Welcome to Planet Earth
A word with the Author
"The balance of nature is . . . a complex, precise, and highly integrated system of relationships between living things which cannot be safely ignored any more than the law of gravity can be defied with impunity by a man perched on the edge of a cliff."
Rachel Carson - Silent Spring
Who would'a thunk it? That's what a friend of mine said when he heard that the Humanure Handbook, 2nd edition, had received national book award recognition, including "Outstanding Book of the Year" and the book "Most Likely to Save the Planet." Who would'a thunk that a guy crapping in a bucket for a couple of decades could write and self-publish a book about it in 1995 that would, by 2003, be in at least 51 countries around the world? Don't people have anything better to read?
The Humanure Handbook has been discussed on international radio, and on U.S. television. It was covered by the Associated Press, and in various national publications - even mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and Playboy magazine. It was roundly vilified on Howard Stern's radio show where I was censored - twice! - for daring to utter words that no one must ever hear on the airwaves, including the "s" word (when I honestly asserted that one of Stern's fake call-in people was "full of shit"). More surprisingly, however, Stern censored out the following statement I made during the interview: "I have composted all of my family's humanure in my backyard for 20 years, and have grown a food garden with it the entire time." These words were not allowed to reach the tender ears of Howard Stern's audience. As soon as my interview was over, however, the listeners were instead titillated with playful songs about anal intercourse. Funny world, this. Funny creatures, humans.
In the United States, humans take flush toilets for granted. You take your dump into a large bowl of drinking water, then flush it. End of story. That's the civilized thing to do. But where does the flushed material go? What would happen if everyone in the world crapped in their drinking water supplies? Why doesn't any other land mammal defecate deliberately in water? Why do we? These all seem like questions any reasonably curious person would ask once in a while. What if the toilet won't flush? Then what? How long can you hold it? People actually crap in ziplock bags and put them in the trash during power outages. Really.
What if I told you that two five gallon buckets and a large bag of peat moss, sawdust, or even shredded junk mail will make an odorless, waterless, environmentally friendly emergency toilet for one person for two weeks. If a compost bin and a steady supply of sawdust, peat, leaves, etc. is available, that toilet could last indefinitely - literally for decades, even lifetimes. The system can be modified to suit a variety of environments and locales, and can be expanded, with municipal support, to conceivably deal with the odorous excretions of any number of human beings.
Nevertheless, I first published the Humanure Handbook with a great degree of trepidation. After all, recycling your own crap can be as bizarre to some people as a chicken with tits. You could suddenly beam down from the planet Uranus and raise less eyebrows than someone who refuses to flush. In fact, sometimes I feel like I did beam down from another planet when I see all the crazy things humans do to the Earth's environment. So I wasn't sure I even wanted anyone to read the book, and although I knew some people would be fascinated, I just didn't know who or where they were. I estimated there were maybe 250 people in America interested in the topic of humanure composting (roughly one in a million), so I printed a small number of books the first time around and assumed they would sit in my garage for the rest of my life until I discovered, one by one, those potential readers.
No sooner had I printed the first batch of books than a friend had to have one. Damned if he didn't show it to his girlfriend, a newspaper reporter, and she soon appeared at my door - with a camera. In a matter of days, the story of an otherwise ordinary man composting his family's you-know-what in his backyard was all over the papers, including an enormous photo of me poking around in a compost pile with a pitchfork. The TV stations thought this story was important enough to broadcast as news, and a friend called to say he saw the book mentioned on a network TV morning show. The news anchor stuttered when she tried to read the word "turd," however, much to my friend's delight. Someone should have warned her that one of the book's chapters was titled, "A Day in the Life of a Turd."
Soon I got a call from a group of nuns wanting me to do a presentation about humanure at their convent. I never would have expected anything like this - I had to try to imagine nuns taking a crap, something that had never crossed my mind before. But I obliged them, and they taught me something important about spirituality and humility, which is mentioned in Chapter Four. As more time passed, I learned more and more new things from others. In fact, I suddenly became a "USM" (Universal Shit Magnet), receiving turd jokes and every conceivable shred of information about crap that can be faxed, emailed, or sent by post from everywhere in the Universe. In the meantime, I kept selling out of books and doing larger and larger reprints. More speaking engagements popped up. Then the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection informed me that Humanure was nominated for an environmental award. Even the BBC called from London and wanted to do an interview. I seemed to be getting a lot of publicity for a guy who didn't want anyone to read his book.
Why did I write this book, anyway? Probably because I have personally recycled all of my family's humanure since 1979 (twenty-four continuous years at the time of this writing) using very simple, hygienic and odor-free methods. The resulting compost has always been used in our food garden. Although this may give some people the willies, we have not bought fertilizer or hauled manure for our annual gardens in decades. Instead, we produce our own fertilizer. So do you, even if you won't admit it. Yours is probably wasted, however, while ours is not.
The more research I did on this topic, the more I realized there was precious little information about safe humanure recycling available in print. It's no wonder people react with fear and loathing when confronted with the concept. Although bits and pieces of information were available, they were scattered about in hard-to-find, obscure references such as research papers or foreign publications. Where there is ignorance, there is misunderstanding, so I compiled this information and wrote this book to try to shed a small ray of light into what is otherwise a big black hole of ignorance. I do not claim, by any means, to have all the answers, nor do I consider myself an "expert." I make no pretense along those lines. But with 28 years of organic gardening and composting experience, I've learned a thing or two which may be of interest to the average reader.
This book has gone through two editions and seven printings so far. I had seriously considered letting it go out of print when the last print run started to dry up - after all, who wants to be "the humanure guy" all his life (or is it too late?). I have other books in print, too, folks, by the way (check them out at jenkinspublishing.com). Time to move on, I was telling myself. Time to write new titles, expand my horizons. I was thinking along the lines of "A Pictorial Guide to the World's Nude Beaches." But something made me change my mind - perhaps the feedback I receive on a regular basis from all sorts of people who somehow have managed to derive a tiny benefit from this book (other than using it for toilet paper, I mean). So here it is again, like a turd that won't flush, back at ya, the Humanure Handbook. Ta Da!
What sort of feedback could possibly have deterred me from a nude beach research project? Here's a very small sampling of recent letters:
"I just wanted to let you know that I have just finished setting up a composting toilet system, according to your design. Well, to my surprise...the outhouse has no odor whatsoever and you would think you were using a "modern flush toilet," it smells so clean. I have a physical disability that causes me the need to use a wheelchair and this system is wonderful. I can move the sawdust toilet into the bedroom and there are no odors as with a regular bedside commode."
"Let me thank you for such a wonderful book. I wish I had found it several years ago. However, it has caused marital problems. My wife thinks I get more excited about your book than her."
"When I first heard about this system I was cynical, 'it must be smelly, it must have lots of flies all over it.' It isn't, it doesn't. It, for me, is the Rolls Royce of toilets. It is simple, it is humble, it is effective."
"I showed the book to friends, some of whom thought it was great, but most of whom thought I was a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Now, here it is about five years later, and I know a bunch of other folks who use the system outlined in the book full time, all of whom have had great results."
"We took our old outhouse, made a few alterations, and now we are the proud owners of a smart, clean, odour free, Humanure Hut!"
"The book was the magic key to saving water and not producing sewage plus there is a bonus... free fertilizer! This is a win win win situation. We have a small eco-education camp in Mexico for kids and we use four sawdust toilettes that have been working like Swiss clocks for years!"
"I'm now in Ghana, Africa. I've had your book for over a year now and it is groundbreaking indeed. Since I'll probably be in Africa for the next 2 years, I want to start a project on water treatment and waste management."
"I set up a 'sawdust' toilet in our house. I've been using junk mail and cereal boxes. I run the papers through a confetti-type paper shredder. This material has worked well for cover, and the compost bin seems to like it, too. So now thanks to your guidance, a number of materials that were being treated as waste are now being used as true resources."
"I wanted to thank you for bringing me and my obsession over composting out of the closet. I now feel very confident in telling everyone I know that they can take their fecophobia and flush it."
"I was in Kenya supervising the construction of our Street Children Home. Of course, one of the features in the home will be a Humanure system. Our visit to the sanitation department sparked a great deal of interest in Humanure as an option for the public toilet system in Kenya."
That sort of sums it up, folks. Check out my web site at jenkinspublishing.com. Maybe I'll have a humanure video available by then (by popular demand!). Post a message on the public message board there. Send in a photo of your own personal alternative toilet! Drop us a line at email@example.com, but don't be disappointed if I don't personally reply to your email. If I'm lucky, I'll be on a nude beach somewhere - if I'm not called back to Uranus first.
JCJ, Spring 2003
Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.