Monday, January 10, 2011

Humanure Vermicomposting

If you haven't developed an environmental conscience yet, you probably won't appreciate this post.

As for me, I am very intrigued with the potential of humanure composting. Basically that means that human feces will be composted and returned to nature as humus. As with other types of organic materials, you can do anaerobic composting, aerobic composting and vermicomposting (or combinations).

First of all, determine what makes sense to you: harnessing the nutrients in human feces or leaving your droppings in clean drinking water when the earth only has about 1% of drinkable water (or so I've read)? Before you answer this in your head, also consider that sewage water is oftentimes flushed out untreated in our oceans!

Let's go back to humanure composting. Does it have to be a stinky business? Not really. In most examples I've read on the Internet, you just need to cover the poo with sawdust, soil or even coffee grounds. You collect that in a bucket. Afterwards, the approach may differ.

Some people just leave the compiled humanure in a large sack and leave it be for about a year or two. As that process will be devoid of air, that's called anaerobic decomposition. After that period, the material will be usable as fertilizer already (no smell). You won't even recognize the material.

Most others use aerobic composting which means the material goes through a thermophilic process. The contents are aerated (but it shouldn't smell if covered with sawdust, leaves and other high carbon materials). This encourages the thermophilic microorganisms to process the materials. The compost pile will also heat up and kill the pathogens. Supposedly, with regular turning and watering, the compost will be ready in a couple of months.

Apparently, you can group microorganisms into those that thrive without air and those that need air. Without air, the decomposition process will be smelly (that's why the bag or sack is sealed) and slow. With air, it should be faster and less nasally offensive but requires a more active hand (turning the compost).

Then there's also vermicomposting, which I have gleefully been doing (regular food composting). But worms don't just have to eat fruits and veggies. They can also eat human feces. One upside is that vermicomposting is generally faster and more space efficient than aerobic composting.

So, wanna try vermicomposting your toilet deposit today?


  1. If you're using aerobic thermophilic decomposition, the heap does NOT require turning. Joe Jenkins on this ...

    “When one builds the same pile continuously for a year, one will find during the course of that year that the thermophilic area of the pile is on the top where the fresh deposits reside. The lower sections of the pile have already heated and are now undergoing a cooler decomposition by fungi, earthworms, etc. The pile is constantly growing on top and constantly shrinking beneath, and the thermophilic layer is therefore constantly rising to digest the newer deposits. When a pile such as this is turned, the thermophilic layer on top becomes diluted with the cooler, thermophilically-spent lower layers, and the carbon/nitrogen balance consequently becomes disrupted. The thermophiles don’t have the proper balanced diet, and they cool down and die off, oxygen or no oxygen. All the oxygen in the world isn’t going to ensure a successful compost pile when the other requirements for successful compost are not met.” (The Humanure Handbook, 1st edition)

  2. Interesting. Most other materials I read push for regular turning. In fact, there are even compost tumblers designed to facilitate that.

  3. I have been using aerobic composting of humanure for almost 3 years. It's the only way to go!
    I may try vermicomposting this year though.

  4. Wow, first hand experience. Cool! How do you mask the smell? Tell me more. ;-)

  5. Joe Jenkins has been doing it for 30 years and was the guy who came up with the term 'humanure'. We've been using his system a year now. I think he's right. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. There are no compost tumblers in natural systems. Compost tumblers are about speeding the process up, but I'm willing to bet that time will show the result is inferior to the naturally processed one. Mankind may nourish the conceit that we can improve on nature, but all our attempts so far speak for themselves in the damage we've inflicted on this planet. In the long run, nature's way is invariably the best way - after all, it's had many more years than mankind has been around to evolve the optimum process.

    And there is no smell!! We add the humanure/sawdust mixture to the compost heap at the same time as kitchen scraps (we seem to fill the buckets at the same rate), weeds, etc, from the veg garden, mix them all together, add the bucket washings and cover with more weeds, hay/straw or bracken. By the time it comes to add the next batch (5-7 days), the previous batch is already recognisably compost.


  6. Wow, 5-7 days! That's pretty fast.

    Any news from the neighbors though? I think that's the biggest factor that's stopping me.

  7. My nearest neighbours are planning composting toilets themselves :-)

  8. Now that is a swell neighborhood! I should move in next door.


No spamming please. ;-)

Related Posts with Thumbnails