Feidhlim, does your new book address the regulations in specific countries, and if so which ones? The rules vary tremendously across the U.S.
Wisconsin, I'm happy to say, has a state plumbing code that allows for both greywater and composting blackwater systems in new construction, so that connecting one's interior plumbing to the city sewer or to a septic system is not required. Many people aren't aware of this!
The only catch is that the system must be designed by a master plumber. That isn't difficult though. There are plenty of plumbers who can design such systems, and do-it-yourselfers can install them without a professional as long as they follow the approved design and pass inspection. Not all master plumbers can or will do such designs, but it's a good idea to talk to a few until you find one.
Another question: what composting toilet systems do you know of that do a good job of urine separation? This is key to less-frequent emptying of the composting chamber, and being able to easily use the nutrient-rich urine (70% of all the nutrients in human waste are in urine, is what I've heard).
Hi Jerry, good question. The book focuses on the Irish regulatory situation as it currently stands.
I understand that each state and each county in the US has it's own variations on environmental legislation. Even in Ireland there are many different approaches to environmental planning: often boiling down to the individual behind a desk. Some are really proactive and want to try innovative solutions that have a good track record elsewhere, others want to stick to the rules as they understand them, without really wanting to explore other avenues even within the current laws.
Now, having said all that. The main focus of the book is really an investigation of the existing situation on site; an exploration of the options that are available - including conventional approaches, natural systems like reed beds and wetlands, and then more eco-friendly approaches like dry toilets and willow systems that aren't in the Irish legal codes at all yet. Although it is written with Ireland in mind, it's not really all that country-specific. I've taken examples from Scandinavia, Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand and the UK into account when writing the book. Not local legislation, but systems that have been tried and tested there. Those countries aren't all mentioned necessarily - but their systems inform the book contents nonetheless.
My aim with writing it was to bring options to people who were worried about our new septic tank inspection process; who knew they had a problem and didn't know where to start; who wanted planning permission to build but were limited by site or soil conditions; or people who just wanted the most environmentally sustainable system available and had no idea how to make that a reality in their own site. I also wanted to create a template for the government bodies to use in creation of a more eco-friendly code of their own, so that we could include dry toilets and willow systems and comfrey grey water systems more easily in our planning applications in Ireland.
As it happens, the book makes for a really good background read on the subject of domestic sewage options and although it's designed for home owners - it should really be on every engineering, architecture and construction degree in the country (any country for that matter). Not that I'm biased or anything…
If you have a look on my webpage www.wetlandsystems.ie/shop.html and follow the green-shopping link, you'll be able to view the first chapter for free and get a better idea of what the book is about.
It sounds as if the Wisconsin legislation allows for a fairly broad range of sustainable options, given what you've said in your message. That's a great start. The more of theses permie ideas that are done well, the more they will be able to spread to other states.
Vis a vis composting toilets that do a good job of urine separation - I use a Dutch Nonolet unit that separates faecal and urine. Be aware that for a thermophilic compost heap as per Joseph Jenkins, you'll need to keep the urine in with the faecal and sawdust to get the carbon breakdown and the high temperatures that are needed for sterilisation. Anyway, my Nonolet unit is a handy one. I put the liquid on the comfrey bed for N, P and K capture; and the solids into a plastic compost bin with loads of cardboard and a load of compost worms. Then bury the finished vermicompost under the comfrey bed. Note that thermophilic composting will probably get a better die off of everything that you want to kill off than my system, but since it's aged and buried, I'm not too bothered. It follows WHO guidance on ageing times - but if you want to have it really safely done, then follow the Humanure Handbook.
Thanks Feidhlim, I'll take a look at your website and the book.
Re: Jenkins' Humanure, I really appreciated his book and the insistent message to get away from municipal sewage systems. Then I studied permaculture and was bitten by the same bug that infected Paul: laziness. Hauling manure buckets every other day and turning that pile doesn't attract me. Commercial and home-grown (vault) toilets that will compost and simply have to be emptied of finished product is more interesting. Without the urine, the fecal matter is much less likely to go anaerobic and smelly in such toilets.
I can empathise with that myself. I think that the main thing is to ensure that if it's a bucket system of any sort, it's emptied regularly enough. And if it's a vault system, that it's well ventilated and covered after each use. My (limited) experience is that commercial systems are not necessarily better than home-built. Keeping urine out of vaults has the extra advantage that you may not need a concrete or plastic liner beneath the chamber to protect groundwater if there isn't urine washing bacteria and nutrients down into the subsoil. This is a huge area; one that my book really only touches on briefly to show people that there are indeed lots of dry toilet options out there, and all of them have been tried and tested (not necessarily with consistently rosy results, but tested nonetheless. But flush toilets have their share of environmental disaster stories to go with them so we shouldn't judge the dry technology too harshly when it needs adjustment).
anyway, best of luck on your searching for that perfect system.