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safest humanure methods for scared rural community

 
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our community nestled in 4000-5000 acres of woods has been storically scared of composting humanure for many years

1: what are the safest versions of humanure composting to pitch to the community for my new home coming up in a few years?

2: any resources or education materials that are best to explain how to do it safely to reduce fears? along with any other communication tips about how to ensure the safety of these systems?
 
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The Humanure Handbook - free pdf version available online - is the go to source. Our system is based on this and we have been very happy with it. It scales up nicely to community use; we used it to provide toilets for events of 60 people over a week.
 
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Michael, I would definitely suggest worm tanks.  There are several threads here about using worms for sewage treatment.  I am so impressed with it, it's hard to believe that small municipalities haven't tried it.  Maybe they have in some places with sparse population like Canada.  Canada might have websites about using worms.  I have seen Canadian websites for using reed beds for grey water, but that's different from black water.  But it does show an openmindedness towards the handling of waste water.
 
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I don't think worms are the best for the extremely anxious. I like a good hot compost on a surface designed to trap leachate and recirculate it into the pile.

The Humanure Handbook is the standard go-to, and I second that suggestion.

In my opinion, if there is a source of waste heat that can be used to heat a drum, I like pyrolisis in an oxygen-free environment, up to 700 Fahrenheit if possible. Vermiculture or cold composting can follow that, as any pathogens, really everything, will have been killed by the heat.

-CK
 
Cristo Balete
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Chris, "The extremely anxious,"  you mean worms could creep them out?   But raw sewage, dirty paper, pee, flies and gnats so thick they cover sticky traps, month after month, year after year, wouldn't?  

Well, I guess it's up to them, but until people try worms, that make miraculous, barely-scented contents out of some of the worst stuff we have to deal with,  worms may just endear themselves to their owners.  Maybe making a comparison test run would help.

I think this person's situation involves a community, which is a much larger operation than a small family-type composting toilet.   Amounts  will probably not be as predictable, especially when friends show up and liquid levels rise beyond the normal.    If they decide on composting, that means everyone in the community has to be okay with handling non-composted human waste year after year.  About year 5 I got really tired of it.   If it slows down in the winter, there will be even bigger amounts to deal with come spring.

And when someone gets sick and there's no flush toilet, where do they go when there's very little warning?  Been there, done that!!  Never again!

It really was the flies and gnats that did it for me, and the always-adding issue, which never let the pile completely compost, then it would fill up.  I've dealt with composting toilets for 20 years in all stages of good and bad.   I've still got one in a remote location where there isn't enough water going through for the worms.   And now that every objection I had about a composting toilet is being handled by worms, and the compost and castings are floating down the pipe to a perennial shrub/tree landscape,  I just can't recommend it enough.

It would still take close monitoring for the first year to learn how it works, make sure it's working correctly for a specific setup, but it's way less work than I used to do  :)
 
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Cristo Balete wrote:Michael, I would definitely suggest worm tanks.  There are several threads here about using worms for sewage treatment.  I am so impressed with it, it's hard to believe that small municipalities haven't tried it.  Maybe they have in some places with sparse population like Canada.  Canada might have websites about using worms.  I have seen Canadian websites for using reed beds for grey water, but that's different from black water.  But it does show an openmindedness towards the handling of waste water.



In almost all of this type of system the worms come after the bacteria and fungi, this actually makes great sense since most worms are not like the "red wiggler" composting worm of choice, earthworms don't eat human food leftovers directly (which red wigglers do) but rather they eat bacteria and fungi.
There are around 300 small municipalities that are using a multi stage sewage treatment that starts like normal but when it gets to the sludge portion they bring in the microorganisms to take care of the pathogens which end up with a final treatment of a worms gut.
This process was first tried in single home septic systems and there is now a fully approved septic setup that involves a two stage septic tank that then passes the effluent over sheets of material that is home to millions or billions of bacteria, thus making the effluent safe to enter the water shed.

Redhawk
 
Michael Cox
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Cristo Balete wrote:

Chris, "The extremely anxious,"  you mean worms could creep them out?   But raw sewage, dirty paper, pee, flies and gnats so thick they cover sticky traps, month after month, year after year, wouldn't?  



I've no idea how you had your compost toilet setup, but that sounds nothing at all like how ours worked. We never had flies, smell, or anything that could be considered unpleasant.

We based our system on the humanure handbook - lots of sawdust, everything goes in the same bucket, buckets get emptied into a compost heap when they fill up. The ONLY times we had trouble is when people were using it incorrectly, and the most common problem was simply not adding enough sawdust to cover your deposit. Basically equivalent to not flushing and leaving a floater for the next person in a conventional toilet. Gross either way. By including the urine with the sawdust you pretty much guarantee a hot compost within 48 hours or so, and the smell is non-existent, even when emptying buckets.

We are lucky to have nearby a timber yard that makes products from the local woods. We can fill up a cubic meter bag of sawdust to take when we want.

Oh, and one other circumstance where we had problems. We setup a temporary toilet at my inlaws house, because they were having problems with their septic system and over the holiday had 10 people trying to use one bathroom. All we had available was a bag of pine shavings from the local petshop. It was dreadful. The shavings were basically waterproof, and really fluffy, so the bucket filled really fast and it didn't do a good job of covering. The sawdust we typically used is about the texture of sand, as opposed to shavings 1cm or more across. I think many people who struggle with this system may be using shavings as they can be picked up easily from the shops.
 
Chris Kott
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Cristo Balete wrote:

Chris, "The extremely anxious,"  you mean worms could creep them out?   But raw sewage, dirty paper, pee, flies and gnats so thick they cover sticky traps, month after month, year after year, wouldn't?  

Well, I guess it's up to them, but until people try worms, that make miraculous, barely-scented contents out of some of the worst stuff we have to deal with,  worms may just endear themselves to their owners.  Maybe making a comparison test run would help.

I think this person's situation involves a community, which is a much larger operation than a small family-type composting toilet.   Amounts  will probably not be as predictable, especially when friends show up and liquid levels rise beyond the normal.    If they decide on composting, that means everyone in the community has to be okay with handling non-composted human waste year after year.  About year 5 I got really tired of it.   If it slows down in the winter, there will be even bigger amounts to deal with come spring.

And when someone gets sick and there's no flush toilet, where do they go when there's very little warning?  Been there, done that!!  Never again!

It really was the flies and gnats that did it for me, and the always-adding issue, which never let the pile completely compost, then it would fill up.  I've dealt with composting toilets for 20 years in all stages of good and bad.   I've still got one in a remote location where there isn't enough water going through for the worms.   And now that every objection I had about a composting toilet is being handled by worms, and the compost and castings are floating down the pipe to a perennial shrub/tree landscape,  I just can't recommend it enough.

It would still take close monitoring for the first year to learn how it works, make sure it's working correctly for a specific setup, but it's way less work than I used to do  :)



I was referring specifically to pathogenicity. If the sawdust and bucket method, adding urine, encourages a hot compost within the first 48 hours, that should probably be sufficient for most cases.

I would be interested to see to what extent worms decrease pathogens, but I wouldn't blindly trust any method that doesn't involve a controlled hot compost. By that, I mean that I think it likely that some pathogens might survive the worm process, or a less-than-hot process. Yes, worms might not be killed by said pathogens, but could they be the equivalent of asymptomatic carriers?

So by extremely anxious, I am referring to people who might be called paranoid by the uncharitable, people who need certainty in their handling of human waste because they need to prevent the contamination of their food systems with human-borne pathogens.

I suppose a solar dessicator setup would also be superior, pathogenically speaking, in my opinion, as there are very few things that could survive the process.

I wasn't thinking at all about people getting upset about "icky" things. I keep worms myself. I have used traditional outhouses with lye, and then with sawdust when I discovered the humanure handbook. I think insect and worm decomposition can be a crucial step in humanure composting. I don't think I would trust a straight vermiculture solution as the only stage.

-CK
 
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Vermicomposting can be quite easy way how to make humanure safe. I read several studies which said that more than 95% of all potential pathogens (bacteria) are lost in a few weeks. Digestive system of red worms is colonized by a "ZOO" of "good" bacteria, which quickly neutralize the "bad" ones.. Ova of human helminths (roundworms and tapeworms) are the only pathogens which remain. We have outdoor composting toilet which our family uses from spring to autumn while working on garden. Also some visitors (friends) use it time to time. I am almost 100% sure thet none of us (and them) are colonized by roundworms or tapeworms, so I am not afraid to throw a humanure/wood shaving mix into our garden vermicomposting hole.. I empty it once a year and use it in our vegetable garden with no fear..
 
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michael beyer wrote:our community nestled in 4000-5000 acres of woods has been storically scared of composting humanure for many years

1: what are the safest versions of humanure composting to pitch to the community for my new home coming up in a few years?

2: any resources or education materials that are best to explain how to do it safely to reduce fears? along with any other communication tips about how to ensure the safety of these systems?



Hi Michael,

I don't know what to say other than to get a copy of the Humanure Handbook 4th edition, which can be read free online. All the information is in there. Also, I have a lot of videos of working humanure systems around the world including the US. Here are links: https://humanurehandbook.com/store/Humanure_Handbook.html and  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFD5D0CE103FD3A56

Joe Jenkins
 
Cristo Balete
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RedHawk,

Glad to hear there are municipalities using worms.   I still think they could use them from start to finish, but there are rules and there are rules.  I have been underestimating worms!

I know there is a difference in worms, but watching my earthworms, they don't hesitate.  They work in teams of 20 or more, it's stunning.  They go right to it, pile on and muckle the stuff around and around, rolling in a ball of activity.   Even if I throw a rotten potato or rotten squash in, they go right for it, as long as it's soft.   I know they don't chew anything, they just pass it through their systems.   Maybe they won't go far for our food or our waste, but if  they find it easily, they are thrilled.

There is such movement of worms in the container, maybe I'm mistaking it for eagerness/happiness, but considering how great they look now compared to when I put them in there, they seem amazingly ecstatic.    I would say 98% of the contents of that worm container is unrecognizable, so they are handling it daily.   That never happened in a composting toilet or bucket or pile for me, ever.

And they would leave the container if it didn't suit them.   I've watched worms come and go from a lot of my composting endeavors in the past, and they may not look too bright, but haven't we all learned that the critters out there, big and small, are probably way ahead of us when it comes to self-sufficiency and survival?  What I've learned about worms from this changes my mind completely.
 
Cristo Balete
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Michael Cox wrote: lots of sawdust, everything goes in the same bucket, buckets get emptied into a compost heap when they fill up..



Michael, so I'm distinguishing between the bucket system and a composting toilet that has an internal tank.    They are quite different, because the  buckets don't keep filling and composting in the same place.   Composting toilets don't use outdoor piles.   They have a mechanism for moving the finished compost into a tray in the bottom of the toilet, to be removed separately from what's still in the tank and being added to at the top of the pile.  

Maybe because your compost heap is outside you aren't noticing flies and gnats, but they all over compost in general, not to mention humanure deposits.   You may not smell urine,  but  insects and  hornets do, because they know that fresh road kill smells like urine, and they want it!   Piles like that draw all kinds of critters, not that that's bad.  All animals poop outside, so their waste is being handled by insects/microbes/fungi, etc. all the time.  It's what they do.

As long as it's recognizable, and/or has any liquid at all,  or it's growing fuzz,  it's raw sewage, even if it composts elsewhere, so it is important to know that that's what we are dealing with.  Just because we give it a tidy name, and cover it with tidy stuff,  doesn't mean we've changed the contents or the microbial/bacterial  contents of those deposits, until it's completely composted.

I didn't mean by the smell, that it was a smell of sewage.  It wasn't.  Maybe it's my sense of smell,   but it just seems to me humans have a primal sense of smell, even when there's just a hint of a scent,  that tells us to stay away from the more dangerous things.  No matter how many types of carbon and herbs we put on it, decomposting human waste has a scent to it that never quite goes away until it's completely composted.   It only happened when the door to the bathroom was shut most of the time, which I did on purpose to keep track of what was going on in the internal tank of the composting toilet.  I could tell different balances of the contents by the scent that filled the room, which was mostly a floor-of-the-forest scent.  This was a composting toilet that had a tank in it, so it was holding something in a constant process.

The worm tank is as close as I've come to no smell, definitely no urine smell   After 6 months of deposits,  I've even leaned in to test it,  it was surprisingly neutral .  
 
Cristo Balete
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Chris Kott wrote: I was referring specifically to pathogenicity. If the sawdust and bucket method, adding urine, encourages a hot compost within the first 48 hours




While that might seem reasonable, I wouldn't trust 48 hours at questionable temps.   Unless it's happening in a lab with very specific conditions.  The contents of raw sewage breaking down is something to stay away from, for a very long time.  

There's a big difference betwean a pathogen, like  e. coli,  and bacteria.  Pathogens in humans would cause us to be doubled over in pain and heading for the doctor.    It's not impossible  that we travel, pick up a pathogen from another country, come home and painfully add that to our septic tank or composting setup.  But that's rare.   You'd know it if that happened!!!  I have no idea if composting undoes pathogens, and I wouldn't rely on it by any means.

Mostly what we're dealing with in composting human waste is bacteria, and whatever else it picks up from the environment that will grow in it.  Compost piles have different temps all over the pile, so whatever amount of heat we might be relying on to kill the bad stuff isn't reliably consistent in a compost pile.


Chris Kott wrote: I don't think I would trust a straight vermiculture solution as the only stage.



I am not saying that the worms turn it into a completely neutral, safe substance that we can handle.   I don't even think that about compost.   There's enough bacteria in both of those things to make me keep a respectful distance from it.    I don't want it to get into my eyes, my nose, my lungs (some molds float when disturbed), let alone track it into the house and spread it on carpeting or surfaces.  How do we know what's on our gloves?   How do we know what's on our dog's feet?

But plant roots need that bacteria, and that's why we put very bacterially-active compost of several kinds into the soil.   It is obviously usable stuff, but it's not good for us to be handling compost of any kind.

My system is set up so that the finely finished stuff flushes down a 2" pipe to a landscape zone, not a food zone.   So far I haven't had to do a single thing to this system, except use it!



 
Cristo Balete
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One more general remark about composting human waste in outdoor piles.  A lot of things we organic gardeners do work, and get us the results we want, but we aren't the only players to consider in the environment.   I am not comfortable with an outdoor pile of human waste covered with compost so it looks innocent,  because the animals will get into it, like foxes and bobcats chasing rodents.  Snails get on the pile and ravens and crows land on it to get the snails.  Rabbits love a hot pile of compost to put a baby nest near the edge of.   I don't want them licking their paws, taking $%&* back on their feet/talons  to where they babies are.

The list goes on and on about how we affect every creature in our ecosystem that surrounds us by the things we leave in the environment.   All of these critters are crucial to maintaining the balance of the natural system that allows us to function in it.

That's on me if something bad happens in that regard.  I'm trying to cohabitate where I am, not just make it easy for me, not paying attention to what is happening to my animal co-workers.
 
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Cristo Balete wrote:One more general remark about composting human waste in outdoor piles.  A lot of things we organic gardeners do work, and get us the results we want, but we aren't the only players to consider in the environment.   I am not comfortable with an outdoor pile of human waste covered with compost so it looks innocent,  because the animals will get into it, like foxes and bobcats chasing rodents.  Snails get on the pile and ravens and crows land on it to get the snails.  Rabbits love a hot pile of compost to put a baby nest near the edge of.   I don't want them licking their paws, taking $%&* back on their feet/talons  to where they babies are.

The list goes on and on about how we affect every creature in our ecosystem that surrounds us by the things we leave in the environment.   All of these critters are crucial to maintaining the balance of the natural system that allows us to function in it.

That's on me if something bad happens in that regard.  I'm trying to cohabitate where I am, not just make it easy for me, not paying attention to what is happening to my animal co-workers.



Clearly you have never made compost, let alone compost from humanure, which you incorrectly refer to as "waste." After making compost from humanure for 43 years (in a waste free manner) I can say without any doubt that your comments are totally incorrect and misleading at best, although not uncommon among people who don't know what they're talking about (and I'm stating this as fact, not as an insult). Take a look at my latest video, published a day or two ago, to get a better idea of what composting actually is: https://youtu.be/24mYF-88uYA
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