Does the Idea of Composting Poop Offend You?

Did you know that governments all over the world support the composting of human feces?  Countries such as the United States, Ireland, the U.K., Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, and Sweden? 
Recently someone told me that they had moved to Lake Michigan several years ago so that they could swim every day.  They love to swim.  Unfortunately, two of his dogs have died, both from the blastomycosis fungus.  They mentioned that the fungus appears to plague Lake Michigan, and is harmful or even fatal to dogs, and even people sometimes.  He also mentioned that the dumping of human feces into Lake Michigan could be a contributing or exacerbating factor in the presence of the fungus in the Lake.  As a result, he no longer feels he or his dog can go near even the water’s edge.
This person happened to see the pretty silver garbage can that was near my front porch and asked what was inside.  I explained that I keep wood sawdust in the can that I get from a local woodshop.  I explained that I put some sawdust at the bottom of the ‘garbage can’ i keep in my kitchen (it’s actually a 5-gallon bucket) to absorb moisture and odors from the food waste I put into it.  I explained that its also a nice bonus to be able to have a mix of food waste and carbon as I then take the food waste to a local composting site licensed by the city.
I explained that putting our food waste into the landfill causes problems, just like putting our human waste (poop) into Lake Michigan causes problems.  Unfortunately the dumping of human feces into Lake Michigan is indeed a common occurrence.  Therefore, it would be really nice if everyone took their food waste to the composting site, and it would also be nice if we all embraced the composting of human feces.  The City of Milwaukee already processes human waste into a product, called Malorganite, so the concept of composting human waste shouldn’t be that shocking; however, it was to this person.  They actually were very angry of the concept of composting human feces.
Does the idea of composting human feces make YOU angry?  If it does, ask yourself, why does this make me angry?  Feces come out of my body, and come out of your body.  Shouldn’t we take responsibility for our own waste?
The interesting thing is that many governments worldwide not only encourage their citizens to compost or process their own feces at home, but these governments have actually passed laws or codes to guide their citizens in the process!
In this post I’d like to share some examples of these government endorsements of composting human waste.  I’m hoping this will help legitimize and normalize the concept of composting human feces for anyone who finds this topic upsetting.
At the end of the post, I also share a list of excellent resources for those who want to learn more about how to compost human waste and do so correctly and safely.  Some of this information was sourced from a reed bed expert in Ireland, named Feidhlim Hartey.

Public Authority Endorsement Worldwide

“Public authorities are increasingly taking a more proactive approach towards compost toilets.  In some countries the use [of compost toilets] is so taken for granted that specific infrastructure is available.

For example, in Holland the use of dry toilets is relatively commonplace on the canal house-boats.  In that instance a urine-separating remote-composting toilet model (Nonolet Recreatie) is sometimes used and the resulting dry solids material is simply lifted out in a purpose-made biodegradable bag and placed in the local authority “greens” bins for removal and municipal composting.  Note that this practice would only be appropriate where it is specifically accepted by the local authority, as it is in Holland, and where the composting set-up is sufficiently controlled for adequate break-down of pathogens.” – Feidhlim Hartley

“In addition to the reference to compost units in the EPA Code of practice in Ireland, they have been detailed in other (Irish) EPA and government documents both in Ireland and elsewhere.  It is clear from this sample of international government agency documentation that humanure composting is a widely accepted form of sanitation that offers much in terms of water conservation, water pollution prevention and sustainability.  Some examples of relevant guidance documents or government reports include the following:

Dubber, D and L Gill (2013) EPA STRIVE programme 2007-2013. Water Saving technologies to reduce water consumption and wastewater production in Irish households. EPA, Wexford.

EcoSanRes (2008) Guidelines for the Safe Use of Urine and Faeces in Ecological Sanitation Systems. EcoSanRes and Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden. The EcoSanRes programme is funded by the government agency SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency).

EcoSanRes (2008) Guidelines on the Use of Urine and Faeces in Crop Production. EcoSanRes and Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden.

Environment Agency (2008) Regulatory considerations for disposal of solid and liquid wastes from composting toilets. Environment Agency, UK.

Environment Alliance (2006) Pollution Prevention Guideline No. 4 – Treatment and disposal of sewage where no foul sewer is available. Environment Alliance (Environment and Heritage Service, Scottish EPA, UK Environment Agency), UK.

EPA Victoria (2013) Guidelines for Environmental Management: Code of Practice – Onsite Wastewater Management. EPA Victoria, Australia.

Ormiston AW and RE Floyd (2004) Auckland Regional Council Technical Publication No. 58 (TP58) Onsite Wastewater Systems: Third Edition. ARC Technical Publication 2004, Auckland Regional Council/Te Rauhitanga Taiao, New Zealand.

US EPA (1999) Water Efficiency Technology Fact Sheet – Composting Toilets. USEPA, Washington DC.

US EPA (1980) Design Manual – Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems. US EPA, Office of Water Program Operations and Office of Research and Development Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory. USA 

Waitakere City Council (2008) Waitakere City Council’s Sustainable Home Guidelines – Wastewater. Waitakere City Council, Wellington, New Zealand.

West SM (2003) Innovative On-site and Decentralised Sewage Treatment Reuse and Management Systems in Northern Europe & the USA. Report prepared to benefit the Sydney Water Corporation, Australia. (Sarah West is also the author of the Victoria EPA Code of Practice)

– Feidhlim Hartley
If you’d like to learn more about how to face and deal with your human waste responsibly, check out these fabulous resources:
Feidhlim Harty created a business in Ireland named FH Wetland Systems, from which he designs professional systems which are mainly soil-based constructed wetlands, gravel reed bed systems and willow filters. As far as he knows, “those systems would all work – with careful design – in United States midwest freezing winters.  Feidhlim says that there are successful examples of these strategies built in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Minot-ND, all of which have seasonal effectiveness, but are built to cater for the lowest efficiency times of year.”  Feidhelm has two amazing books, the most recent one published in November 2017.
  1. “Septic Tank Options and Alternatives – Your Guide to Conventional, Natural and Eco-friendly Methods and Technologies” is geared toward the homeowner, not industry.  Feidhelm says “it’s quite a general overview of the options available; but whereas the EPA Code of Practice (Irish government standard for domestic wastewater systems – free to download from their website via http://www.wetlandsystems.ie/links.html) gives a good overview of most systems, including reed beds and wetland, it does not include willow systems or dry toilets.  In my mind I was writing the alternative code [in my book].”  Each page is dedicated to a different system, covering all the systems available (in general terms) in Ireland at the time of writing, and in addition has notes on how to inspect and maintain a septic tank system.  “It’s not all about reed beds, wetlands and dry systems – although those are covered.” – Feidhlim Harty
  2. In “Permaculture Guide to Reed Beds,” Feidhlim Harty goes into significant detail on designing, building, and planting wetland treatment systems. The book is largely focused on constructed wetlands, horizontal flow reed beds, and vertical flow reed beds for treating household effluent. The author makes an effort to encourage environmentally friendly options while still maintaining system and operator safety. Included in this book are plenty of details for meeting code requirements in Ireland and the UK.
  3. A discussion of reed beds designed for cold freezing climates can be found at http://www.permies.com: https://permies.com/wiki/88761/Permaculture-Guide-Reed-Beds-Feidhlim
  4. “Anna Eday (solviva.com) is another excellent source of information for setting up a grey water system, if you’re interested. Unfortunately in the regulatory context in Ireland and the UK (as in Eday’s Massachusetts), woodchip filter systems have yet to receive the research and legislative blessing needed to adopt them as part of your main planning permission process. Doesn’t mean they’re not effective – just that they’re not yet a legal option for new houses.” – Feidhlim Harty
  5. You can find Feidhlim Harty weighing in a number of topics on the permies forums here: https://permies.com/forums/search/search/-1?match_type=all&sort_by=time&q=Feidhlim+Harty&groupByTopic=true
  6. The Humanure Handbook

 

Happy Pooping! 🙂

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