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How To Compost Humanure Safely And Simply

What is humanure?

Humanure combines two words “Human” and “Manure”. Thus human manure.
Simply said the practice of humanure is composting human excrement, that is turning human feces and urine into high quality soil in a safe and hygienic way for the growing of vegetables, trees, ornamentals, and other crops. Creating humanure fits perfectly with Natural Farming.

What is night soil?

You maybe have heard of night soil before and wonder how its related to humanure.

Night soil is the direct application of raw uncomposted human excrement on the soil, usually on farms and sometimes in forests.

Night soil used to be commonly practiced in Asian countries. Using night soil increases fertility of the soil to the point that almost no external inputs are needed.
Night soil is a sustainable way to maintain soil fertility and increase yields in harvests, however there is one very big downside of using night soil which is that it is UNSAFE.

Using night soil regularly increases the risk of yourself and your consumers getting parasites, bacterial infections, food poisoning, and a host of many other illnesses that can range from mild to severe to deadly.
This why in places where the night soil is used there is an increased incidence of food poisoning and intestinal parasites among the population.

By using night soil harmful bacteria and parasites in human feces are not killed entirely and can remain in the soil for over a year.
Simply by walking on this soil (barefeet), or touching the soil with your bare hands while planting, or consuming contaminated food grown on this soil you can become very sick.

Night soil is practically the same as directly pooping on the soil.

What is the difference between humanure and night soil?

Humanure is the safe and sustainable alternative of using night soil.
While both night soil and humanure come from human feces and while both of them increase soil fertility, night soil is raw and unsafe while humanure is composted causing 99.99% of all pathogens in human feces to die and is thus rendered SAFE.

Both night soil and humanure can be used to grow plants sustainably, but night soil is unsafe and harmful to human health while humanure is safe.

How to compost human feces safely?

To compost human feces and make humanure safely is a surprisingly simple process.
There are two elements to composting humanure. The composting pit and the collection bin and grass storage.

Collection bin and grass storage

The collection bin is the replacement of the traditional toilet. As the name implies it collects feces and urine.
The collection bin is as simple as any decent sized bucket with a lid.
The lid is very important to prevent smells and insects coming into the bin.

Around the collection bin is build a frame with a toilet seat or anything comfy to sit on.
The frame is build in such a way that it is easy to take off the lid and to remove the collection bin.
Me and my wife have called this the fancy name of “The Poo Poo Chair”.

Next to the collection bin is the grass storage.
I call the grass storage cause I only use grass, but you can also use wood chips.
A friend of mine uses a mixture of wood chips and biochar which works perfectly fine.

This storage can be as simple as bucket, but it can also be a box or cabinet. Whatever you prefer.

Every time after doing your poop or peepee you add course organic matter to the collection bin. Grass and wood chips are the two most common and easiest ones.
This is basically the replacement of flushing the conventional toilet with water.

Adding grass or wood chips achieves the following effects:

  1. Removes any unpleasant odors.
  2. Makes it harder for insects to go in.
  3. Hides your shit for the next user.

If you want to be extra fancy you can add lemon grass, citronella grass, pine wood chips, basil, or other pleasantly smelling plants to the bin. Just to make sure the stink is gone and it smells good.
The traditional air freshener, incense, or essential oils also work well.

Composting pit

The second phase is the composting pit.
Once the collection bin is full you need to empty and bring it to the composting pit.
Once you empty the bin in the composting pit you can add some extra grass on top, just to be sure there is no smell.

I have never experienced any bad smells from the composting.
If you do have any smells keep adding grass or wood chips on top until it stops smelling.
Grass and wood chips are very effective at absorbing nasty smells.

The composting pit does not have to be complicated. What I recommend is to dig a shallow hole or depression before starting the compost pit.
Then fill the hole with course organic material especially grass and wood chips.
This hole combines with grass will prevent nutrients and contaminated water from rain from leeching out. This is especially important in the tropics or other areas where there are torrential rains, storms, or hurricanes. It is also important if the compost  pit is situated on top of a slope.

Another method to prevent leeching is to place logs or straw bales around the compost pit. Basically anything to prevent the water from leeching out.

Some people use a concrete or plastic bottom and concrete walls, however I am always in favor of using natural building materials.
A concrete or plastic floor also prevents earthworms and other beneficial insects from entering the compost pile which help break down the humanure faster.

To prevent total leaching you can also use a big composting bin that is made out of plastic, wood, or stainless steel.

Always empty the collection bin exactly in the middle of the compost pit. This way the organic matter builds up in the center and then the center becomes the hottest through microbial activity. The hotter the center is the faster the harmful pathogens in the feces are killed.

How long does composting humanure take?

There are 2 types of humanure composting.
Continual, and aged.

In continual composting the compost pit is passive. The soil is never removed and trees are grown around it which take up the nutrients.
In the continual method you only need 1 compost pit and you can keep continuously adding humanure nearly forever.

In the aged method you need 2 composting pits.
For one year you add humanure to the first pit. Then you move all the compost from the first pit to the second pit and you let it sit there for a minimum of 1 year, this is called aging.
Meanwhile you keep adding the fresh humanure to the 1st pit for 1 year.
When the compost from the 2nd pit has aged for 1 year you can then spread it around and add it the soil of your plants.

This means that you first batch of humanure compost will be ready after 2 years.
After that your finished and aged humanure compost is ready once a year.

Steps to composting humanure

These are the steps to follow when composting humanure.

  1. Cut or collect some grass or wood chips.
  2. Poop or urinate in the collection bin.
  3. Add grass or wood chips to the bin.
  4. Wash your hands. (Like you would do anyway with a conventional toilet)
  5. Empty the collection bin when its full in the compost pit.
  6. Repeat step 1 to 5 for one year.
  7. Move the compost to the second pit and let it age for one year. Meanwhile repeat step 6.
  8. After the compost of the second pit has aged for one year spread it around your plants. Then repeat step 7.

How safe is humanure?

If humanure composting is done right it is totally safe. You have nothing to worry about.

The 1 year aging period is important because it is proven that aging humanure compost for 1 year kills over 99.99% of all pathogens in feces.
Most pathogens in human feces can not live outside of the human body for longer than 6 months, so after just 6 months 98% of all pathogens are dead. However there are some intestinal parasites (the remaining 2%) that can live for up to 1 year outside of the human body.

What Are Black Soldier Flies?

Some people also add Black Soldier Flies to their humanure compost. This is especially in true the tropics, but black soldier flies can also live colder areas during summer.
Adding black soldier flies to humanure speeds up the decomposition process and eliminates pathogens even faster.

Black soldier flies are tropical elongated black flies that look like small wasps.
Black soldier flies are not harmful in any way, they do not bite nor sting. They can not transmit any human pathogens and they even help with pollinating flowers.

The big larva of black soldier flies consume mainly feces, especially human feces. They also out compete house flies for food and thus reduce the incidence of common flies.
Some people even farm black soldier fly larva as a feed for fish, livestock, or poultry such as chickens. Some even grow them for human consumption as they are an excellent source of protein.

Wash your hands

Washing your hands with soap removes 99.99% of pathogens from your hands and prevents over 99% of all hand-to-mouth caused illnesses.
Washing your hands protects not only yourself, but also the people around you.

It is obvious that you will need to wash your hands after doing your poop, no matter if its a humanure toilet or a conventional toilet.
Just to be safe it is also recommended to wash your hands after emptying the collection bin.

Why use humanure?

Humanure not only contains the basic NPK nutrients in the perfect ratios, but also includes micro-nutrients excellent for plant growth. It is no reason then that troughout the ages feces have been called “Black Gold” because of its excellent properties in increasing soil fertility and farm production.
It was so useful that some people payed a lot of money for human feces.

Everything that we eat comes from the soil.
Soil turns into plants and animals and when we eat them it turns into shit.
When we flush away our shit then all that precious soil goes away into rivers, the oceans, landfills, or septic tanks.
This is an enormous waste and depletes the soil of nutrients. This is one of the reasons why farmers need to keep adding more and more (chemical) fertilizers to the soil.

How nice would it be if we can return what we eat back to the soil where it came from?
This is the essence of sustainability.

A human being poops around 250 grams of (dry) shit everyday. That means that if you spread your humanure compost once a year you will add 90 kilograms of soil per person per year.

What about sewage?

Some people may think that the conventional toilet of flushing ans taking the shit away into sewage is more hygienic and far better than humanure, but on closer inspection it turns out that not only is sewage less safe it is also a waste of precious resources.

When we flush our toilet, what we are essentially doing is washing away our shit to the ocean or rivers with clean water that becomes contaminated with pathogens.
In most countries flushing water is high quality drinking water while in other countries this is clean water good enough for bathing.

Clean drinking water is one of the most precious resources on Earth and it is not as abundant as you may think, especially in the dry areas of the world.

So flushing away your shit with water that is drinkable is an enormous waste.
When you think about it for long enough its actually kind a insane.

If you do humanure you can save around  7300 liters of clean water per year, per person.

Besides wasting drinking water. Many countries still dump their sewage directly into water sources such as lakes, rivers, and the oceans, often the same source were drinking water comes from (except the ocean). This sewage besides just containing pathogens from feces is mixed with harmful chemicals and heavy metals from factories.
This is why many rivers and lakes of the world have become so polluted its neither safe for drinking nor bathing.

Some countries treat their sewage water in sewage treatment facilities, but this is not necessarily any better. While it does kill nearly all the pathogens in human feces, it does so by adding poisonous chemicals that are especially toxic to marine life. Thus adding to the problem of pollution and using up extra resources.

Benefits of doing humanure

Just in case you are not convinced yet. Here is a list of all the benefits of humanure compared to sewage or night soil.

  • Does not contaminate soil with pathogens.
  • Does not contaminate rivers.
  • Does not contaminate clean drinking water sources.
  • Prevents people from becoming sick.
  • Saves and conserves clean water.
  • Increases soil fertility organically.
  • Decreases dependence on chemical fertilizers.
  • Causes no pollution.
  • Is cheap.
  • Is simple.
  • Is 100% safe.

Can dog poop be composted?

After reading this you may wonder if dog poop, cat poop, or any other feces can be composted.
The answer is an astounding yes!
If you actually care to collect your pet’s feces they can be added to the compost pile in the exact same way as humanure.
The same applies for any other animal. You can even compost animal carcasses.

If you want to know more I recommend you to read The Humanure Handbook

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