Toilet Resources are not ‘waste’ – Humanure Handbook review
Short Version – Thinking about a composting toilet? This is the book for you – go buy it. Now.
The Humanure Handbook – a guide to composting humanure by Joseph Jenkins is now entering its 4th edition. (I read the 3rd edition). The book is something of a bible within the composting toilet community and draws on both empirical first hand experience Joseph acquired by managing his own composting toilet system as well as thorough, cited research of the topic.
Composting Toilet System? Yes system. Composting toilets come in different varieties – some are fully managed systems such as Sun-Mar’s Centrex Range, however most people will know them as the ‘collection’ toilets where the resources are captured for subsequent composting. In this setup the ‘toilet’ itself forms part of the larger ‘toilet system’ to treat the material and make it safe.
Also Note – toilet resources, not waste.
This thoroughly researched and engaging book takes you thorough the miraculous composting process, different types of composting toilet systems, history of composting toilets and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
A recurring important theme in the book was how composting addresses the issue of pathogens and disease. In this regard the book is truly impressive – detailing different pathogens and diseases, their prevalence, lifecycle and the ability of composting to kill them. The eggs of one particular pathogen, Roundworm (Ascaris) are particularly stubborn.
Spoiler alert – Thermophilic composting kills all pathogens, really effectively. Yes, even Roundworm eggs.
To achieve the conditions for thermophilic composting depends on the carbon/nitrogen ratio of the pile and its construction. Joseph describes the simple construction and maintenance of a pile as well as the quantities of bulking materials to provide additional carbon. In the book he uses a thermometer to observe the temperature of the compost pile following a cold winter. As a newbie I’d advocate this practice to be sure thermophilic composting is happening and generally learn more how hot it gets and when.
On that note, be sure to check out WeRadiate who are developing a composting sensor to automatically collect this temperature data and analyse if for data geeks like me! Head over to their funding page to help support the project and get these made!
Back to the book, I get a sense of Josephs frustration and exasperation with fecophobic ‘experts’ who expound advice and knowledge on a subject they have not practiced. This is where Joseph’s common sense, practitioner’s approach make this handbook such a valuable resource.
Promisingly, government and regulatory attitudes appear to be changing – and probably in no small part thanks to this book. Indeed the author cites praise from the US Department of Health and Human Service, US Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Interested? Support him and go buy it from his website here .
I’m Currently also reading Catherine Flower’s book Waste: One woman’s fight against America’s dirty secret. I can’t help but see a solution putting these two together…
That’s another blog though!