Fear and ignorance.
As the man says, those are the only things preventing you from doing this.
Originally, Nick wanted to do this talk on straight-up permaculture. But then he started thinking — what is the most pertinent metaphor for permaculture, the most glaring example of the problem being the solution? And he just couldn’t go past our most basic nutrient cycle.
When we first moved to Milkwood, we had to quickly make a choice of how to deal with our shit. We’d just read The Humanure Handbook, so the choice was pretty easy — to create a simple DIY composting toilet system.
So why are we still stuck in an archaic view that these nutrients cannot be the best thing ever for our trees, for our garden, when managed properly? Why do we persist with the idea that if it’s shit, then it will forever stink? Functional natural systems just don’t work like that.
Like anything, compost toilet systems can be done very well, and they can also be done extremely badly. Knowledge is the main barrier here. But guess what? We have the knowledge! It’s there! It’s been done! We’ve been making great compost with manure of many types for as long as we’ve been farming!
It seems entirely nutty to me that we as a society would choose to pump all this nutrient out to sea instead, where it does nobody any good, and many people and other organisms quite a bit of harm.
And then we instead manufacture, at great expense and with massive carbon emissions, our fertilizer, before trucking it all over the country and sending farmers broke with input costs while depleting our soils. When the best darn stuff is right here. Like right here.
DeAnander, writing at Feral Scholar, has a nice introduction to the subject.
It might be the ultimate kapu. After all, everything from child molestation to necrophilia to bestiality to gang rape is now routine fare in online porn, and anyone who’s genuinely upset by that may commonly be mocked as an old-fashioned “prude”; but most Americans are still deeply shocked/upset by the idea of a composting toilet. In many municipalities you can’t get a permit for one — i.e. it’s illegal to operate one. In other countries however, such as forward-looking Sweden, the popular composting toilet called “Biolet” is being adopted by entire small towns/villages.
The association between flush toilets and Modernity, Sanitation, and Progress (not to mention class and race superiority) is very strong in Gringolandia. The “outhouse” and other non-flushing toilet concepts are a mark of the despised rural life for which urbanites often have a cringeing biophobic contempt (ironically, but perhaps inevitably, coexisting with a saccharine faux-nostalgia expressed in kitsch art); and they are a mark of third world poverty and “primitive” conditions. Flush toilets are right up there with SUVs on the list of “things those goddamn Greenies want to pry from our cold, dead hands” in the fulminations of online anti-environmentalist or cornucopian cranks. It is an outrage — nearly a heresy — to suggest that the flush toilet might not be such a cool idea after all.
Even those whose biophobia can be somewhat separated from their class, race, and national ego-extensions often remain convinced that human waste [I'll come back to that term later, to challenge it and the assumptions behind it] management is a highly technical problem which can only be solved by expert technomanagerial cadres and heavy technology — i.e. the way we’ve been doing it since the industrial revolution. Any less “scientific” and technocratic approach will, they fear, lead inevitably to outbreaks of cholera and parasitical infestation (conditions observed by Europeans among the poor of their own and other countries and “solved” by the introduction of centralised industrial sanitation). Basically, it’s caca and it’s dirty and we mustn’t touch it, that is a job for the Authorities; don’t try this at home, kids! Highly neurotoxic pesticides are available over the counter, for us to spray freely around our yards (and contaminate other people’s), cleaning supplies that mix into lethal chemical cocktails are readily purchasable without ID or age check, but we can’t be trusted to deal with our own — er — shit.
After reading Joseph Jenkins' Humanure book (free online), and with the encouragement of our friend Nance Klehm, I've been "recycling" my "waste" since last summer. Located in an inner city neighborhood, my humanure compost pile is hiding in plain sight five feet from a relatively busy sidewalk. No smell, flies, rats, or complaints.
Talking about it on our blog is my way of encouraging others to give it a shot.