Turning Human Waste into Compost: Humanure

by Catherine Haug

Some time ago I posted an article What Makes your Compost Tick? which explores the science behind the optimum conditions for making compost. I drew largely from the book The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, but the principles also apply for composting without human waste.

Our current ‘sanitary’ methods of dealing with human waste (community sewer treatment systems or septic systems) are vastly inferior to composting our waste, in part because of the amount of energy required to run and maintain the systems. And they don’t do a good job of eliminating pathogens and pharmaceuticals, resulting in ground water pollution.

Composting the waste, on the other hand, is 100% natural and requires only human energy to create and compost the waste. And when done properly, will eliminate all pathogens and break down many pharmaceuticals.

For another take on composting human waste, check out Your Crap, Our Compost: Turning Human Feces into Fertile Soil by Nance Klehm, from alternet.org. From the article:

“A generally fecal-phobic society reacts to the thought with a mix of snickering interest and fearful aversion, all dispatched in a single flush. But Nance Klehm, 43-year-old urban forager and grower, transforms human excrement into nutritious soil one bucket at a time. … ‘I’m not treating it chemically. I trust microorganisms to do it for me,”’Klehm says.”

This system is NOT a composting toilet, which uses chemicals and does not fully compost the waste.  You can make your own toilet and compost bin with found materials.

If anyone is interested in this technique, you can check out my copy of The Humanure Handbook; just send me a note to cat(at)essentialstuff.org. Or peek inside the book on Amazon: Humanure Handbook.

2 Responses to “Turning Human Waste into Compost: Humanure”

  1. VeronicaHonthaas says:

    We have a sawdust composting toilet ala Joe Jenkins at our cabin. It is fantastic, no odor, and very little hassle. In past years I have sent copies of the Humanure book to all of my relatives as I feel it is a very important concept to know just in case we do not always have modern conveniences. I also suggest that everyone splurge and spend $10 at a sporting goods store and buy a “luggabale lu”. I is a simple toilet seat that snaps on to a 5 gallon pail. You can have an instant composting toilet ready for any emergency.

  2. Catherine says:

    Great suggestion, Ronny. For those who like to see pictures, here’s a couple different versions of the luggable or portable loo on Amazon.com:
    Luggable Loo and Store-a-Potty