Composting Humanure Compared to Other Methods

Composting Humanure Compared to Other Methods

Composting humanure (human waste) seems to have a stigma attached to it. Most people find the process of composting humanure to be “gross” and would rather flush it down into the sewage system. However, the process of composting humanure compared to other methods (standard waste treatment process or septic systems) is quite easy and is far more sustainable. Furthermore, when properly composted, you are left with perfect composted soil for fruit trees and garden beds.

The Standard Sewage Treatment Process

dealing with waste, compost, composting, compost toilet, humanureThe way we treat sewage in the US is a very in depth process, which requires various levels of treatment. We will not cover every aspect of the process, but we will give a general idea of it.

After “black water” (toilets) and “gray water” (from sinks/showers) has gone down the drain, it runs through a layer of coarse screens for pre-treatment. These screens separate larger solids from the sewage in order to avoid damaging equipment. This is generally collected and disposed of into landfills.

The first phase of treatment (primary treatment), sewage flows into large tanks. The sewage sits in these tanks so that the “sludge” will settle at the bottom and oil and grease will rise to the top. The grease and oil are skimmed off the top and the sludge is scraped and removed from the bottom. The sludge is then further processed, generally, for farm and agricultural use and, what can’t be used, is sent to the landfill.

As the sewage moves into the secondary treatment phase, it is combined with aerobic bacteria and protozoa. These microorganisms help further break down the waste, removing even more contaminants. Again, the sewage sits as the sludge settles. The sludge is, again, removed and then either further processed or discarded into landfills.

Most of the time, a tertiary treatment is performed; this process varies greatly between different treatment facilities. It is the final line of defense in ensuring that the sewage has been properly treated before it is released back into the environment. Once completed, the waste water is discharged into various environments, including oceans, rivers, streams and the ground.

So, in short, when you flush your toilets, wash your hands, or take showers, the water flows into a treatment facility, where it is processed and then returned to the water or the ground. The process is costly, but the expense is shared amongst all of those who use the system.

Septic Systems

dealing with waste, compost, composting, compost toilet, humanure

A septic system works somewhat differently than the standard sewage process. However, most times, the waste ends up at the same waste processing facilities anyway.

Black and gray water flow from the house and out one main drain pipe; this drainage pipe flows directly into the septic system. Septic systems are buried in the ground and are usually made from various materials including concrete or polyethylene. They are water tight and are meant to hold waste water long enough to allow a sludge to form on the bottom and oil and grease (scum) to form at the top. The liquid waste water flows from the septic tank into a drainfield. The drainfield allows this treated waste water to percolate through the soil and is then released back into the ground water. If the drainfield gets too overrun with water, it can cause sewage to leak out into the soil.

Once the tank is filled with sludge it will need to be pumped. A septic pumping company can be hired to pump your tank. This sludge is, most times, then taken back to a sewage treatment facility, where it goes through a similar process as the one described above.

Septic systems are efficient, but they do require a lot of maintenance, which can be costly. Unlike the standard sewage treatment process, this cost is not shared and must be paid for by the homeowner.

Composting Toilets

composting toilet bucket lid

Using a composting toilet is far easier and far less costly than the standard treatment or septic systems. It requires very little effort and the end product can be used to save even more money. You have many options when it comes to composting humanure; they can, however, be boiled down to two types: manufactured composting toilets and homemade ones. The system we will discuss here will be the simplest of them all: a 5-gallon bucket. You will need to build a compost area as well, which can be as simple or as complicated as you want; we generally use 4 pallets affixed together into a rudimentary box.

You can build a box for your bucket and install a regular toilet seat or you can simply purchase a plastic toilet seat lid that fits directly onto your bucket. In regards to actually composting humanure, the process is simple. After every use, cover the waste with a compostable material, such as peat moss, coconut fibers, or hay/straw.

Once the bucket is full, you simply dump the contents into your pre-built compost area. Then you cover it all with a layer of straw. Each time you add to the pile, you should dig into the center of the pile, dump the bucket, then recover. This ensures that the waste is properly composting. Once the compost area is full, ensure that it is completely covered and let it sit for at least 6 months (or better, a year). As the compost sits it will break down into a wonderful soil for your garden.

That is all there is to it! This is a very basic description of the process; we will post another article soon going into more detail about how we compost humanure.

Note: It is best to build two compost area boxes, so that when one is full, you can leave it alone to sit and begin using the second one.

Here is the toilet lid that we have used on our simple bucket system:

Now you have a basic understanding of the differences between waste treatment facilities, septic systems, and composting toilets. If you have any questions about composting humanure, please feel free to comment below or contact us!

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