As our nation's infrastructure fails, we must figure out safe alternatives to managing our daily bodily "wastes." Despite people producing an estimated 320 pounds of poop per person yearly, our society pretends this personal daily activity doesn't happen. It's unhealthy to stifle open discussion on natural human bodily processes. Furthermore, I think it's harmful not to take ownership of your physical "wastes" and leave them for everyone downstream to deal with. Who says municipal sewage plants will always have access to chemicals or electricity to continue operations? If you are on a septic system — why not ditch the bitch and turn your humanure into one of your greatest assets?
We did this on our homestead, and I am about to show you how it's done. Not literally show you, of course, but I'll explain it all instead. So let's get into it! Since CM and I did not have the money to install a septic system to the tune of $20,000 we looked for more sustainable ways to deal with our daily doo. Thankfully, a man named Joseph Jenkins has already forged the path for us in The Humanure Handbook. This book is incredible. I appreciate Jenkin's detailed history of what past civilizations did to make use of this valuable resource while explaining modern techniques to deal with pathogens through composting.
Let's talk about this last point for a moment. Mr. Kunstler says that the future is based on small towns. I believe so too, so when I drive through the small village near home, I daydream about what it would take to keep this place civilized as best as local resources allow. For starters, the crucial consensus on what to do with the town's "waste" would have to be figured out from the get-go. If they don't, have fun permanently polluting surface water and groundwater. I could easily see all sorts of waterborne diseases reemerging once this happens. Without easy energy to help clean up polluted water systems, many folks will be shit out of luck trying to survive. Therefore, it will be prudent to figure out how to safely process your poop so you can get on all the other areas of your life that need resilience.
Here are the supplies you will need to make your humanure compost system. You can use any 5-gallon bucket or pail that makes it easy to deliver your poop and pee into each day. We made a small wooden frame with a plywood top cut out to accommodate a traditional toilet seat. The structure can fit a 5-gallon bucket with a lid underneath to collect the humanure. This makes it more comfortable to use. Then, we have a bucket with finely chopped dampened wood shavings from Tractor Supply next to the toilet as our cover material. When you are finished, this material is placed on top of the humanure and toilet paper. Covering the humanure helps to add microbes, soak up liquids, and reduces smells.
Covering the humanure also helps discourage insects from landing directly on your freshly deposited pile until you close the lid. After these steps are complete, we wash our hands and go about our day. Mr. Jenkins says to combine both urine and feces into the same bucket. This helps add moisture, and he says there is simply no reason to separate. The 5-gallon bucket needs to be emptied by the end of the week. Only two of us are using this bucket, so you will need to empty the bucket more frequently if you have a larger family. When it's time to empty the bucket, we take it out to the designated humanure compost pile, rake back the material from the week before, place the contents on top of that pile, and put more cover material on top of the fresh humanure. For us, the outside cover material is old hay and pine needles. Then, we clean the emptied bucket, dump that dirty water back into the compost pile, and put the bucket back in the bathroom.
Your sense of smell is an excellent tool to use in determining if you are correctly composting your humanure or not. If your pile smells bad, add more carbon. Carbon is any organic material brownish in color- straw, pine needles, wood shavings, chopped-up paper products, peat moss, dried hay, and leaves. Mr. Jenkins advises chopping up your carbon source into small, moist pieces (not soaking wet) to make it easier for the microorganisms to break down all of the material.
You will put all your bucket contents into one pile for an entire year. Make sure to build a large bin to accommodate your families' deposits for one year. Microbes and insects break down the material much faster in moist warm weather and slow down during winter.
First year's humanure bin
You can see in the above photo that our pile is a 3-sided bin with corrugated metal for the walls and 4 recycled 2x4 studs as corners. We had a sheet of metal on the front while using it but took that sheet off to use on the new pile we are developing. In our USDA hardiness zone 7, we have a native insect called a Black solider fly that is fantastic at breaking down our "waste." These beneficial fly larvae do a tremendous job consuming our organic matter and turning it into nutrient-rich compost.
Let your pile sit undisturbed once the bin is full for at least one year. You will then have another bin next to it and you will add your following year's worth of material. Once that second bin is full, your previous year's pile will be done composting, so you add that compost to your fruit trees and berry bushes. Most people recommend that you do not use your composted humanure on vegetables or around edible plant parts that could directly contact your composted humanure. Although Mr. Jenkins shows through soil testing that there isn't any risk, I prefer to put it around fruit and nut trees.
I highly recommend checking out The Humanure Handbook for a much more in-depth look into processing your "waste" into nutrient-rich compost. Once you overcome the silly stigmas surrounding poop and pee, you will probably feel weird flushing your natural fertilizer down the drain when you use restrooms away from home. I sure do. There is a diversity of composting toilets that you can choose from as well. The simplest and least expensive is the bucket option we use on our homestead. The more complex you make your system, the more expensive it is — so it will be up to you to decide what works best in your particular situation. Paul Chambers, an Australian, lives in a 40' shipping container, and he tried a more expensive composting toilet but decided that the bucket loo was much better for him as well.
I did want to mention that we compost our cat litter in the same pile as our humanure. As you recall, we are not using this finished compost on anything but trees and shrubs, so we are not concerned about contamination entering our food supply. Properly composted manure does not contain dangerous pathogens. We discontinued the awful clay litter for ground-up walnut husks, which are byproducts from the walnut industry in California. I did see corn and wheat byproduct litter at Petsmart, so those are other options. I am using litter that is 100% biodegradable to break down naturally in the compost pile.
If you live in an apartment, this living arrangement may not be conducive to composting humanure. However, to still build composting skills, a countertop worm farm would be a great alternative to increase your knowledge of the composting process. You are still taking potential organic "waste" from the trash and creating top-quality soil.
Properly dealing with your humanure will give you and your community a huge advantage over those who do not deal with their daily poop and pee. Although this is not a fun topic per se, everybody poos and we need sustainable ways of dealing with it for a nation in decline.
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