Tuesday, July 29, 2008

anal retention

Eventually we are going to have a composting toilet. In theory I'm all for it, no need for a sewage system, tremendous water conservation, a source of natural compost. In practicality I'm a bit grossed out. I mean, how does it work? More importantly, does it smell? Most importantly, who cleans the shit out? Let's review the facts thanks to the good people at Composting Toilet World. My corresponding thoughts in italics.

Their website says composting toilets work by providing a enclosed environment for the natural process of aerobic decomposition. This is a really nice way of saying your shit lays there in a bucket. The same type of environment on forest floors which decomposes wildlife droppings and converts them into valuable nutrients for the vegetation to use. This is in reference to Bambi shit, because Bambi has NO BUCKET. Bambi also doesn't have to clean the nonexistent bucket. The forest does the work. Good forest. There are many different designs of composting toilets, but all carry out this basic process of aerobic decomposition.

Design variations enhance this process (what process? the shitting process? is someone on hand to bite my neck or blow in my ear?) and they include:
• air baffles for distribution of air into the pile baffles? is it like a day spa for your shit?
• heating units to keep the compost at the best temperature for when your shit is cooked.
• injected air for increased decomposition when you have to shit and run.
• mixing tongs to ensure full decomposition throughout the pile for those of you shit stirrers out there. or for a delicious shit salad. you decide.
• the addition of composting worms and macro-organisms seriously? you can actually feed your own shit? Will it thank me?

As you may notice from the website, some composting toilets look basically like any other toilet and others look like a bucket. Or rather, they are a bucket. But the main thing is there is no water to flush with. So while you can shit in a rather normal fashion, it's after that has me curious. I mean, what do we do with all this shit?

More educated and enlightened folks prefer to call this piece of the puzzle Humanure. You take your shit and put it in a heap with other organic materials and turn it into compost and eventually plant it in your garden. Gross, right? I mean, WOW, natural soil! Sweet! It's a source of much debate at home, with J saying 1.8B people in the world do not have running water and me saying yeah but if we are environmentally friendly in every other way can't I get a free pass and he says no this is important and I say next you'll have M send her leftovers to China to which he responds you and the toilet will get along famously. Great, now I'm dating my new composting toilet.

In the end I have no doubt I'll warm up to the idea and besides really I have no choice. In my brain it makes sense but my lily white ass still needs a little catching up.


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37 comments:

Arwen said...

You also can't peep and poop, only poop. The urine destroys the aerobic action. I used to live in a place in north GA and that what we had a composting toilet for about 30 people, except there were 5 places to sit all next to each other. (yes, people would sit right next to each other and poop). Any one who lives there is part of the 5 hole gang and referred to as a 5-holer. Our t-shirts would have a crescent moon and 5 stars.
You will be fine, just get your husband to deal with the muck.

Karen said...

comes with mosquitoes that bite your neck - blowing in your ear optional.

also, I believe in the worm/macro-organism category they are the predators in the scenario, being slightly higher up on the food chain then, well, shit. quelle surprise!

kristen said...

oh lordy, better you than me sister.

i hope you'll come visit me, because the likelihood of this WUSS ever coming to the jungle is...well. you get it.

Sober Briquette said...

What I'm really getting here is that humor is your best line of defense against stress.

You'll be fine, love.

ALM said...

Have to say it: Shit happens. (Sorry!)

It is going to be tough, no doubt about it -- but what a wonderful adventure.

QT said...

Having had several encounters with privvys, arwen beat me to it - you can't pee in there, only poop. And I don't think it goes in a bucket per se, but I could be wrong.

At least once you move, you KNOW you won't be scrubbing any toilet bowls...

Kyla said...

Dude, you're crazy. Crazy and awesome.

Pgoodness said...

Um, eew?
It would be wrong to say better you than me, so I'll just say that I guess if it's your only option you'll get used to it, right?

Right?

Tabba said...

You said:
(what process? the shitting process? is someone on hand to bite my neck or blow in my ear?)

My response:
was to spit my morning coffee all down the front of myself and discover, rather quickly, of my growing incontinence problem!

Gwen said...

Oy. You can't pee and poo at the same time? That seems ..... awkward.

When I lived in the jungle, we had running water. We collected rain water in giant wooden barrels and then ran it through a rudimentary pipe system. We had to boil the water to drink it, but for other uses it was fine. Maybe you could consider this?

I'm really having a hard time with this toilet, can you tell?

Andrea said...

I remember when we got a composting toilet at the cottage after decades of using teh outhouse....

It's weird but it's a definite step up.

I'm looking forward to at least one or two posts about the joys of living with a composting toilet from the other side.

Andrea said...

I remember when we got a composting toilet at the cottage after decades of using teh outhouse....

It's weird but it's a definite step up.

I'm looking forward to at least one or two posts about the joys of living with a composting toilet from the other side.

thailandchani said...

Humanure. Oh, yikes! LOL

Vasacor said...

Idea is OK. But you said like in forest animal droppings decomposes and become available to plants as compost. In that case it is purely natural and no harm.
But we human beings what and all shits out and people involved in composting process should be careful. In these days everyman eats poison thru his food in the form of residual pesticides and chemical fertilizers. He is sick and will take antibiotics. Many of these are non degradable.
To how far extent this is safe?

Defiantmuse said...

hmm....I have friends who have a composting toilet and they pee in it. The trick is for you to not allow the compost to get too wet....and some people have issues with the smell the urine will give off after a while....it smells much worse than composting shit if you can believe that. I've heard about people who just collect their pee in jars and dilute it with water and pour it in their garden. Especially the first pee of the day....full of really good vitamins and nutrients....but if that really grosses you out they do have two chamber composting toilets....one for pee, one for poop.

Personally I like talking about shit. G doesn't appreciate it much.

Lara said...

This is the first time I've EVER read your blog and shuddered - following with "ick." The idea of your move to the jungle was much more romantic before you started with the logistics, dear one! :)

Ally said...

Jen, you are hysterical. (In the funny way, not the off-your-nut way).

I am so excited to read all of your updates when you move and see how all of this comes to fruition.

I'm sure you've thought of this already, and probably have a plan, but I hope you've considered writing a book from this experience or getting paid to blog about it. I'm sure there are many people who would love to read about your adventures (besides those of us who already do).

nyjlm said...

I met my husband at an island research station with no electricty or running water. We had outhouses, and it really was ok. You're going to be ok, I promise!

Maggie, Dammit said...

Hmm.

I'm kind of fascinated by this because I've used outhouses that reeked, and outhouses that had no smell at all, and I wondered what the difference was, and why.

OK, I think I've perhaps revealed too much. THANKS A LOT, JEN. ;)

Janet said...

I can't believe that I actually have anything to add to this discussion, but...

I have used a composting toilet! I was just a kid visiting the cottage of my parent's friends many years ago. I have to say that it really didn't smell at all and it was way less creepy then using the outhouse (at least for my 8-year-old self). But there was a disconcerting thunk noise that accompanied the whole pooping process. Well, that and the sound of weeping worms. ;)

painted maypole said...

ha ha ha ha ha

sounds to me like an outhouse. ;)

Compost_D said...

@arwen
wrote: "You also can't peep and poop, only poop. The urine destroys the aerobic action."

According to the Humanure Handbook Urine is a wonderful addition to a compost heap. Although you might be referring to a compost toilet that doesn't get emptied perhaps? Urine adds moisture and Nitrogen to the mix. I'm referring to the kind of compost toilet that one empties in to a compost pile. Yes, it does require a little extra work, but it works! No aroma and no threat of infection or infestation if you do it right.

@vasacor
In the book it documents pretty methodically the type of pathogens that are dangerous to humans. In a healthy compost pile there is a form of bacteria called thermophiles that feed on the material and start to heat up their environment. This is called a Thermophilic Process. The heap can reach temperatures up to 180F degrees. Certain pathogens take certain durations of time to be destroyed by the heat. It's all documented in the book. As for antibiotics and such leeching in the compost, there is really nothing to be done about that. Modern sewage systems can't do much about that either. You think sewage plants can rid antibiotic residue in their reclamation process?

A humanure pile after its properly composted and cured will be ready between one to two years. It could be used as compost or just allowed to transmute back into the soil.

The humanure process has no aroma if done correctly.
I suggest to check out the book and participate in the Forum on the website.

Cheers,
Compost_D

bgirl said...

gotta tell you, 2 dear friend of mine have outdoor 'bathrooms' only. i'm more than happy to send you details. from a personal experience, i LOVE them. honestly the best bathroom experiences i've ever had. both built a small structure, one, even for fun hung a window...i will photograph next visit and send to you.

oh, once again, you've inspired.

b

Anonymous said...

hey defiantmuse,

wtf r u talkin about?

u tell me i talk shit all the time!

g

flutter said...

and all of the sudden my trip to Belize was mysteriously cut short....shit.

Amy Y said...

Well shit ~ that's the most potty talk I've ever heard out of your mouth. Er seen written on your blog.

Anonymous said...

J. here, first-time comment on my love's blog . . . .

After much research, I agree with Compost_D & we will be using The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins as our guide. To truly understand the benefits of a self-constructed composting toilet to our finances, environment, and health, you gotta read the book.

In return for Jen's willingness to sacrifice certain creature comforts, she has my word that I will strive my very best to expose her lilly white ass to more . . . pleasurable experiences.

patches said...

I recycle, compost kitchen waste, mulch yard clippings, reuse timber and concrete, and I'll even pee in the woods....but I am a total pussy about this composting toilet business.

Anjali said...

I'm wondering if this is the same sort of thing that my grandmother had at her house in India. Except it was really just an (ass)hole in the ground.

Sorry. Just had to get that pun in.

slouching mom said...

shudder.

better you than me, friend.

mamatulip said...

This post completely cracked me up and got me thinking about a different way of life all at the same time. And a comment from J, too? Wicked.

Jocelyn said...

Think of the wildass daisies you could grow with your shit, baby. And I gotta say, if I'm only taking one enviro-pass, I wouldn't use it up on the toilet; just shit in the bucket and keep driving your car in moral peace.

kgirl said...

You are freakin priceless. Wouldn't it be easier to just go shit in the garden?

Magpie said...

My mother is a hippie wanna-be, which is why I know that one brand of composting toilet is the "Clivus Multrum". I've always loved that name.

Not so sure I'd want to live with one though...but I don't live in the jungle...

You are way cool.

liv said...

and just to prove how base i am, the first thing i thought when i saw your title was, "OOH!! A post about poop!!"

it gave me the chills, sister.

cynematic said...

Have to chuckle...here's where being a child of immigrants is actually kinda helpful. In China, capital of peasanty thousand and one resourceful ways to all but eat the quack of a duck, humanure is called "nightsoil."

My husband's mom grew up on a rice farm in rural Taiwan (her mom still lives there) and so she knew/knows all sorts of earthy lo-fi ways of tending a farm. Fast forward to the suburbs of Chicago circa 1980, where at my mom-in-law's direction during the summertime, my husband and his sister grew up peeing into a bucket in the garage that would get emptied in the garden.

They didn't collect nightsoil, but I'm sure the thought crossed my mom-in-law's mind as no doubt she was familiar with the practice from her own childhood.

Sometimes I laugh at the old school ethnic ways we 1st world hippies are "re-discovering" in the name of going green. The most ardent compost-toilet using greenies would be totally at home on a rural Chinese farm in 1983. (I have to laugh, as the irony of China surrendering all their lovely bicycles and embracing the petroleum-powered internal combustion engine while we try to shuck our cars and get more bikes on the road would otherwise make me cry.)

Wayfarer Scientista said...

If you want to get closer but aren't sure about the composting toilet dig and outhouse. When it's full you dig a new one and cover the old one up - eventually it composts. But there is no stiring. And sometimes awesome views.