Flushing the use of toilets
Advocates say human manure should be made into compost instead of being treated as waste.
Fri, Dec 11 2009 at 6:30 PM
Photo: ZUMA Press
Joseph Jenkins, author of the Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, thinks we should be turning our waste into compost, not flushing it down the toilet.
And, he’s not alone, according to a recent Time magazine piece. According to the story, Jenkins is part of a slowly growing movement to trade the traditional toilet in for a bucket. After all, when human manure is properly managed, it emits no odor. And, it makes great compost.
"It's an alternative sanitation system where there is no waste," said Jenkins.
According to the article, other ecologically minded city dwellers are catching on to the movement, such as Erik Knutzen, an eco-blogger in Los Angeles, who gave up his toilet in exchange for a big bucket after reading Jenkins' book.
And how does he flush? By throwing in a handful of sawdust, which helps neutralize smells and speed up the breakdown of material for compost.
Knutzen believes Jenkins' humanure system is more sanitary and more rational than the conventional alternative.
"Human waste is a perfectly good source of an important resource, nitrogen," he said. "Water is a valuable resource, too. Why mix the two and turn all of it into a problem?"
He has a good point. After all, treating wastewater is much more energy-intensive than composting, which requires little more than a year to completely decompose and eliminate pathogens.
Slowly but surely, cities are catching on to the concept. Just this year, a nonprofit called the Rhizome Collective in Austin, Texas, succeeded in getting the city to approve what is most likely the first legal composting toilet in the U.S., though it wasn’t easy.
"The hypocrisy is amazing," says Lauren Ross, a civil engineer involved in a four-year battle to get a permit. "The city will buy you a low-flow toilet, but they'll fight you all the way if you want to build one that uses no water at all."
In Marin County in California, the Marin Composting Portable Odorless Outhouse Project or MCPOOP is also trying to get the government to use humanure toilets. Though the group was created only a month ago, it has gotten the support of both the local environmental establishment and Marin County supervisor Steve Kinsey.
"The whole thing is like a good acid flashback," said Kinsey. "We approved several experimental permits like this in the '70s."
He believes that a small-scale municipal demonstration project could be under way in less than a year, something Jenkins is more than happy to hear about.
"On a small scale, my system works like a dream," he said. "But in order to do more research and development, I need to collect humanure on a larger scale."
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