Reusing human waste saves water, reduces fertilizer use
We live in a society that produces more waste than any other era in history. Plastic, styrofoam and aluminum wrap around every commercial purchase, food, clothing or a house. For the sake of convenience, we have manipulated our society to think short-term, to turn a blind eye to filth and to create this imaginary place called “away.” In reality, nothing goes away. It ends up in landfills or the North Pacific Gyre, an area now twice the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, filled with garbage.
There is no such thing as away.
Garbage has begun to take a progressive step, with recent trends of recycling and composting food waste. Some people actually think about how much waste they produce. Trash is tangible, voluminous and measurable. People can assess their impact by looking at their reduction of waste as it gets separated into distinct bins. Unfortunately, I have bad news.
Within each household, there is another type of waste. A resource we use inexhaustibly to keep our homes, clothes, pets, teeth, body and toilet seats clean. A resource 1.1 billion people on the planet do not have safe access to, one that inflicts illness on five hundred thousand to seven million people annually, and a resource that is quickly running out.
Of all water used daily in American households—for showering, laundry, lawn care, drinking, and flushing toilets—how much would you guess is spent on what? Today, 30% of municipal water, clean drinking water, is used to flush our shit. That means the amount of water one person uses to a flush a toilet in a year is equivalent to forty years of drinking water for that same person! It looks like we are about to start drowning in our well-watered feces.
So what’s the solution? Humanure: composting our own waste.
This system would mean depositing into a pit rather than a bowl of fresh drinking water. It would mean building organic, nutrient-rich soil instead of buying tons of fertilizer. It would mean taking the $5 billion America flushes down the toilet annually and putting it towards needed change. Humanure, human-manure, is literally the best thing since sliced bread.
Dig a hole above a movable structure or put a barrel underneath a conventional toilet. The toilet feeds a large metal barrel constructed with an aeration tube to avoid anaerobic soil. A carbon-nitrogen balance is needed for proper decomposition, so the only unusual feature is a bucket of nitrogen clippings next to the toilet and biodegradable toilet paper. Deposit, throw in a scoop of clippings, and when the hole or barrel fills, move the structure or barrel and plant a tree or use for tree soil—incredibly nutrient-rich soil awaits.
Implementing humanure nationally is not going to be an easy job. It is going to mean a re-envisioning of our current mindless, wasteful ways. It is going to mean allowing children to drink clean water to live an extra day instead of putting that water into our toilet bowls.
However, we have come to a critical point. It is time to take action, to put our potty mouths in the open, and to realize where feasible solutions to our global water crisis can be addressed. Let’s stop drowning ourselves in crap and advocate for humanure.
Filed under: Opinion