Poo is a crappy subject, but one worth covering; particularly because it allows me to use a lot of old puns – it’s not often I get to giggle like a schoolkid when writing – I think the last piece where I did was my item “Kangaroos don’t fart” :).
Poop fascinates me. When I’m out in the bush, you’ll often find me poking around in animal poop to learn more about what they eat, how long ago they visited that spot and how they digest. It’s a boy thing I’m told, but maybe it’s just a Michael thing too.
Poo was part of my career at one stage – contract cleaning. I developed an odd relationship with it and cleaning up other people’s sh** was a great leveler. The first lesson I learned is never brush a toilet with your mouth open. True story, one that I don’t think I need to go into any more detail about – you can probably guess.
My preoccupation with animal poop aside, it’s a serious topic. Poo is good.. sometimes. Chook poop, horse dung, cow patties; all sorts of poo makes for wonderful fertilizer. It’s quite likely that some of the food you eat has been grown in amongst poop of some type.
Human poo certainly doesn’t have that good earthy vibe to it given our diets (unless you’re a vegan) and what we usually do with it is a crime against the environment; even in countries with good sanitation. For example, we usually waste around 2 to 3 gallons of water flushing our blind mullets away. Let’s see.. there’s around 300 million people in the USA; multiply that by a conservative 2 gallons and times that by 365:
219,000,000,000 gallons of water used each year just to flush no.2’s – add to that no.1’s and the figure is astronomical!
Speaking of no. 2’s, did you know that phosphorous which is used extensively in agriculture is in short supply around the world and that human urine is a rich source of it? We’re flushing yellow, I mean gold, down our drains! Yes, your pee is precious!
My grandfather was a prisoner of war in World War Two and urine was used on prison gardens – it’s likely without it, he would have been far more malnourished than he was when the war ended.
On top of all the water we waste, a great deal of energy and chemicals go into treating our waste once it hits the sewage plant; where they are in place. Additionally, over 2.6 billion people still do not have access to any form of improved sanitation that doesn’t pollute water and soil.
As on the nose a topic it may seem to be, it’s time we started tapping into these great resources which will also allow us to decrease our environmental impact.
Roughing it and pooping
Living rough at times out in the boonies, I’ve had to deal with this issue head on (hehe). I’ve used chemical toilets, but with low impact non-formaldehyde based substances.
While these toilets use as little as a cup of water for flushing; emptying and cleaning them is, well, put it this way, it looks nothing like the ocean blue fluid portrayed on the box that the toilet comes in. I have a strong stomach, but it’s a job I used to dread; particularly after a week long trip. What you save on the flushing may also be made up in keeping the darned things clean.
I’ve tried the more natural way – a simple hole in the ground. It’s quite liberating to be in the great outdoors and unshielded, but it turns out I have poo thieves on my patch – they were raiding at night and digging it up. Yech. One day, I’ll figure out what type of animal would do such a thing, but I’ve found a way to thwart them – simply dig the hole deeper.
My waste then becomes fertilizer for the surrounding trees; i.e. humanure. But even this way isn’t entirely efficient or earth friendly; as real composting requires the presence of oxygen – so I’ll be altering this strategy further.
It also may be an ok approach if you have acreage without any neighbors close by, but I’m sure the local authorities would jump on you pretty quickly if you started digging holes in your back yard – and anyway, with a family of 4, you’d like soon run out of space to do so, not to mention a window box is probably totally unsuitable for apartment dwellers too.
We need to approach the dealing of human waste in suburbia in a more realistic way – such as the use of composting toilets.
Composting toilets and blackwater recycling
A composting toilet simply breaks down nasty, smelly poop into dirt – yep, soil, and nutrient rich soil at that. It basically works like most composting processes through the assistance of aerobic microbes that oxidize the carbon in waste to carbon dioxide, and the evaporation of water content through heat. The heat created in the process also helps to destroy pathogens and any disease.
What’s left over after 3 – 6 months of composting is around 10% of the original volume and a product that can be safely spread on your garden. It really is amazing how much stuff breaks down when composted; in our family of four, which consists of a vegan and two veggie lovers (I’m the carnivore), we have never been able to fill our worm farm to capacity; all the veggie scraps basically break down to nothing – it’s the same sort of principle with composting toilets.
Yet another option is a blackwater recycling system which processes everything that goes down the drain in your house; including the toilet. In places where a composting toilet isn’t acceptable, a blackwater recycling system is the next best thing – we’ve had one and I can highly recommend them.
Composting toilets and blackwater systems are a little pricey, so there are other options which involve the use of a couple of buckets peat moss, sawdust, or even shredded junk mail to act as composting medium; perfectly hygienic, but again – your local authorities may feel otherwise.
Even if it is illegal in your town or state to create humanure without a fully approved composting toilet; I feel it’s vital to know how to deal with your waste in case of disaster. One of the major killers after a disaster is disease; usually spread by faeces. What would you do in your household if the sewerage system suddenly stopped working in your area?
The Humanure Handbook
I’m certainly not an expert on the topic of humanure, but someone who knows far more than me is Joseph Jenkins; who published an incredibly informative and in-depth book called “The Humanure Handbook”. One of the wonderful things about this book is you can read its entire contents online free or download a PDF version (20 megabytes); which is also free.
I think Mr. Jenkins should have been right up there amongst candidates such as Al Gore for the last round of Nobel peace prizes for his contribution to raising awareness regarding human waste management.
Even if the thought of humanure makes you wrinkle your nose a bit, consider downloading and reading a copy of The Humanure Handbook as part of emergency planning. You never know when you may need that knowledge!
Ok, now I’ve got all that out of my system (giggles) I’ll now return you to your usual GLT programming.
Do you have a composting toilet? Please share your experiences below. I mean general experiences of course, not detailed descriptions of incidents of use ;).