We make soil! The art of composting in a toilet

by | Apr 19, 2019 | Ecocentro Ipec, Natural Building, Sustainable Living | 0 comments

It’s believed that the first toilets for human waste were created in an ancient settlement in Scotland dating back to 3000 B.C. That’s over 5000 years ago! Sadly enough, today about 2.4 billion people, or roughly one-third of the world’s population still lack access to proper toilets. People poop on the side of the road, in bushes or on rubbish heaps. Most times this is not by choice.

Open defecation effects human health and ultimately the environment. The use of “night soil” on cropland is ancient, but methods have changed through the centuries and now this creates potential disease. Without toilets, deadly diseases can spread rapidly. Over 750 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water, sanitation, and poor hygiene (UNICEF). And too much poop in the environment causes an overload of toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem.

The effects on women and girls are great. Globally, 1 in 3 schools do not have adequate toilets, and 23% of schools have no toilets at all. Schools without toilets can cause girls to miss out on their education. Without proper sanitation facilities, many girls are forced to miss school when they’re menstruating. This consequently affects their employment chances as they grow up.

We make soil

HUMUS SAPIENS ™ was developed by Ecocentro IPEC in Brazil to tackle this problem. For twenty years an amazing bunch of humans have worked towards closing the cycle of nature with human manure without harming the environment, saving thousands of litres of water annually.

There are various models of integrated human waste management systems created by Andre Soares at Ecocentro IPEC. This article will focus on the model that has spread across rural Brazil keeping farmland, waterways and springs free of human manure. Some of you still many be cringing, so let’s look at the advantages.

Advantages of composting toilets

There are many advantages of composting toilets. And not just for third world communities, for the world! If you live near the ocean you could be affected by untreated sewage.  During wet weather rainfall rushes down streets into storm drains that empty into pipes shared by the sewage produced by homes and businesses. That mixes, overflows and within minutes, untreated wastewater gets vented directly into nearby waterways. So if you see a sign not to swim in wet weather. Take it personally.

Composting toilets don’t:

  • Need water for discharge. Great for communities that have limited water supply.
  • Produce effluents that go into rivers or the ocean.

And compost toilets won’t smell bad if managed correctly.

How do I use this model of compost toilet?

This is a simple but delicate question. Many people have fecophobia meaning they are scared of their own poop, which seems a little strange as healthy humans poop at a rate of 200 – 400 grams a day. So let’s talk dirty!

Using this model compost toilet is very simple. You make your personal deposit and then throw the toilet paper in. But instead of flushing, you add a scoop of sawdust.  Then lower the seat lid to prevent the entry of animals and insects. Only organic materials, such as toilet paper, can be placed inside the chamber. Other materials such as menstrual products, disposable diapers, plastic products (condoms and baby wipes included) should be discarded in the waste bin.

When you poop, the human waste falls directly into composting chambers. The added sawdust and toilet paper helps with the composting process. Pee and poop is nitrogen (or wet organic matter), added sawdust and toilet paper (or dry organic matter) is carbon. Composting is the decomposition of dry and wet organic matter by microorganisms. Your compost process has begun.

How much time is required for the waste to be composted?

Just to remind you, this particular model is used for rural families and communities in Brazil that don’t have access to a sewage system. It’s estimated that 40 per cent of homes in all of Brazil are not connected to a sewage system. So we keep it safe, simple to use and cheap.

In this model, all toilets have two chambers as you see in the photo. While one chamber is being used, the other is shut down for the composting process. Depending on the time of year and temperature, the composting process can take 6 months or more.

Why does not it smell bad?

In addition to the sawdust added to facilitate decomposition and eliminate the bad smell, there is an air inlet and outlet, which through thermosiphonation will circulate the air and push the gases out of the chimney.

Composting toilet at Strawberry Fields Festival

Is there any danger in using the compost produced?

Due to the length time and high temperature inside the chamber, the resulting material is completely innocuous, all human pathogens that may be present in the faeces die. The worms and bacteria won’t have a host at a delicious 36 ° C but a chamber at 45 – 60 ° C. They won’t survive. Time and temperature will kill the pathogens.

What elevates the temperature inside the chamber is, besides the decomposition process that releases heat, the black metal plate, facing north (due to a higher incidence of solar rays), which heats the inner part of the chamber.

Chapter seven of The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins (enviro rock star) further explains the process of worms and diseases. To have a read Click here!  Totally worth purchasing this book.

Hand washing stations

We always attach a hand washing station to the toilet. A water tank that is fed by the catchment off the roof of the toilet can supply water. Hand washing with soap is amongst  the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, which together account for 3.5 million child deaths annually.

Read more about how human waste is helping Australian farmers get the best out of their land:  Click here!

A bit about Andre Soares

Andre cofound Ecocentro IPEC with Lucy Legan in 1998. In 2005, Ecocentro IPEC and Andre won several awards on this particular model of composting toilet turning it into a social technology, protecting it from patents and for all Brazilians to use.

In 2006, Andre was asked by Boom Festival in Portugal to create a composting toilet for the 10 day festival for approximately 35,000 people. The composting toilets were a complete success. People prefered the composting toilets to the classic blue loo. From simple beginnings, his festival toilet designs are continually evolving. You can now see toilets in several festivals around the world, including Burning Man and Global Eclipse Gathering with the idea starting at Ecocentro IPEC.

Curious about the new model toilets: click here!



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  4. Free resources for permaculture living and Homeschooling during these challenging times – Planet Schooling - […] We make soil! The art of composting in a toilet – from the Ecocentro in Brazil. […]
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