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What excites this engineer about Permies...so can you help me with this idea?  RSS feed

 
Dj Wells
Posts: 22
Location: Cincinnati, OH
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Greetings, Paul and all fellow Permies. I LOVE this site. Reading the comments, the array of topics, the podcasts, and the CREATIVITY has given me hope that we can make substantial change in our world. For the most part, I have sensed Permaculture to generally be arising from the grass roots level. It is heavily individualized. I'm not saying that is bad. I'm saying that this stuff is so good, I want to see it kicked into a bigger playing field. As a Professional Engineer, charged to "fix" many of the problems we have got ourselves into as a society with our modern lifestyle, I believe the "old way" of doing engineering (that helped to inadvertently get us into these problems) is not going to help us solve them. Spending big bucks (raising both rates and taxes) to do more of the same, bigger and faster, is NOT the answer. I am looking for Permaculture to bring NEW answers into the engineering profession and the projects that are tackled.

So here's one of the HUGE problems for us to brainstorm about:
SANITATION.

I am a member of EWB- Engineers Without Borders. We go to all sorts of places to help solve problems for people who need our help, mainly in developing countries. The greatest need is in the area with the acrostic WASH-WAter, Sanitation, and Hygiene. Trying to transplant what we do in our "developed" country with our Western thinking is not going to bring any long term solutions. Why should we export our mistakes? That is why I am reaching out to the Permie community to see what kind of input and ideas we can assemble on this topic.

In Permaculture thinking, anytime we hear ourselves calling something a "WASTE" product, we need to go back to the drawing board and enlarge our design to transform it into a RESOURCE. Why are we flushing "waste" into our drinking water and using potable grade water to do it? What if we designed a WATERLESS sanitation system which captured nutrients to be used in a productive way? I say, "We went to the moon, we can DO this!" I'm not talking a simple latrine or singular composting toilet. I'm talking about a SYSTEM (great Permaculture word, right?) that would service many people. I see this system feeding into our broken agriculture system, which is one of the WORST POLLUTERS of our waterways, and changing two huge troubled areas at the same time.

So enough said for now, to "break the ice" on this topic. How many are brave enough to tackle this often "taboo" topic?









 
Julia Winter
steward
Posts: 1938
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Hello and Welcome!

You have come to the right place. We have a whole forum on composting toilets!

Paul has a couple of "dry outhouses" on his land, I believe. I'll let those who know more share about that.

I had a friend volunteer with MSF, but I'm so glad to hear there is something called Engineers Without Borders. That is so cool. You are totally right, flushing poop with drinking water is insane. There are MANY alternatives. In warm climates, black soldier flies can be put to use. Separating the urine from the poop really helps in terms of smell, but requires a bit of education for the users.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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I am going to recommend you contact paul stamets regarding his work with using fungi to reduce E.coli populations in runoff (He used fungal remediation to address his own septic system with great results). Paul probably has some useful research results and recommendations for your application.

Also, reach out to geoff lawton. Geoff has a different approach, using wetland plants as the primary cleaning mechanism.

I expect that combining the two appropriately could produce some synergies that would improve upon the good results achieved with each approach on its own.

This is an area that has been addressed for some time by quite a few people. I think it is less a case of needing to invent a wheel than of needing to properly assemble the existing components to make the best car
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Hi DJ:

First of all, thank you for being part of EWB - that's awesome!

I grew up in many "developing" countries (developing into industrial nations - in other ways, they are much more developed than "developed" nations), mostly in East and Southern Africa. My dad was a Civil Engineer and worked on USAID projects that brought water and sanitation to communities. He also did some Environmental engineering in the Far East. WASH is incredibly important, especially with more and more people being displaced from their rural homes and living in some truly tragic urban slums the likes of which few Westerners have ever seen.

I'll endeavor to post some successful projects around WASH here over the next few days (torqued my back helping a friend move so I'm not sitting for long periods!).

I feel like engineers have a huge role to play on the global scene right now as their expertise is needed by many. And I think you're right - bigger and faster does not equal "Better". Sometimes local homegrown systems are the best.

I know there are different types of composting toilets for different climates - do you find yourself working in a specific climate or climates? (tropical, dryland, cool/cold temperate)? Do you work on any atolls? (those can get tricky)
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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The Arborloo. First heard about this one from some Peace Corps friends:



 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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And for hand washing - the Tippy Tap.

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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An urban dryland approach. Note that this toilet is about to become legal for all of Arizona to install!



 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Another approach applicable in urban settings as well as suburban and rural presented by SOILS and implemented in Haiti.

 
P Lyons
Posts: 32
Location: Ontario, Canada
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With respect to an international development context, I have found that a good reference for existing and emerging sanitation technologies is the Compendium of Sanitation Systems and Technologies, developed by the Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag). Free download from: http://www.sandec.ch/forschung/sandec/publikationen/compendium_e/index_EN


The sustainable sanitation alliance, SuSanA, (webpage), provides some excellent resources and has active forums. Everything from large engineered municipal systems to humanure is discussed.


If you are looking specifically at low cost waterless sanitation solutions, I have found the information provided by Chris Canaday to be very concise and practical with a scientific backing. Most of his work focuses on low cost solutions with some very unique reuse concepts. Some of his basic information and links can be found here: http://inodoroseco.blogspot.com/

He recently posted the following video, that I have not seen on this forum, demonstrating the use of polypropylene woven sacks in a urine diverting dry toilet (UDDT) system (also an additional reference to the tippy tap):


 
nancy sutton
gardener
Posts: 645
Location: Federal Way, WA - Western Washington (Zone 8 - temperate maritime)
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Do a search here and on the web for Black Soldier Flies - BSF. They are benign flies whose larva voraciously convert putrescent material into self-harvesting, highly nutritious 'grubs' that fish and chicken gobble up. Research has been done on managing manures (pig, zoo, etc), and the Biopod manual says that their anti-bacterial properties result in minimal odor. The temperature limitations are being stretched all the time :)
 
G Moffatt
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If you have a civil background no doubt you know the problems with municipal sewage in the US - it is highly regulated and the funding adds many complicated layers of additional regulation. Unfortunately the economic model is flawed because the service is paid for by volume of water use but usually the system suffers periods of flooding from rain etc. (for which the system cannot be economically be designed), so when it rains heavily the plant just overflows into the nearest waterway. I have only built a few such plants so my experience is just anecdotal but you can be assured, where money is involved, in-equity is close by. The Permie solution is to deal with sewage on site. If you have read Michael Reynolds books he has explored a variety of options and has practical experience using them. The fundamental issue of land use affects every method. A commercial US plant uses lots of power in order to minimize footprint and the requirements for trained operators. In Mexico there are examples where the operating cost is much reduced by using more space and, since labor is cheaper, more operators (using gravity instead of pumps). In undeveloped countries permiculture offers the opportunity to manage the waste water along with the whole site as a design element. In any case you can build a solution that leverages knowledge and design. The point of this explanation is that the method used should fit the site analysis, there is not going to be one solution.
 
Sue Rine
pollinator
Posts: 292
Location: New Zealand
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:The Arborloo. First heard about this one from some Peace Corps friends:





We lived in a cabin for 4 years with a long drop loo. I planted a tree on the first pit that filled but not on subsequent ones. When it came time to dig our 4th pit it occurred to me that the first one was over a year old so I investigated. ...well broken down, rich, non smelly compost. It was much easier to dig out the existing pit than a new one. We used the compost on our food gardens and grew great veges...and lived to tell the tale! The advantage was that we didn't have a bunch of trees growing close to the cabin but still had the advantage of recycling our 'waste' aka resource.
May not be the 'system' you are looking for though, DJ Wells.
 
Seth Peterson
Posts: 94
Location: Berkeley, CA
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Most of the great suggestions that I would make we're already mentioned. I do also love this sight! Permies rock! But let me comment and add one additional resource.

I saw the SOILS toilets in Haiti when I visited last November to teach permaculture to 5th and 6th graders with a program called Mindful Generations, run by Cathy Rose. Simple, effective, awesome and when people moved the latrines, they plant a tree on the old spot. I saw them in the poorest of the poor outlying farming communities used by families that had almost no resources and no running water. Very nice work.

I also saw tippy taps in action, great stuff, we taught the children to build them, from 'garbage waist' at the Kobonal mission near Hinche.

When I spoke with Paul about his humanore systems, which I had the privelage of using he carefully explained to me how he is taking every precaution, including a two year turn around in sealed barrels for solid waist to make darn sure it is safe. He eventually wants to get this process legalized, accepted and or permitted, so he is "REALLY DOING IT RIGHT". And although there is a pee diverter, it is much more diverting to pee on his sawdust compost pile which then heats water for his showers.

So, imagine, your morning routine: going to the bathroom knowing that
1) your humamore will feed the land you live on.
2) peeing on a compost pile that makes hot water.
3) showering in hot water created using your own pee.
4) not using electricity or gas, nor even expensive and toxic gick laden solar as an energy source.
5) not dirtying fresh drinking water in the act of...
6) feeling completely integrated to and even benficial for the local ecology you live in as you go through your morning routine, I will never look at a bathroom the same again. Thanks Paul!

And lastly, last year I saw at presentation on ecological 'waist' management systems that use composting, wetlands, microbials, fungi, etc in elegant and functional ways. John Todd ecological blew my socks off, he really knows his stuff and has been at it for years. He's got many working examples around the planet. http://www.toddecological.com

That we may all go forth and pee with great pride and conviction,

Seth
permie chef
 
Feidhlim Harty
author
Posts: 163
Location: Ireland
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Seth, DJ et al. great to read your posts.

I've very new to Permies.com, and am loving the discussions. Just this week I've been doing a US launch of my new book Septic Tank Options and Alternatives - Your Guide to Conventional, Natural and Eco-friendly Methods and Technologies; published by Permanent Publications in the UK. Most of the activity has been taking place on the grey water thread, but I'm glad I checked the compost toilet pages out too.

This whole area is moving in the right direction. A couple of years back there was a national conference on domestic wastewater treatment in Ireland. The keynote speaker was Chris Buckley of the Pollution Research Group in South Africa http://prg.ukzn.ac.za/ and, perhaps to the discomfort of some, he launched straight into a wonderful lecture on the many benefits of dry toilets and how they were used with careful design and implementation to stop a cholera epidemic a few years back.

Another resource that may be of help DJ is EcoSanRes in Sweden. They've got some wonderful resources for arid, cash-starved climates.

In terms of the different approaches possible, here's a brief summary of the systems I've found for the book: www.wetlandsystems.ie/watertips.html I hope it's of interest. Keep up the good work!
 
Lina Joana
Posts: 42
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Hi DJ,
I was wondering if you could expand on your original post. You mentioned that you were not interested in individual latrines or composting toilets, and you mentioned a dry system. It seems to me that a dry system would need to be individual composting units, right? You aren't going to move solids to a centralized processing plant without water. You could, of course, use non potable water to flush. I could even envision a closed loop system, where the treated water was reused and sent back to the toilets, though it would probably not be simple. For a dry system, though, I imagine you'd need individual composting units (many have been mentioned), then have a collection system for the solids - like trash collectors. Is this what you were thinking of?
 
Danny Smithers
Posts: 43
Location: Florissant, CO
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HI DJ,

Love the enthusiasm! And I agree, this site is full of amazing individuals doing extraordinary things.

I don't know if you have taken a permaculture design course, but what strikes me most heavily about your post is pattern of thought-which gets addressed in most PDCs. I noticed you seemed to separate the concept of individual latrines from a "system." But really it is a system that can be implemented with nothing more than a bucket and some carbon material. Maybe I'm mis-reading your post, but I got the sense that you want to come up with some sort of large-scale system of waste and sanitation. But sometimes the simplest approach can be the best system. If residual nutrients (humanure) never have to leave a site, no transportation is needed and the site becomes richer in nutrients--it might be the most efficient system. In full-on urban areas this may not be feasible, but in the parts of the world that you addressed, it might make the most sense.

I personally use a composting toilet and it is odor-free and uses only captured rainwater to rinse out the bucket.

In the past in China, it was considered rude to leave a guests house that had you over for a meal without using the toilet because you didn't leave your nutrients behind. Instead of creating a new system, it might make sense to simply loosen the regulations on our current lifestyle. I wonder how quickly the California drought situation could be mitigated by switching to a composting toilet system. With 38.8 million people that flush a toilet (roughly 5-gallons per flush) let's say 2-times a day--generously, that would equate to around 380 million gallons of water a day.

While there is a lot of stigma around this concept, it is a very sanitary system. I know Paul isn't a fan of the bucket system, but considering the ease of implementation and impacts it could have, it has a lot of potential.

It's great to have more engineers on board in this great endeavor and I look forward to all the new insights you will provide! And as a final note, I'll attach my composting toilet design. It is a half-A-frame design where half of the a-frame keeps the straw dry and captures water. I left a gap in the wall so you can just reach out and grab the piled up straw. It is mostly constructed of used palettes.
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Rebecca Norman
gardener
Posts: 1209
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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I love your photo Danny. What's the inner workings of your toilet? Is it a hole in the ground, and the whole structure to be moved when the hole is full? Or is there a bucket and seat in there?
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
Posts: 1121
Location: northern northern california
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perhaps you will all enjoy this, some information about the interesting waste water treatment facility in arcata california.

certainly not without using a lot of water, but this is an area of significant rainfall, rainforest actually.
but it is large scale, this is the system for the entire town, and its quite a beautiful place

http://www.cityofarcata.com/departments/environmental-services/water-wastewater/wildlife-sanctuary

 
Danny Smithers
Posts: 43
Location: Florissant, CO
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Hi Rebecca,

It is just a box with a a toilet seat on top and a 5-gallon bucket beneath. The back has a palette on hinges where you just remove and empty the bucket upon its filling. I am finding that a simple layer of straw does the trick--it is actually performing beyond my expectations. The complete lack of odor is what surprised me the most. When I get a chance I'll snap some photos on the inside and in the back and post them here.
 
Feidhlim Harty
author
Posts: 163
Location: Ireland
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Hi Leila,

In 1993 Dr. Don Hammer of the Tennessee Valley Authority spoke in Midleton, Co. Cork, Ireland, at the first Irish International Constructed Wetland Conference organised at the time to propose a sustainable solution for the sewage pollution into the harbour… He spoke about the Arcata treatment wetland system in California, and how the maintenance man spent most of his time renting out binoculars to birdwatchers. Lovely to see the link to a video about the system! Thank you.
 
Mikael Long
Posts: 54
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"In Permaculture thinking, anytime we hear ourselves calling something a "WASTE" product, we need to go back to the drawing board and enlarge our design to transform it into a RESOURCE"

I believe this is the first part of the solution but more explicitly to think in systems which are stacked within and on top of each other both figuratively and literally where applicable. It is not just not Waste but is a lost resource, when ever we search for ways to exclude something or ship it away we loose a critical part of the formula. That said I had seen in the past a system which include aguaponics waste management and vegetative food production done in the early 2000's in Austin Texas. This was done in a warehouse with what might be called reengage inventors and idealist, the city closed it down soon after it was up and running but not because it was unsafe, test after test proved the concept worked. There was a series of plants and and fish in successive order one literally above the other. Humans would both urinate and defecate into the ponds or containers which then fed into the ponds then each one would continue to the next till at the end the water was tested to be as pure as drinking water. If you think about it this happens all the time in nature and is only truly pulled out of balance by humans attempting to separate out the parts which seem unsavory. This is a broad statement and not always true. I know that I myself have a hard time rapping my head around this but continue to try to think in these terms. What is the next place something will complete the cycle. Can a preexisting system in nature be simulated to create a more compatible system. It is not a solution that we are looking for but a system which reconnects us to that fundamental system which we tried to separate ourselves from. The advances in technology are fantastic and I for one do not wish to give up any of my great communication tools, or many of the great advances, for this right here could not happen, but more to find a way to bring those things into the fold of systems within systems which compliment each other, close the loop so there is no thing called wasted it does not exist it is a false word. I hope more engineers and other thinkers in your position would adopt this idea so we could all grow together and not be leaving a big pile of @#*! to our future generations but also to export ideas and systems which allow other peoples to grow into these systems and make them work in there environment.

Thank you
Mikeal
 
Danny Smithers
Posts: 43
Location: Florissant, CO
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If interested... here are other pictures of my composting toilet setup.
photo 4.JPG
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photo 1.JPG
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