Composting Shit

August 15, 2023

In a world that has lost all its sense and reason to me, I have found a way to contribute that is personally meaningful. I found a way to support gathering in tribe and all the good things about community, and its not about nourishing through the belly, its close, its related. It deals with the flip side of eating. It deals with personal organic output. In the way that all things are connected, it deals with shit.

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.

As part of this experience, we went to Mark's place down the beach and learned the best way to Shit on Country with him, 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. They didn't smell. The carbon needed to compost these buckets was made from sawdust, leaf litter and the banksias from all around the camp. Simplicity and purity.

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. The toilets were not smelly, and were not troubled by 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. The simplicity of this method, its low tech approach almost discredits it amongst a very complex world as we find it right now. But it works. These toilets capture nutrients and recycle them into usable soil!

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 effective 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 it, 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.
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!

Joseph Jenkins is my go to guy. He 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 transform lives by improving both sanitation and nutrition in communities scarce of water, food and capital. Not only has he pioneered this technique, all over the world, it also works in affluent first world countries when practiced by conscious thinking types too.

A completely portable, waterless, unpowered, unvented, undraining bucket toilet opens up the world once you start to see the possibilities. And it all comes down to carbon. For simpicity the transition to this technique replaces water with carbon. Sawdust, (damp and alive with microorganisms) is best. This is the key to odourless, insect free dry toilet success.

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......because its not heavy and bulky to handle. I would even go so far as to say, its not an unpleasant task. It takes me all of 15 minutes once a week to change out my home toilet.
It seems too simple to be true, and yet, it works. I see way more complicated and expensive compost toilets on the market and I feel they totally miss the point. All I see is something more complex, with more fail points, for more expense. It makes zero sense.

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 (which were in imperial measurements in his book) those plans are linked here 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, conscious events near me hiring portaloos,which I thought was really not cool, and I wondered, can I do anything to prevent this? The Jenkins Loveable Loos work at home, could this small scale method work for events as well? So I found some collaborators and started showing up with event toilets, same as for use at home, and tried the concept. And it worked just fine. 

I became more and more empowered with what just myself could personally achieve, with limited funds, strength and infrastructure. With some chicken wire, $20 worth of wooden stakes and a rock I could build a carbon nest onsite and start composting safely and effectively all the bucket contents collected in 2 toilets for an event! The last nest I made had approx 150L of collected Personal Organic Output (P.O.O) and involved several others who saw the concept and jumped in to help. The hardest part of it is lifting a 15L bucket with a lid and adding it to the compost nest. Its really not that hard.

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'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!

This is a groundswell of excellent commonsense and its value right now could be epic and seismic, and timely. We can transform what is typically seen as "waste" into a biologically stable, nutrient rich soil. We harness the powers of micro organisms and use the process of composting to do this.

Most importantly, this is a way to reclaim our power as regenerators in a toxic wasteful environment, and really make a difference. And make great soil.

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