Are we ready for composting toilets?

Think about it.  In an endlessly repeated cycle, the residents of America’s most sophisticated cities urinate and defecate in their drinking water.   They clean it up at staggering expense only to use the water again to carry away an ever fresh supply of human waste.     What is to be done?

Humanaure Handbook
Cover of Humanaure Handbook

Still the task  of selling environmentally sound sanitation to an extremely skeptical public has hardly begun.

Some help comes in a well-documented  series entitled  Crap Happens: A Grist Special Report on How We Dispose of Our Poop.   In the concluding article of the series, journalist Catherine Price tries to fill the gap in basic understanding by interviewing people who happily own and mange humanaure composting toilets in their homes. 

Every year America produces seven billion dry tons of post-treatment sludge, or “biosolids,” to use today’s term, coined in an industry naming contest.   Price starts out by making the crucial distinction between biosolids and humanaure.  While human feces is the key ingredient of each, the former may contain  heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and thousands of other pollutants.  While humanaure may contain pharmaceuticals, it is not contaminated with industrial waste and toxins.    

While consumer resistance to composting toilets remains extreme, at least were talking about it.  Comments one reader,  “I know that we have been mollycoddled for several generations, but can the cultural barrier against dealing with our shit be so completely insuperable? I certainly hope not.”

Echoing the work currently being done by the  World Toilet Organization and its partners, Price muses about bottom of the pyramid approaches.   The majority of the world’s people are simply not connected to sewer lines.  Demand for innovative products is more likely among those who are off the grid than among western consumers with strong resistance to consume.   Just as many developing countries adopted cell phones without ever having built the infrastructure for landline phones, poor communities could skip sewer systems and develop  integrated system of composting toilets instead.

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