(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
Proper Two-Year Composting System
There are various types of composting toilets but the remainder of this article refers to the inexpensive types, not the fancier commercial ones that compost in a chamber below the toilet. I’ll let you explore that option on your own.
Proper humanure composting uses a two-pile system and only a small percentage of the material in the pile will be humanure, especially considering that your poop on average is only 25% solids. Once your compost pile has received humanure material for a year, plus kitchen, farm, yard, and garden waste, it then begins its resting/composting year. You’ll typically have it in a bin or “compost corral,” covered by a thick layer of straw, grass clippings, or leaves, and you won’t access it again until the resting year is over, during which you’ll be using pile #2.
By the time the pile is disturbed again at the end of the second year (I use March 21st as an easy-to-remember move date for each compost pile), it will be 100% pure humus, E. coli-free, black gold ready to improve another patch in your garden. I wouldn’t hesitate for a nanosecond to let my grandchildren help me haul it out to the garden and spread it around, or drive their toy trucks through it before I till it in. There is nothing bio-hazardous about it and it’s no longer humanure, but humus.
With the two-pile system you never turn the compost, thus minimizing contact with the humanure before it’s converted to harmless humus. Reaching elevated composting temperatures is also not a concern as long as you are using the two-year rotation method. E. coli, which does not form spores, can only survive outside the human body for “weeks to months,” not years. Salmonella on the other hand, referring to the type which occurs in the majority of bird and chicken digestive tracts as well as on their bum feathers, can survive 400+ days in compost and soil and is a much bigger threat in composting. Yet we think nothing of letting our chickens and our children run free range all over our homestead, putting a bird feeder up on the back deck, or cleaning the chicken coop and tossing it all into the compost pile where it will almost certainly end up in the garden. The vast majority of human sickness from E. coli comes from animal dung, yet we feel no threats when we use their manure in the garden.
Recognizing this sort of cognitive dissonance makes me hopeful that people can think more logically and benevolently about their own personal humanure as opposed to the rightfully demonized, pathogen-laden, public poop.
So why aren’t chicken, cow, rabbit, goat, and other farm feces causing us problems? Why don’t we worry about bits of wild animal feces which we unavoidably track into the house? Why do we accept cat and dog feces in our lives and all the other crap mentioned here, but freak out about our own personal poop? Why shouldn’t we worry?
Aside from the reasons already pointed out, E. coli isn’t the kind of bacteria which sickens us directly like cold, flu, smallpox and many other germs do. E. coli gets on food where it then grows and multiplies, producing toxins as it does. When we eat the food, we may get food poisoning if enough toxins have been produced. Generally speaking, tracking salmonella into the house or working with it in the garden isn’t directly a problem. Salmonella becomes a problem when you get a large enough dose of the bacteria in your food and ingest it. Both of these bacterial problems are avoided by the simple expedient of making sure everyone in the household washes their hands before preparing or handling food. Cooking foods at high temperatures (>167°F) will also kill both of these bacteria. E. coli and salmonella, unlike flu, cold, and covid germs, can only enter our systems when we eat them, so wash your hands.
By the same token, the humanure in your compost pile is just as safe to be around as long as you’re washing your hands after dumping the loo and always before handling food. You don’t have any communicable diseases or parasites, so what pathogens are you worrying about in your personal humanure after it’s been composted? And finally, if you’re not overly concerned about the E. coli found in your barnyard manure, chicken coop, beneath your rabbit hutch, and in your kitty-litter box, why are you worrying about the long-dead remains of E. coli in your garden humus created from two-year-old personal poop?
Remember, there is no humanure in your garden, only humus. By the time you move the finished compost out to your garden, there’s no need whatsoever for extra precautions. It’s no longer a biohazard, it’s just pure humus. If you’re still not convinced, perhaps this short article, Can you eat your own poop? It may help you to understand that personal poop, while high on the “yuck” scale, is not especially dangerous to begin with, and not even remotely problematic after proper composting.
TEOTWAWKI Applications for Personal Poop
Humanure is far too valuable of a resource to waste in a grid-down TEOTWAWKI situation. After my own very negative experience working with public poop in graduate school (you’d be amazed at how much gold and silver there is in public poop), somebody caused me to reconsider the resource of personal poop from a self-reliance or grid-down perspective. I’ve been using a composting toilet for seven years now with a very positive outcome. Perhaps you can do the same if you haven’t discovered it already.
Inexpensive Composting Toilet
I highly recommend The Humanure Handbook even if just to have in your preps for future reference. (Free download.) Since I love simplicity and frugality, the composting toilet design I chose is called the Loveable Loo. (Search “loveable loo” and click on “images” to see all kinds of wild and crazy versions.) It works well for daily use, for a temporary grid-down event such as a hurricane, and it’s ideal for long-term TEOTWAWKI use. The basic gist of this type of composting toilet is that you make your deposit directly into a 5-gallon bucket, cover it with sawdust so it doesn’t smell, and when the bucket is full, dump it into your compost pile and cover it up. It’s a kitty litter box for humans. They’re very sturdy, easy to build yourself, and they’re also available for purchase. Here are the simple DIY instructions I used from the Humanure Handbook to build one for under $50.
The Simple Composting Loo Routine
Like most other things, once you get used to the routine there’s nothing to it. When the loo is full, the bucket is carried to the compost pile. I use a pitchfork to move the top layers of cover material (grass, leaves, or straw) to make a small hole where I dump the contents of the bucket. Next, I clean the bucket using rainwater and a toilet brush, then dump the water on top of the just-added humanure. I pitchfork the cover material back on top to cover up the new additions and when necessary, I add more cover material from a pile I keep off to the side. Lastly, I sprinkle a handful of sawdust inside the bucket to prime it before taking it back inside. The garden tools I keep at the compost pile are strictly dedicated for compost-pile use. After the one-year resting period, your ordinary garden tools can be used to safely work with the finished compost humus in the garden.
Of all the ideas to try to sell to preppers, especially as a live-your-preps suggestion, a composting toilet is one of the hardest. For those of us old enough to have raised kids on cloth diapers, it’s not any less convenient than that was and after a time you don’t think twice about it.
For the guys, the easiest way to prevent the loo from filling up as quickly is to either pee into a jug or go to the compost pile and make a direct deposit. You can also search “urine diverter” to get some ideas on keeping all the urine out of the loo, increasing the time between emptyings.
Urine is basically sterile so it’s safe to handle and has other uses besides composting. Urine is an excellent source of nitrogen and can be used as a garden fertilizer and as a cheap way to speed up the rotting process of that stump in the pasture. The nitrogen-rich urine in humanure is the most valuable portion and helps the entire compost pile break down more quickly as well as allowing you to add a higher percentage of dry materials like straw, paper, and cardboard which are nearly devoid of nitrogen and harder to compost.
Cover Materials for Loo Use
Sawdust is the best cover material I’ve found to use in the loo. Not only is it free at any sawmill or cabinet shop, but it flows well and absorbs liquid in addition to covering the fresh deposit. My closest sawmill has two options: fresh sawdust or very old, partially-composted sawdust which looks like coffee grounds. Fresh sawdust tends to be light and fluffy so I prefer using old sawdust from the sawmill which covers things up more completely with less sawdust.
While sawdust is probably the best cover material, anything which will cover the deposit and soak up liquid can be used. Even humus from a completed compost pile will work and can be endlessly recycled in a TEOTWAWKI event where sawdust may be limited.
At my homestead I built a 3’ x 5’ x 8’ bin alongside the compost corrals to hold bulk sawdust. To keep the sawdust dry it has a sloping tin-covered lid which opens for adding more sawdust every few years. From there, I load sawdust into a 32-gallon, covered garbage can on my side porch. Inside the house, I keep the sawdust next to the loo in a 10-lb. pet-food container which is not only lightweight but has a hinged lid that snaps shut. The gasketed lid also makes this container an ideal fly-proof compost bucket for kitchen use.
One More Advantage of Composting Toilets
For anyone constructing a new homestead or survival retreat, expenses can quickly get out of hand or be so high that construction is delayed. Estimates for installing a septic tank and leach line vary but rest assured, it will cost thousands of dollars. By roughing it at first, using a composting loo, hauling water (or using a rainwater catchment system), and a DIY tiny house/RV/etc., those who really want to get onto their new property ASAP could do so much more quickly. Once on site, dwelling, water, and plumbing upgrades can occur as the financial means are available.
I made and used a composting toilet while searching for my homestead property. Before I even started building, the decision was made to permanently forego a septic tank and leach line. To keep up the resale value, all the plumbing is in place and up to code to switch over to a septic system. Underneath the loo there’s a pilot hole in the floor just above a 3” stubbed-off waste line. Inside a closet is the finished toilet-plumbing attachment with installation instructions written in Sharpie: use a 4¼” hole saw to drill through the floor using the pilot hole, then thread the attachment onto the pipe stub. It will take longer to go to town to buy a toilet than it will to convert the in-house plumbing over for a flush toilet. There’s a 4” cleanout cap in the lawn to indicate where the septic line should branch off from the current gray-water system to continue the proper ¼” per foot slope to the septic tank.
If the grid goes down, a composting toilet is a good option which not only conserves water and prevents freezing your butt off in January, but also supplies you with organic matter to boost garden yields which will be important post-SHTF. As always, I strongly recommend you test your preps ahead of time to get a realistic idea of how they’ll work for long-term use. By testing and having a genuine understanding of how wonderful/terrible they’ll be, we’ll still have time to make changes if necessary.
My closing challenge is, if your current plumbing won’t be usable and you’re not planning to use a composting toilet after the SHTF, then for 30 days during a cold winter month, use an outhouse, a chamber pot, or buckets of water hauled from the creek for flushing your existing toilet. Most emergency toilets, camping toilets, and other portable toilets won’t stand up to long-term continuous use and you’ll still have to get up close and personal with your raw sewage. A wooden loveable loo with a replaceable 5-gallon bucket should last for decades.
Test your toilet preps now and don’t get caught with your pants down when the Schumer hits the fan!