What good is human excrement? For most of us, it’s something to be flushed away, washed off, and certainly not discussed in polite company. Yet many millions of people around the world live with “unimproved” sanitation facilities or none at all (i.e., “open defecation”). It’s a huge problem for both human and ecosystem health, and efforts at improvement generally focus on disposal methods that protect people and the environment from contamination. End of story.
However, that doesn’t have to be the end of it. If you have a garden, you know that cow and horse manures are wonderful soil amendments. But have you ever considered human manure? DIY is very hip right now, and what could be better than DIY compost for your DIY vegetable garden?
If you find this a little repulsive, that’s ok. Most people are not very comfortable with poo, and with good reason – it can and does transmit disease, very efficiently. About 1.5 million children around the world each year get sick or die from diarrheal diseases specifically due to poor sanitation, and improved sanitation can reduce the incidence of diarrheal diseases by more than 35% (Source: US CDC).
But consider this: correctly aged and composted (and there are very feasible, safe, and effective ways to do this), human feces and urine make excellent fertilizer, and many cultures reuse their “waste” for just that purpose. And – bear with me here – this can take care of at least two important problems at one go: waste handling and agriculture. What’s not to love?
Recently a small nonprofit organization called SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) kicked off a series of informal reports on a project they’re doing in Africa (in collaboration with others such as National Geographic Emerging Explorers, SELF, and others) promoting improved sanitation and, specifically, reuse of human waste. For example, they dug up the contents of old, unused latrines to mine the contents for local agriculture. Upon excavating their first latrine – at a grammar school in Benin – they reported, “The pit, once filled with fresh human wastes, was now a chamber of rich black soil, a color and consistency that was in stark contrast to the dry red dust of northern Benin.” They removed the entire contents for a garden they planted with corn. In another wonderful post, they report on their experience promoting a “magic toilet” to the women of a small rural community.
Proof positive that there’s plenty to love about poop.
For more on this topic: