Humanure, a conflation between the words “human” and “manure”, is arguably the Holy Grail of off- grid living, and is right up there with recycling of grey (used) water in any homesteading project. You may grow all the luscious vegetables you want in a remote ornamental smallholding, but unless you recycle the main waste products from your project on site, then you are not really doing anything sustainable. Ultimately sewerage or waste water will need to be stored, transported and treated unless it is fed back into your project in a utilisable way.
Source: The Humanure Handbook
Farmer Gene Logsdon, author of the book, Holy Sh*t: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, discusses humanity’s misuse of our greatest, yet most misunderstood, natural resource -manure. Not only do we throw away animal and human manure-worth billions of pounds as fertilizer -but furthermore we spend senseless amounts of money to do so by processing and treating the waste. To compound the situation, our agricultural systems use precious oil to mine and chemically synthesise inorganic fertilizers. Then we waste yet more oil to transport and distribute them over fields. If we do not learn how to turn our manures into fertilizer to keep food production in line with our increasing population, our civilization will become increasingly unsustainable.
And that’s not to mention the waste of quality drinking water in our sewerage system; 5 to 6 gallons of it for every flush.
Source: The Humanure Handbook
The logic of locally recycling human and animal manure illustrates several Permaculture principles; (i) catch and store energy; (ii) obtain a yield; (iii) use and value renewable resources; (iv) *most importantly* produce no waste; and finally (v) integrate rather than segregate. Any culture which ignores these vital principles is on a trajectory to extinction.
So what do we do? Just transferring human waste to the garden would have some undesirable consequences. For one thing, humans are quite toxic, given the iffy food residues and pharmaceutical junk we consume. For another thing, the microbial, insect, parasitic and noxious odour of human waste means just going out muck spreading in the garden would be a recipe for disease. Is there a technology to minimally and safely treat human waste so that it can decompose and become an asset? Yes!
In his groundbreaking and highly humorous book The Humanure Handbook, Joseph Jenkins shows how to treat human waste to turn it into a useful compost and close the loop. The purposes for composting humanure, he says, includes preventing water pollution, recycling human waste to prevent fecal contamination of the environment, and recovering soil nutrients for the purpose of growing food.
Are you interested in the themes in this article? ADL have courses such as Introduction to Ecology, Conservation & Environmental Management, and Permaculture Design to equip you to lead the sustainability revolution!
Chiras, Dan. The Scoop on Poop: Safely Capturing and Recycling the Nutrients in Greywater, Humanure, and Urine. New Society Publishers, Jan 2016
Jenkins, Joseph. The Humanure Handbook (3rd Edition). Jenkins Publishing (PA), Sept 2005
Logsdon, G & Budner, B. Holy Sh*t: Managing Manure to Save Mankind. Chelsea Green Publishing, Oct 2010
Steinfield, Carol. Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants (2nd Edition). Green Books, Jan 2004
By Andy Patterson
Andy has been a biology and science teacher since 2002, and a natural health therapist since 1998. His original degree was in Ecology and is well experienced in the Life Sciences generally, from biology, medicine and clinical sciences to horticulture, ecology and the environment. he divides his time between a therapy clinic; teaching, tutoring & lecturing. Andy is a passionate believer in the power of education to transform people’s lives, and gives 100% support to helping students achieve their goal.