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Montana sawdust toilet approval

 
pollinator
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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
Posts: 292
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
pollinator
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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
pollinator
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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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