It’s always exciting to see a new compost toilet video online… I’m not alone!
It really is simple- just read Humanure Handbook by Joe Jenkins a few times and get to it. It’s a great read and he knows what he’s doing…he backs the whole book with a ton of cited research.
The only area I differ from their process is that I also add my cat’s waste to the system, too.
Jenkins doesn’t make a strong claim in his book about composting pet waste- I’m willing to take the risk. I use swheat scoop cat litter and just add it to my compost toilet buckets along with my own deposits.
I let the pile sit for 18 months (instead of 12) and use the finished compost for solely horticultural purposes.
This dude makes a great point about composting that I’ve never heard anyone say before: “…success seems to be that people will continue to compost…or in other words that the rules are there to help people avoid things that might stop them composting.”
My focus is to get people to avoid the landfill and minimize displacement of necessary nutrients…I don’t want people to be misled about what is critical for our society to sustain itself.
Composting is made easy with a few basic tips, but “No Rules”. 🙂
If you don’t have the time or interest to build your own, this new design is built like a tank!
A Loveable Loo. Photo via Flickr user Max Baars
Joe Jenkins has been saving his shit for 37 years. The 61-year-old thinks that to do otherwise—to flush the toilet after you’ve finished defecating into it—is a waste of perfectly good drinking water and valuable turds. Instead, you should do your business in a box to collect your household’s urine and poop, then add that waste to your compost bin and use it to fertilize your garden.
Jenkins began writing a book on human composting in the early 90s as a master’s thesis at Pennsylvania’s Slippery Rock University, and self-published The Humanure Handbook in 1995. The book, now in its third edition, has sold more than 25,000 copies in 59 countries, according to Jenkins, and the Amazon description boasts that it’s “the most comprehensive, up-to-date and thoroughly researched book on the topic of composting human manure available anywhere,” though you have to wonder how much competition there is for that title.
The Jenkins method of human composting doesn’t involve water, electricity, or fancy equipment—all you need is a Loveable Loo, which is essentially just a wooden receptacle that you piss and shit into. For $299, Jenkins’s humanure store will ship one to you, or you can follow his instructions and build your own. This involves drilling four plywood pieces together into a box shape, inserting a waterproof bucket with a lid, screwing on a piece of plywood with a hole in it, then mounting a standard toilet seat cover on the top. Then you too can be take part in the humanure process. Here’s how that works:
–Every time you use your Loveable Loo, you have to cover your pee and poop with a layer of organic material to help the composting process along and mask the smell. Most humanure composters keep a bucket of such material next to their toilets—Jenkins uses sawdust, but other readily available materials, like peat moss and coffee grounds, are fine.
–Hopefully, you already have a compost bin in your yard or on your roof, because when your Loveable Loo’s bucket is filled, it has to be emptied into something. This bin can be built with bricks, wood, or bamboo—you just need something stable.
–You should keep the humanure in the compost bin covered with a layer of heavy material (like weeds, hay, or leaves) to keep it from smelling and to discourage flies. Whenever new organic material is added to the bin, create a hole in the middle of the pile, dump in the new crap, and cover it with the old crap.
–Heat, time, and tiny critters will then go to work breaking it all down and killing the bacteria in the waste—the pile will reach temperatures reaching upwards of 160 degrees through a process called thermophilic composting. After several months, this material can be used as fertilizer to grow food, which you can then eat and turn into humanure. The circle of life!
“The compost feeds the soil, the soil feeds the plants, and the plants feed the animals, which includes us,“ Jenkins told me over the phone. “In order for people to really understand the full value of this process, it has to go through the entire process—to where you’re eating the food [you grew] and then taking a shit again. Eventually… you’re thinking, Holy shit, I didn’t produce any sewage. There was no waste.”
Jenkins uses this process on his 143-acre garden and orchard in northeastern Pennsylvania, where he grows food for his family. His bread and butter is selling slate roofing tools, but he also spends a lot of time hosting human composting workshops and speaking engagements nationally and worldwide.
His one-man poop crusade has gotten a decent amount of press over the years. Most recently, the History Channel’s Only in America, hosted by Larry the Cable Guy, did a segment on Jenkins and his Loveable Loos last year in which Jenkins promised the comedian that if he had a turd, they’d make a tomato out of it.
The important thing about recycling your waste this way is that you don’t need water, electricity, or costly equipment, which makes it ideal for developing countries where poop is a serious problem—last month, the United Nations reported that a billion people still go to the bathroom in the open air, endangering public health in many of the world’s poorer regions.
Jenkins has been working on solving this problem by spreading the gospel of the Loveable Loo. In 2006 he went to Mongolia to teach residents how to build his poop boxes, and last April, he hosted a workshop in Mozambique, but his greatest success may have been in Haiti. He visited the island nation in 2010, as it was recovering from the disastrous earthquake that hit it in January. Since then the system has spread across Haiti to a dozen schools and orphanages, a bunch of low-income families in the town of Santo, and a host of other places.
Other countries where Loveable Loos could have an impact include Ghana, where 10,000 public schools don’t have toilets, and India, where half the population, or more than 600 million people, defecate in the open air, according to estimates by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Humanure, proponents say, could solve the problem of open defecation and simultaneously provide a boost to agriculture at a minimal cost.
Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), a Haitian nonprofit that focuses on bringing composting toilets to households, includes Jenkin’s Loveable Loo as an option in its collection of ecological sanitation toilet models used throughout Haitian homes and businesses. SOIL founder Sasha Kramer thinks Jenkins low-tech technology has potential, though there are some logistical snags in implementing it.
Kramer told me many janitors and maintenance workers in buildings where Loveable Loos have been installed get the added duty of handling the poop without any help or rise in pay.
“People are more likely to take care of a toilet that they rent for their homes than in a school where they often fall into disrepair when the school does not pay someone to maintain it, as is often the case,” Kramer said.
Children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, stand above a compost pile. Photo courtesy of Joe Jenkins
According to Jenkins, the reason humanure isn’t more widely used throughout the developing world is that the people who make policy decisions in governments and at NGOs turn up their noses at the idea.
“They already know everything. They already have their minds made up. Their idea of success in life is a flush toilet,” Jenkins said. “When I worked in Mongolia, for example, the woman in the Department of Health couldn’t imagine using a composting-type toilet. To her, it was like, Ew, its going to smell… She was resistant to it because of that. Not because there was any other reason—just because of her psychological state.”
Although he said that “the white people I’ve worked with are such pains in the ass,” Jenkins said that the communities he’s worked with directly are much more receptive to the idea of Loveable Loos, possibly because they don’t have such hang-ups about the stuff that comes out of their butts.
Skipping the bureaucracy and bringing composting toilets straight to the people also has the advantage of letting would-be humanurists know what they’re in for. Kramer told me that working with individual families is more sustainable when people choose to have the service and understand the commitment.
“The humanure system is very simple and it doesn’t cost any money or technology,” Jenkins said. “If they have the knowledge and can scrape up some leaves or slice down some grasses, then they could be recycling their humanure and not polluting the world with it, and in the process fortifying their soil and getting better food. That’s why I teach people about it. You don’t need a permit or Bill Gates or the US government; you can just do it yourself.”
Alexis K. Barnes is a New York–based writer and reporter who enjoys covering the weird and the foreign.
I’m at the point with this where I’d like to interview a number of people about humanure composting to try and find out what the big deal is.
This system really is simple and it has a huge effect on our water and soil. It really is just a social thing… people aren’t comfortable enough with themselves to have a compost pile, let alone acknowledge their excrement as part of that process.
Admittedly, I took longer than I thought when it came to finding out exactly how to do it and just get started. My first thoughts were that I needed to either buy into some expensive system, or I needed to build an outhouse in my yard that I don’t have space for.
Oh, all I need is a compost pile, a 5 gallon bucket and sawdust? Seriously?
Whenever my pile isn’t cooking the way I’d like, or when it’s just cruising along in the 80-90 degree range, all I do is add my weekly bucket of excrement and there it goes.
122 degrees for 24 hours is easy, and that’s all you need for pathogen destruction. Further, why would you even worry about that anyway?
You’re just adding material to a pile and going back in the house, there’s nothing else to it. Let the pile do what it does and do something else.
I think Joe’s delivery of the message is what gets in the way… but that’s just what I see from the videos and how he talks. Personally, I back it 100%.
He’s being real, honest and straightforward. My hunch is that he’s been doing this so long and he’s pretty tired of hearing the same excuses regarding acceptance of the practice. I would be, too.
I don’t know what it’s going to take to really propel humanure composting to the next level, but serious kudos go to Vice for highlighting this process… I can see some hipsters getting on board with it.
It’s cool to compost your own shit. Say I’m weird all you want, but it is.
Joe’s on fire for this presentation… I wonder if it’s because it’s for the U.S. Composting Council, and my guess is he has to be sharp for those folks.
I wonder how supportive the U.S. Composting Council is of the best composting process you can be involved with…would be fun to write them about it (just did).
I wish I had the cover materials available that they do in Haiti… tons and tons of sugar cane bagasse.
He has 15 gallon buckets in use here, with the front of the compost toilet open. I fill my 5 gallon bucket pretty quickly and would love to try a 15 gallon. I guess the front is open so you don’t have to pick it up as high…might be pretty heavy to move.
I just want more people to see how great this process is, and hope to get more people doing it. It’s too easy and too beneficial to ignore.
Gotta go, just saw my neighbors putting leaf bags out to the curb…
If there was any book I’d recommend, even to someone that generally isn’t interested in environmental issues, it’s Humanure Handbook. I can confidently say this book is at the level of Silent Spring.
How could a book about composting your bowel movements be important?
Urine, feces and food scraps are super high in nitrogen. Leaves, cardboard, paper, straw, hay etc are all high in carbon. When you mix these two components together, in time you get beautiful, fertile compost that our earth desperately needs.
What you don’t get is chlorine and sodium hypochlorite (amongst other things used in water treatment process), and polluted air from burning off sewage sludge, or possibly worse having that sewage sludge spread on farmlands as a “soil amendment”.
Jenkins goes into great detail about the history of feces around the world, from how 78,000 tons of humanure was bought for $31,000 gold in China, to how it has become a problem that seemingly no one wants to address.
Defecating in our water isn’t good. Even myself, spending most waking hours reading about environmental issues in one way or another, sees how this doesn’t register as a huge problem at first observation.
We flush the toilet and it goes away, just like our trash gets picked up at the curb and disappears.
We don’t notice what we breathe in, we don’t taste toxins. Jenkins can get pretty grim at times (especially in the beginning) but I can’t argue with him whatsoever.
His solution is utilizing a compost toilet paired with a compost pile and a rain barrel, (for cleaning). It goes without saying he’s an advocate of curbside compost collection as well.
I went along with his easy-to-follow instructions for building a “lovable loo” and needless to say I am very impressed. It took me a couple hours to construct the toilet, and I love it. The sawdust created from constructing it was the first addition to the bucket.
I go through a 5 gallon bucket a week, and I have to make a trip to a local woodshop every few months to pick up my sawdust supply, which is a mutual benefit for sure.
I have a 3′ x 3′ x 3′ compost pile in the yard that is always cooking at a higher temperature than I ever got without the humanure additions. No matter how much material I dump in per week, the pile seems to stay the same size!
This is the magic of humanure composting. Jenkins states to fill one compost bin for a year, then switch to a brand new pile for a year. Once the second pile fills up after a year, empty the first one, which will be nothing but beautiful compost.
It’s not all perfect, though. I’d say the trickiest part of the process, which I don’t recall being mentioned at great length in the book (time to read it a third time), is the dust issue.
Using fine sawdust can be a bit…dusty, of course. I found that adding a spray bottle into the mix worked decently, but it is a bit too laborious. I want to spend my time on the can reading a book, not spraying down sawdust. Therefore, I just sprinkle the whole bucket’s worth of sawdust with some rainwater from my watering can. Much, much better.
The way Jenkins does it, which I can’t really abide by due to space constraints, is to have a huge pile of sawdust outside next to the compost pile. If it got naturally rained on from time to time, it would be much cleaner to work with since it would absorb plenty of moisture.
However, I’m a bit paranoid with having such a large flammable source exposed in the yard, which is yet another benefit to putting a tarp on the compost pile. I’ve had people throw cigarette butts over the fence into the yard… so yeah. One of those times I wish I lived in the sticks, like Jenkins.
All in all, the process takes about 10 minutes a week to complete, and I find it to be time well spent. Every time I empty my toilet, I find myself thinking about what the hell I’m doing, but in a good way. It puts pressure on me to consume less and less plastic materials, because other than that, most everything is recyclable or compostable.
If you’re really into the survival/prepper mentality, this skill is a no-brainer. If we had an extended grid-down situation or lost access to water, a compost toilet would be critically important and I’m proud to have one.
The book ends with a great interview of Jenkins…by Jenkins. It really takes all the typical questions asked and makes it look like naive, old thinking. I won’t ruin it, you’ll have to pick up the book to enjoy it for yourself.
I’ll say it again- if you’re into environmental issues and want to learn about one of the most critical topics not being discussed, the Humanure Handbook will make you question your lifestyle at length while being an enjoyable read at the same time.
It cost me a total of about $20 and two hours of work to get it done…well worth it. This lives in my basement, but I brought it outside to snap a well-lit photo in front of its “sewer system” (the compost pile).
I simply followed the instructions in Joseph Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook …I strongly suggest picking this up. Even if you have no interest in humanure composting, it’s still a very critical read for learning the history of human waste and how we’ve broken the human nutrient cycle.
For the fecophobes out there: read about thermal kill times and how compost has been used to fully bioremediate contaminated lands of compounds as harsh as TNT. I’m not worried about pathogens. My pile is going to be actively added to for about a year. Then I’m going to let it sit for a year while I build a second one for a year.
Therefore, my compost pile breaks down and cures for a span of two years. This is plenty of time for nature to do what it has done for zillions of years.
Anyway, more updates to come. This has been really fun and I have had some serious reflections thus far on the process and its benefits to the Earth.
Jenkins adds material to one compost bin for a year, then switches to the second bin for year two. At the end of year two, the contents of the first bin are ready to use for gardening. Pathogens are not present.
It’s pretty awesome that he’s been doing this for 30+ years with no issues at all…safe to say he knows what he’s talking about!