Composting Shit

August 15, 2023

Does the world seem nuts to you? 

I managed to get myself to a beautiful island once, for a food sovereignty retreat, which is how I met Rupert, Didj and the Grounded Permaculture people for the very first time. 

Part of this experience, we went to Mark's place down the beach and learned the best way to Shit on Country with an indigenous fella and his mob. The 20L bucket box toilets at Marks place did change my life....there were other significant realisations, but the shitting was the really big one.

They were lovely toilets, they were just private enough, and had expansive views too gorgeous to verbalise in this tale. They didn't smell. The carbon needed to compost these buckets was made from sawdust, leaf litter and the banksias all around the camp.

The buckets collected just enough, (and no more) so as to be changed out before insects could find their way into the buckets, and i was so impressed by this feature. Not smelly, no insects. 

Any of the users of these toilets could, at their discretion and comfort, simply put on the lid, lift out the bucket and swap in an empty one. I did this without any instruction - just saw a pretty full bucket and took that initiative. That's normal for me, it could become more normal for others, so thanks for your interest in this user guide.

Later on, this same story, Billa was nearby, also trialing some ingenious plant pot refinements at her home humanure project, and the whole retreat crew went round there to contribute meaningfully if we could. Her 20L bucket also used lots of beautiful sawdust (carbon) and the plant pot sitting over the bucket drained urine down to a gap below that black plant pot. Here was another amazing example of backyard revolution, increasing the fertility of the land on which these people sat, and the gardens were verdant, abundant, beautiful yet grown entirely on sand!

These same Grounded people were offering composting toilets at Island Vibes festival. Wow, that's a pretty big event upgrade for a permie like me and I wanted to support that. I also wanted to know how they were doing that, and Rupert had an enthusiasm for the enterprise that drew me to fall in love with and appreciate with deep respect the whole gang and most of what they stood for. 

(I also thought a she-pee for afternoon drinking on the sandy dance floor would be a lovely improvement for Island Vibes) So, yes the alignment happened fast. My brain went into overdrive to incorporate what these people were doing with what I was doing!

Like all of permaculture, one thing leads to another and before you know it I've spent 3 years in very interesting conversations with people about what they do - with poo - and how they innovate around terrible council approved technologies, and what they love about the humanure journey. 

And ALL the WATER we don't use!

Its a very satisfying journey, people regularly express to me their gratitude for nudging them towards this sustainable revolutionary backyard solution! 

Joseph Jenkins has refined and perfected the technique of collecting and composting human manure to make nutrient dense, excellent food growing soil, to grow food in. Yep. Thats right, people. It's very much a thing, a thing that can save lives in lieu of increasing both sanitation and nutrition in communities scarce of water, food and capital. 

A completely portable, waterless, unpowered, unvented, undraining bucket toilet opens up the world once you start to see the possibilities.

An older woman of relative health and fitness can totally take care of the sanitation for the tribe, at this scale, so can a sulky teenager, or a fella with a bad back from 30yrs of community building......

We start to see again that soil is our greatest currency for future life on this big green marble in space.

Chapter 2 - Humanure Journeys with Jane (Janes shit show)

At home, we use a radically improved version of a compost toilet, in our off grid, closed loop community in the forest of Hinterland Sunshine Coast, QLD.

We complied with council regulations and purchased a Nature Loo, and 6 huge poo buckets.

it was a big round heavy wet bucket of shit most of the time, it bred vinegar flies and we were very unhappy. We were also growing unpopular with family and friends visiting for any length of time. It didn't drain effectively, it needed to be lifted onto a trolley by 2 strong capable adults, and we basically didn't understand the composting process yet.

So I reread Joseph Jenkins' Humanure Handbook, and kept asking around, what are others doing, what's working, what's best avoided, sharing knowledge between us in a wonderful mycelium network of growing soil nerds. We went back to the 20L bucket and sawdust toilet. We learned to make beautiful big (not too big) nests of carbon to hot compost the contents of these buckets and we were away. The fertility of the land began to show signs of rampant uptake of this great soil we could now make.

People started asking me for composting advice, and asking if I could make and sell them box toilets like ours too. I worked out a metric conversion for Jenkins box toilet plans and started getting people to cut up the patterns for me. I started drilling and assembling the boxes together myself, all the while meeting more and more compost and humanure enthusiasts. I met Charlie Mgee! Who sings really great and catchy songs about this, and we dreamed up some workshop ideas to help more people get onboard.

By now friends were sending me photos of their compost piles, their toilets and even their buckets - covered in sawdust! it made me laugh out loud, the simplicity and beauty of this empowerment was infectious, and i was changing hearts and minds all around me. It felt like an idea whose time had come! Again!

Chapter 3: Blue chemical toilet blues

our rainforest community has a recycled not strictly approved pit toilet set up for emergencies. We keep it maintained and pleasant by regularly adding a bucket of rich rainforest leaf mulch down the dark chute into the earth. One day whilst attending to this, I noticed the overpowering smell of a dumped chemical blue water cassette toilet. What dog would dump water, poo,and a fuck tonne of chemicals into this toilet? Too late now. best i could do was dump a second bucket of leaf mulch on top and let any surviving microbes have at it.

I got to thinking more and more about portaloos, and portable humanure. I started to see really cool, eco friendly, concious events near me hiring portaloos, after the global shake up, and I wondered, can I do anything to prevent this?

Can I show up with event toilets I myself can lift, transport and maintain instead of portaloos?
Yes, I can do that!

Can I offer more support to Grounded to carry on offering composting toilets at events I attend?
Yes, I can do that!

I don't know the full answer yet but I've been making and hiring portable compost toilets to small events, on land where owners know and give a shit about soil, compost and anti blue chemical anything... And its going well! 

Rupert sees the smaller 20L bucket toilet as more ideal for home domestic use, and has now become a fledging customer too!

This is NOT NUTS. This is a groundswell of excellent commonsense and its value right now could be epic and seismic, and timely.

Lets open up a discussion with frequently asked questions:

What about smell?
What about insects?
Whats legal?
Will it spread pathogens?
Wow do i harvest, prepare and share all this bountiful garden produce now?

All of these questions and more are answered in the Jenkins Book Humanure. 

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