Humanure (human manure) is defined as “human fecal material and urine recycled for agricultural purposes via thermophilic composting.”
EWWW!!! Does that definition completely gross you out? Well, you are not alone! The word “recycled” is what gets to me. It brings to my mind images of Kevin Costner in “Water World” drinking his recycled urine. Gross! So, I prefer to think of humanure as composted or broken down human waste. Out here in the country, far off the road, without electric hookups and city water lines, a composting toilet and “humanure” system is a dream come true. It has made our off-grid life possible.
Our family loves to read historical fiction. One of our favorite stories is the chapter in “The Great Brain” when the Fitzgeralds got their “water closet”. They ordered it from the Sears Roebuck catalog and hired a local worker to dig the cesspool. At the time a flushing toilet was a novelty. Most people shook their heads at the new and still unproven contraption. The Fitzgerald children decided to capitalize on its absurdity and sold entrance tickets to other kids. The parents had an open house to show it off. It was truly a sight to see. How completely insane to do your “business” inside! The smells of “nature” belong outside and no self-respecting housekeeper would ever allow a thing like that to “live” in her house. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they must have felt seeing such a monstrous modern marvel. Pull the chain and everything disappears! In an age of ice houses, oil lamps, and coal burning stoves it really must have seemed alive.
We laugh at the story now because history has proven them wrong. The flushing toilet was not a short-lived gadget only seen now in history books. To the contrary, I am sure that one lives in your very own bathroom. Instead, outhouses are now a thing of the past. In less than 100 years, the American view of indoor facilities has completely flip-flopped. Americans come to see any other option as insanity. And yet…there is a small, but growing segment of the population that is choosing another option. My family is part of it. We love the story of the Fitzgeralds’ “water closet” because we can relate to the stares, raised eyebrows, and bewildered shakes of the head they must have experienced when they installed their first toilet.
Don’t get me wrong. Indoor plumbing is nice. I really believe it is a necessity in our society today. Without it, people in the cities would once again be dumping their chamber pots in the streets and praying for a good rain to wash it all away in the middle of a hot summer. This was such a common practice 100 years ago that railways felt the need to remind their passengers not to do it. You just can’t expect everyone to deal with their waste responsibly!
Have I convinced you yet to step out of your 21st Century Western bias and consider that a humanure system may be a great option should you ever need to use one? There really is so much to love about it.
10 Ways Humanure Beats Any Other System
- It has no parts or mechanisms to fail. Clogged toilets just don’t happen. We have replaced buckets because of broken handles, but that is the only repair we have ever needed to make to our “toilet”.
- The seat stays warm! You may laugh at this one, but it means a lot on a cold winter morning.
- It’s easy to clean and the bathroom simply stays cleaner. Flushing toilets are messy. They make a mist when flushing that sends germs into the air. This combined with the condensating toilet bowl makes that nasty scum that collects around the back of the toilet. A simple wipe down with a soapy rag is all it takes to keep our “toilet” box clean.
- It uses no water. This is a major consideration when we realize that flush toilets can use as much as 7 gallons of water with each flush! It was eye-opening to me to realize that water is not necessary for a toilet.
- There is no septic system required. Septic systems can be very expensive to install and require maintenance when they fill up. I’ll take dumping a humanure bucket any day over cleaning out a septic.
- It can go anywhere. Because of humanure, I can have the convenience of an indoor toilet without having running water. We even take it camping.
- It requires no chemicals, so has no chemical smell like other composting toilet systems.
- It really doesn’t have any smell. Our toilet is inside, but it absolutely does not smell like an outhouse. Sawdust is great at absorbing liquids and odors.
- It’s cheap. All you need is a 5 gallon bucket, composting material, and some type of seat for the bucket. It’s ready to use!
- It makes your own compost. My family uses our humanure as fertilizer on fruit trees because the nutrients from the soil go into the roots of the tree, but the fruit is harvested from the tree and not the ground where the humanure is placed.
So, how has humanure changed my life? It has allowed me to live my family’s dream of living off grid. There is absolutely no way that I would want to live this way without it. Having to use an outhouse on a regular basis is not my idea of a good time! And it is expensive to install a commercial composting toilet system or septic system. Humanure makes our off grid life possible. Pure and simple.
How a Humanure System Works
It’s so simple. You really only need three things to get started: a 5 gallon bucket, some type of toilet seat, and composting material. Plastic toilet seats that are made to snap on a bucket are available commercially. I’ve seen people use a standard pool noodle with a slit to fit around the edge of the bucket. For long term use, my carpenter father built us a beautiful “throne” to hold our bucket.
We keep several buckets in rotation and each clean bucket gets a fresh layer of sawdust on the bottom. When you are done with your “business”, cover it with sawdust. That’s it. Eventually the bucket will get full. Carry it out to your humanure pit. If you have used enough sawdust, the bucket will not be sloshy. Dump it in. Give the bucket a quick rinse with water. Make sure you cover each deposit with more composting material. We have used dried leaves (abundant in the fall), dried grass (saved from mowing our fields), and old hay. All are great options.
My family of six has four humanure pits/boxes built from pallets. We use them in rotation throughout the year. It takes us around 3 months to fill one box. By the time we fill the last one, the first one has finished composting and can be emptied to provide rich soil for our fruit trees.