet was the point at which the standard shifted away from human waste collection. In fact, collecting human waste was common practice in China as recently as the 1970’s. Most societies felt it to be vital for the improvement of soil quality in their local farms.
These days the practice of recycling human waste has largely been reserved for environmentalists. Only extremists that felt the flushing of human waste was destroying our waterways would put forth the effort to reuse waste. However, recently there has been a resurgence of enthusiasm for this practice. Everybody from survivalists to organic farmers are looking at the benefits of farming with human waste. A great deal of credit for this new movement is due to Joseph Jenkins. Joseph is a rural contractor in Pennsylvania that has been using human waste in his garden for decades. He wrote The Humanure Handbook, which has been used as a guide for this transition ever since.
There are a wide variety of options available for the collection of human waste. These options range from a few dollars in cost to thousands of dollars depending on the comfort level you desire. There are professional, high quality systems that virtually feel like using a flush toilet and drop the waste down a pipe into a collection bin below the floor. On the low end, you can buy a toilet seat that snaps onto a five gallon bucket at most camping stores.
As a middle of the road option, you can build a DIY version of the Lovable Loo which is sold by Jenkins himself. This basically consists of a wooden cabinet with a quality toilet seat. Inside the cabinet there is a spot to snap a five gallon bucket into place. The finished product can be sanded and stained to look very nice.
One of the most difficult challenges of setting up a new collection system is finding a place for it. Most conventional bathrooms are small enough that you would likely have to remove your flush toilet to make room for a humanure toilet. If you are just using a camping setup, you probably have room to slide it beside the flush toilet or under the sink. However, the other options can be quite bulky. You may want to consider converting a closet in your home into a humanure bathroom so you have a bit more space.
While most people consider manure to be the ideal fertilizer for planting, urine is helpful as well. Modern fertilizers are typically made with Urea, which has the same elements as urine. You can leave the urine and feces together in your collection, or you can collect urine and feces in two separate containers. This allows you to dilute the urine down with five parts water and one part urine to be used as a liquid fertilizer.
The key to controlling the smell of your system is to add carbon-rich, biodegradable material each time you use the system. First, put down about a two inch layer in the bottom of your container. Then add more over top each time you use your system. You can use products from your local farm and garden store including sawdust, rice hulls, coco fiber, or shredded peat moss. All of these products aid in the composting process.
The next step is to transfer the waste to composting bins. Ideally you should set up three separate bins and fill the bottom of each with six to eight inches of composting material such as straw, leaves, or grass clippings. This will allow for proper drainage. Each time you dump a full bucket into the bin, add several inches of composting material on top. Then clean out the bucket with soapy water and disinfect it with diluted bleach before using the bucket again. As your pile gets larger, you should start creating a depression in the center of the pile before dumping your bucket. By putting the fresh humanure in the center of the pile, it breaks down faster. Each time you empty your bucket, add more composting material on top of the pile.
The other benefit of always adding your humanure to the center of the pile is that it eliminates the need for aeration. With other types of composting, the compost must be turned periodically with a pitchfork to supply air to the inner layers of compost. With humanure, you should never turn the compost. This keeps the human waste contained in the center. Once your first bin is completely full, let it sit untouched for one year before adding it to your garden. Then move on to start filling the second bin.
The short answer is, sometimes. When contained in a proper humanure composting bin, it is completely safe. Temperatures in the bin reach temperatures of over 160Fm which is plenty hot to kill harmful pathogens. In addition, the one year waiting period gives the compost time to become even safer. However, you should take precautions. Use gloves when handling the raw waste, and have a designated shovel for your compost bin. Label everything so children and strangers do not come in contact with the waste. Also, choose a location for your bins that will not flood.
As you can see, with a little additional effort you can start using your waste to enrich the soil in your garden. There is no need to be concerned about the smell, safety, or cost as long as the right steps are taken. If you would like to do additional reading on the subject, The Humanure Handbook is an excellent resource. Thank you for reading.