I’m obsessed with pooh. The concept of a composting toilet is fascinating. It seems so obvious and sensible. I can’t wait to have one and to see my trees thrive on account of my crap.
Milkwood recently wrote an article about harvesting their first batch of well composted humanure. The end product looks amazing.
But one commenter got up my goat and is cause of this post. He wrote:
Only if the poor morons of India uderstood this (sic) . . . they would have cleaner streets, better sanitation, and orchards! Education! The right education, applied at the right time in the right place.
My response, on which I shall expand here:
That’s a bit harsh isn’t it…? Referring to the poor of India as “morons”. We don’t employ such sensible systems here in Australia. Our waste is magically piped from our houses to places unknown but occasionally smelt and despised where it is then intensively and chemically treated. Why not humanure for the West? Why not humanure in the cities?
Remember that Reinvent the Toilet Challenge? Won by some piece of technology – that isn’t without its benefits – rather than something so simple and obvious as a composting loo.
What I mean by “Why not humanure for the West?” and “Why not humanure in the cities?” is why blame the poor in a developing country and call them uneducated when we demonstrate the same deficiency here. Human waste is a hugely important and value resource. As the lyric goes, “There’s no such thing as waste, only stuff in the wrong place”. Human waste ought to be transferred back to the start of the system – where it began its journey. Which, of course, is in the soil. Soil depletion is one of the biggest challenges we face.
As for the solar toilet that won the Reinvest the Toilet Challenge, judged by Bill Gates, well I wonder how many have been implemented so far? Or is the project still in R&D? Whilst I think the concept sounds great and appropriate technological progress is important, I think we have a tendency to over complicate things. I discussed the idea with my anti-composting loo partner and he said that the point of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge wasn’t to fund the existing but to innovate the next thing. That’s great, but how does that help people right now?
The fantastic thing about composting toilets is that they can be produced quickly and cheaply. Bucket, saw dust / peat / wood chips, shit – done.
UPDATE: According to Co.Exist: “Caltech’s solar toilet team now has $1.6 million in funding from the Gates Foundation; they expect to have a prototype ready to ship to Africa–with a price tag of approximately $2,200–by December 2013”. So, the project has taken years and will cost a bomb. I could pick up all the materials needed for a basic composting toilet from Bunnings right now and build 40 for $2,220!