Emergency Toilet Sanitation

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third EditionI was asked by our local neighborhood council to talk about emergency turlets for their public safety committee. Doing some preliminary research about what our government suggests concerns me.

FEMA and, it seems, all the state and local agencies I looked into rely on a poop in a bag, throw in some enzymes or bleach and throw it into a pit approach. In a short term emergency, a day or two let’s say, this might work fine. But if the emergency stretched out longer I can see some potential problems. And the cynic in me sees an opportunity for a contractor to sell toilet and enzyme kits to government agencies.

So what’s wrong with pooping in a bag? First off, it’s disgusting, something I know from backpacking. I have a feeling people might avoid latrines set up with “poop bags” and go do their business behind a bush. And I have a feeling that the government experts suggesting this approach have never tried it themselves.

Secondly, those pits full of bags could become a serious biohazard should rats, let’s say, start pulling the bags apart or should the pit get flooded.

As an alternative to the “poop bag” I was impressed with Joseph Jenkin’s humanure approach that he explains in a series of videos he shot in Haiti after the earthquake. You can see those videos here. Essentially what Jenkins did in Haiti was to forage carbon material (“bagasse” or sugar cane waste) and use that as a cover material in the latrines. This eliminates smells and maggots. He also set up a large humanure compost pile in a refugee camp using the same bagasse material as the carbon source. The hot temperatures in the compost pile kill hazardous microorganisms in human poo. As long as you’ve got a carbon source you can keep Jenkins’ sanitation system going indefinitely. With the FEMA approach you’ve got a problem when you run out of those bags and proprietary enzyme mixtures.

One problem with Jenkins’ approach could be finding a carbon source in an urban area, but I think that’s solvable (suggestions invited!). You also need water for the compost pile but it need not be potable.

I’m no sanitation expert and am interested in opinions on this topic, particularly those who have worked in emergency situations or in impoverished communities. What I like about Jenkins’ approach is that it relies more on knowledge (how to compost, set up a latrine) than equipment. The job then is to spread that knowledge. Learning how to compost should be a skill everyone knows how to do.

Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook: for purchase or free pdf download.

Well howdy! We’re in the New York Times

We’re pleased and flattered to be in the Times today, spouting off at the mouth and waving our freak flag (or freak thrysus) high. Michael Tortarello interviewed us, and he’s a helluva a writer. You could spend your time in worse ways seeking out his other articles, like this one on hybrid seeds, which is one of Erik’s favorites. And kudos to Laure Joliet for taking such beautiful pictures.

Pruning and Grafting Workshop with C. Darren Butler

This Sunday May 29, learn how to prune and graft citrus and avocados with consulting arborist, ecological designer, sustainable landscaping specialist, and teacher C. Darren Butler. Slots are still available. It’s a double workshop (pruning in the morning and grafting in the afternoon). You can sign up for one or both. Hope to see some of you there!

For more information contact Darren at: [email protected]

In Seattle, Headed to Portland

Photo from bikejuju.com

Dig that tallbike, welded up by our host in Seattle Tom, a.k.a. “bikejuju” who has a blog at www.bikejuju.com. His wife Lyanda is the author of a book readers of this blog will enjoy, Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. And they have the prettiest mixte I’ve ever seen in their living room.

This afternoon we head to Portland. Hope to see you at one of our appearances.