Monday, April 27, 2009

Humanure, Composting Toilets, and the Big Rock Candy Mountain

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage has been getting a lot of press lately. Journalists usually start circling a week before Earth Day, looking for an angle that hasn't been played.

This year we've accommodated them by making our composting waste system public - and all the media have turned into 6-year-olds telling poo poo jokes.

It all started with a very well-done segment called Kids Off the Grid on Nickelodeon - Linda Ellerbee's Nick News Show. As it was a show about kids living ecological lives, and is really pretty cool. DR is at the very beginning.

Boys being boys, and teenagers being teenagers, Morgan could not resist discussing our composting toilet system, and Nick News could not help repeating it.

Then, of course, Jon Stewart picked up the most, um, "colorful" segment, and ran this
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Kids' Earth Day
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

Defecating in our drinking water is perhaps one of our culture's most curious, but least talked about, habits. Some of the reasons for composting, rather than flushing our waste are:
1. to prevent water pollution (almost 4 trillion gallons of sewage effluent are dumped into our coastal waterways each year);
2. to fertilize the soil (rich in soil nutrients, humanure can be safely recycled by thermophilic composting);
3. to protect our dwindling drinking water supplies (nearly 1/3 of all household drinking water is used to flush toilets); and
4. to enhance our health. Fertile soil not only grows great veggies, but nourishes our health and community's well-being.

Before coming to Dancing Rabbit, the only time I spent talking or even thinking about defecation was when I went backpacking in my beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains. However, even 20 years ago How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art was required reading for participants on the backpacking trips I led, because it explained how to utilize the woods without endangering the water and wildlife systems. This is simply the next step, to be used in one's day-to-day life instead of just two weeks a year while on vacation.

We've all become so inured to NOT talking about our waste (it's simply not polite!) that we are ruining our drinking water and the planet with our wasteful, thoughtless ways. It's time to get over the "icky" factor and find out what is really going on.

To learn more about composting waste, I highly recommend two books.

First, The Toilets Papers, Recycling Waste and Conserving Water by Sym Van Der Ryn. It is an informative, inspiring, and irreverent look at how people have dealt with their wastes through the centuries. In a historical survey, Van der Ryn provides the basic facts concerning human wastes, and describes safe designs for toilets that reduce water consumption and avert the necessity for expensive and unreliable treatment systems. The Toilet Papers provides do-it-yourself plans for a basic compost privy and a variety of graywater systems.

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure by Joe Jenkins is the book than many of the Dancing Rabbit systems are based upon. It provides detailed scientific information on how humanure can be hygienically recycled, without fancy technological do-dads, a large bank account, toxic chemicals, or environmental pollution. This unique handbook provides information on composting, soil fertility and microorganisms, alternative graywater systems and much more. It also gives detailed instructions on how you can build your own sawdust toilet and compost bins for only a few dollars.

So there you go. More poop than you ever expected to find here. Let me know if you have any questions!

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