Composting Human Manure

This summer marks the 11th year I’ve been composting human manure, or humanure, by a process outlined in The Humanure Handbook. It’s a simple system, with the only inputs being sawdust and hay, that has worked flawlessly for our school and home. To mark the anniversary, I’m reposting the original book review I wrote about the Humanure Handbook after I had read the first edition back in 1995. The book has gone on to great success worldwide, and I’ve worked to spread the idea by using the system set forth in the book. Thankfully over the years I’ve run into more and more people who are willing to give it a try. Maybe you should too, if only as an emergency backup for whatever system you’re currently using. And if you’re ever in this part of the world plan on visiting one of our outhouses; they’re on the back side of the canoe barn.

Book Review: The Humanure Handbook (written in 1995)

Sometimes its funny how things happen right when they need to. Such was the case of me first coming across the Humanure Handbook. In July of 1995, I spent 30 days living primitively on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska with a small group of people. We built shelters out of native materials, fished for salmon, ate wild foods, and had a wonderful time. To dispose of our post-digested food, we dug a pit latrine. It stunk horribly and was always surrounded by flies. I remember thinking at the time that there had to be a better way. That fall I came across a short review of the recently-published Humanure Handbook. The caption said something along the lines of “learn how to safely and easily compost human waste.” I immediately called up and ordered the book, and read it cover to cover as soon as it came. Needless to say, I was enthusiastic. I showed the book to friends, some of whom thought it was great, but most of whom thought I was a several sandwiches short of a picnic. The book answered the questions I had about the waste-disposal system we had used during the primitive camp, and much more.

In the book, the author points out some of the folly of our modern, “civilized” ways. For example, imagine yourself on a walk in the mountains on a warm summer day. You are hot, but you see a beautiful, clear water brook cascading down the mountain in front of you. You approach a pristine pool and defecate in it. Sound ridiculous? As Jenkins points out, this is just what we are doing; urinating and defecating in our drinking water. He goes on to describe the inherent polluting nature of the septic tank and sewage treatment facility, offering as a solution the small scale composting system.

Modern sanitation practices in the developed world are recent developments. In London in the early 1700’s, human refuse was thrown into the Thames river. The scent of the river was so strong that on hot summer days, Parliament would adjourn due to the noxious odors. Then, along came Thomas Crapper and his marvelous invention, the flush toilet, which were soon installed all over Europe and North America. Soon after came the septic tank as we know it today, one of the grand groundwater polluters of our time. Throughout this period, some country folks have been composting their human waste. Joe Jenkins has finally recorded this knowledge, added a bunch of science to it regarding pathogens and systems, and put it down in book form for all to read. The amazing thing is that he took the information and made it readable and even funny, the mark of a true artist.

From the cover:

The Humanure Handbook provides basic information about the ways and means of recycling human feces and urine, or humanure, without the need for money, chemicals, technology, or environmental pollution, including a detailed analysis of potential dangers and how to overcome them.

The knowledge of how to recycle human excrement should be basic to every adult person on Earth. After all, every person continues to create feces and urine day in and day out. Yet, faced with a lack of electricity, a shortage of water, remote living conditions, environmental concerns, no money, or a desire to reclaim agricultural resources, few people in America or elsewhere in the world would be able to deal with human excrement in a constructive and safe manner.

When properly recycled, humanure actually creates a soil additive useful for the purpose of producing human food and therefore can provide a valuable resource for:

– People who live by a code of voluntary simplicity
– People in primitive, emergency, or survival situations
– People of modest material means
– All of humanity

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