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Permaculture Best Practices for Septic System Management

 
Posts: 53
Location: Olympia, WA
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Does anyone have suggestions for the best permaculturey ways to manage an already existing septic system?

My fiancee and I just bought a home on 1.5 acres in Oly, WA. It's a "traditional" home that already has plumbing and a septic system. We have found many of the general septic best practices, and we plan to compost all organic matter and not use the food "disposal" in our sink. We won't be flushing much of anything besides toilet paper, and we want to re-plumb much of our house into a greywater system. Meaning, we probably won't be putting much into our septic tank other than toilet flushes.

I'd like to bypass the septic altogether by doing humanure, but I don't know if we can get away with it where we live. In the even that we can't, does anyone have suggestions on how best to manage our septic system in a permaculture fashion? My goals are:

1) Toxin free septic management
2) Minimize how frequently we need to pump the septic system
3) Utilize the septic system as little as possible, with the exception of poop since we might not be able to get away with switching to compost toilets.

Any and all permaculture best practices for utilizing a septic system that's already in place would be awesome and helpful. Thanks!

(Note to moderators: Sorry if this is the wrong forum for this topic!! I couldn't decipher any that might be THE spot for this question.)
 
Posts: 236
Location: Seattle, WA
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To be honest, I'm not sure there is a easy answer here. On the surface, septic systems violate about half of the permaculture design principles, so it seems it would be hard to manage a septic system in a permaculture fashion. The best recommendation I have is reading up on how Earthships deal with their sewage. Essentially, if you can create a "exterior botanical cell" between your house and the septic system, you can grow plants that will harvest the nutrients in the sewage while letting the excess flow through to the existing septic system. In theory, it should entirely remove the need to ever have your tank pumped.
 
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I have been thinking about this topic also. I think the worm solution may be a better one. Anyway it involves sending waste into a worm bin and letting them eat it all. Then when it is getting full switching to another bin and letting the first one sit for a year. Clean it out and switch back. There are a few topics about this here and there. The worms will eat food waste, toilet paper, just about anything that gets there. If your in a colder climate you can insulate their bin with foam housing insulation. I will edit this with links if I find them. I don't see why someone couldn't hook a worm system inline with a septic system as a first processor and let the liquids keep going.

http://www.permaculture.co.uk/readers-solutions/how-make-vermicomposting-flush-toilet
 
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If you are determined to have humanure, I have a hard time imagining a neighborhood or other situation that can really prevent it. I did a simple bucket system in an apartment for ten years without anybody knowing about it that I didn't choose to know about it. What's another five gallon bucket in a wheelbarrow going off to a compost pile, or a tree-planting hole?
 
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You have a good situation, no permits required, don't ask for permission, enjoy your day. If you are going to switch to a Jenkins system why not let the old septic system be the new grey water?
 
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Location: Western Washington Zone 8a
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I have been wondering about this too. It seems so counter productive to have to pump the tank, just to bring it to the treatment plant where everyone elses waste goes. While it would be ideal for "permaculture" to keep those nutrients on site, at least the treatment plant in this area cleans water to a very high standard (some becomes reclaimed water which is used to flush toilets and irrigate some parks), and the biosolids produced there get used for non-food crop application. The methane produced is also used to generate electricity that powers some of the plant and the museum next door. Since you're using a system that is already in place you are re-using, rather than building something new so that coinsides with permaculture principles. Maybe you could make your plans for humanure and have that ready to go if/when your septic system has reached its lifespan. With the way you will be using it, it should last a long time and probably will rarely need to be pumped. (Maybe once in 15 yrs?). One of the most important things is to be careful about what chemical products you send down there. Things like bleach can kill the microbes that are working in there.

I hope to see more replies on this! It's an interesting topic, with lots of room for improvement.
 
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That thread was 2014 and seems to have dried up. I think a compositing toilet is the best option, with or without worms. With at least a year per heap. I saw one YouTube video where the guy had three heaps, so leaving the humanure for 2 years before use

But my question is about septic tanks given some people don't want the work of composting loos. Clearly oxigenating tanks are best, but there seem to be different designs. For example three chamber, with only the middle chamber oxigenated, or a single chamber with wheels that mash up the waste to speed up digestion as well as pumping air into it.

Does anyone have information on this?
 
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Location: Whitehall, Michigan, Zone 6a very sandy soil
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Even though this is old, I wanted to add something: if sized correctly for your family, a septic tank should never have to be pumped, it is actually, very sustainable. If you don't put harsh chemicals into it, killing all the bacteria breaking down the waste, the drain field can actually become a fertile area to grow lots of greenery. The item of caution here is that if you ONLY flush the solids into the septic tank, and send the other greywater somewhere else, you'll actually create the conditions requiring pumping. There won't be enough liquid to dilute the solids, and will result in a thick sludge in the tank that isn't broken down and doesn't drain into the drain field.
 
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Jonathan said, "if sized correctly for your family, a septic tank should never have to be pumped, it is actually, very sustainable.



I agree. We have never needed to have a septic system pumped.

We do use enzymes to help our system like RidX or Green Gobbler.

Be selective about what products your household uses that might go into the system.

The original post has some good information about how to maintain a system.
 
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