Are flush toilets the best possible solution?

A few months ago, I was watching a TV show on Chanel 4 entitled “Our Guy in India”, a show about Guy Martin setting off on a 1000-mile motorbike trip on a Royal Enfield across India.

Guy Martin is adorable, a very endearing figure and quite entertaining. Part if his charm is the fact that he is the way he is.

At one point, he stops on the road to go to the toilet for a piss. Apparently, the Indian government is trying to create an infrastructure of toilets around the country as a solution to the number of people dying of diarrhoea. One of the biggest problems they are facing is that people are not using the toilets.

I got angry. Some time ago, I would not have paid the slightest attention to this bit of information. But now I know better.

Loos are not a solution. The flush toilet. Another western idea that doesn’t work. Yet, it continues being implemented.

Huge amounts of money spent in creating an infrastructure of toilets in a huge country like India and yet, people are not using them because they think toilets are unhygienic. So more money is probably spent in “educating the population”.

By the way, toilets are unhygienic as I found out last year when it was mentioned in the radio. When you flush the toilet, millions of bacteria are released into the air and travel to your toothbrush sitting on the shelf. They recommended lowering the lid before flushing and putting away your toothbrush in the cupboard. That’s why in France, for example, the toilet is normally in a separate room from the bath and the sink.

Are flush toilets the best possible solution?

Using water to get rid of our faeces makes no sense from a sustainable point of view.

We are basically flushing our urine and faeces into a drainage system that goes to a waste management plant to be treated (with chemicals?) and from there, all the way to rivers and seas, creating unnecessary pollution.

We also have a shortage of water in some areas of the world. It makes sense to use the resources available to us in the most efficient way possible. Water and faeces do not belong together. Yet, in the western world we are so accustomed to flush the toilet and think nothing of it. We have modified toilets that use less water in order to “save water”.

According to Wikipedia, “Diseases, including cholera, which still affects some 3 million people each year, can be largely prevented when effective sanitation and water treatment prevents fecal matter from contaminating drinking water supplies”.

So the crunch of the matter is to keep faeces away from water sources.

We consider our faeces and urine waste. In nature there is no waste. Waste is a human invention. Waste is a point of view, a way of looking at things and thinking about things as rubbish.

Let’s talk about the piss.

It is only when I started looking at how to grow food organically, I found out that our urine is very rich in minerals and nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. I was dumbfounded. We are basically getting rid of a valuable resource that can be used as a fertiliser, albeit it needs to be diluted with water.

Are there any other solutions?

When you take away water from the equation you are left with the dry toilet.

Nature’s way: Composting

Humanure is human manure. The term is used in the book “The Humanure handbook” by Joseph Jenkins. It is the process by which human faeces and urine turn into compost.

You basically do it in a bucket and you then have a compost pile made out of pallets where the compost process takes place. In this method, urine and faeces are not separated. Have a look at the video where the whole process is explained. Note the song playing; great fun!

I have also come across a different variation in which the toilet has a chamber underneath where the composting takes place on its own. It can be an outside toilet or in the house.

In some methods, the urine and faeces are separated like composting toilets on boats.

How does it work?

In all of the above, the method consists of using coir, coconut, sawdust or branches and leaves to help in the anabolic process that turn faeces into compost. At the end of a year, you end up with perfectly good compost, generating zero waste.

Whether you have an outhouse, a toilet with a chamber or do it in a bucket and have an area for the composting it looks quite cheap to implement compared to the more expensive commercial, plastic composting toilets available in the market for around €1000.

Have you ever used a composting toilet? What type? Do you use humanure in your garden? I would love to hear your experience.

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