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We recently got a book from the library called "The Humanure Handbook, by J.C. Jenkins and found it one of the most informative, comprehensive books on the topic of composting human "manure". We had never considered such an option and were totally ignorant of the subject even though it has been a common practice in other countries, such as China for centuries.

We had been using an outhouse because we don't want a septic system, which is required to hook up to permanent electricity. (We have a temporary service pole and are eventually planning to add some solar power) It sounded so reasonable, simple and cheap that we decided to give it a try. We recycle everything else, we figured, so why not our humanure.

Mr. Jenkins, in a very humorous way, tells you exactly how to do it, and believe it or not, it is very simple, easy to do, and it doesn't smell in the bathroom or in the compost pile. He calls it "thermophilic" composting, where all the pathogens are killed. In one year of sitting in the compost pile, the finished product is perfectly safe and ready to use in the garden.

The book is a very scientific presentation, complete with cartoons and information galore. In our particular lifestyle, we think it makes perfect sense to do this and it is very earth friendly, humble and self-reliant. We love it! We'll never have to deal with expensive septic systems and stopped up toilets and plumbing problems again, we'll have some compost as a bonus, and we aren’t flushing a toilet and wasting water, "defecating into clean drinking water", as Mr. Jenkins says.

Here's how to do it:

You set up a homemade toilet bench with a toilet seat (like an outhouse), but you place a 5-gallon poly bucket beneath it. (or you could just purchase porta-potty from a camping store…one with a removable bucket.) Just so the seat part is removable for emptying purposes.

You start with about 1/2 gallon of rotted sawdust (or peat moss) in the bottom of the bucket. Everything goes in the bucket...feces, urine, toilet paper, even the cardboard tubes. Every time someone uses it, they sprinkle a generous scoop of sawdust or peat moss over it all. You can use it until it is full and it doesn't smell, we promise.

You then empty the bucket onto a compost pile, where you cover it with any kind of carbonaceous material, such as weeds, leaves, etc. This keeps the flies away and the smell down. If you do notice a smell, you just put on more cover material. You also add kitchen scraps and other composting materials available.

This pile will heat up because it has everything it needs to "cook". The combination of the poop, the urine (nitrogen), the sawdust (or peat) and the carbonaceous material all work together. You let this pile sit for one year, in addition to the year it took to build it. Then you start a second pile. So, initially, it takes two years to get to use the first pile. Thereafter, you have safe, finished compost once a year.

For those who think this might be a workable option to a septic system, I would suggest getting the book and reading it for yourselves. It's a great book. Chelsea Green publishing sells it and I've seen it listed in Mother Earth News and similar "green" magazines, and of course you can get it from the library.

If you have any questions, e-mail us and we will be happy to answer them if we can.

Note: The entire Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins is now online  at   Donna

also: excellent plans for compost bins made with free pallets are to be found at

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