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humanure. there, I said it

April 12, 2011

This may not be the most tasteful topic to broach since my last post ended with

some delectable shots of a SPAM omelette and oat/walnut/blueberry/chocolate

pancakes.  In another sense it’s perfectly logical.

Humanure.  Not Humanure, the album by the death metal/grindcore/vegetarian

band Cattle Decapitation, featuring the song “Cloacula: The Anthropophagic Co-

promantik”.  No, I’d much rather discuss the loftier topic of composting human


The word was made popular by Joseph Jenkins in The Humanure Handbook, first

published in 1994 and now in its 3rd edition.  He’s not referring to the sewage from

waste treatment facilities.  That can also contain industrial waste and pharmaceu-

ticals.  Estrogen in waste water, both in its natural form and in discarded birth

control pills, is already causing problems like skewed gender ratios and reduced

fertility in vulnerable species like fish.

To paraphrase Harold Hill in The Music Man, we got trouble right here in the river.

Jenkins’ focus is simple: your feces and urine goes into a bucket in a compost toilet,

along with toilet paper and a coating of sawdust. The sawdust and a snug-fitting seat

and lid eliminate unpleasant smell.  The bucket is emptied into compost bins that

may set for months or even years, depending on how you want to use the final


The upside of humanure is incredible.  It eliminates flushing, which is 30% of an

average household’s water use.  Reduced water usage reduces the GHG emissions

necessary to get clean water to your house and sewage away from it.  Returning

properly treated waste to the earth prevents soil degradation and ground contam-


It also puts nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, carbon and calcium

back to work.  You save time, money, gas and avoid the frustrations of shopping by

making your lawn and garden fertilizer.  And you get more exercise by composting.

The downside is the squirm factor.  We’re used to flushing away the natural yield of

our bodies.  What had recently been a romantic dinner with our sweetie becomes

something so offensive that we have dozens of obnoxious slang words for it.  I’m not

asking you to embrace humanure.  But please consider it as an innovative way to

save and reuse resources.

I realize that this might never be a widespread solution.  I can’t see, for example,

how it could work in an apartment building.  But home owners willing to challenge

building codes and health regulations could make a huge difference as resources


It’s high on our to-do list at the farm.  Jude and I have the added incentive of a full

septic tank.   We’ll keep you in the loop with tasteful photos.  In the meantime, I’m

going to fix a breakfast of reheated pancakes and SPAM fritters.

  1. April 12, 2011 8:51 am

    I’ve been looking at Clivus Multrum toilets since I first heard of them in the 70’s. My mom’s best friend, now in her 80’s, lives in Oregon, and has been composting her own waste for years.

    Yes, there is the squirm factor,but if we can get past that and put back in the earth all of the lovely fertilizer we produce, then there may be hope for us yet!

    • April 12, 2011 9:33 am

      I just checked the Multrum website and would guess that it’s on the high end of the industry. The fellow who installed our micro-hydro/solar system also sells composting toilets, mostly to rich retirees moving to the islands. He
      said his most popular model cost $1000. We hope to make ours for under $100.

  2. rochelle needham permalink
    April 12, 2011 1:45 pm

    Wow – I love AnchorStruck!
    That’s amazing you guys were able to move to Canada.
    My husband Gary and I kinda, sorta dropped out – we retired at 55 and moved to Crested Butte, CO high in the Rockies.
    I can’t wait to read about the sex addicts in the art museum!!! Ha

    • April 12, 2011 2:31 pm

      Thanks, Rochelle. I hope you keep returning to read the back story, too. Are you sure you’re 55? The last time I saw you, you were 26, 27 tops.

      • rochelle needham permalink
        April 12, 2011 11:00 pm

        LOL – I think I was 23? last I saw you! I enjoyed reading how you met your wife and moved to Canada.

      • April 13, 2011 9:06 am

        What a long, strange trip it’s been.

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