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The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure

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There are almost seven billion defecating people on planet Earth, but few who have any clue about how to constructively handle the burgeoning mountain of human crap. The Humanure Handbook, third edition, will amuse you, educate you, and possibly offend you, but it will certainly pertain to you--unless, of course, your bowels never move. This new edition of The Humanure Handbook is:

The Tenth Anniversary Edition

Richly illustrated with eye-candy artwork

Perfect for reading while sitting on the "throne"

Revised, improved, and updated

256 pages of crap

256 pages, Paperback

First published July 1, 1996

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Joseph C. Jenkins

6 books12 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 104 reviews
Profile Image for Wayne.
39 reviews12 followers
January 1, 2008
This is an important book, but not great reading. I was looking for "how to," but the author was so afraid of people's reactions (and rightly so), that he took most of the book warming the reader up with the "why." After a point--maybe the second chapter or so--I got the idea, but he kept repeating himself.

To summarize:
1. Pooping in water is unhealthy and bad for the environment.
2. Poop should be composted.
3. If poop is composted properly, the end result is not dangerous.
4. If it's not composted properly, it can give you lots of nasty diseases.
5. Worms and other parasites only come out if they already went in.
6. How to: Put a little sawdust or peat moss in a bucket. Go in the bucket. Cover your deposit with enough sawdust or peat moss so you can't see it or smell it. When the bucket is full, dump it on your compost pile. Compost for two years.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
48 reviews6 followers
February 19, 2010
This book was a surprising eye opener to me. I'd always believed the fecophobic assumption that human manure was unsafe. While strongly commending people that compost it rather than flushing it, I also wrongly assumed that this compost was something one had to be highly wary of using.

In the Humanure Handbook, Joseph Jenkins spends a lot of time defending the practice and safety of composting human shit, and using the subsequent humus in gardens. Different than the direct application of "night soil" primarily followed in some Asian countries, he details the importance of heat and age in safely composting human manure, while also stressing the simplicity and cleanliness of the task. His words are backed up by hundreds of footnotes, listing a lengthy array of sources and scientific research, as well as over 30 years of practicing what he preaches, raising a family on food grown in part by using these composting practices.

Where do things go when you wash them down the drain? Where does the soap go from your showers, baths, and laundry? Where does food go that goes through the garbage disposal? Do you know? Do you care? When it joins the "waste" from factories, restaurants and other business, and from drains on city streets, what then? We seem to use our plumbing as an excuse to not have to think or worry about this. In fact, in most places in the US the waste is sterilized with strong and environmentally unfriendly chemicals. The liquid portion is then treated again, expensive processes that attempt to remove the chemicals from the water before returning it to the environment. The sludge that is primarily made of organic matter is then often buried into plastic lined holes in the ground in land fills. Ironically, most of what creates this ugly sludge could have been recycled through composting.

There are successful efforts to compost sewage sludge in places around the country. However, we're still dumping organic matter into our drinking water, polluting it unnecessarily. The final third of the Humanure Handbook looks into ways to inexpensively compost our own human manure, safely, cleanly, without odor, and without polluting our water. The author's preferred method costs basically nothing and can be done anywhere in the world, safely. Perhaps the biggest barrier to large scale adoption of the author's methods is the fecophobic aversion to crapping in a bucket and having to weekly transport the crap to a compost pile. Regardless, I agree with his premise that this is an issue that will have to be solved, and sooner than later.

The Humanure Handbook was a much more engaging read than I expected, and will long affect my views on waste and the proper usage of that word. It offers very real solutions to many of the environmental problems affecting our world today. Highly recommended reading.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,839 followers
August 30, 2020
good info for when you find yourself living in the middle of a natural disaster where water service may not come back to your house for months to come. It does require you to indulge in the author's many eye-rolling punnish asides and be ok with him calling human excrement "Mr. Turdy" but I could deal with it.
Profile Image for Bethany.
213 reviews3 followers
August 19, 2017
I wanted to really, really like this book. I wanted to tell everyone that they should read it and that it really would solve world hunger, bring about world peace, stop the soil, air, and water pollution problems that are wreaking havoc on the health of humanity around the world over. I wanted to. I do, after all, have good reason to really like this book. I already compost my family's poop. I fertilize the garden with urea tea. I recycle my greywater, using it to boost moisture levels in the compost bins. I feel like this book and I should be good friends.

But I just don't believe it. (Ok. Maybe I believe it a little bit.)

I just don't believe that reading this book will make people want to change. I think that the average person who reads this book will believe that it's saying something important. I think they'll recognize that it's a bad idea to poop in the 1% of available fresh water on the planet, then try to clean it up with toxic chemicals like chlorine, increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics, only to toss it out into the rivers and streams laden with the heavy metals it has picked up along the way.

But I doubt that they will read it and think "Hey, I could be a little part of the solution!" And that's because this book does not encourage people to change.

Oh? Did I confuse you?

Perhaps it's semantics. I think people CAN change. I think they WILL change. I think they WANT to do the right thing, if they know how and it's within their reach. But I think they will change when they are given the courage and the hope that their changing will make a difference.

And that's what this book doesn't do.

I felt ashamed, confused, guilted, angry, and a little bit hopeless by the end of this book. Am I glad I read it?? Of course!! I now know how to ensure my compost will indeed grow gorgeous tomatoes next year without infecting my family with terrifying poop-laden worms and diseases! (Inside joke, haha.) And I know that there are some people who will act on the information in it simply because they now have the information they need to do so. But those are not the best motivators for effecting change in the population at large. Hope is. And that's what our towns and cities need!! We need hope that one town at a time, one city at a time, one state and one country at a time could stop pooping in our fresh water, and instead, collect our recyclable manure, compost it, and produce an excellent organic soil for fertilizing our farmland naturally.

Hope inspires. Hope encourages people to change. I believe people can and will, but I'm not sure this is the book to do it. I hope people (You, dear reader) will overlook the jaded tone, the cynical outlook, and skeptical perspective of the author. I have no reason to judge him for his perspective. After all, he's the one who has been the voice of reason virtually tuned out by the world at large. I hope you give it a chance and build yourself your own compost pile and wooden toilet throne. =)
Profile Image for Rachel B.
772 reviews41 followers
July 18, 2016
3.5 stars

A very interesting read overall! I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in "sustainable living." The concept of composting one's own excrement obviously won't appeal to everyone, but this book gives lots of detailed information on the why and how for the counter-cultural.

As interesting as the book was, it begged for a proper editor. The author was very repetitive, went off on unrelated tangents, and simply had an inconsistent writing style throughout the book. Several of the chapters could have been greatly condensed or removed altogether.

Jenkins also has an ignorant view of religion and stated his opinion as fact, though of course there were no citations used, since these "facts" (mostly about those who practice any sort of religion) aren't real.

There is also a lot of cursing in the book. Given the topic, the use of s*** was to be expected, and I didn't find it offensive. However, all of the other curse words simply served to make Jenkins appear unprofessional. I think the scientific community, as well as society in general, would be more likely to take his book seriously if it was written seriously.

At the end of the day, I did learn a few new things about composting in general and humanure composting specifically, so I count this book a success. I would really love to see a better-edited 4th Edition, however!

My favorite quote is, "...humanure is not dangerous. More specifically, it is not any more dangerous than the body from which it is excreted. The danger lies in what we do with humanure, not in the material itself. To use an analogy, a glass jar is not dangerous either. However, if we smash it on the kitchen floor and walk on it with bare feet, we will be harmed. If we use a glass jar improperly and dangerously, we will suffer for it, but that’s no reason to condemn glass jars. When we discard humanure as a waste material and pollute our soil and water supplies with it, we are using it improperly, and that is where the danger lies. When we constructively recycle humanure by composting, it enriches our soil, and, like a glass jar, actually makes life easier for us." (p. 122)

Edit 7/18/16: I think about this book all the time. It has definitely changed my outlook in some areas, and I would recommend it to everyone! I still think it needs better editing, but there is so much thought-provoking (and practical) information here.
Profile Image for Baxter Trautman.
Author 11 books84 followers
February 7, 2020
I love this book! It's very readable while also being very scientific, and yes, even spiritual about composting our own waste (see "The Ego Vs. The Eco" section). No, it's not at all gross if done correctly, and yes, people have been doing it since, well, forever! Obviously not everyone has the resources to turn their own waste into good dirt but those of who do kind of have an obligation to at least read this book.
Profile Image for Kat.
7 reviews2 followers
March 23, 2010
Why do we piss, shit and vomit in our nice clean drinking water? I can't say I ever considered this question before reading the Humanure Handbook (via a free PDF). Since my guy and I are in contract on a sweet piece of land in the New York City watershed with a rustic cabin and no septic system (yet), I wanted more information on composting toilets and found this amusing and eye-opening screed.

In case you're wondering, my first purchase for "the land" will be a big ole truckload of sawdust so I can start composting our "emissions." We're trying to figure out if we can possibly avoid having a septic tank at all--after reading this book and some other references on graywater systems, septic tanks seem downright nasty. Will these plans fail? Maybe. Is my family grossed out? Well, yes.

Just ignore Jenkins's half-assed rundown of Eastern philosophy and you're golden.
Profile Image for Jeremy Kinney.
6 reviews2 followers
May 9, 2012
An excellent book! Though using human manure for composting is not a popular subject, it is one we all need to think about. Jenkins really puts the importance of humanure into perspective while making it an interesting read and even adding a little humor. This book is definitely for the environmentally conscious person who cares for the future of this planet. I would recommend this book to anyone because, after all, we all poop right?

In his book, Jenkins explains how ridiculous it is to pollute our precious water resources with human "waste." In fact, he considered it not waste, but a resource. By using humanure we can build our soil and keep our water clean. In times where our topsoil is being destroyed and a water crisis near, a book like this is more important than ever if we wish to live sustainably and survive as a species.
Profile Image for Kyle.
32 reviews
July 31, 2011
The most beautiful book ever written about shit. Not only is this something that I fully intend to practice on my homestead, but it is something that I wish I owned land RIGHT NOW so I could start doing it today, and stop wasting all of the valuable organic materials and nutrients my body passes.

If anyone should wish to criticize my praise for this book, please do so with A) proof that the system advocated by the author would not work, or B) a system that would be more hygienic and more effectively recycle nutrients back to the earth in a usable fashion than the system the author describes. If you do not have either of those but wish to criticize, I suspect that you haven't actually read this book and are judging a book by its cover. Please read the book and try again.
431 reviews
April 13, 2011
Great analysis of and unique insight into waste management, particularly the disposal of human waste (I refuse to use the word humanure). I found a lot of it overly technical and dull, but it was worth it.

Key things I learned:
- Composting human waste makes it safe to use for agriculture
- Asian agriculture uses it without composting, which is dangerous
- Excreting our waste into purified drinking-quality water is really dumb
- Composting closes the nutrient cycle and returns the nutrients in the waste to the soil
Profile Image for Eric T..
8 reviews6 followers
September 29, 2009
A lot of very good data and information. Unfortunately, one must be subjected to the authors misguided religious/political views in order to get at the raw usable information provided. If you have any reason to be interested in waste management and have the cognitive capacity to exercise discernment, I recommend reading, at least portions of, this book.

(My personal interest in this subject has to do with waste management applications in 3rd world missions.)
8 reviews
August 7, 2020
Chapter 1:

This goes over some of the things humans are doing to the environment. Humans are consuming and growing at a rapid rate. We're losing large amounts of forests and species such as birds, mammals, and primates are decreasing.

Synthetic-made organic chemicals that are cancer-causing are increasing, and much of it is let out as toxins into the environment. 80% of all cancer can be attributed to environmental factors. The amount of chemical contaminants now found in the body are 250.

Chapter 2:

This goes over the issues with landfills and waste-treatment plants. When we throw stuff away, it gets sent to a landfill where it is buried or incinerated. Landfills pollute the air with methane through anaerobic decomposition and pollute the soil and water with its juice. Only 1/3 have liners to prevent juice leaching into the soil and water. New ones are needing to be made because old ones are overflowing and some are so hazardous Superfund sites have been assigned to clean them. Furthermore, the fees owners of landfills are charging have risen 300% since 1986 and are expected to keep rising.

80% of net discarded waste in the US is organic material. Food losses at the retail, consumer, and food services levels are estimated to have been 48 tons in 1995. Only some get composted. The situation is bad in LDC as well; organic material makes up 1/2 to 2/3 of their waste streams.

Agricultural land is decreasing while the population is growing. The dollar value of agricultural nutrients in humanure is high, but currently, most of it is just flushed, and when flushed, nitrogen becomes a dangerous water pollutant. It’s not recycled back into the earth for us to use, and instead, we use synthetic fertilizer to grow our crops, eat it, and flush our excrement where it then goes to a wastewater treatment plant. Raw humanure is dangerous because it carries many pathogens, but when composted, yields far more benefits than manure, and can be used to feed algae which in turn can feed fish for aquaculture purposes. Humanure is different from sewage. Sewage can include waste from many sources (industries, hospitals, and garages). It can also contain a host of contaminants such as industrial chemicals, heavy metals, oil, and grease, among others. Human waste is just feces and urine.

Pollution from erosion and nutrient runoff in agricultural farming due to excessive or incorrect use of fertilizers is the largest diffuse source of water pollution. Even after contaminated water is treated and released, it still has excessive levels of pollutants, and antibiotics humans take can make bacteria antibiotic-resistant. Chlorine increases this resistance. America came in at #2 at wonder consumption using 188 gallons per day out of 143 countries. In the mid 1980s, trillions of treated sewage was released into the coastal environment. In 2004, billions of untreated wastewater and stormwater from sewers was released as combined sewer overflows. Tons of beaches have closed due to pollution or pollution-related closings. Furthermore, tons of lakes, rivers, and estuaries were not clean enough for fishing, swimming, or other aquatic activities.

Chapter 3:

This talks about the power of using microscopic organisms, what a good compost pile looks like, and compost myths.

We can do many things with poop: (1) flush it, (2) use it raw (while good for the soil pathogenic for human health), (3) compost it under low-temperatures, (4) compost it under high-temperatures with thermophilic bacteria. Composting gets rid of pathogens and adds or becomes humus: a component of soil that doesn’t smell and looks like dirt.

Composting is the act of organic material and soil being piled, the pile being moistened, and allowed to decompose in the presence of oxygen. Compost isn’t the same as digestate which is the remains of anaerobic decomposition because compost is made by aerobes (microbes that grow in the presence of air); digestate is made by acidogenesis (acid fermentation) and methanogenesis (formation of methane by microbes known as methanogens). Compost increases the soil's capacity to absorb and hold water, adds slow-release nutrients good for plant growth, creates air spaces in the soil, balances the soil pH, darkens the soil which helps it absorb heat, and supports microbial populations.

For a good pile, it needs a proper amount of moisture to help bacteria work and avoid dehydration or drowning the bacteria, oxygen to allow for aerobic decomposition, a proper temperature as too hot or cold a pile will stop working (frozen piles when unfroze will continue working normally), and a good carbon/nitrogen ratio (a good ratio is between 20/1 and 35/1) as too much nitrogen will be lost as smelly gas and bacteria don’t want to eat it. Human excreta has a lot of nitrogen, so make sure to balance it out with plenty of carbon materials like plant by-products such as hay, straw, weeds, paper products if ground, kitchen scraps, and sawdust.

The process of composting is made up of four stages. First, mesophiles combine oxygen and carbon which gives off heat as work. This causes them to proliferate and raises the temperature. Second, thermophiles move in and continue the process when it’s hot. Third, the pile begins to cool and the microorganisms chased away from the heat come back and work on digesting the more resistant organic materials. Fungi, earthworms, and sowbugs also help. The fourth phase is the curing phase. You want it to sit for a long time (114 days to a year), so it doesn't produce phytotoxins that are toxic to plants, rob the plants of oxygen and nitrogen, and give off high levels of organic acids. You don't want a pile that's too hot because it will sterilize it and make it more likely bad microbacteria move in. You just want enough heat to sanitize it from pathogens.

There's compost myths. The first one is you don't have to turn. You can force air into it through fans, poking holes, and adding aie-entrapping bulky materials (this is especially true for continuous composters that add a bit at a time). Turning can disrupt the thermophilic activity and doesn't refresh oxygen by much. The second one is you don't need to inoculate your pile. It doesn't accelerate the composting process. The third is you don't need to add lime. It's added to keep the compost pile from being acidic during composting, but having an acidic pile is highly unlikely. Bacteria also don't digest it and lime is used to kill microorganisms in sewage sludge. If you must, put it on the soil first then add the compost to that soil. The fourth is you can't compost everything. As long as it's organic material, you can.

There's miracles compost does. It can degrade toxic chemicals like gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, oil, grease, wood preservatives, PCBs, coast gasification, wastes, refinery wastes, insecticides, herbicides, TNT, and other explosives. It can filter polluted air and water such as exhaust gases and stormwater. Finally, it can defend plants from diseases by producing antibiotics, activate disease resistant genes, and breakdown diseased plant material. You can make compost tea for a compost spray that coats leaves and crops and takes up those spaces by beneficial bacteria.

Chapter 4:
This goes over the history of how Asia and Europe dealt with excrement.

Agricultural land must produce a greater output over time; as the human population is increasing, available agriculture isn't. 61% of the total area for crops has been destroyed or lost fertility.

Chinese, Korean, and Japanese people practiced sustainable agriculture for thousands of years using night soil. Night soil, however, produces bad smells and has pathogens that can lead to human diseases. In Europe, from the 1300s on, filth was regarded by holy men as evidence of sanctity, and pestilences were attributed to the wrath of God or the malice of Satan In the 1400s, the idea Jews and witches were causing pestilences spread, causing the torture of 12,000 Jews. It wasn't until the late 1800s that improper sanitation was attributed to pestilences. The powers of the church eventually diminished enough for physicians to have their say about disease.

In the 1952 and 1956, humanure recycling in China was popular, but now the use of synthetic fertilizers has risen over 600%, and water pollution has begun to increase. 70% of untreated wastewater is dumped in China's main river, in urban areas 80% of the surface water is polluted with nitrogen and ammonia, and most lakes around cities have become dumping grounds for sewage.

Chapter 5:

This goes over the history of different systems we've used to get rid of our excrement. The first is the Mexican digester or stray dog; also known as the family pig in India. In some places in Mexico there weren't toilets, so people used sand dunes, and the dogs would eat it. The second is the outhouse or pit latrine. People could go in a hole and wait for it to fill up and then cover it with dirt. This would attract flies and mosquitoes that could transmit diseases and leak pollutants into the ground. The third is the septic system, popular in rural and suburban areas. Here, the turd is flushed and goes to an underground storage tank. The solids settle at the bottom and the liquids drain off into a leach field, which consists of an array of drain pipes that allow the liquid to seep out into the soil. When the septic tank gets full, it's pumped out and the waste material is trucked to a sewage treatment plant, although sometimes it's illegally dumped. In the event of poorly drained soil, a sand mound is used. A pump will pump the effluent into a pile of sand above ground for it to drain through the mound.

Septic tanks are reported as a source of groundwater contamination in 46 states; 9 of them reported it's the primary source. Furthermore, septic tanks aren't designed to destroy human pathogens, so they can transmit pathogens through the system. Too many septic tanks in a given area will overload the soil's natural purification system and allow large amounts of wastewater to contaminate the underlying water table; this can lead to subsurface contamination. Toxic chemicals are often released into the environment from septic tanks because people dump them down their drains; some can corrode pipes too.

From here, there's one more step up the ladder: a wastewater treatment plant. This treats water, so it can be recycled back into the environment. Here, oxygen is bubbled through the wastewater to active microbial digestion of the solid, and this is combined with a settling stage that allows the solids to be removed; these solids are called sludge, and are then used to reinoculate the incoming wastewater or are dewatered until they're the consistency of dry mud and buried in landfills. Wastewater is often treated with chlorine before it leaves; it's added to drinking water as well through such systems. It's one of the most widely produced industrial chemicals. Too much in the air can irritate the respiratory tract, it can form harmful compounds as by-products, create chemical dams that prevent free movement of migratory fish, gobble up the ozone, and form organochlorines that are linked to cancer, neurological damage, immune suppression, and reproductive and developmental effects. When too much chlorine is used, it can poison fish and cause cancer-causing compounds such as chloroform, and highly chlorinated compounds are resistant to biodegradation.

An ancient type of wastewater treatment is known as an oxidation pond or lagoon. Here, algae, bacteria, and zooplankton reduce the organic content of the wastewater, and sludge collects at the bottom, where it then has to be removed every 5-10 years. Sludge can't be used for agricultural purposes, one because of government regulations, as it takes months and 5,000 dollars to get a permit for land application, and it can't lie on the surface after it's applied, so it has to be plowed in under the right conditions, and they can't wait around for farmers and farmers can't wait around for them. Two, it's not safe. It contaminates groundwater, contains pathogens, and puts heavy metals into the soil that enter the food chain and affect crops and grazing animals. If it's composted, however, it reduces the amount of heavy metals and keeps them out of the food chain.

The world can't adopt the US's sewage system because most of the world can't obtain the water, sterilization materials, and sewage resources needed to deal with the level of excrement we are dealing with. Plus, as the population increases, more landfill space will be needed, and many are already closing or are too hazardous to use, and that's not even including the damage available landfills do to the soil and water.

Continuing here due to length restriction.

Profile Image for Iguazel.
23 reviews5 followers
November 4, 2020
Este libro me ha descubierto un mundo entero, y una posible solución que, si algún día en el futuro podemos aplicar a gran escala, ahorraría mucha agua potable, además de dinero y, para poner la guinda en el pastel, haría nuestras tierras más fértiles. Lo bueno es que, si tienes un jardín y un huerto, puedes hacerlo tú mismo de manera barata y fácil. ¡Recicla tus mierdas para un mundo más sostenible!

Compré este libro porque quería aprender más sobre "compost toilets" para poner uno en una camper que estoy construyendo, ya que la alternativa de un váter químico no me parecía bien. Pero ahora sueño con un futuro en el que incluso en las ciudades exista un sistema de recogida de los contenidos de los váteres de compost, que se convierta en compost de verdad (como he aprendido leyendo este libro, tiene que sobrepasar cierta temperatura durante cierto tiempo para matar los patógenos y huevos de parásitos intestinales), y que luego pueda volver a la tierra. El libro incluye partes interesantes, como la historia de la competición entre los "inodoros de tierra" y los "inodoros de agua" en el siglo XIX, además de muchos datos sobre la contaminación de agua en parajes naturales debido a los fallos de los sistemas de potabilización. Y me ha ayudado a entender la importancia del compostaje adecuado de los excrementos humanos antes de usarlos, al contrario de lo que pasa con lodos residuales que se usan como fertilizante en la agricultura y que puede que sigan teniendo patógenos, productos tóxicos, metales pesados y otras sustancias peligrosas que no han sido eliminadas y que son absorbidas a las plantas que luego comemos.

Una buena lectura que inevitablemente llama a la acción.
5 reviews1 follower
February 14, 2009
It's a great book.

Great book to understand the basis of water pollution from human activity. I admire Joseph Jenkins to have gone against the tide and doing what he thought is right. It's definitely not easy to say the least.
I feel that it has solution to water problem in the developing world.

Nice quote from the author (The world is divided into two categories of people: those who shit in drinking water and those who don't)
Hilarious titles for the chapters are a plus - Crap Happens, Deep Sh*t. :)

I wish there was more technological advancement in this area that would make it easy to deal with Human Manure. I guess it will need a culture change. There are compost toilets available, some of which are electric but I am not sure how good they are.
Profile Image for Anna.
Author 48 books95 followers
September 4, 2012
You can read my full review on my blog. The short version is --- the book has the same pros and cons as most self-published books. The author goes out on a limb about things that don't necessarily make sense and spends far too long defending other things that the reader presumably already agrees with or she would never have picked up the book. And yet, in the midst of all that, self-published books tend to have an authenticity, passion, and non-mainstream weirdness that appeals to me and lets me ignore all of the downfalls.
17 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2011
I'm convinced! We'll be using Jenkins' method when we build our off-grid house, if not before. I've seen it in action a couple times now too; makes good conversation with other eco-minded folk. I continue to be surprised at how many people I find who are already using this method or planning to. Essential reading for anyone concerned about their impact on the planet and finding a better way to deal with our "waste" besides flushing it "away" with our drinking water...
Profile Image for Michaela Hutfles.
Author 2 books9 followers
May 3, 2011
If you need to be sold on this as a good ideas, read the first half; if you need to understand how to do this because you are already sold skip to the second half.
Great book to hand to your building permit folks if you want to try to actually get this permitted on your property.
He kinda covers gray-water, but I would really suggest a different book if your seriously looking into gray-water reclamation.
Remember: it's not waste it's recyclables.
54 reviews1 follower
February 17, 2015
A sobering yet inspiring read. My favorite quote:

"Less than 1% of the earth's water is available for drinking. Why shit in it?"

I've read so much about nutrient cycling using livestock, and the odor-free deep bedding composting methods used by farmers like Joel Salatin. This is essentially the same thing, but for humans.
Profile Image for Bruce.
261 reviews38 followers
March 1, 2009
Excellent book. Not just for the technique (and there are some great youtube videos to help with this as well), but the great way the author tries to break down our general cultural resistance to dealing with our own shit, literally and figuratively.
1 review5 followers
December 24, 2018
Love that the author made this important book available for free online! We need global permaculture to restore our habitat and a key to renewing dead soils is just 3o feet away from the last thing we ate...!
Profile Image for Amy.
179 reviews9 followers
March 3, 2008
Very encouraging. I look forward to shitting in a bucket in the near future.
Profile Image for Will G.
826 reviews
December 8, 2020
A rational discourse on defecating and micturating in cellulose instead of the current water or dirt modalities.
Profile Image for Justin.
65 reviews1 follower
January 23, 2016
It is beyond doubt that future historians will look back on our generation and the multiple water shortage and contamination problems we currently suffer from, and wonder how Western “civilization” could have advocated urinating and defecating into what little purified drinking water we have left. I apologize to the light-hearted among my readers for touching on such an apparently foul subject, but the growing global water and health crises stand in such stark contrast with current waste-management procedures, that it requires our urgent attention.

If you don’t already think that the world is nearly completely upside down and backwards, then imagine a civilization that considers those who don’t deposit their feces into a bowl of drinking water on a regular basis as miscreants, uncivilized, dirty or poverty stricken. Of course this practice is convenient for taking such refuse to wastewater treatment plants where it is processed and eventually returned to the environment, albeit in some cases considerably more contaminated with “excessive levels of nitrates, chlorine, pharmaceutical drugs, industrial chemicals, detergents, and other pollutants” than before.

This would all be fine except for three factors: water shortages, diseases borne from water contamination and fertilizer needs for boosting agricultural production. Although these are all complex and important topics deserving much more in-depth analysis, I will only briefly outline each one.

Water shortage

Currently, United Nations estimates that 1.2 billion in a world of just over 6 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. More specifically, in developing countries, 21% of all people do not have access to safe drinking water, and in rural areas the figure jumps to 30%. 67% of the world’s households must fetch water from outside their homes.

Between 1990 and 1995, global water consumption rose sixfold, which is more than double the rate of population growth.

Increasing industrialization is creating a lion’s share of the problem: it takes 300 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of paper, and 215,000 litres to produce 1 metric ton of steel. Changes in our diet are also driving water consumption; it takes 15,000 tons of water to produce a ton of beef, while it only requires 1,000 tons of water for a ton of grain.

China has approximately 21 per cent of the global population, but access to only 7 per cent of the planet’s freshwater.

Water borne diseases

42% of the world’s population does not have access to a latrine or other proper means of sanitation.
“In the developing countries, 80 per cent of illnesses are water-related. Due to the shortage of safe drinking water in much of the world, there are 3.3 million deaths every year from diarrheal diseases caused by E. coli, salmonella and cholera bacterial infections, and from parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium, as well as viral pathogens like rotavirus. In fact, between 1990 and 2000, more children died of diarrhea than all the people killed in armed conflicts since the Second World War.”
Those of us who are considered to have access to safe drinking water should consider that approximately 10 million people in the US have access to water that is not in compliance with federal standards for removal of microorganisms, and approximately 7 million Americans get sick annually from contaminated drinking water.

Waste Management and topsoil

Sending human excrement to waste management plants infers that they are in fact waste. Waste is any material with no inherent value that is discarded and has no further use, a completely inaccurate description of human refuse which only becomes waste upon being discarded.
Byproducts of our digestive system, or any other digestive system for that matter, are in fact a valuable organic resource material rich in soil nutrients. It comes from the soil in the form of vegetables, fruit, nuts, or grains (and even meat), is naturally processed in the body, and then can be returned to the soil in the form of humus after careful composting to provide the highest quality soil additive.

Returning all organic residues resulting from crop production to the soil, including animal and human residues, should be axiomatic to organic agriculture, although it is not. The profound ignorance that surrounds this topic is causing major agricultural and health problems throughout the world.

For example, not having enough natural fertilizers has given rise to a gigantic synthetic fertilizer industry. These petro-chemical products deplete non-renewable fossil fuels, cause crop dependence, promote dangerous single crop practices, and once in the human body “interfere with the body’s normal functioning, … damage human chromosomes and cause cancer and numerous other diseases. … For example, human mother’s milk has consistently shown contamination from synthetic organic chemicals since 1951, and the incidence of human breast cancer has risen dramatically since then.”

2005 – 2015 was denominated the International Decade for Action: Water for Life. At its launch, the UN issued a useful document entitled Water for Life: Making it Happen. In it, they dramatically emphasize the importance of improved water and sanitation services:

“Improved water and sanitation will speed the achievement of all eight MDGs, helping to:

· eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;

· achieve universal primary education;

· promote gender equality and empower women;

· reduce child mortality; improve maternal health;

· combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;

· ensure environmental sustainability; and

· develop a global partnership for development.”

Given this emerging reality, it is little wonder that water has been described as “the oil of the twenty-first century”, a scarce commodity that will be a source of conflict between peoples and nations. This is fine but oil shortages can be resolved by developing alternative energy sources, while the water supply cannot be increased other than by desalinization, a costly and complex process.

The United Nations proposes a complex set of interrelated actions to combat this crisis. A major limitation in advocating flush toilet systems for everybody, besides those mentioned above, is their prohibitive cost for nearly every country around the globe. Because of this, and because this is considered the only civilized solution, governments simply leave the problem unresolved, leaving 90 per cent of sewage and 70 per cent of industrial wastes in developing countries to be discharged into water courses without treatment.

However, in his insightful book “The Humanure Handbook”, Joseph Jenkins clearly demonstrates that composting humanure as he denominates it, is the most accessible, viable and expeditious option for resolving the sanitation quandary and its host of accompanying problems. His many years of personal experience and research indicate that although raw humanure “carries with it a significant potential for danger in the form of disease pathogens,” … they are completely destroyed by composting when the retention time is adequate or when the composting process generates enough internal, biological heat. Both of these conditions are easily met when the compost heap is properly managed.

Spreading the resulting humus over his garden for 25 years has also proven that the product is an effective source of fertilizer for agriculture destined to human consumption. In fact, it may be useful to provide just a short list of the benefits of the humus that results from compost: enriches soil, prevents pollution, fights existing pollution, restores land, destroys pathogens and saves money. I am an avid composter (although admittedly not of my humanure) and would like to add here that perhaps the most beneficial aspect of compost is the sense of self worth and satisfaction one feels when helping organic elements complete their natural cycle and become dirt again.

Of course setting up composting systems that can meet sanitation needs for the 1.2 billion excluded human beings (and eventually the rest of the entire human population), especially in urban settings, would be a daunting task to say the least. However, the progress made towards providing safe water supplies and sanitation services for the world’s poor over the past decade or two (according to the UN, 83 per cent of the world's population used improved drinking water sources in 2002, up from an estimated 79 per cent in 1990) pales shamelessly with the overwhelming and ever increasing need.

All true change comes hard. Changes of this magnitude, requiring rethinking such deeply entrenched ideas about civilization, come even harder than normal. However, we can resist our intuition and permit nearly half of the world’s population to live in conditions that anybody reading this would consider horrifying, or we can explore thorny but promising paths towards true sustainability and dignity. If doing this single action well helps us make huge strides towards attaining all eight Millennium Development Goals, and thus bringing prosperity to the world’s people, I suggest we explore that path without further adieu.
Profile Image for Jasmin Martin.
61 reviews4 followers
April 14, 2022
This should be mandatory reading in school. Honestly such an important issue that could solve most of the world's ills. But the stigma attached to our pooh and pee is something that will take generations to change. By then it may be too late. Anyway, this is a hard book to read sometimes. Don't get me wrong it is a fascinating and truly essential read for everyone. What makes it a tough slog in parts is that it is filled with so much bloody data and stats and references to this and that and the other that your brain is overloaded and you almost pass out. It's like swotting for an exam. But I know that all this information is essential, it just requires an easier way of being delivered and disseminated. I read this book at the same time as I read Sir Albert Howard's An Agricultural Testament, which for an older book, wasn't as dry as I was expecting but I did only read the parts that interested me the most (I had to return it to the library). Howard's book is mentioned in the Humanure Handbook, but there is a lot of information in Howard's book that would provide background on how the world ticked back in the 1950s - especially outside the domain of the West. Howard's study on the Brits and their health in the early part of the 20th century before the Americans started exporting refined white flour to the UK, makes your hair stand on end. All these interventions and changes that helped mankind drift away from the path of nature and which has brought us to where we are today - looking back seems hardly coincidental but rather planned. But that's a debate for another time. This book will definitely open your eyes and make you appreciate the amount of misinformation out there on composting and humanure. Read it!
Profile Image for Brianna.
44 reviews2 followers
March 25, 2023
The Humanure Handbook is a thought-provoking overview of how we handle human waste, why we handle it how we do, and whether we are right to do so. It does a decent job of going over the pros and cons of different methods, with details on how to construct a compost toilet and compost bins, and how to actually do the composting.

Is it a perfect book that will appeal to all audiences? No, definitely not. The book is, at times, too detailed for a casual reader. I found my eyes glazing over sometimes by the sheer amount of detail about pathogens, temperature readings, etc, etc. On the other hand, a serious reader might be turned off by the many poop-related puns, cheesy cartoons, chapter titles like "A Day in the Life of a Turd" and casual use of the words "shit" and "piss."

I fell somewhere in between, being a little amused by some of the jokes, a little uncomfortable with the crassness, grateful for the overviews of things I knew nothing about, but wishing there were more rigorous peer-reviewed research to refer to. Much of the data discussed in the book comes from the author's decades-long study of temperature readings and pathogen results from his own compost bin.

As other readers have pointed out, this book would benefit from extensive editing. It's a bit too repetitive. And I could have done without the weird "author interviewing himself" bit at the end. But I did enjoy the detailed "how to" drawings for constructing the "Humanure Hacienda" and the composting toilet.

I've given it 4 stars because I think the information is extremely worthwhile, and we should be questioning how we handle human waste and the nutrient cycle, even if the delivery leaves a little something to be desired.
36 reviews
January 28, 2021
I read this book out of necessity after losing my only bathroom and having to use a compost toilet as what I considered a temporary solution. I was skeptical that it could be as sanitary, odor and insect free as the author claimed. He is generally good at putting things in layman's terms, but there was one chapter where I was lost. He repeats points, but I understand that he is trying to drill in concepts people are resistant to.

I was surprised that it was an interesting read. I developed an appreciation for microscopic life, and having started humanure composting, I feel like I have little pets that I enjoy feeding my evacuations and food scraps to. It also made me more aware of environmental pollution than I have ever been before, and now I feel ashamed at being a contributor to it. I certainly was ignorant about what happens to our contents after we flushed, and now I don't think I want to repair my water toilet.

One thing I think the author overlooked is our aversion to compost toilets is not just due to fecal phobia. There is a stigma associated with it as well because there is an association that people who have a system like this are poor, dirty, ignorant bumpkins. This book made me aware of prejudices I wasn't aware I had.

If there were any improvements for this book, I wish the next to last chapter had been at the beginning for those of us who wanted to start right away with the compost toilet system.

This book may not be good for people who are OCD about germs.
Profile Image for January.
241 reviews12 followers
April 29, 2018
Why oh why did I not force myself to finish reading this before starting to build my compost toilet? Here are the things I learned, some of which conflicted with my assumptions about the compost toilet, which I had already done a fair amount of research on before reading this.

- You don’t have to turn piles. Indeed, it saves time and decreases the loss of organic matter and nitrogen if you don’t.
- By insulating a compost pile, top and sides, with straw or even finished compost, this will allow the outer edges of the interior compost to heat to the appropriate level.
- Lime kills microorganisms. Don’t lime your compost pile. If your soil needs lime add the lime to the soil.
- Compost tea, when sprayed on plants, reduces disease because the beneficial organisms from the tea a already occupying potential disease entrance points.
- It never occurred to me that I could, but the author encourages people to mix food scraps and yard waste and everything all together. I was planning on segregating humanure compost from my regular compost.
- You can use humanure compost on food crops, which I also thought was a no-no.
- Get 4-5 buckets that are exactly the same. That way you can change them out without emptying them immediately.
- Wood chips and wood shavings aren’t good as a cover because they don’t compost well.

There was also an unexpected chapter in graywater systems which I was about to read up on. So bonus there.
48 reviews
February 22, 2019
I was already convinced about Humanure, and this book just proved it all for me. It meant that a few chapters (esp. at the start) felt a bit like padding, but if you're a bit unsure about humanure/composting in general, this book will convince you! One difficulty that I had was ease of reading- I grabbed the ePub, and for whatever reason the formatting went haywire so the tables and grids weren't available for me which was a shame (bit of a numbers guy!) but otherwise this book comes highly recommended and I hope more people read it.

As I'm moving somewhere soon with high levels of lead it was pretty amazing to read the science and stats behind the fact that (humanure)compost can help plants intake of lead reduce by up to 90%!! More incredible facts in this book. Grab it if you are into gardening/the future/community resilience/off-grid/etc.
Profile Image for SEH.
135 reviews
November 10, 2022
“We also need to start thinking a bit more about how we live on this planet, because our survival as a species depends on our relationship with the Earth.”

I don’t know that I’d be able to convince my husband and kids- and certainly not my godawful HOA- to use a composting toilet, BUT. One step at a time. Everybody in our house knows to save everything compostable for the bin outside; they know to save grey water from the kitchen sink for the garden; and the kids and I harvested 52 boxes of leaves from neighbors’ yards for organic, homemade local compost to be made this winter.

This book gives you a lot to think about. One step at a time…
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