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Dealing with human body waste

As we have seen from the comments the single issue that everyone hit in the weekend challenge was dealing with their body waste. Considering that the challenge was only over two days I’m sure we can agree that longer term safe handling and disposal would become more of an issue so let us look at the options available now.

Currently we process our waste very efficiently by simply flushing it down our homes internal sewage system to either sewers which lead to sewage processing plants or to a local holding tank which has to be periodically emptied and the contents transported to the sewage processing plants. Alternatively, there are chemical toilets which are usually used for temporary toilet arrangements. The chemicals to make the process hygienic and hassle free.

After an event there will be no central sewage facility, water supply will stop and we will have to handle our own waste. We need to handle it hygienically, we need to ensure that we do not pollute anything as our own solid waste contains bacteria that can be fatal to us and it is spread very easily by touch and finally, we want to try and get what resources we can from the waste. We are after all animals and thus part of the cycle of life. So what options are available;

Liquid waste
Liquid waste is well worth using as it requires no processing to be useful. It is normally sterile when it leaves the body but quickly goes off. Only if someone is ill is their urine a risk. Either way, it is perfectly acceptable to deposit this waste into the garden as a fertiliser either, directly on to the soil or by depositing into a pot, diluting and pouring on the soil by the plants. Obviously try and be careful when depositing the waste as many people eat directly from plants, particularly fruit plants such as raspberries and strawberries, and the high levels of some nutrients can poison the plants. These deposits will add valuable nutrients to the soil.

Solid waste
There are several ways to process solid waste. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Chemical toilets
Although chemical toilets are viable for use there are three main issues that make them short term use only.

  • Eventually you will run out of chemicals for the toilet
  • Disposal of the chemicals will be an issue
  • The resources in the waste are lost

Thus I have a chemical toilet in my preparations with a good supply of chemicals. I will only use it when I am looking at keeping my profile low or whilst we on the move and not as a regular toilet facility.

Outside Latrine
One of the easy solutions. Simply set up an outside toilet facility which is basically a hole in the ground with a supported toilet type seat above the hole surrounded by a privacy screen. Find a location downhill or level and well away from your food, sleeping and work areas. Clear the area surrounding your chosen spot and dig a trench about 4 feet long, about a foot deep and about 9 inches wide. Put the toilet seat over the trench and surround with a privacy screen, fence panels or even a moveable shed if you have one. Then simply deposit your waste, no need for a receipt, and throw some earth, sawdust or other covering, no water though, to cover the waste and reduce smells. Move the seat along the trench as required and when half full, simply dig another trench in another location, fill in the used trench with earth from the new trench and then add the toilet seat and privacy shield in the new location. Simple and effective.

The downside is that;

  • You will eventually have several of these areas dotted all over your site. You will need to keep track of them
  • They are best in an out of the way location that you don’t use for food production, including animals who will dig up the waste
  • They can also pollute your water supply if you are not careful
  • Heavy rain can flood the trench and disperse the untreated waste

Self contained composting toilet
These are single units you can buy today to automatically compost your waste. A modern unit electronically heats and aerates the waste ensuring that it is processed correctly. They even separate your liquid waste off for you.

Disadvantages;

  • They need power to heat and aerate
  • Expensive

After an event you will then need to move the waste to a compost heap (next up) if the power is down. So handy now and a toilet container after an event.

Composting toilet
The best long term solution is a composting toilet or as it is more correctly called direct outdoor composting. Simply put this toilet converts solid waste into fertiliser for the garden in a similar way to an ordinary garden composter converts garden waste. Remember that horse manure, chicken manure, in fact all manure bar human manure is used as fertiliser untreated. (Note some countries do use human manure, called night soil, without treatment particularly China but remember when all our major pathogens come from such as Bird Flue etc. Best avoided.) Our manure is only different in only one way. The pathogens in our waste can make us ill and in fact can kill us. We need to ensure that our compost is handled correctly to ensure that we kill the pathogens and do not get any untreated waste on our hands or on our food. A composting toilet is used to destroy the pathogens and make our waste fit for use as fertiliser.

We set up our waste composter by making a toilet seat where you deposit the waste into a container like a pail. When finished your deposit you cover the newly deposited waste with sawdust or earth and that is it. When the pail is ready, depending on what you can carry you remove it and deposit the waste in a composter. Cleaning and replacing the empty pail back under the toilet. The waste in the composter will convert to usable waste in the same way that your garden waste converts to compost. It simply needs heat and air to break it down. Now it can convert to compost in a few months if kept at the right temperature and aerated correctly. It can take years though if it is colder and it is not aerated. This waste though needs to be fully converted before use. Even ordinary composters in the UK will convert this to useable compost in a year with a turnover of material every few months and a sealed compost heap to keep it warm. You can also use this as a normal composter but I will be keeping my human waste composter separate just to be safe.

Disadvantages are;

  • You need to ensure the pathogens are gone before use

Conclusion
If you can get a composting toilet now and use it instead of the one in the house. Saves water and provides compost. Then after an event set up a new compost heap for your waste and move the waste from the container into the new compost heap. Simple, self reliant, saves money now and be ready for anything.

7 comments to Dealing with human body waste

  • Skvez

    You sort of said this already but I wanted to re-iterate it:
    Human waste should *not* be used on crops for human consumption as the bacteria can survive into the plants and into the human to make them ill.
    However human waste can be used on crops for animal consumption if you intend to eat the animal. Something to do with bacteria being specialised for certain hosts or animals having stronger stomachs than we do.

    “You can pee on your peas but don’t poo on your peas, you can poo or pee on the pigs peas”.

  • Ellen

    Well I think the composting one would be good to keep the smell down.
    Read somewhere you can make a septic type out of a galvanized trash can. You put the can (with holes in it towards the top) in a pit with gravel and kinda a leech line off of it. And you use yeast or that septic stuff in it to eat up whatever it eats up. Put a board across ?with toilet seat? and you can put the lid on top to keep bugs, critters and such out. I will have to search for the link. That may take forever but anyway you get the idea.
    A OUTDOOR TOILET.

  • Ronnie

    Skvez,
    Like your one liner! Agree 100%. That is the ideal solution, and what we should be doing now. Use humanure for animal forage crops. The UK sewage system whilst impressive is a huge environmental problem. If we could find a way to use the majority of our humanure, our reliance on oil would be seriously reduced.

    Ellen,
    That sounds like a small version of what we have now. Being off the sewage system already, have a settling tank thing and then a soak away system. This would be quite a big project for anyone to try to do, but as already said, it is a major issue so maybe worth it.

  • Skean Dhude

    Ellen,

    That sounds like the solution to our weekend challenge problem where we do not have a composting toilet or chemical toilet but mains sewage. I’ll look at that.

    Skvez, Ronnie,

    Although I agree that you are best using humanure on animal crops the process used by the composting toilets produce compost that is safe for use on human food crops. The pathogens we are concerned about being destroyed by the composting process. I advocate a separate compost heap for human waste so you can handle it differently, ie for animal crops, but at the same time you can ensure this new heap is treated correctly, for example not used for three years or regular temperature monitoring, to ensure the waste is correctly composted. If you need to use it on human crops then you can.

    My own view is ensure it is treated correctly for primary use on animal crops whilst the ordinary compost is used on human crops. However, needs must, and if you have to use it on human food crops then do so. The risk of course is only if the waste is not composted correctly and only if it is on the crop itself. Mitigate this risk by ensuring the waste is fully composted, applying the compost into the ground rather than on the plants and washing the food before you eat it.

    The yuch factor though seems to be the major issue. I suspect that after an event we will be less bothered about it.

  • Skean Dhude

    Ellen,

    Spent some time looking for this type. There are several out there that are similar and can be of use. The issue however seems to be the disposal of the waste. The only method available to us, without outside aid, is burying the waste and the chemicals outside. Again it would have to be away from everything and imo is a waste.

    Of course for short term use we can use them and simply dispose of the waste when the system is back online. If it doesn’t come up or it takes a while then we have a disposal problem.

  • Hi,
    I recently watched TV programme by a well known presenter who wanted to live off-grid. He built himself a toilet where the waste went into a container something like an old gasometer. As the waste composted it gave a type of methane gas which was collected in the top of the tank. This was connected via a hose to his gas cooker and used for cooking. Is this a viable option for the use of human waste?
    Regards
    david

  • Skean Dhude

    David, Welcome.

    That is a perfectly acceptable way of using your waste. There are several options to deal with waste so pick one that is best for you.

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