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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Humanure: it's all poop to me

Over at Root Simple, Mr. Homegrown has a very interesting post, Emergency Toilet Sanitation. In other words, where ya gonna poop when TSHTF? We cannot just throw the contents of our  chamber pots into the street like people in England did.

to spare you,
no pictures of

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 had its genesis in The Jungle  by Upton Sinclair. Theodore Roosevelt read the book and pushed through the legislation to protect the public from the meat-packing industry practices that Sinclair described. 

In The Jungle Sinclair describes how sewage flowed in open trenches in the street, down to a lake that held human waste. Rain carried it along to the lake and also caused it to overflow into streets, yards, and houses.  In the winter chunks of ice from the sewage-laden lake were cut and stored for the following summer. The ice with human waste bacteria sold from ice trucks, was served in hotels, and was common in the homes of the wealthy. We know that untreated sewage, sewage left to pollute our neighborhoods, our mountain streams, and the playgrounds of our children is not what we desire, based on our knowledge of pathogens.

Although the story took place in Chicago, IL, the horror of untreated sewage still looms in Third World countries. In the event of a catastrophe or a minor problem, do you want your children exposed to untreated sewage--human excrement? Do you want to step in your neighbors poop? Do you want the neighborhood poop in your garden? No, I didn't think so.

Root Simple is the first link on this post. Really, all you need is a five gallon bucket and a toilet seat and leaves. You now have a composting toilet. The Humanure Handbook has a drawing for a toilet, but I could never make that. Download the pdf and share it. After all, you want your friends and neighbors to know all about this. It might be your neighbor's poop into which you step. Lovely!

I am a confirmed, committed non-camper. But, I will do what needs to be done if the worst comes. A composting toilet saves a valuable resource, water, but it saves money for the consumer. Yes, I can be that parsimonious.

Your turn
Have you ever used any other toileting method than a flush commode? Are you a camper? Do you have a composting toilet?


  1. This, a sawdust toilet, is something that I am going to do when we get around to building the outside shower/laundry out the back.
    I think it is a great idea and have read Joe Jenkins ideas many times.
    Hubby is not as keen but I think it will be *fun* Different anyway.
    It is coffee time so I will go read that guy over at "Root Simple" now.

  2. That was a great book!
    Yes, we built a compost toilet for our farm and used it when we didn't have running water. We used sawdust and this really does keep the smell out. Its not a big deal really though it took some psychological adjustment. We are now keeping it in the cellar just in case! We didn't use the waste for compost. Instead, we dug a hole and buried it. Humanure takes some knowledge which we didn't have. One thing is to keep this toilet on the down low. Some areas have regulations against even having an outhouse! do you think golf courses keep their lawns so green? Yup, humanure. My husband travelled extensively through Asia as a young man. Humanure was pretty common there too.

  3. Barb, "fun" is not the word that comes to my mind. "Necessary" would be more my thought. I think everyone would be wise to have one for many reasons.

    LindaM, Even buried in a hole, do you know where it drains? Two years of composting is supposed to render the humanure safe. I have heard that Asians collect the humanure for even their crops. That makes me leary of China produce. I think it is great you have used a compost toilet. Having things set for emergencies would certainly make a change in routine less stressful. This neighborhood is over 100 years old, and all house once had an outhouse. However, one guy who had a body shop grandfathered in kept his outhouse that in the back corner of the shop, right outside the back door and attached to the building. Of course, this was his secret that everyone knew.

  4. But even as its composted, it drains into the soil. We don't have public water or plumbing if thats what you meant...we have septic and a private well- enclosed systems. Our holes in the ground drain to the water table like all things which can take years. Maybe I don't get it though. Am I wrong? I admit to assuming here because I'm used to thinking about public works rather than our clsed systems.
    Good for that outhouse owner!
    Are you going to make a compost toilet then?

  5. LindaM, When I was a child, we had an outhouse. None of us children were allowed to play near it. I don't think I ever used it. Hookworms can be found in the soil surrounding an outhouse. Properly placed holes for an outhouse or compost toilet disposal would ideally be placed where the contents do not come in contact with the water for a water supply. Yes, done properly, it should take years for the composted material to reach the water table. Incorrect placement is the problem. Outhouses were built on a hill or high place to prevent flooding. The pit needs to be placed where the water from rain or flooding cannot enter.

    Me? Build a compost toilet? LOL...I had a bucket and a toilet lid for comfort in mind. I would have to perfect my balancing act for that to work. But, I could do it if I had to. I'm not ready to give up amenities.Having dry leaves in the house would really aggravate my allergies to the point of illness. So, I won't do the compost toilet for any reason that absolutely necessary. But, I do applaud those who are less prone to allergies. Thanks for the vote of confidence, though.

  6. Overflow water is the problem, not when it the pathogens reach the water table. By then, all is well. Remember the pig farm where water flowed through pig waste and carried the e coli to spinach fields? Same principle.

  7. I see. Thats sort of what I was thinking. I didn't know that outhouses are pkaced on a slope though. Since we were being secretive about it, we dug a hoke in a far away shed, covered and not a drop of rain will ever find it!

    Its the height of the bucket that will throw you off, which is why we built a box. If you ever get ahold of free sawdust, that is the way to go. Leaves will work but sawdust is ideal if you can find it affordablly.

  8. I could get free sawdust. But, the preservative would be unsafe, released more easily into the air. I would want to make sure it was not treated wood. Besides, just going near sawdust chokes me. I cannot breathe around any small particles in the air. Fall and falling leaves cause me to be ill. I really hate that!

  9. Ideally, an outhouse is higher to prevent water from overflowing. However, building a berm around it works too. Some people don't have a hill or higher ground.


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