Want to collect urine only? Maybe you want a urinal in a private office, bedroom or shop. Simply fill a five-gallon bucket with rotted sawdust or other suitable material, and put a tight lid on it. A bucket full of sawdust will still have enough air space in it to hold about a week's worth of urine from one adult. Urinate into the bucket, and replace the lid when not in use. For a fancy urinal, place the sawdust bucket in a toilet cabinet with a regular toilet seat. When the bucket is full, deposit it on your compost pile. The sawdust inhibits odors, and balances the nitrogen in the urine. It sure beats the frequent trips to a central toilet room that coffee drinkers are inclined to make, and no "soil nutrients" are going to waste down a drain.
READER WHY NOT PLACE THE COMPOST BINS
DIRECTLY UNDERNEATH THE TOILET?
The thought of carrying buckets of humanure to a compost bin can deter even the most dedicated recycler. What if you could situate your toilet directly over your compost bins? Here's some reader feedback:
"I finally write back to you after 2 1/2 years of excitingly successful and inspiring use of humanure methods applied to a 'direct shitter' compost. We indeed built a beautiful humanure receptacle 10 feet long, 4 feet high and 5 feet wide, divided into two chambers. One chamber was used (sawdust after every shit, frequent green grass and regular dry hay applications) from May 1996 until June 1997, then nailed shut. We moved to the second chamber until June 1998 — when with excitement mounting, we unscrewed the boards at the back of the "Temple of Turds" (our local appellation) and sniffed the aroma...of the most gorgeous, chocolate brownie, crumbly compost ever SEEN. Yes, I thrust my hands fully into the heavenly honey pot of sweet soil, which soon thereafter graced the foundations of our new raspberry bed. Needless to say, the resulting berries knew no equal. Humanure and the potential for large-scale . . . even a city size composting collection (apartment building toilets into a central collection dumpster), along with the crimes of the so-called "septic system," has become one of my most favored topics of conversation and promotion. Often through direct exposition at our farm. Many thanks for your noble work of art and contribution to this stinky species of ape." R.T. in CT
"People are saying that the Year 2000 computer problem could foul up a lot of stuff we usually depend on, all at once. I thought I'd give this Y2K Practice Day a try. Turn off the heat, lights, water and phones. Just for 24 hours. The day before Practice Day, I complained to Larry, telling him that I was bitterly disappointed not to try out an emergency toilet. This complaining really paid off. Larry, who's also a writer researching Year 2000 emergency preparedness, phoned a man named Joe Jenkins, author of a book called the Humanure Handbook. Joe reassured my husband of the safe, sanitary, and uncomplicated method for composting human waste. His solution is based on 20 years of scholarly study. It turns out that the thermophilic bacteria in human waste, when mixed with organic material like peat moss or sawdust, creates temperatures over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, rapidly killing pathogens just as Mother Nature intended.
We grew bold and daring and decided to use our emergency five gallon bucket with the toilet seat, layering everything with peat moss. Larry spent maybe a half hour building a special compost bin. This was right up his alley, since he already composts all the kitchen scraps, yard, and dog wastes.
Surprisingly, I found myself liking that little toilet. It was comfortable, clean, with no odor, just a slightly earthy smell of peat moss. The soul-searching came when I contemplated going back to the flush toilet.
By coincidence, I recently heard a presentation by the director of the local waste treatment facility. He was asked to address the issue of Year 2000 disruptions and explain what preparations were being made. In a matter-of-fact voice, he described what a visitor from another planet would undoubtedly consider a barbaric custom. First, we defecate and urinate in our own clean drinking water. In our town, we have 800 miles of sewers that pipe this effluent to a treatment facility where they remove what are euphemistically called solids. Then they do a bunch more stuff to the water, I forget exactly what. But I do remember that at one point, they dose it with a potent poison — chlorine, of course — and then they do their best to remove the chlorine. When all this is done, the liquid gushes into the Spokane River.
At this meeting was a man named Keith who lives on the shores of Long Lake, down river from us. Keith was quite interested to know what might occur if our sewage treatment process was interrupted. The waste treatment official assured him that all would be well, but I couldn't help reflecting that Keith might end up drinking water that we had been flushing. I like Keith. So I decided to keep on using my camp toilet.
My husband is a passionate organic gardener, at his happiest with a shovel in his hand, and he's already coveting the new compost. He's even wondering if the neighbors might consider making a contribution. I'm just grateful the kids are grown and moved out, because they'd have a thing or two to say."
Judy Laddon in WA (excerpted with permission)
humans. I would not agree that double pit storage is more appropriate than thermophilic composting unless it could be proven that human pathogens could be adequately destroyed using such a double pit system, and that such a system would be comfortable and convenient, would produce no unpleasant odor and would not require the segregation of urine from feces. According to Rybczynski, the double pit latrine shows a reduction of Ascaris ova of 85% after two months, a statistic which does not impress me. When my compost is finished, I don't want any pathogen threat lurking in it.
Ironically, the work of Franceys et al. further illustrates a "decision tree for selection of sanitation" that indicates the use of a "compost latrine" as being one of the least desirable sanitation methods, and one which can only be used if the user is willing to collect urine separately. Unfortunately, contemporary professional literature is rife with this sort of inconsistent, incomplete and incorrect information which would surely lead a reader to believe that composting humanure just isn't worth the trouble.
On the other hand, Hugh Flatt, who, I would guess, is a practitioner and not a scientist, in Practical Self-Sufficiency tells of a sawdust toilet system he had used for decades. He lived on a farm for more than 30 years which made use of "bucket lavatories." The lavatories serviced a number of visitors during the year and often two families in the farmhouse, but they used no chemicals. They used sawdust, which Mr. Flatt described as "absorbent and sweet-smelling." The deciduous sawdust was added after each use of the toilet, and the toilet was emptied on the compost pile daily. The compost heap was located on a soil base, the deposits were covered each time they were added to the heap, and kitchen refuse was added to the pile (as was straw). The result was "a fresh-smelling, friable, biologically active compost ready to be spread on the garden." 3
Perhaps the "experts" will one day understand, accept and advocate simple humanure composting techniques such as the sawdust toilet. However, we may have to wait until Composting 101 is taught at universities, which may occur shortly after hell freezes over. In the meantime, those of us who use simple humanure composting methods must view the comments of today's so-called experts with a mixture of amusement and chagrin. Consider, for example, the following comments posted on the internet by another "expert." A reader posted a query on a compost toilet forum website wondering if anyone had any scientific criticism about the above-mentioned sawdust toilet system. The expert replied that he was about to publish a new book on composting toilets, and he offered the following excerpt:
"Warning: Though powerfully appealing in its logic and simplicity, I'd expect this system to have an especially large spread between its theoretical and its practical effectiveness. If you don't have a consistent track record of maintaining high temperatures in quick compost piles, I'd counsel against using this system. Even among gardeners, only a small minority assemble compost piles which consistently attain the necessary high temperatures . . . Health issues I'd be concerned about are 1) bugs and small critters fleeing the high-temperature areas of the pile and carrying a coat of pathogen laden feces out of the pile with them; 2) large critters (dogs, raccoons, rats . . .) raiding the pile for food and tracking raw waste away; and 3) the inevitable direct exposure from carrying, emptying, and washing buckets.
Some clever and open-minded folk have hit on the inspiration of composting feces . . . by adding them to their compost piles! What a revolutionary concept! . . . Sound too good to be true? Well, in theory it is true, though in practice I believe that few folks would pass
Should a sawdust toilet be inside or outside?
Inside. It is much more comfortable during cold and wet weather. The contents of an outside toilet will freeze in the winter and will be very difficult to empty into the compost bin. Keep a clean layer of sawdust over the toilet contents at all times and you won't have any odor inside.
Can the sawdust toilet receptacle be left for long periods without emptying?
The toilet can sit for months without emptying. Just keep a clean layer of sawdust or other cover over the contents.
How full should the sawdust toilet receptacle be before it's emptied?
You know it's time to empty the toilet when you have to stand up to take a shit. Should a compost pile be separated from the earth by a waterproof barrier to prevent leaching?
Put a sheet of plastic under your compost and arrange it to drain into a sunken bucket if leaching is a concern. Any leachate collected can be poured over the compost. Otherwise, use an earth bottom.
What sort of seal should I use around the toilet seat lid?
You don't need a seal around the toilet seat lid. The "seal" is created by the organic material that covers the humanure. Can I use leaves as a cover material in my compost pile?
Leaves are great. Keep a bale of straw or hay around too, if you can. It will trap more air.
What about winter composting? Can I add to a snow-covered compost pile?
Just deposit on top of the snow. The main problem in the winter is the cover material freezing. So you need to cover your leaves, sawdust, hay, or whatever you use to prevent them from freezing so you can use them all winter long. I just throw a tarp over my outdoor pile of sawdust then cover that with a thick layer of straw, and there always seems to be a section of the sawdust that I can dig out, unfrozen, in the winter. Does a compost bin need to have an open side? Shouldn't a bin be enclosed in an urban situation?
You don't need an open side. Someone wrote to me from Manhattan who had installed sawdust toilets in a communal home, and he made a four sided bin (one side removable) with a heavy screen top to keep out anything that might want to try to get in (like flies, rats, skunks, snakes or politicians). That seemed like a good idea for a city situation (a screen bottom may be necessary too). I've also had people write to me from other large cities telling me they're now using sawdust toilets in the city, with a backyard compost bin. Wrap your bins in chicken wire if animals are a problem. Where do you keep your sawdust? I can't seem to decide where to store it.
I have lots of space and I just have a dump truck bring me a load of sawdust every year or two and dump it out by my compost bins. If I didn't have that option I might try using peat moss, which is handily packaged and could be kept indoors, or bag up sawdust in feed sacks (one of my neighbors did this), or use a three-chambered bin and put the sawdust in the center chamber.
How do I know the edges of the compost pile will get hot enough to kill all pathogens?
You will never be absolutely certain that every tiny bit of your compost has been subjected to certain temperatures, no matter what you do. If in doubt, let it age for an additional year, have it tested at a lab, or use the compost on non-food crops. Can I build my compost bin under my house and defecate directly into it?
Yes, but I have never tried this and can't personally vouch for it. What about meat and dairy products in compost?
They'll compost. Dig them into the top center of the pile, and keep it all covered with a clean, organic material.
What about building codes, septic permits, and other government regulations?
Some composters are inclined to believe that government bureaucrats are against composting toilets. This is more paranoia than truth. Alternative solutions are becoming more attractive as the sewage issue continues to get worse. Government agencies are looking for alternative solutions that work, and they are willing to try new things. Their concerns are legitimate, and change comes slowly in government. If you work cooperatively with your local authority, you may both be satisfied in the end. What about flies and rats in the compost?
Flies should not be a problem if the compost is adequately covered. If you have rats, you may have to envelope your compost bin in wire mesh if you can't get rid of them. Can I use softwood sawdust in my compost?
Yes. Make sure it's not from "pressure treated" lumber, cedar, or redwood. The sawdust can be moist, but shouldn't be wet. What about using railroad ties to make compost bins?
The creosote is not good for your compost. What about using dog doo in compost?
Use a separate compost bin because many dogs are not healthy and pass visible parasites, such as tapeworms, in their stools. Use a cover material, and let the compost age a year or two. Same for cats. What about coffee filters and barbecue ashes?
Throw coffee filters in your compost. Grounds, too, and even old coffee. Barbeque ashes? Maybe throw them in with the dog doo. Use that compost for planting flowers.
If I don't want to start using humanure in my compost now, could I do it on short notice in the event of a municipal emergency?
In the event of a serious municipal emergency, yes, you could immediately begin composting humanure, as long as you had a source of clean cover material (sawdust, leaves, etc.) and a compost bin. Compost works much better when you feed it manure and urine or other nitrogen sources (grass clippings and other greenery, for example), so you may find that humanure greatly improves your compost if you haven't already been adding other animal manures.
What is the hottest temperature you have recorded in your compost? Can it get too hot?
About 65 degrees Celsius (150F). Yes, it can get too hot (see Chapter 3). A cooler pile over a longer period is ideal. It's more likely your compost won't get hot enough. This is often due either to a dry pile (make sure you compost all urine), or to the use of wood chips (do not use wood chips — use sawdust).
Can you compost humanure with a large family? Would it be too labor intensive?
For a family of 6-10, depending on body weight, a five gallon compost toilet receptacle would fill daily. A bigger concern would be the supply of organic cover material, which would amount to about five gallons of volume daily also. What about composting on a flood plain? Would a pit latrine work better?
Don't compost on a flood plain. Don't use a pit latrine. What are some other compost bin designs?
One design consists of two concentric wire bins with leaves stuffed in between and the humanure going into the center. Another is a bin composed entirely of straw or hay bales. Another design consists of simple wooden pallets arranged on their sides and tied or screwed together to form compost bins. Do you recommend using chlorine bleach as a disinfectant?
No. It's an environmental contaminant. Try hydrogen peroxide or something more environmentally friendly if you're looking for a germ killer. Or just use soap and water.
all the little hurdles along the way to realizing these benefits. Not because any part of it is so difficult, just that, well, if you never ate sugar and brushed and flossed after every meal, you won't get cavities either."4
Sound a bit cynical? The above comments are entirely lacking in scientific merit and expose an "expert" who has no experience whatsoever about the subject on which he is commenting. It is disheartening that such opinions would actually be published, but not surprising. The writer hits upon certain knee-jerk fears of feco-phobes. His comment on bugs and critters fleeing the compost pile coated with pathogen-laden feces is a perfect example. It would presumably be a bad idea to inform this fellow that fecal material is a product of his body, and that if it is laden with pathogens, he's in very bad shape. Furthermore, there is some fecal material probably inside him at any given moment. Imagine that — pathogen-infested fecal material brimming with disease-causing organisms actually sitting in the man's bowels. How can he survive?
When one lives with a humanure composting system for an extended period of time, one understands that fecal material comes from one's body, and exists inside oneself at all times. With such an understanding, it would be hard to be fearful of one's own humanure, and impossible to see it as a substance brimming with disease organisms, unless, of course, oneself is brimming with disease.
The writer hits upon another irrational fear — large animals, including rats, invading a compost pile and spreading disease all over creation. Compost bins are easily built to be animal-proof. If small animals such as rats are a problem, the compost bin can be lined with chicken wire on all sides and underneath. The compost bins should have side walls such as pallets, straw bales, wood boards, or similar barriers to keep out dogs. A simple piece of wire fencing cut to fit the exposed top of the active compost pile will keep all animals from digging into it while allowing rain water to keep the pile moist.
The writer warns that most gardeners do not have ther-mophilic compost. Most gardeners also leave critical ingredients out of their compost, thanks to the fear-mongering of the ill-informed. Those ingredients are humanure and urine, which are quite likely to make one's compost thermophilic. Commercial composting toilets almost never become thermophilic. As we have seen, it is not only the temperature of the compost that destroys pathogens, it is retention time. The sawdust toilet compost pile requires a year's construction time, and another year's undisturbed retention time. When a ther-
mophilic phase is added to this process, I would challenge anyone to come up with a more effective, earth-friendly, simpler, low-cost system for pathogen destruction.
Finally, the writer warns of "the inevitable direct exposure from carrying, emptying and washing buckets." I'm not sure what he's getting at here, as I have carried, emptied and washed buckets for decades and never had a problem. Wiping one's butt after defecating requires more "direct exposure" than emptying compost, but I would not discourage people from doing it. It is quite simple to wash one's hands after defecating and after taking care of the compost, and as you can see, it's quite easy to get carried away with a frothing-at-the-mouth fecophobic frenzy.
Other recent experts have thrown in their two cents worth on the sawdust toilet. A book on composting toilets mentions the sawdust toilet system.5 Although the comments are not at all cynical and are meant to be informative, a bit of misinformation manages to come through. For example, the suggestion to use "rubber gloves and perhaps a transparent face mask so you do not get anything splashed on you" when emptying a compost bucket onto a compost pile, caused groans and a lot of eyes to roll when read aloud to seasoned humanure composters. Why not just wear an EPA approved moon suit and carry the compost bucket at the end of a ten-foot pole? How is it that what has just emerged from one's body can be considered so utterly toxic? Can one not empty a bucket into a compost pile without splashing the contents all over one's face? More exaggeration and misinformation existed in the book regarding temperature levels and compost bin techniques. One warning to "bury finished compost in a shallow hole or trench around the roots of non-edible plants," was classic fecopho-bia. Apparently, humanure compost is to be banned from human food production. The authors recommended that humanure compost be composted again in a non-humanure compost pile, or micro-waved for pasteurization, both bizarre suggestions. They add, "Your health agent and your neighbors may not care for this [sawdust toilet composting] method."
I have to scratch my head and wonder why the "experts" would say this sort of thing. Apparently, the act of composting one's own humanure is so radical and even revolutionary to the people who have spent their lives trying to dispose of the substance, that they can't quite come to grips with the idea. Ironically, a very simple sawdust toilet used by a physician and his family in Oregon is featured and illustrated in the above book. The physician states, "There is no offen-
Humanure is added to the author's compost bin, above, observed by Kathleen Meyer, author of How to Shit in the Woods. The humanure is deposited into the center of the pile while a thick layer of cover material remains around the outside edges. The deposit is covered immediately afterward. The bucket is then scrubbed and the rinse water poured into the pile. The compost bin is filled for a year, then allowed to age for a year. Below, the aged compost is applied to the spring garden. Photos by author except above, by Jeanine Jenkins.
The human nutrient cycle is completed by returning the household organic material to the soil in order to grow food for people. The author's garden is further amended with grass clipping mulch, a little annual chicken manure and leaf mulch in the fall. It is located immediately adjacent to the home as can be seen in the photo below as well as in the bottom photo on the previous page.
sive odor. We've never had a complaint from the neighbors." Their sawdust toilet system is also illustrated and posted on the internet, where a brief description sums it up: "This simple composting toilet system is inexpensive both in construction and to operate and, when properly maintained, aesthetic and hygienic. It is a perfect complement to organic gardening. In many ways, it out-performs complicated systems costing hundreds of times as much." Often, knowledge derived from real-life experiences can be diametrically opposed to the speculations of "experts." Sawdust toilet users find, through experience, that such a simple system can work remarkably well.
What about "health agents"? Health authorities can be misled by misinformation, such as that stated in the preceding accounts. Health authorities, according to my experience, generally know very little, if anything, about thermophilic composting. Many have never even heard of it. The health authorities who have contacted me are very interested in getting more information, and seem very open to the idea of a natural, low-cost, effective, humanure recycling system. They know that human sewage is a dangerous pollutant and a serious environmental problem, and they seem to be surprised and impressed to find out that such sewage can be avoided altogether. Most intelligent people are willing and able to expand their awareness and change their attitudes based upon new information. Therefore, if you are using a sawdust toilet and are having a problem with any authority, please give the authority a copy of this book. I have a standing offer to donate, free of charge, a copy of The Humanure Handbook to any permitting agent or health authority, no questions asked, upon anyone's request — just send a name and address to the publisher at the front of this book.
Well-informed health professionals and environmental authorities are aware that "human waste" presents an environmental dilemma that is not going away. The problem, on the contrary, is getting worse. Too much water is being polluted by sewage and septic discharges, and there has to be a constructive alternative. Perhaps that is why, when health authorities learn about the thermophilic composting of humanure, they realize that there may very likely be no better solution to the human waste problem. That may also be why I received a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services praising this book and wanting to know more about huma-nure composting, or why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote to me to commend the Humanure Handbook and order copies, or why the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection nominated Humanure for an environmental award in 1998. Fecophobes may think composting humanure is dangerous. I will patiently wait until they come up with a better solution to the problem of "human waste," but I won't hold my breath waiting.
This is an interesting topic. The cynic will believe that composting humanure must certainly be illegal. Afterall, humanure is a dangerous pollutant and must immediately be disposed of in a professional and approved manner. Recycling it is foolish and hazardous to your health and to the health of your community and your environment. At least that's what fecophobes may think. Therefore, recycling humanure cannot be an activity that is within the law, can it? Well, yes actually, the backyard composting of humanure is probably quite within the letter of the laws to which you are subjected.
Waste disposal is regulated, and it should be. Waste disposal is potentially very dangerous to the environment. Sewage disposal and recycling are also regulated, and they should be, too. Sewage includes a host of hazardous substances deposited into a waterborne waste stream. People who compost their humanure are neither disposing of waste, nor producing sewage — they are recycling. Furthermore, regarding the regulating of composting itself, both backyard composting and farm composting are generally exempt from regulations unless the compost is being sold, or unless the farm compost operation is unusually large.
To quote one source, "The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has established detailed regulations for the production and use of compost created from [organic material]. These regulations exclude compost obtained from backyard composting and normal farming operations. Compost from these activities is exempt from regulation only if it is used on the property where it was composted, as part of the farming operation. Any compost which is sold must meet the requirements of the regulations." 6
Composting toilets are also regulated in some states. However, composting toilets are typically defined as toilets inside which composting takes place. A sawdust toilet, by definition, is not a composting toilet because no composting occurs in the toilet itself. The composting occurs in the "backyard" and therefore is not regulated by composting toilet laws. Portable toilet laws may apply instead, although the backyard compost exemption will probably allow sawdust toilet users to continue their recycling undisturbed.
A review of composting toilet laws is both interesting and disconcerting. For example, in Maine, it is apparently illegal to put kitchen food scraps down the toilet chute in a commercial composting toilet, even though the food scraps and toilet materials must go to the exact same place in the composting chamber. Such a regulation makes no sense whatsoever. In Massachusetts, finished compost from composting toilets must be buried under six inches of soil, or hauled away and disposed of by a septage hauler.
Ideally, laws are made to protect society. Laws requiring septic, waste and sewage disposal systems are supposedly designed to protect the environment, the health of the citizens and the water table. This is all to be commended, and conscientiously carried out by those who produce sewage, a waste material. If you don't dispose of sewage, you have no need for a sewage disposal system. The number of people who produce backyard compost instead of sewage is so minimal, that few, if any, laws have been enacted to regulate the practice.
If you're concerned about your local laws, go to the library and see what you can find about regulations concerning backyard compost. Or inquire at your county seat or state agency as statutes, ordinances and regulations vary from locality to locality. If you don't want to dispose of your manure but want to compost it instead (which will certainly raise a few eyebrows at the local municipal office), you may have to stand up for your rights.
A reader called from a small state in New England to tell me his story. It seems the man had a sawdust toilet in his house, but the local municipal authorities decided he could only use an "approved" waterless toilet, meaning, in this case, an incinerating toilet. The man did not want an incinerating toilet because the sawdust toilet was working well for him and he liked making and using the compost. So he complained to the authorities, attended township meetings and put up a fuss. To no avail. After months of "fighting city hall," he gave
up and bought a very expensive and "approved" incinerating toilet. When it was delivered to his house, he had the delivery people set it in a back storage room — and that's where it remained, still in the packing box, never opened. The man continued to use his sawdust toilet for years after that. The authorities knew that he had bought the "approved" toilet, and thereafter left him alone. He never did use it, but the authorities didn't care. He bought the damn thing and had it in his house, and that's what they wanted. Those local authorities obviously weren't rocket scientists.
Another interesting story comes from a fellow in Tennessee. It seems that he bought a house which had a rather crude sewage system — the toilet flushed directly into a creek behind the house. The fellow was smart enough to know this was not good, so he installed a sawdust toilet. However, an unfriendly neighbor assumed he was still using the direct waste dump system, and the neighbor reported him to the authorities. But let him tell it in his own words:
Our primitive outhouse employs a rotating 5-gallon bucket sawdust shitter that sits inside a 'throne.' Our system is simple & based largely on your book. We transport the poop to a compost pile where we mix the mess with straw & other organic materials. The resident in our cabin before we bought the farm used a flush toilet that sent all sewage directly to a creekbed. An un-informed neighbor complained to the state, assuming that we used the same system. The state people have visited us several times. We were forced to file a $100 application for a septic system but the experts agree that our hilly, rocky house site is not suitable for a traditional septic system even if we wanted one. They were concerned about our grey water as well as our composting outhouse. My rudimentary understanding of the law is that the state approves several alternative systems that are very complicated and at least as expensive as a traditional septic. The simple sawdust toilet is not included & the state does not seem to want any civilian to actually transport his own shit from the elimination site to a different decomposition site. The bureaucrats tentatively approved an experimental system where our sewage could feed a person-made aquatic wetlands type thingie & they agreed to help us design & implement that system. Currently, we cannot afford to do that on our own & continue to use our sawdust bucket latrine. The officials seem to want to leave us alone as long as our neighbors don't complain anymore. So, that's a summary of our situation here in Tennessee. I've read most of the state laws on the topic; like most legal texts, they are virtually unreadable. As far as I can tell, our system is not explicitly banned but it is not included in the list of "approved" alternative systems that run the gamut from high-tech, low volume, factory-produced composting gizmos to the old fashioned pit latrine. For a while now, I've wanted to write an article on our experience and your book. Unfortunately, grad school in English has seriously slowed down my freelance writing."
In Pennsylvania, the state legislature has enacted legislation "encouraging the development of resources recovery as a means of managing solid waste, conserving resources, and supplying energy." Under such legislation the term "disposal" is defined as "the incineration, dumping, spilling, leaking, or placing of solid waste into or on the land or water in a manner that the solid waste or a constituent of the solid waste enters the environment, is emitted into the air or is discharged to the waters of the Commonwealth."7 Further legislation has been enacted in Pennsylvania stating that "waste reduction and recycling are preferable to the processing or disposal of municipal waste," and further stating "pollution is the contamination of any air, water, land or other natural resources of this Commonwealth that will create or is likely to create a public nuisance or to render the air, water, land, or other natural resources harmful, detrimental or injurious to public health, safety or welfare. . ." 8 In view of the fact that the thermophilic composting of humanure involves recovering a resource, requires no disposal of waste, and creates no obvious environmental pollution, it is unlikely that someone who conscientiously engages in such an activity would be unduly bothered by anyone. Don't be surprised if most people find such an activity commendable, because, in fact, it is.
If there aren't any regulations concerning backyard composting in your area, then be sure that when you're making your compost, you're doing a good job of it. It's not hard to do it right. The most likely problem you could have is an odor problem, and that would simply be due to not keeping your deposits adequately covered with clean, not-too-airy, organic "biofilter" material. If you keep it covered, it does not give off offensive odors. It's that simple. Perhaps shit stinks so people will be naturally compelled to cover it with something. That makes sense when you think that thermophilic bacteria are already in the feces waiting for the manure to be layered into a compost pile so they can get to work. Sometimes the simple ways of nature are truly profound.
What about flies — could they create a public nuisance or health hazard? I have never had problems with flies on my compost. Of course, a clean cover material is kept over the compost pile at all times.
Concerning flies, F. H. King, who traveled through China, Korea and Japan in the early 1900s when organic material, especially humanure, was the only source of soil fertilizer, stated, "One fact which we do not fully understand is that, wherever we went, house flies were very few. We never spent a summer with so little annoyance from them as this one in China, Korea and Japan. If the scrupulous husbanding of [organic] refuse so universally practiced in these countries reduces the fly nuisance and this menace to health to the extent which our experience suggests, here is one great gain." He added, "We have adverted to the very small number of flies observed anywhere in the course of our travel, but its significance we did not realize until near the end of our stay. Indeed, for some reason, flies were more in evidence during the first two days on the steamship out from Yokohama on our return trip to America, than at any time before on our journey." 9
If an entire country the size of the United States, but with twice the population at that time, could recycle all of its organic refuse without the benefit of electricity or automobiles and not have a fly problem, surely we in the United States can recycle a greater portion of our own organic refuse with similar success today.
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