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How can I start a composting toilet bucket system business?

 
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"The interesting dilemma in my mind about bucket toilet systems is that the very people that would benefit most from them are the ones least able to put them in place."

Funny you should mention this. I want to start a service that will do just that. The goal is to make humanure composting available to every human being in the United States (and eventually, the world). I am in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area and am not sure where to start. The land requirements for such a simple project (based on Joe Jenkins' multi-sectional model) would be modest (probably less than an acre), but I would probably need special zoning and permits. Where would I start? Service fees would cover the cost of the land, but would probably take a little while to build up enough business to make a profit.
Staff note (Pearl Sutton) :

I moved this question to it's own thread, it was asked on this thread Humanure vs my reality and codes and REALLY is a neat idea to discuss!

 
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The thread I moved this out of talks of my health making it so I can't assume I can ever empty a toilet bucket, or get help to do it. As someone in that situation, I think the idea of having a business to do it would be a GREAT idea! I'm not the only person out there who has problems.

Welcome to Permies, Bill, and I hope people will have answers for you!
:D
 
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Bill, welcome to the forum!

I feel you have a great idea.  Are there enough people in your area to get you started?

Maybe selling the bucket might be a way to get you started.  Then the people you sell the buckets to would be your first customers.

Give them an incentive to talk their friends into buying buckets and use your service.

A lady on the forum had a business selling buckets:

 Making Pee buckets.   I have found these sell like hotcakes when the electric is out.   I sell about 5 a month during a regular month.   They cost me $15 to make with all new materials and I sell them for $30.   They consist of a 5-gallon bucket, a funnel (I cut off some of the down spout), a 90° angle, 2 bulkhead nuts, and a 6' hose.   I use caulk when screwing on the bulkhead screw nuts.  I put a nut on both sides of the funnel opening with one nut reversed so that I am sandwiching the funnel into place.   The caulk both locks the nuts in place and seals against leaks.  



https://permies.com/t/57553/Homestead-Income-Tips#967785

Or another even better idea is to give the buckets away when people subscribe to your service.

Bill, said "Where would I start



I would start with your County Health Department.  I feel they will know who to direct you to if they are not the right people.

 
Bill Norton
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Thank you all for your support. I will probably supply the buckets free for those who subscribe to the service. I am not too worried about that part of it. I used to work for the Ediner restaurant, which used to go through several 5-pound pickle buckets a day. I could probably get a bunch of buckets from restaurants for nothing. The only caution there is that I would need to be consistent (pickle buckets wouldn't measure the same as mayonnaise buckets, for example). Talking to the health department is probably the best thing to do first, but I have to admit, I'm a bit intimidated. If they put the kibosh on the whole thing, they would effectively make it illegal for anyone other than single family detached homeowners to compost their poop (condo owners generally don't own any of the land, just their units). I'll keep you guys posted.
 
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Nightsoil collection used to be a big bussiness. I'm sure that you will have to climb higher up the ladder to your State's DEQ to set a composting toilet bucket business up.  It might be easier to set up a restaurant/store compostable pick up system initially with out the poo component at first.  Finding a suitable location for the composting could be a big issue. There are some big mechanised composters for restaurants that might be able to be placed at a nursery for example if one had enough coin to purchase one.
 
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I'm thinking that a service already exists that could be both a place to begin? and a model that a state's DEQ is already familiar with/has regulations for... portable jobsite toilets.
Maybe there's a way to adapt port-a-pottys (or invent a new design) to be more eco? (thinking the blue deodorant goop is probably not...)
Could be good for festivals, especially since food/utensil waste composting is a trendy thing for these... why not the toilets too?
It might be good for construction sites. Constructing a LEED certified building? how about a zero sewage jobsite?
 
Robert Ray
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I have seen strawbale urinals at non US festivals. We seem to be a bit more prudish sometimes. https://www.rootsimple.com/2013/04/a-straw-bale-urinal/
Might not be a bad idea to use at home on a small scale.
Found this article on composting Johnny on the spots: https://www.treehugger.com/composting-toilets-are-replacing-plastic-portapotties-4856062
In the Portland area almost all of the porta potties have "Safe Injection Site" placards on them now. So I might be worried about "sharps" being in the with the black gold.
 
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I had a look around the Internet, its an interesting topic.
HongKong experience
Tokyo Experience
European history a failure
Ghana - The-night-soil-business-must-stop-


I cannot find anything about starting such a business
 
Bill Norton
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The following is a reply I got this morning from the Minnesota Department of Health:

Dear Mr. Bill Norton,



I am in receipt of the email inquiry you submitted regarding interest in starting a humanure composting service.  I will consult with the Mortuary Science section team and either myself or a team member will get back to you.  Thank you.



An email was sent by:

Name:  Bill Norton
Email:  humanurenow@gmail.com
URL of website:  
Comments:  I want to start a humanure composting service. Humanure composting is
already happening in private back yards, but the mission of this business is to
bring that capability to everyone who wants it, regardless of where they live. If
done properly (proper covering and aging for about a year), composting
completely destroys pathogens, and without the use of dangerous chemicals. I
would need a small plot of land, though, and with potentially hundreds or
even thousands of customers, I'm guessing special permitting and zoning
would be required.


I'm not quite sure what the Mortuary Science team would have to do with this, but at least it wasn't a flat out denial. We'll see...
 
Anne Miller
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There has been a lot of discussion in the news about green burial.  I am thinking that whoever answered your email does not know what humanure is.

I feel they saw "human" and related to green burial.

If I had received that reply I would send another email with an explanation of what "humanure" is.  

Then maybe your request will get sent to the proper authorities.
 
Bill Norton
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Anne,

Good point. I sent the following reply. We'll see what happens from there:

Hello Debbie,

Just making sure, "humanure" refers to human feces and urine. When you referred to "Mortuary Science," I got a little nervous, thinking that maybe you were confusing it with "green burial," which is something I would be interested in exploring for myself when my time comes, but that is not what I am referring to here. The humanure concept is described in great detail in "The Humanure Handbook," by Joseph Jenkins.
 
Pearl Sutton
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I'm reading the links John C Daley posted. Fascinating! Basically it comes down to doing it cleanly, and using it as a valuable resource, instead of something to be processed with chemicals and wasted. Interesting that there were price wars, like any other valuable commodity.
Fascinating! Thank you John C Daley!

And Bill Norton: Be sure to read those, that's GREAT information to use when talking to authorities!  
 
Bill Norton
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Kenneth,

Actually I already contacted somebody at the MS Society regarding the possibility of setting up some composting port-a-potties. I haven't heard back yet. It could start on a small scale as one or two units at a few scattered stops along the MS150 bike route. If approved, though, I would still have the challenge of finding a piece of land to compost on, unless someone were willing to donate a small portion of their land for the cause. On a small scale, that wouldn't be a problem, but I'm sure larger scale operations would probably require special zoning and permitting.

Anne,

Debbie got back to me and suggested I contact the MN Pollution Control Agency. I'll get to that in the next few days (hold my feet to the fire on that, because I tend to procrastinate!)

Pearl,

I managed to get through half the video, and I will check out the links, but I'm a little skeptical about how applicable these foreign operations will be to the possibility of setting something up here. Joseph Jenkins pointed out that some of those "night soil" operations had health concerns, as well as being "an assault on the senses," so I am a little gun shy about using those as models for a U.S. operation.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Bill Norton wrote:
Pearl,

I managed to get through half the video, and I will check out the links, but I'm a little skeptical about how applicable these foreign operations will be to the possibility of setting something up here. Joseph Jenkins pointed out that some of those "night soil" operations had health concerns, as well as being "an assault on the senses," so I am a little gun shy about using those as models for a U.S. operation.


I didn't watch the video. I read all of the links though. Some of them DO have problems, but a LOT did not. The information is good to have in the back of your head so if you are asked "What about this?" You can say "Well, in Japan they did it this way and it worked VERY well, because they were looking at these factors, which I also am..."
There was links on one of them (I forget which) that talked of some current night soil systems, where people are using the best of history and modern tech. Those may have some good ideas for you.
 
Bill Norton
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Pearl wrote:

" There was links on one of them (I forget which) that talked of some current night soil systems, where people are using the best of history and modern tech. Those may have some good ideas for you." I'll check those out, Pearl. Thank you.

Anne: As promised, I followed through on Debbie Thao's suggestion. Here is what I sent to Timothy Farnan at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's solid waste department:

Hello Timothy,

I'm interested in starting a humanure composting service. Besides being unsustainable, the current sewer system erroneously takes for granted that feces and urine are waste materials. When properly composted (adequately covered and aged about a year), they can actually be resources. Humanure composting is described in detail in The Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins.

I realize this is a new concept in the United States (the MPCA site does not even mention it). Perhaps it could start as a small, closely monitored pilot project. If approved, I would consult with Mr. Jenkins and other experts to make sure it got done right. I would be more than delighted to do the "dirty work," so to speak.

Why I think this service is so important is that although many homeowners already do this, a good third of the population rents, and many owners are condominium dwellers who only own their units, not any of the land they reside on, so none of these people (myself included because I rent) can participate even if they want to.

Please get back to me as soon as you can. Thank you,

-Bill


We'll see what happens from here.
 
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I love your idea. And I thought of an alternative way to implement it: You could offer your services to customers on *their* premises. You'd build the bin, provide the buckets, empty the buckets & manage the compost for them. For customers who want something fancier than the basic bucket, you could even become a vendor of fancy readymade compost toilets that are on the market.  

This approach would avoid the need for a centralized piece of land, special licenses & permits and probably added expense etc.

This approach would not allow you to serve people living in condos or apartments (unless the landlord / condo board was keen on the concept), but it'd be a good start.

Good luck to you! I hope this will be a major sector of the economy someday, as sewers and septic systems that treat our pee and poop as "waste" now are.
 
Bill Norton
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The following is an email I sent to Cody Robinson from MPCA, who was kind enough to take the time to respond to my idea:

Hello Cody,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. I hope you had a happy and restful Thanksgiving. B and C in section 2150 refer to effluent, which is irrelevant to the project, as composting produces no sewage and therefore no effluent to manage. D is indeed very important and is addressed in the Humanure Handbook, although specific measurements aren't given. I'm guessing that how much bedding is needed to ensure no seepage into the groundwater will vary depending on local soil conditions. 2,3, and 5 of section 1500 deal with proper cover of fecal material, and this is where composting really shines, because since it is handled above ground, the nose is the perfect guide. If it stinks, it is not adequately covered. Once it is adequately covered, pets and vermin have no interest in it. Then thermophilic bacteria heat up the pile enough to kill the majority of pathogens, with proper aging (about a year) taking care of the rest. In fact, most pathogens cannot exist more than a few weeks to a month outside the human host. Section 1500, #4, revisits the contamination issue I already addressed above for 2150D. Section 2150A and section 1500, #1 deal with procedural issues (licensing, etc) and are not a real concern of mine other than my desire not to criminalize people who want to participate in this project. The "ick" factor alone will prevent 99% of the population from even considering participation. Humanure composting, however, is sustainable for every human being on the planet until the end of time. On the other hand, if the sewer system were adopted by every human being on the planet, the world's freshwater supply would dry up on day one. I'm convinced that once the other 99% see this process successfully executed, they will slowly cross over, maybe even in my lifetime (although I'm 60, so I'm not betting the farm on that one!).

Incidentally, I'm curious what the MPCA thought was unsafe about the Minnesota resident's humanure composting pile. I'm sure it's not anything that couldn't be easily addressed.

-Bill

p.s. Composting can even remediate soil already contaminated, such as at spent munitions plants.

We'll see what happens now. Jenny: Thank for the suggestion of offering the on-site service to interested homeowners. Soon I will make a video and link to it in my LinkedIn page.
 
John C Daley
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Great idea as I read more about it.
 
Bill Norton
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John: Love it! Especially the theme song at the end.

I had a brainstorm superhero scenario in my head that I just HAD to write down. I'll share it now for anyone interested. Feel free to embellish if you like:

Heroes And Villains

Heroes: Mother Nurture--the main hero. Her main powers are the creation and
maintenence of the Book of Knowledge, which, once accessed
through any medium, provides a path to the Realm of Quiet,
the place where all wisdom lies. This Realm is the one place
Ick cannot penetrate.
Info*--Nurture's chief assistant. His job is to "spread the word" about
the existence of the Realm of Quiet and the secrets that lie
within it. The main power of these secrets is that they absolutely
cannot be used nefariously. The trick is they are unattainable
through any act of will, making it very easy for Madam Ick and
Borometer to lure people away with seductive powers.
Covera--She can shoot natural cover material at Ick, neutralizing her
stench. The problem is that time is usually not on Covera's side.
Unless she can work quickly and completely, most people will act
rashly and use the flusher that Fecoramus provided them to flush
away Ick, not realizing that every time they flush, they are
actually increasing the size of Ick's Pool of Stench.

*lame name. gotta work on that one.

Villains: Madam Ick--the head villain. Her main powers are her incredible stench
to drive people away from things that threaten her (especially the
Realm of Quiet) and her ability to create distracting noises to
keep people busy and to drown out any wisdom. She is so adept at
touching off fear and anger that even the combined sage advice of
Info and Covera is usually no match for her. Only the most
determined and humble can see past Ick's odorous ruse.
         Borometer--Ick's chief assistant. His job is to maintain an impenetrable
wall of boredom around the Realm of Quiet. This is not as easy as
it sounds, because not having anything to do might actually
ATTRACT a fair number of people who are fed up with the
"Rat Race." For these people, he must trick them into circular
thinking that creates a false sense of urgency, then exploit their
sense of guilt to steer them away from the Realm of Quiet.
 Fecoramus--Feco is a clueless Innocent, often manipulated into doing
Urban Legendo's deceptive dirty work.
 Alwaysdunnitar--Good with camera angles, and well aware of the hypnotic
power of the status quo, Dunnitar's specialty is to present the
grinding status quo from an overhead angle to make it appear to be
a circle of sustainability, disguising the fact that below the
pleasing circular head is a grooved screw that grinds away
destructively with each revolution.
 Urban Legendo--As the name implies, Urban's main talent is deception.
With the catalyzing assistance of the unwitting sidekick
Fecoramus, Urban can spread disinformation with lightning speed.



I have left pronouns out of Fecoramus's, Alwaysdunnitar's, and Urban Legendo's
descriptions on purpose. I have not decided on a gender for any of them.










 
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