Published by Joseph Jenkins, Inc., Grove City, PA
Distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction
Summary Amazon US says "...the most comprehensive, up-to-date and thoroughly researched book on the topic of composting human manure available anywhere. It includes a review of the historical, cultural and environmental issues pertaining to "human waste," as well as an in depth look at the potential health risks related to humanure recycling, with clear instructions on how to eliminate those dangers in order to safely convert humanure into garden soil. Written by a humanure composter with over thirty years experience, this classic work now includes illustrated, step-by-step instructions on how to build a "$25 humanure toilet," a chapter on alternative graywater systems, photos of owner-built humanure toilets from around the world, and an overview of commercial composting toilets and systems."
I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns.
The Humanure Handbook is a life changing book! Seriously. It has been hugely influential in a certain subculture (well represented on this forum). Toilets were one part of the ecosystem that organic food proponents tended to overlook, until this book came forward and shouted from the hilltop: if we want to keep our food production organic we can't treat the nutrients we consume as "waste." In fact, if we want to keep our planet clean, we can't treat them as waste. We have to recycle them properly back into the ecosystem and back into food production. ....When I say it you think I'm a kook, but when you read Joe Jenkins you'll be a convert.
Engaging and humorous, the book is also full of data, expert experience, detailed instructions, and cartoons.
Jenkins coined the important new word fecophobia and attacks it head-on, proving with science and practical experience that fecal contamination from properly composted humanure is not a risk.
The method recommended by this book is the "sawdust bucket system" as it is low cost to install, allows indoor toilets and outdoor composting, and according to Mr Jenkins is pretty foolproof. Even if you prefer a different compost toilet system for any of a number of reasons, you will find useful information to help you understand how a composting toilet system should work properly.
I found this diagram of the Nutrient Cycle revolutionary, and once I'd seen it, so obvious and commonsensical I could never go back. I've posted a version of it on our compost toilet walls for visitors to be educated.
Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas SECMOL.org . "Back home" is Cape Cod, E Coast USA.
My favorite line (I'm going from memory here): Only 2% of the world's water is drinkable; why shit in it?
Also, did you know, this is the very same Joseph Jenkins who wrote The Slate Roof Bible?
I was in a class last year on roofing materials, and the presenter was drawing from The Slate Roof Bible, and after class, I went to him and said, "Did you know, that's the same Joseph Jenkins who wrote The Humanure Handbook?" He was a little uncomfortable.
This books does an amazing job of breaking down the stigma of poop as an icky gross waste that you should never want to see ever again and repaints the image in its proper place in the nutrient cycle where it belongs. While I agree with Paul Wheaten that a bit more could be said about the fact that poop should be treated with respect as a potential pathogen carrier, I think the positive re-branding of pooping is much needed, and Jenkins does a great job.
Excitement about poop aside, this book is also a great introduction for how to incorporate poop into the nutrient cycle rather than flushing it down the drain. He talks about how to collect, process (compost), and distribute in a safe (for the most part) and easy way.
We have based our composting loos on Jenkin's system. One thing that is especially useful with this system (which I think I under recognised) is that for very little expense it can be used in temporary or large group gatherings. We have used these for garden based music events with over 300 people - this was an opera crowd and they loved them compared to chemical portaloos. Likewise I have used them for a group of 50 people camping in the woods for a week - again, the reports were great compared to chemical loos. All you need to get is a big bag of sawdust and an adequate stack of buckets.
I seriously can't think of another system that copes as well under those sort of pressures, and that can be implemented so cheaply for big gatherings.
Our large party version:
Two bucket loo cubicles.
Each cubicle has a nice varnished (for easy cleaning) box with a proper comfortable wooden toilet seat.
The box has a bucket initially 1/3rd full of sawdust (no-one wants to be the first to splash in a new bucket, and it makes for very easy cleaning)
The cubicle has two buckets of loose sawdust and a scooper to flush with sawdust.
Outside and behind the cubicles we have about 20 buckets with lids, either ready to use or lidded and ready to empty, and a big bag of sawdust from a local sawmill.
During the day swap the buckets every hour or so (takes 30 seconds) - it is better to swap them too early rather than too late, as they get heavy.
After a few days, or when your bucket supply is running low, empty a batch of them into the compost and give them a quick wash out. Takes about 30 minutes for 15 to 20 buckets.
I would suggest that there is no more risk of disease transfer using this system than there is in using, cleaning and maintaining any other kind of temporary toilet facility. Additionally, in our experience because they don't end up getting nasty people tend to prefer using them and treat them better. I have used these with 50 13 year olds - a real test as they are hard to persuade to use facilities properly! - and had far fewer problems than when we spent considerable sums on hiring toilets.
Regarding the use of the final compost - we typically let all our compost age for a year before we use it anyway, but especially for any containing humanure. With large batches coming at once like when hosting a party I would like to set up a dedicated compost bin using hay bales for walls. You could locate it conveniently near the point of humanure production and then simply walk away and forget about it for a year.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.
If we are to live truly sustainably we have to learn to utilize human waste. The Humanure Handbook teaches us how to turn human waste into nourishment for our plants and for our planet. This book is witty and humorous, making the difficult subject matter approachable for everyone.
This book was one of the first books that I read voraciously after realizing I was interested in sustainability and natural living (I hadn't even heard of permaculture at this time).
This book does more to combat 'feco-phobia' than anything else I have come across. Jenkins explains in such an easy to read way how vital recycling our manure is and just how easy it really can be.
"Instead of Pay It Forward I prefer Plant It Forward" ~Howard Story / "God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools." ~John Muir
I have to preface this review with a little back story. Without that information, I feel like it would be unfair for me to review this. If you are wondering why, it is because I am admittedly biased towards this book.
In 2006, I was a few weeks into a 6-month hike when I arrived in Elmer's Sunnybank Inn. I remember quite a few things about the place, including a delicious organic meal and several good friends who I still maintain contact with. One of those things was the extensive library of books and videos.
I had held an interest in the outdoors and gardening long before this, but being on the AT immersed me in it. Every day I was living on what I could carry on my back and in the most primitive of shelters short of a cave. I was also experiencing numerous forms of composting privies.
Relaxing after a long day of hiking, the title of this book caught my attention and didn't leave my hands for several hours. Thankfully, I was still pretty good at speed reading then, because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to finish the book.
So many of the aspects I had seen used on the composting toilets along the trail all fell into place in my mind. Why they had been built the way they had and where the flaws in some designs stood both became crystal clear. It was the perfect (sh!t) storm at that moment of my life for finding that book.
The discovery of this book is something I can point to as a turning point. It is a book that helped spark a whole new world of thought, the resulting path of which has led me to sustainability and permaculture. This having been said, take my words about the book through the lens of that understanding.
I feel like this book brings a lot to the table. It goes relatively deep into a subject that the average person tends to think of as cut and dry. More importantly, it defuses a lot of the 'ick factor' with humor. I suspect that even someone with no interest in sustainable living could easily sit down and read all the way through. To me, that is a huge book. All too often books are preaching to the choir. Permaculture books for those already interested in permaculture. It's a whole lot harder to win over those who aren't already invested. The Humanure Handbook goes a long way in that regard, so earns its place on my bookshelf.
If I did have one complaint about the book, it would be simply needing a greater degree of caution urged when dealing with matters such as the bucket toilets. From experience, I can say that some are better constructed than others and that lack of careful construction could lead to pathogen issues. Still, I imagine that the serious tone one would have to strike to convey that properly might not be possible without the loss of the conversational tone and humor that I already praised so highly. I believe it more than earns the acorns I have noted!
I think Joseph Jenkins does an awesome job of tackling the issues of how to compost human manure thoroughly enough for the general public that some people may change their minds about composting human manure and be less afraid of their poop. Although I do agree a little bit with Paul about "fear your poop! fear it!", I think this book addresses the concerns well enough and discusses what TO DO and what NOT TO DO well enough that I would say "a little healthy caution" is more appropriate for handling fecal matter and composting it than outright fear. There are indeed many things to be concerned about, yes, but the Humanure Handbook addresses each and every concern very well. The essetial take away I got from this book is that if you and the people using your composting toilet system are in good health, there is little to worry about, and if you appropriately manage the collection and generate thermophilic composting piles, humanure can be safely and effectively used to produce food.
I also thoroughly appreciated the spiritual and ethical aspects of the book that Joseph Jenkins dives into, and he has a beautiful view of human evolution and how we can improve.
I appreciate the attitude, optimism, and confidence of extensive personal experience and research that Joseph Jenkins provides in his book. The cartoons and diagrams do well to explain his ideas.
Overall, this was a great read, and I hope to do humanure composting myself in the future.
Joe is releasing a 4th edition of the book! Target date is April, cost is $25 and free shipping in continental USA, and if you pre-order from his site he'll also sign it! I placed my order today even though I already have the 3rd edition, as he has updated the book significantly, with several chapters being replaced by even more. Maybe the older edition can be donated to the local library.
I found building the wooden box to hold the seat and bucket pretty simple, and had no issues with taking loaded buckets outside. Access to cover material was limited to the city's recycled yard waste that you can get when it's in mulch consistency. I stapled 1/4" screen to a 2' square frame and sat it on a wheel barrel and poured the mulch on top. Sifting the smaller pieces through gave me the cover material to use inside, and the larger coarser material was left outside to cover deposits each week. While I can't ensure organic source material, it's free to pick up and I don't have access to much else outside a big box store.
I highly recommend the system to anyone with space for 2 side by side compost piles and a source of carbon material. If you cover your poo properly there is no odor, and the compost piles has no smell either. It's a great way to cut down on water use and create your own compost.