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Montana sawdust toilet approval

 
pollinator
Posts: 431
Location: Victor, Montana; Zone 5b
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A little backstory--my wife and I built a small cob house in Stevensville Montana a few years ago. After a local paper decided to write an article on our house I received a cease and desist letter from the Dept. of Environmental Quality in Ravalli County saying I needed to stop using my sawdust toilet or else...

Luckily I was able to get in touch with Jo Jenkins--Humanure handbook author--and he advised me to demand from the DEQ what laws I was breaking before doing anything. He also advised me that if they were to question seepage into the ground to  simply put the compost on a cement platform and if rainwater was the issue to just throw a tarp over it--although we all know that these solutions are more likely to cause the pile from easily composting than anything.

I visited the DEQ in person and let them know, courteously, that they had no legal basis for telling me I can't compost my own poo. Montana has no regulations on what or what not can be placed into a backyard compost pile.

Although initially they were the ones to approach me, I have spent the last year badgering them about getting approval for the system instead of trying to fly under the radar. I finally received this email:

     

Quote: "Daniel,  I believe I have an answer for you. I spoke with Barb Kingery, the head of the Subdivision Section at DEQ. She agreed that using human waste and its      receiving medium (sawdust, straw, etc.) as an ingredient in an above-ground compost pile does not qualify as a “composting toilet” and, therefore, is not subject to those rules in Circular DEQ 4.

She then suggested it would be considered “solid waste” and, therefore, subject to the following rule:
               ARM 17.36.309  “Solid wastes stored within the subdivision must be placed in adequate containers and removed at a frequency to prevent a nuisance. When removed from the subdivision, the solid wastes must be disposed of  at a department-licensed site in accordance with ARM 17.50.508 or an out-of-state waste disposal site.”

We both agreed that if the solid waste is placed in a compost pile with other compostable materials and managed properly, it would not likely be a “nuisance’’ and, therefore would not need to be disposed of at a department-licensed site or at an out-of-state waste disposal site.

Bottom line, if you continue to manage the waste so as not to be a nuisance, you will not be in violation of any rule.

Regarding your question of “Is it legal to compost human waste in Montana?”, I could find no rule that says it is not legal to compost human waste.

As a practical note from someone experienced with making high-quality compost for my garden, I would encourage you to include plenty of other animal manure – chicken, rabbit, sheep, goat, and/or cow – and maintain adequate moisture levels to achieve temperatures hot enough to kill pathogens and transform the raw materials into humus."

toilet.jpg
[Thumbnail for toilet.jpg]
my now happy toilet
 
steward
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YAY! This is the kind of information I love to hear! Getting these alternative systems into the mainstream is so important. I think it's worthwhile for everyone to look into their area's rules & regs, and see if they really are in violation of some law or by-law, or if 'the powers that be' just don't know what to do with it, and don't want to deal with it.

Congratulations!
 
pollinator
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Location: zone 4b, sandy, Continental D
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[quote=Daniel Ray I finally received this email:
Quote: "

Regarding your question of “Is it legal to compost human waste in Montana?”, I could find no rule that says it is not legal to compost human waste.

As a practical note from someone experienced with making high-quality compost for my garden, I would encourage you to include plenty of other animal manure – chicken, rabbit, sheep, goat, and/or cow – and maintain adequate moisture levels to achieve temperatures hot enough to kill pathogens and transform the raw materials into humus."


All to often, someone in a position of authority thinks they have found a violation. Not that they are bad people, but because the intricacies of the law are so intertwined and there are so many laws which are also different from State to State, county to county, plus ordinances etc. that folks just don't know. WE don't know, but THEY don't know either. I'm glad you asked for the specific law you might have been in violation of. I have resolved to ask questions about the law systematically because this happens too often and we end up losing respect for the law. I'm in Wisconsin and I want to build one too. It will be an outhouse, for when I am in the garden and don't feel like getting back to the house take off my shoes etc.
I want to eventually have several "pits" with some sawdust that I use to cover my production. The following year, after a long winter, I would put some soil over it and plant a tree, in memory of that year. (We have very sandy soil).
 
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Excellent news thanks for sharing. I too am a firm believer in making authorities quote the details for a decision, very often they have misinterpreted or misapplied a rule and cannot justify their initial reaction with facts. At other times they misspeak and should be saying " we don't want you to do this " instead of " you are not allowed to do this."
 
Daniel Ray
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This all initially began I am sure because they wanted to make sure I wasn't contaminating water sources and being completely irresponsible. I think in their eagerness to "buckshot" the law, I got caught in their spread of fire.

Cecile-- regarding the pit style toilets. My county at least has clear regs on this issue. It appears the sawdust toilet just falls outside of the rulebook, but pit style though is highly regulated. If you are being responsible with how you are doing them, I would just go ahead and do it. Especially if it is just going to be for a season and you know what you are doing.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Daniel Ray wrote:This all initially began I am sure because they wanted to make sure I wasn't contaminating water sources and being completely irresponsible. I think in their eagerness to "buckshot" the law, I got caught in their spread of fire.

Cecile-- regarding the pit style toilets. My county at least has clear regs on this issue. It appears the sawdust toilet just falls outside of the rulebook, but pit style though is highly regulated. If you are being responsible with how you are doing them, I would just go ahead and do it. Especially if it is just going to be for a season and you know what you are doing.


Thanks for  the heads up, Daniel. We are in a rural area, total sand and just for one season but I'll still look it up. Folks used to have pit toilets like this not so long ago, and I know that this is still what they are doing near Ely, MN. At least, that is what they had on the islands when we went camping. Park Volunteers would dig them and monitor them. When it was near full, they'd dig another one nearby and plug the old one. It didn't smell at all.
 
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Location: Montana
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Oh my goodness... thank you so much for this post. We are in the process of building a low-to-no energy input homestead in MT and have wanted so badly to simply use a humanure system. However, trying to navigate the state and local regulations has been trying. Very encouraging to read an example like yours and to know at least someone in state government is sympathetic to the effectiveness of humanure composting!

I would love to hear if there have been any updates to your story/experience since this post!
 
Daniel Ray
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Whitney, we are now on a different piece of property in the same County, but are still using a sawdust toilet. The frustrating laws still prevail in waste and waste water management, though the rules I mentioned in the post still apply. There is no law against composting human waste in a backyard compost pile as long as it is not a nuisance to neighbors.

The issue for new housing is that any system that has running water requires a septic system installed regardless of your toilet system. My first cob house bypassed this as it was listed as a "dry-cabin" and did not have any running water that needed to be disposed. My new house is plumbed and required a septic to be installed regardless of my using a humanure system because we have sinks and showers. When the day comes that Montana too has a water shortage, I'm sure some reassessment of these types of systems will occur by the government.  Until then, I guess we have to do what is best and either fly under the radar, or do some leg work to get approval.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Daniel Ray wrote:
Cecile-- regarding the pit style toilets. My county at least has clear regs on this issue. It appears the sawdust toilet just falls outside of the rulebook, but pit style though is highly regulated. If you are being responsible with how you are doing them, I would just go ahead and do it. Especially if it is just going to be for a season and you know what you are doing.



For sure.  Although I'm flying under the radar on this one, I made sure to be over 100 ft from any well. it is 25 ft beyond the drain field. I'm pretty much the only one using it and it is 3 ft deep. There won't be enough 'stuff' by next spring. This fall, I will move it and finish filling it with a couple of bags of dead leaves and since we are in Central Wisconsin, it won't get used at all in the winter. The contraption is on skids so ready to be moved at a moment's notice for the next tree planting event.
It is more to enhance growing trees than get rid of humanure. How deep is first water in Montana? That is the only thing that gave me pause because the land is flat here and our first water is at 10 ft. in sand country. So it has to be moved, just to be on the safe side.
 
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Hey Daniel,

Thanks for posting. I live in Hamilton, Montana and am considering a compost toilet system for a small guest cabin on my land. I was just starting to look into the possibility of this idea when I found your post. If I'm understanding you correctly, I can't have a contained composting toilet system if the cabin will have running water. Is that what you're saying?

Thanks,
Michael
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Michael Cavalli wrote:Hey Daniel,

Thanks for posting. I live in Hamilton, Montana and am considering a compost toilet system for a small guest cabin on my land. I was just starting to look into the possibility of this idea when I found your post. If I'm understanding you correctly, I can't have a contained composting toilet system if the cabin will have running water. Is that what you're saying?

Thanks,
Michael



Just as a biker who has gone to Sturgis a few times, I know that getting fresh water is pretty hard there, with water at a hundred feet or more, so I don't understand why Montana would frown on the use of compost toilets to save some of the precious stuff [I mean water]. I suppose they would not want someone flushing humanure somewhere haphazardly where there is no drain field but it sounds like this could be reasoned: With such large expanses of land of blue skies "where the deer and the caribou poop", you'd think that making a small drain field should solve the problem, especially if you are set up to flush grey water too. It seems that getting freshwater is more complex than getting rid of used water.
I remember that our camp near the military cemetery, they had to bring water by the truckful every day.
 
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Michael Cavalli wrote:Hey Daniel,

Thanks for posting. I live in Hamilton, Montana and am considering a compost toilet system for a small guest cabin on my land. I was just starting to look into the possibility of this idea when I found your post. If I'm understanding you correctly, I can't have a contained composting toilet system if the cabin will have running water. Is that what you're saying?

Thanks,
Michael



I don't know about the rules you all are contending with, but I think the rule is if you have running water, you have to have a septic tank. As far as I know, inspections and approvals are all during construction, so after the septic is installed and approved, you can later use a contained composting toilet system.

My ideal in such a situation would be to install a septic with a greywater diversion. Put a large object on top of your water toilet, and use a composting toilet, so that all your wastewater becomes useable greywater. You might still want to send the greywater into the septic sometimes, maybe in winter when irrigation isn't needed. And you may decide to use the water toilet and septic for certain guests or medical conditions, or when you sell, rent or lend the house. Of course, this means you need the funds for a septic installation during construction, but if you design with them in mind, the greywater diversion and the composting toilet won't cost much extra. And it will likely save you money in the future when you have to sell or rent or something.

Me, I live in a country with no regulations, so I built a large composting toilet, and all my wastewater is greywater "direct-to-daylight" to an irrigation canal to my own trees on the property.
 
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