I’m going to use a dirty word. It’s a word that will stop all conversation in the room. People find it shocking…appalling. Use this word and others will question your sanity. In short, hilarity ensues.
You are, quite literally, full of crap. It’s a fact. You produce it at intervals throughout the day. What do you do with it? Do you pollute drinking water to make it magically go away? Where does it go? Do you have a septic tank? How often do you have to get that pumped out? Where does it go from there? Do you live in town? Where does that go? Sewage treatment plant.
Sewage treatment, under ideal circumstances, separates liquids from solids in several stages after removing odd bits of trash. The trash and a large portion of solids head to the landfill. That’s nice but what happens when it rains? From a Wisconsin newspaper from October of 2010:
In all, about 9.1 billion gallons of untreated sewage-contaminated water — enough to fill 457,000 backyard swimming pools — were released into the environment by 276 villages, cities, counties and sewage districts on 1,198 occurrences statewide since Jan. 1, 2006, according to data collected by the DNR and analyzed by The Post-Crescent. The wastewater overflows happened in 58 of the state’s 72 counties, including throughout the Fox Valley.
Rain was listed as the cause of nearly 80 percent of the overflows since 2006.
The article linked above lists some truly horrifying stats on sewage overflows. Nearer to home, I remember an event causing the sewage treatment plant in Jacksonville, IL to overflow, putting the city on a boil water order. Let me say that differently. Because of rain, everybody’s doody mixed with the drinking water. The solution was to boil the doody-water so it would be safe to drink.
Tell you what. You can boil your doody-water all you want. I’ll make you a promise. It won’t be my doody in the water. OK? I have a better solution all of us can embrace. Ready? Compost.
I found Joseph Jenkins’ Lovable Loo some time ago. We needed a solution for the barn as we were potty-training our daughter. Plus our septic tank had failed and we were pretty desperate for an inexpensive solution. Enter the eco-potty.
Jenkins’ excellent book describes a method of collecting our various biological deposits (wastes is the wrong word) in a bucket. Everything goes in the bucket. Everything. Each deposit is covered with sawdust. There is no smell. Let me repeat that. There is no smell. We go through a bucket for each person in the house each week and use nearly a bucket of sawdust for each bucket we fill. This is not a composting toilet, just a receptacle.
We compost our wastes on site. Nobody hauls, pumps, aerates, filters or chops our waste. It doesn’t have a chance to pollute fresh water. More importantly, no Persians were shot to make the transportation of my doody cheaper. We just carry the bucket to this year’s compost pile, open the pile and dump the bucket. It really is just a bucket of wet sawdust when we dump it out. Then we rinse (using rainwater when it rains (remember rain?)), wash with a biodegradable soap and rinse again. The clean buckets sit in the full, sterilizing sun until we’re ready for them again.
We continue adding humanure to the compost pile for a full year. At the end of the year we begin a new pile. I don’t turn the compost because
A. that’s gross
B. that’s too much like work.
We just open the top, pour new stuff in and cover it all up again. Then the pile sits unattended, unloved and untouched for another year. By that time the material has cooked itself thoroughly, cooled and has been sifted, sorted and sterilized by earthworms. Any bits of plastic or whatever are sterile and can be sifted out easily. We also compost roadkill animals, chicken offal, pig heads and whatever else we can come up with but I’ll cover that in a separate blog post.
Jenkens uses his humanure compost on his garden after 2 years. I have enough other sources for compost and enough need for compost other places that I choose not to. It is uncomfortable enough asking guests to use a bucket. It’s more uncomfortable to say, “Hey, remember when you were here 2 years ago and used the bucket? I used that to grow tonight’s dinner!” Nah. Our pastures will benefit from the compost and we’ll use the composted winter animal manures on the garden…mostly chicken manure. Somehow that’s less icky from a guest’s perspective. Now, the EPA disagrees and says it’s no big deal. It is unusual for me to quote a government alphabet soup agency in a positive way but let me state clearly that I am in favor of using biosolids in agriculture. That’s kind of the point. I think the municipal collection is wasteful, inefficient and unsustainable but since we have it let’s put it to good use. But far better is to gather your own waste and deal with it yourself. That may not be easy for appartment dwellers but I’m sure we can find a workable solution. In a normal world, companies would pay you to collect and process your biological wastes…but we don’t live in a normal world (IMHO, largely due to alphabet soup agencies). All that said, I promise you, when you’re at my house eating food from my garden you aren’t eating people doody. Just composted chicken, cow, pig, goat, worm, duck, toad, snake, mouse doody mixed with a dead baby bird or two that fell out of a nest in a windstorm.
“OK. Fine.” you say. “I’m willing to try it if you can prove to me it really saves any water. I mean, I have a low-flow eco toilet that I sometimes have to flush twice if I want to “deliver the mail”…but it says it’s eco!” Did your water bill go down by 30% when you started using your double-flush low-flow toilet? Our water bill went down by 30% immediately.
It deserves more excitement than that. We have saved at least $500 on water since we began using the toilet 14 months ago. I think that’s pretty cool. On top of that, I have an enormous pile of…compost I can spread on my fields.
This post is more “how-we” than “how-to”. In fact, it really just introduces the concept. For the real how-to I have to suggest Jenkins’ book and his series of Youtube videos. Outside of those two resources, let me know if you need more detail or if you have any questions. The best thing you can do is just get a couple of buckets and take it for a test drive.