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Low-cost, eco-friendly toilets for refugees  RSS feed

 
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Europe is currently seeing millions of refugees fleeing North Africa, and officialdom is struggling to respond appropriately. Despite this slow response by governments, thousands of Europeans are offering food, clothing, toiletries etc.

Question for Permies all over the world: are there easy designs online for compost toilets or urinals to meet the needs of refugees safely and cleanly and protect the local environment? Ideally built from cheap and readily available materials.
 
Mother Tree
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The best resource I have found is a pdf download from the heperian health guides website.

Go the website, click on the download pdf option under the book called 'A Community Guide to Environmental Health' and then choose chapter 7, Building Toilets. It's free to download.

The website asks us not to post direct download links as they are constantly updating the material, so go through the whole process each time.

I'm currently undertaking some very delicate negotiations with a roma family trying to persuade them that they should think about building a compost toilet system, and the book has become a kind of bible for me.

 
Burra Maluca
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Apparently the book has an open copyright, allowing it to be freely used and adapted on a not-for-profit basis, so I'm going to upload a sample page here to get the discussion going.
sanitation-for-emergencies.png
[Thumbnail for sanitation-for-emergencies.png]
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Burra, thanks for that link. EcoSanRes (Ecological Sanitation Research) in Sweden is another good source of material for safe reuse of humanure and urine on a community scale. I'd love to get these methods introduced at the camps - particularly the moveable toilet for tree planting afterwards… that would leave Europe with a trail of trees following the refugee lines, which would be beautiful.
 
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I personally think the ideal is the sawdust toilet from any options I have read about. Adaptable to most available containers and cover material it allows for central composting and having toilets inside and near drinking water with no contamination danger or odour. A basic frame is easy to make and it can then be used on any floor surface and is easy to move. Plans and all the information you need are available free online at http://humanurehandbook.com/ . My family has been using this system for a year now and I love its simplicity, portability and eco friendliness.
 
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I was mulling just this question a day or so ago. I was thinking that making use of lots of cheap strawbales would be a good start - high carbon sponge material which can be stacked quickly and easily.

Urinals would be just bales to piss on - perhaps with a funnel/pipe into the center. That covers about 30% of all toilet trips and they just need dropping off the back of a lorry.




Toilets would be sawdust loos using a bucket system to keep the toilet area clean and fresh. The buckets would be emptied into a compost heap restrained by a straw bale wall. The whole lot would be left to break down in place. You could probably make a system that didn't need buckets, but in my experience the toilet area can be kept clean and fresh if the toilet seats and buckets are portable.

 
Feidhlim Harty
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Thanks Wyatt and Michael,

I'd been veering away from bucket loos because of the requirement for emptying and management of the compost system after the refugees find asylum - which will hopefully be relatively soon. If we use pit toilets with a moveable seat/shelter then there is actually no need to have contact with the humanure itself (even moving a bucket). The straw bale urinal is something that I've been considering as well. Square bales on their edge, bristles upwards, may be a very easy way to approach it. It's mostly men at Calais, so that should work well.

I'm grateful for your input, it's really helpful to bounce ideas around and play with ideas here. Thanks.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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I call " not me " for who is going to move the urine soaked straw bales. Sorta like an anti dibs.
 
Burra Maluca
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Wyatt Barnes wrote:I call " not me " for who is going to move the urine soaked straw bales. Sorta like an anti dibs.



I did one for a wwoofer once. It seemed like a really good idea until the time came for me to transfer it to the compost heap. I swore I'd never do it again! The smell was unimaginably bad.

But then if it was planned better it might work. Maybe arrange for them to compost in place so they don't have to be handled.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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I think that composting in-situ may be a must for that design then… I wonder if they could be simply seeded with commercial lawn seed at the end of their useful life and left in place. Burra, how well did the straw bales work before you went at them with a pitch-fork?
 
Burra Maluca
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Feidhlim Harty wrote: how well did the straw bales work before you went at them with a pitch-fork?



Very well, actually. I was very impressed and was going to do a very positive write up, until I tried to move the thing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not squeamish. I do Jenkins style humanure, and I won't gross you out by my eldercare stories that triggered my starting to use that system. I can handle 'pretty gross', but that pee bale was on a whole new level.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Did it look too rich to grow seeds? Or would it take a pumpkin plant in the spring?
 
Burra Maluca
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It was still too fresh to tell when I moved it - it was just a temporary thing until while one particular wwoofer was here. But I suspect too rich for seeds and perfect for pumpkin if it was left over winter.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Here's my first draft of a temporary and permanent toilet set-up. I wanted something that could fit on an A4 sheet, be clear and readable, and easily distributed. I'll put up a web page next so that the background information is all present for anyone with internet access. I get the impression that the modern refugee has occasional internet access via phone connections…
Filename: Calais-temporary-toilet-draft-1.pdf
Description: Temporary toilet set up DRAFT
File size: 222 Kbytes
Filename: Calais-permanent-toilet-draft-1.pdf
Description: Permanent toilet set up DRAFT
File size: 291 Kbytes
 
Feidhlim Harty
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In that case there'll be pumpkins aplenty in Calais this time next year
 
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While compost toilets are a great idea for certain areas/systems, I think making biogas out of human waste is an EVEN BETTER idea for this situation. We have just installed a 6 cubic meter biogas digester and our friends and colleagues at Solar Cities are poised to install these systems that will create abundant methane for cooking and heating water (specially designed insta-hots). The effluent is nutrient rich slurry that is 99% pathogen free that can be used to literally green that desert. Other countries such as China, Iraq and India are all over this shit and we in the U.S. with all of our fossil fuel abundance are slow to catch on. Biogas digesters are being built out of concrete and also out of IBC tanks and 55 gal drums. Let your imagination run wild!
Get in touch with me if you have any questions!


Thank you!
Adriana
www.permaculturenewyork.com
https://www.facebook.com/groups/methanogens/?ref=br_tf
 
Burra Maluca
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I'm not sure a biogas system is the most appropriate for an emergency, temporary system such as is needed for the refugees.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Depending on lead time for gas production a bio digester might be an excellent choice for a planned response team. On site gas production for cooking and or hot water for bathing and general sanitation would be a tremendous asset.
 
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I agree. I also agree to utilize the resource to produce bio gas. What I am really a big fan of is teaching people/refugees how to apply this knowledge so that they can do it for themselves and in turn, be productive and not so dependent on the powers-at-be. But folks, will any of this happen? I have a feeling that those empty FEMA detention/holding facilities are going to get crowded really soon. What about the federal lands that have already been allotted years before for such of a crisis?

I'm all about kind acts of humanity but I am well traveled and have seen first hand the effects of fundamental differences between open societies and closed ones. Much of these people are coming from closed, Islamist societies and under the cloak of multiculturalism, they force their views and beliefs that contradict freedom and liberty as open societies live by. How we value life and how certain other cultures value life is very different.

It is great that we are a lot of wonderful, bright, peaceful and loving people; We are the salt of the Earth and a light in ever increasingly dark world. But, we must be mindful while we extend our helping hands and give our hearts out to these people. Many of wolf has adorned the cloaks of sheep.

I am a strong believer that love conquers all but wisdom and not fear, tells me to be extremely vigilant. I ask of all of you to do the same out of love and respect. There are not enough of us in this world and we need all of each other when dust settles.
 
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Refugee permaculture = Awesome! Good for you!

Living, traveling and teaching permaculture in China for the past many years, I can say that the government subsidized humanure biogas digesters that everyone claims are so great here were a big flop. Farmers largely prefer to use raw humanure in their fields rather than to fuss over leaky, disgusting to clean, extremely low output energy systems. Do you have research showing the effluent is pathogen free and safe to use? I see the opposite.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1438463914000388

At the very most, only faeces should be added to a digester, as urine will only force more putrid liquid effluent out of the system without adding any carbon to be transformed into biogas. Please don't be like most NGOs, mindlessly promoting sustainable tech without trying it first! A single digester takes an incredible amount of investment, labor, energy and non-recyclable materials to build compared to what most people get out of them before abandonment. One fast hot shower for 10 people's poo, half a truck of bricks and cement... Save the energy from the brick kiln and cement processing for the hot water. Better yet, use solar hot water!

Back to composting toilets:

Our team has some valuable experience designing and using group composting toilets in poor and developing regions. From our experience, a group use urine diverting composting toilet using sawdust will need about one large 360L (95 gallon) wheelie bin per month per 15 adults, and will fill a 5 gallon bucket of urine at least once per day.

It is my opinion that a non-removable container would mean building an unimaginable amount of separate toilet systems, even per 100 people. If I'm calculating correctly, that's roughly one cubic meter of waste storage, or one double chamber latrine per 3-4 people on a yearly cycle, not accounting for extra sawdust added to soak up urine. And although neither material is ideal, I just can't see how a cement box is an improvement over a HDPE bin in terms of Eco-friendly materials or safe waste handling practices. Surely a sturdy 360L bin has a higher reuse, resale or recycling value than a pile of broken cement blocks!

I suggest urine diversion, collection and use for everyone, at every deposit. Any urine included in sawdust composting system will require huge amounts of sawdust to soak up and equalize, where urine diversion can be easily utilized for planting crops, trees, etc. We use a simple urine diverting squat toilet already on the market here in China, and add a one way valve to the urine drain line to effectively seal the collection reservoir. We use a large urine storage reservoir, usually a 200L plastic barrel, to collect the urine and have it ready for mixing via a tap in the bottom of the barrel connected to an in-line irrigation source for convenient fertigation via hose. For men, a urinal connected directly to the barrel with the same one way valve reduces wait times on the toilet considerably. If tapeworm is a concern (typically the only urine-transmitted pathogen) a sealed barrel can be left for 30 days at >20C for sterilization, or longer at lower temperatures. If used by the same family to grow their personal plot, sterilization is typically irrelevant. When kept in a sealed container, smell is not an issue and the urine will keep ideal ratios of plant nutrients to grow almost anything, even a year later, and apparently contains nearly 80% of the plant nutrients in our waste stream. In that case, shouldn't it be considered a permaculture taboo to simply soak this stuff into the ground water, clearly a pollution concern, or to keep it in a latrine bin or straw bale, where much of the nutrient value can volatilize into the air?

We usually drill a small hole 10cm from the bottom of the rollie-bin for any needed drainage and added aeration and put bins in a shady spot to the side of the toilet for composting, then cover with old cloth to prevent sun damage and overheating in our subtropical climate. The actual contact with the waste is a bare minimum, and I usually feel comfortable removing bins without gloves, a vast improvement to the often disgusting composting toilet designs we have used in the past. Because we still add a healthy helping of sawdust after each use and exclude the urine, the process often starts with black soldier fly thoroughly breaking down and mixing the materials (1/3 reduction in volume in less than a month) and ends up as a fungal rich compost at six months to one year. We also suggest adding worms after the initial breakdown period to help with sterilization and improve compost quality. If bins are limited, they could be dumped after two or three months and left to finish composting near the garden or orchard for the additionally needed time. This could mean as little as a single toilet and 3 bins per 15 people for a permanent system. (As compared to 3 to 5 complete double chamber composting toilets for the same amount of people). Full 360L bins, composed mostly of sawdust, are not particularly difficult to move; an average 20 year old female is able to roll them across smooth, flat land without a problem. DO buy sturdy bins with large repairable wheels and a strong axel.

I can understand an emergency pit latrine, but if people are expected to be around for even two months, a urine diverting toilet will make it possible to sustainably grow many greens, etc. Plus, what an amazing opportunity to teach a group of people in need how to lose dependence on purchased fertilizers for sustenance agriculture, rather than how to effectively waste nutrients and pollute their new environment.
 
Michael Cox
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adriana magana wrote:While compost toilets are a great idea for certain areas/systems, I think making biogas out of human waste is an EVEN BETTER idea for this situation. We have just installed a 6 cubic meter biogas digester and our friends and colleagues at Solar Cities are poised to install these systems that will create abundant methane for cooking and heating water (specially designed insta-hots). The effluent is nutrient rich slurry that is 99% pathogen free that can be used to literally green that desert. Other countries such as China, Iraq and India are all over this shit and we in the U.S. with all of our fossil fuel abundance are slow to catch on. Biogas digesters are being built out of concrete and also out of IBC tanks and 55 gal drums. Let your imagination run wild!
Get in touch with me if you have any questions!



In an emergency refugee crisis you need a system that can be setup immediately and can expand rapidly to cope with changing numbers. It also needs to be cheap and temporary. A concrete formed biogas generator does not sound like it fits the bill.

Regarding concerns about moving stinky bales; the solution to that is simple. You don't move them. Make sure they get placed where they can stay and break down for at least a year. I'm not sure of the exact circumstances of the Calais camps, but I understand it is in a section of unused scrub land/marginal farm land. Dedicate urinal areas to scrubby places which won't need to be cleared after the people leave; problem solved.

On another thought; we get wet wet wet winters here. The land in these camps is going to get pretty horribly muddy in very short order. I bet they could make use of huge amounts of woodchips to spread for paths.
 
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Some thoughts on the subject.

From my (admittedly limited) understanding of the refugees' cultural background, I would point out one major flaw in all the designs discussed so far. Most of the refugees from Islamic countries will be accustomed to using a hole in the floor, aka squat toilet, rather than a sitting toilet. This is a cultural preference, covering a wide swath of the planet, and there is medical evidence that this is a more healthy position for elimination. It has nothing to do with poverty or lack of technology (though it is admittedly lower tech than a Western flush toilet), and these types of facilities exist in upscale mansions, impoverished slums, government facilities and private businesses, precisely the way the sit-on porcelain flush toilet is distributed in the areas most of us are familiar with.

The point being that a sit-down toilet will be both unfamiliar and uncomfortable to many refugees. The typical response is to climb up onto the toilet and squat over it, sometimes creating a mess or damaging the facility or person's body. Another response, of course, is to avoid the strange facility and go elsewhere, often somewhere like behind a convenient bush, which is anything but convenient for sanitation purposes.


Another complication is that refugees are likely accustomed to cleaning their nether regions with water and the left hand, rather than using toilet paper. Or they may not be used to disposing of toilet paper into the same receptacle as feces. And they may see toilet paper as valuable, and therefore worth absconding with (since one may need to bring one's own toilet paper to the facilities where they come from). These are issues which must be experimented with and adjusted according to how a particular group of refugees responds.

Finally, while in the West, men are usually willing to urinate with little privacy, refugees from other regions may have different standards. I would especially expect problems if there's the possibility of a female seeing a man urinating or otherwise uncovering himself, even if the man's private parts are not exposed.

So, my suggestions are as follows. First, ask refugees what they are used to and what standards they expect, ideally before constructing anything if possible. This will save a lot of work in the long run Second, provide privacy screens or other visual barriers for all facilities, including men's urinals (around the entire group of urinals, not necessarily for each urinal). Third, design any defecation facility primarily for squatting use, providing ample room for feet to be placed to either side of the receptacle. Fourth, make provisions for "wiping" with water, both in the sense of providing water for this purpose and for dealing with the effects of increased water input in the final compost. Also realize that any facilities for hand washing will likely create wastewater which contains more fecal bacteria than ordinary wash water, and must be dealt with accordingly. Provision of hand sanitizer could go a long way here.

My idea for humanure recycling in a refugee influx situation would be to build a moveable outhouse with whatever materials are at hand (I would personally use plywood), able to slide or roll over an aboveground compost bin which can compost in place. If groundwater contamination is less of an issue, this could probably happen in the ground, aided by proper cover material. Sufficient cover material should allow absorption of wash water directly by the compost (but I make no claims of expertise in this area). Unavoidable pictorial and written instructions should help encourage best usage practices, but will of course not ensure them.

Hopefully this advice will be of some use.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Thanks for your responses all of you. Some excellent points. I agree that biogas production is preferable for a more stable community scale situation and where ambient temperatures are sufficient to promote the appropriate microbial flora, but for this instance it is a step further than is immediately achievable. Here's the first draft of the design drawings that I have prepared - not ideal, but for a temporary situation I'm hoping that it will be better than the status quo. Feedback welcome - particularly any constructive additions that may be made.

Also, have a look at the list of web references. Ideally if people have more time to consider their situation, they may have the time to read these and adjust the toilet set-up themselves based on these international best practices.

http://www.wetlandsystems.ie/emergency.html

Jeff's point about squat loo design needs to be incorporated into the drawings as an option before putting the page out there… All other thoughts welcome.

The straw bale urinal is due to go on the list of web resources too.
 
Burra Maluca
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Awesome stuff, Feidhlim. Thanks so much for doing that.

I've posted the images up here so we can see them easily and hopefully get a bit more discussion going.



 
Feidhlim Harty
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Thanks Burra,

There's an article on Positive News which speaks of a certain unruliness in the camp at present. I'm not sure how organised they are internally or how much enthusiasm there will be for putting in the work for decent toilets - but it's worth putting out there at least…

http://positivenews.org.uk/2015/community/18401/humanity-and-kindness-amongst-horror-calais/
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Did I miss it or does anyone know what is in place at the camps now and for that matter why is a camp at that particular location? Is it a designated area set aside by the government or is it a place large numbers of people have set up house without authorization?
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Wyatt, my understanding of the situation is that millions of people have been displaced within Syria over the past four years as a result of war there (climate induced according to some sources). The response from the international community has been essentially non existent (no oil on offer). Several thousand people have already died in trying to cross the Mediterranean into the EU and we have been incredibly slow to offer assistance or asylum. Only in recent weeks has the situation really grabbed the public imagination. A photograph of a young boy washed up dead on the beach, I think in Greece, has sparked a huge public outcry and response with aid in the form of donated food, clothing, camping equipment etc. in the face of government inaction. Governments are now slowly beginning to respond, most notably Germany has offered welcome and refuge.

Some of my friends are heading to Calais later this month with truck loads of supplies for the impromptu camp there. It will be a drop in the ocean, but needed nonetheless. My expertise is constructed wetlands, reed beds and willow systems for sewage treatment - so I reckoned that the thing that I could best do for the crisis on our doorstep was to investigate the toilet facilities and see if I could help in that way. There are reports of thousands of people using a single train station toilet… and the pictures haven't been pretty ones. Although it is difficult to find out from where I am what is happening in France, Greece and Hungary, I get the distinct impression that facilities are inadequate. Personally I cannot imagine making my way on foot across a continent with a small family and inadequate access to the loo!.. and so many people that it's tricky to find the space to pee behind a bush. Hence my desire to provide very simple designs for a safe, sanitary, eco-friendly toilet. I've turned to the Permies.com community to help by providing feedback, and I've been grateful to receive it - thank you all. I know that the refugees are tech-savvy, using sat nav and google maps and facebook to make their way through borders, barriers and to navigate their way through unfamiliar territory. So I hoped that when my designs were ready I'd put them out there on facebook etc. and hope that somebody at the camps was in a position to put them into action if needed. It's a bit of a long shot, but since I people heading out the camps later this month, I can hand them a bundle of A4 sheets to bring with them.

So that's the background to my initial request. I have no doubt that other areas around the world are equally in need of assistance in the form of safe and appropriate sanitation - but since this one was so close to home it caught my attention.

C'est ca.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Ok folks, that's live now. http://www.wetlandsystems.ie/emergency.html Hopefully it will go on to do some good in the world

Thanks for all your help, feedback and advice.
 
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I don't know if any of my input will further the discussion but I think there is some merit
to the addition.

I was looking for a readily available Youtube answer when I came across this video by
a guy that sells low cost ebooks on various off-grid issues. My volume died on my laptop
so I gathered most of the information from the project by scanning the pictures of the system
and reading through the comments. Evidently with his off-grid set up he still needed to get
some code worthy poop placement in place to take care of his bodily waste. Using a rv style
portable toilet he dumps the collection into the window openings of his solar poop dehydrator.
It looked pretty open to me but in the comments he mentions using chainlink fencing and/or
chickenwire to keep anyone from falling through. The thing that really caught my attention
was he'd been using the system for a number of years and had no need for filling in and
using a new location. I remember something from Paul Wheaton talking of composting how
you start with a big pile and end up with a tiny pile of product because of the composting
action. With this guys system and dehydration I understand him not needing to touch the
system.



Also Burra with the idea of the strawbale urinals I was thinking of Paul's interview with
Brian Kerkvliet from Inspiration Farm's on his 500 shower compost pile. Between all the
items of a camp or settlement going in a compost pile, throwing all this stuff on top of a
ripe strawbale urinal it would be great to keep the burn going of the compost action and
harvesting some much needed hot showers.

 
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Thank you so much for posting this thread and for all the great answers! My friend is going to Greece to help with whatever and wherever she can the care of the large numbers of refugees. I was going to pose the toilet question to the group, but Permies are so on it! Here are already great suggestions and answers! She started a crowdfunding campaign which I will share the link here and in the money section.... https://www.youcaring.com/claudia-franzosi-455710
 
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After hearing that some of the Royal Gardeners in the UK have been recruited to urinate on straw bales to produce more compost (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1227601/National-Trust-urges-gardeners-wee-compost-heap-help-gardens-thrive.html), I thought that I’d try this method at our cabin. I didn’t have straw at the time but card board was plentiful in the city so I built an affordable and functional urinal out of it.

Card board is a plentiful source of carbon in cities (far more than straw or saw dust) so you might want to consider using it. I put a few layers of cardboard on the bottom to control run off and stacked the rest vertically to control maximize surface area and absorption. I used european buckthorn cuttings to make a cage around it to maintain it’s shape as it composted.

It was free to make and has made some compost that I’ve sprinkled around fruit trees. It's not perfect but only once have I noticed an odour. I use it in conjunction with a tree bog composting toilet (http://www.permies.com/t/50887/composting-toilet/TREE-BOG-TOILET-Top-reasons)

I found that it worked well for folks who like to stand to pee and shake off but when I built a thunder box around it for sitter-downers who like to wipe, there was no space for the TP and it filled quickly, then people stopped using it.

It’s not a complete answer to your question but there is some potential to leverage in using card board; it's such a cheap, abundant and ubiquitous source of carbon.

Best of luck in your work,

-Ottawa Tinkerer
2015-10-30-00.35.44.jpg
[Thumbnail for 2015-10-30-00.35.44.jpg]
Not exactly an artist but this diagram might help...
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Steve, thanks for that contribution to the discussion. What does TP stand for? Also - do you need to keep the urinal sheltered from rainfall so that it doesn't just go to mush?



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Steve Simons
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Haha, TP us slang in my family for toilet paper... guess that's not as universal as I thought it was.

I use uncovered cardboard because I want to accelerate the decomposition for compost. In the link to the royal gardeners that I posted they use unsheltered straw bales but they are after the compost as well.

Sheltering the cardboard bale urinals might slow decomposition and make them last longer (but require more initial infrastructure). Rate of decomposition is also going to depend on your climate, precipitation and rat of use. So trying something like this might take some trial and error.

Good luck and feel to to ask if you have any other questions. -Ottawa Tinkerer
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Thanks for the clarification Steve!



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Wyatt Barnes
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TP and PB and J are two that I have only picked up on in the last 5 years or so.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Peanut Butter & Jelly??
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Yes, lol, omg, fil, mil, bil, fel and a whole bunch more that I have to ask about because I don't text.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
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