Gooooood Morning SuperForest!
As I think I made clear in my last post, I spend a lot of time thinking about and dealing with water. In my world, water truly is life. Access to it dictates the growth of my gardens, the cleanliness of my body and clothes, the ease and comfort with which I travel through my days.
Without it, I’d be in dire circumstances.
When I lived in New York I barely thought about water. I mean, I thought about it all the time, but in an abstract and removed way. I thought things like: clean water is important. I thought things like: access to clean water should be considered a human right.
Good thoughts these, but removed from the nitty gritty of the issue. My problem was a remote, consumer-centric, “they” should have better access to water and doesn’t it get me steamed that we in the West treat water with such disdain sort of head trip.
A good example of my silliness was the idea for Team Freshwater. Team Freshwater was something that I schemed up with the help of SuperForester Carla. The idea was to create a group of people who promoted sustainable water usage and directed attention to the work of Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, an Indian humanitarian and water rights activist who has built many low-water use toilets throughout India. The communal toilets that Dr. Pathak and his team build help free the caste of Indians called “Untouchables” whose job it is to crawl under the homes of more affluent Indians and empty their privies.
This unfortunate job is done mainly by women who are often made very sick by the exposure to raw human waste. The sickness of the mother often means that the eldest daughter has to step in and take over the job of scraping up poo with their hands into a bucket, carrying the bucket on their heads to wherever they can find to dump it.
When Dr. Pathak and Co. come in an build a communal village toilet, it means that legions of women and girls no longer have to work as poo-scraper-uppers. Pathak’s work is truly marvelous. He has built thousands of toilets throughout the Indian continent, freed thousand of women and children from disgusting servile slavery, and the proceeds from the small fee for using the toilets go to re-education for former Untouchable women.
The man is a saint. His work is amazing. But do we really need another group of bleeding heart Westerners moaning and chest thumping about the plight of Indians and sustainable water usage while they simultaneously poop and pee in the very clean water that they are bemoaning other humans lack of?
Did I really want to ramp up my hypocrisy that high? It’s right to admire Pathak. It’s right to want sustainable water usage on a large-scale level. But to do all of this and still use a Western-style flush toilet is absurd.
Kicking the flush toilet habit was one of my goals for living sustainably here on Kauai. If I can stop pooping and peeing in water, then and only then would I be able to talk about sustainable water usage and the work of Dr. Pathak without hypocrisy. Only then could I begin Team Freshwater.
So here we are.
Ladies and Gents, SuperForesters, I present to you: Team Freshwater.
To join things on the internet is very easy. Click a button. “Like” some new brand thing. In creating Team Freshwater I wanted to create a team that would be VERY HARD to join.
To join Team Freshwater you must stop pooping and peeing in clean water.
Bammy! That’s it. Stop pooping and peeing in your water and you can claim to your friends, neighbors, and fellow net denizens that you are a member of Team Freshwater. Creative, willing, and brave you must be to join this team.
Will you do it? The odds are certainly stacked against you. If you live in an apartment, or a house and have no access to open land, and you cannot poop into a toilet, where then will you poop? In a bucket, most likely. But when that bucket is full where will you empty it? How will you empty it? How will you turn your “waste” into “not waste”?
Here’s how I do it:
Melissa and I both do our business into five gallon buckets. The bucket is dug down so as to be flush with the ground. When I have to go, I squat over the bucket holding an old plastic cup under my schnitzel to catch the pee. I do my business, sprinkle a mixture of peat moss and cedar shavings over the poo, and pop the lid back on. The cup of pee is poured under a tree.
It takes a week or two for us to fill the bucket, and when it is near full I pull the bucket out of the hole and set it in the sun for a few weeks. A clean bucket goes in the hole, a layer of peat moss/cedar goes on the bottom, and the process continues. After the full bucket has sat in the sun for a while I make a little nest of leaves in the compost bin that I have made specifically for our poo. Into this nest in the heap I dump the bucket and quickly cover the now dehydrated and broken down poo with leaves and a layer of dirt. I then spray the now-empty bucket with a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution and set it in the sun.
We have three five gallon buckets dedicated to this task. One is in use while one sits in the sun while one sits empty and waiting. It is a very effective and non-gross system and it uses ZERO water. The wash water for the buckets gets poured at the base of fruit trees and covered in dirt. No flies. No cholera. No typhus. No worries.
I know this sounds totally disgusting. I know it through and through. I’ve written before about how pooping in water is a huge part of our conditioning. We’re not “good” boys or girls unless we poop and pee in a toilet and thus pollute 1.6 gallons a drinking water every time we flush. Get that? We’re “dirty and gross” unless we pollute.
Getting over this conditioned poo-phobia has been a huge part of setting myself free and starting Team Freshwater.
What is very funny is that once I was over the conditioned response to responsibly handling my own humanure, I found that it is not only infinitely more sustainable and environmentally responsible, my method is actually much cleaner than the old way. Cleaning a cat box is far more gross than composting Melissa’s and my humanure.
I’ve found that much of my conditioned poo-phobia was based on three very faulty ideas:
1.) The idea that flush toilets are cleaner than composting toilets.
This is totally false, as anyone who has ever plunged or cleaned a toilet can attest. Flush toilets clog often and overflow. That overflow runs onto your bathroom floor, into the cracks in the tiles, onto the carpet, into the floorboards, down into your neighbor’s ceiling. When it rains sewer systems (which were not built to withstand rain apparently) purge millions of gallons of untreated human waste into our oceans. Every year this happens.
Next to every toilet sits a little scrubby brush in a little holder and perhaps a plunger. How clean are those brushes and those plungers? Not very. Compost your poo and you will not have to deal with this. Flush toilets themselves, while being white and made of porcelain are often poorly maintained, thus giving the illusion of cleanliness while being a breeding ground for funky bacteria. My buckets get a good scrub when they are empty, and thus are much cleaner than flush toilets. When is the last time you scrubbed your toilet in its entirety?
Ironically, composting your humanure means that you will have less exposure to poo than in the old system. The flush toilet system means that you have to take zero responsibility for your waste. There it is in the bowl, flush the handle and there it goes, off to whatever fairyland poo goes to visit when you are done with it. All is fine and good until something in the system breaks and you must call a plumber to come out and wade through the stream of nastiness that you created.
Furthermore, a composting toilet system means that you will never, ever, again have to feel polluted water plash against your butt as you sit on the can.
2.) The idea that flush toilets are more environmentally sound than composting your own humanure.
Ever use the toilet and not have everything go down on the first flush? What about the second flush? Or even the third? I’ve rarely had to flush a toilet more than three times to clear it, but the fact remains that with each flush 1.6 gallons of fresh water are polluted. Flush a toilet three times and you’ve polluted nearly five gallons of fresh water.
Now multiply this three flushes by each person in America using the toilet roughly three times a day and you end up with a volume of water too staggeringly huge to comprehend. Water that we’ve polluted and must be handled and treated every single day. It’s insane.
The flush toilet came about in an era when people thought it was fine to fling the contents of ones chamber pot into the street from a high window. Admittedly, a flush toilet and municipal sewer system is far better than having poo flung into the street. But there is a world of difference between simply flinging your poo into the street and responsibly composting it yourself. What is funny is the striking similarity between flinging your poo into the street and flush toilet systems; both represent a “let someone else deal with it” mentality.
3.) The idea that flush toilets use less energy than a composting system.
The water in your toilet comes from somewhere. When you flush it goes somewhere too. The arrival and departure of that water represents a huge amount of energy and infrastructure. Think of all the people employed as plumbers and sewer workers and toilet scrubbers and poo-carriers. Think of all of the products designed to help de-stink and sanitize your toilet. Think of all of the people engaged in the creation, marketing, sales, and distrubition of those products.
The energy required by the flush toilet system is an order of magnitude greater than the energy that I expend in responsibly and personally handling my waste stream. When I choose to deal with my own waste, it negates the needs for all that infrastructure, all those products, all those jobs. I am no longer reliant on those fragile and needless systems. If the water goes off, I am unaffected. If the power goes out, my system stands strong. If gas prices skyrocket and the sanitizing and cleaning product flow ceases, my system is unaffected. If I cannot get peat moss and cedar chips for my bucket I can use leaves, grass, dirt, hair, whatever.
Turn off the water and power in New York city and see how long people will want to stay on the island of Manhattan. Think of the stench wafting Eastward over Brooklyn.
What we need is large scale, waterless, municipal composting of humanure. A system that uses nature instead of industry to deal with our outputs. Because we do not have that system, the onus is on us as anti-consumers to blaze a new path. We must create the new way for ourselves, as it seems that change will not come from outside of us.
Q: What about the danger of handling infectious waste?
A: Infectious waste comes from infected people. Infected people are often very sick and thus are in treatment at a hospital. Their waste must be handled with greater care than a non-infectious persons. But healthy people make healthy poo. Healthy poo breaks down quickly and the component chemicals within (nitrogen, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, iron) are very good for plants, not to mention very expensive to buy and ship. Keep a separate compost pile for composting humanure and spread the resulting compost on already established trees and not on leafy greens and risk of exposure is minimal.
Q: Isn’t handling poo really gross?
A: Yes. But I’m not handling poo. I’m moving buckets around, spreading leaves, digging dirt. Composting my poo and gardening are very similar activities. In fact, they are so similar I cannot see the remove between them. I don’t poop or pee in water and so have more water to use on my garden, and the composted remnants of my poo are exactly what my plants need to thrive. Win/win/win.
Also, isn’t it funny how squeamish people can be about their poo when you consider that it comes from inside of us? One moment it’s in your body and all is fine. The next moment it’s in a bucket, separate from you and now it’s disgusting. This separation anxiety is a classic fixture of the consumer mentality. It’s a part of me and so it’s good vs. it’s not a part of me and so it’s bad.
Q: How does it feel when you are not on your land and you must use the toilet?
A: Weird. To poop in water feels really weird. I walk outside to pee. My mother makes fun of me for this. There is a cold hearted thrill I get from pooping in water now. A dark, black part of me laughs and laughs. It feels like the most anti-social thing I can think of, and when I do it, I appreciate not only that I no longer have to do it, but the madness of how long I mindlessly did it in the first place.
Q: Earlier you wrote that the Indian women who have to deal with poo are often made very sick by their exposure to human waste, yet here you say that it is safe to handle. What is the difference?
A: The Untouchable caste in India is made to crawl under houses and scrape humanure into buckets and bowls. Often they use shovels and whisks to do this, but sometimes they must use their hands. Once their buckets are full, they walk with them on their heads to wherever they dump them. When it is raining it means that the buckets overflow, and waste-tinged poo water will run down onto the head and face of the noble women carrying them.
To get poo on ones hands or have it run into ones eyes would be very dangerous. I am not advocating that in any way, shape, or form. I am advocating a system of self-reliance, where each of us individually arrives at the choice to compost our own poo, and not simply fob the job off onto the plumber, the sewer worker, the Untouchable. My poo is my issue. To make it your issue against your will is to do violence against you.
When it rains in California, and the sewers overflow into the Pacific Ocean and the beaches must be closed, and sea life is threatened, and the environment contaminated, this is a tremendous act of violence against ourselves. Yet this violence remains the status quo, and thus far nothing is being done to change it. How many times must sewage overflow into our oceans before we move to change something?
When I lived in New York, I rented a basement apartment in a brownstone in Brooklyn. The sewer line between the house and the main on the street got clogged, or cracked, or was somehow rendered inoperable. A human being (plumber) had to come out, drill a hole in the wall of the basement, and crawl through that hole, through a stream of waste, in order to ascertain and remedy the problem. To force another human being to do this by technological and economic necessity is a violence against them, and by extension, a violence against us all.
To join Team Freshwater means to give up this violence.
There is a new age upon us, SuperForesters. An age of reason, logic, beauty, and love. One of the hallmarks of this new age will be the voluntary giving up of violence. To compost ones own poo is a huge step toward creating this new violence-free world. It’s funny to think it, but it is true.
I deal with my poo, now you deal with yours. Can you do it? Do you dare?
Q: I live in an apartment in the city, how can I possibly compost my own poo?
A: It will be very difficult, but it can be done. Imagine the changes in your life if you took on this level of self-responsibility. Conceivably you could use the same bucket system that we use, but you’d need a place to empty the buckets. That means teaming up with someone who is sympathetic to your wish to responsibly compost your own poo, someone with a bit of land for your compost heap. This land could be as big as a farm or as small as a back yard. What if every other weekend you ferried your buckets out of the city to a bit of countryside where you kept and maintained your compost heap? To take on this task would mean to change your lifestyle considerably, but all for the better. You would be spending more time outdoors. You would be raking leaves, and shoveling dirt. You would be making friends with farmers and people who have land and most likely use it to produce food. All good things. You would be doing what so very few others are doing and thus you could feel good about being quite elite in a time when being elite at anything is very difficult.
Ultimately you’d be better served to leave the city and find yourself a piece of land. With humanure composting comes gardening, with gardening comes food, with food comes feeding people the excess abundance. This cycle produces community and neighborliness. Sharing and caring levels rise, separation and environmental destruction levels drop.
Team Freshwater, y’all. It’s where it’s at. Pooping in your water is so yesterday.
For further reading:
Jackson’s Journal – I Poop in a Hole
SuperForest Heroes – Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak & Sulabh International