Monday, February 5, 2018

A Comment About Humanure

I recently posted this comment on a local Hawaiian discussion group. I thought it might be of some interest to others, or at least get some folks thinking. The discussion was brought up because of the new mandatory septic system rules. People were looking at their options of composting humanure manure or installing composting toilets. Some people were already using 5 gallon buckets, others were using or seriously looking into various composting toilets. Others were 100% against handling or using humane manure in any form. Some people feared contaminants from their own bodies. Others feared disease and parasites. The following was my comment. 


Fresh and improperly composted manures can indeed be a problem, resulting in illness. It doesn't matter much what kind of manure it is, although human manure is more likely to contain pathogens that cause human illnesses. But various parasites and illnesses quite often result from livestock manures, and even manures from wild animals have to be considered a danger. I know of many families that had to deal with intestinal parasites due to fresh animal manures. So if you have a fear of using your own humanure, perhaps you should have the similar fear of using animal manures...with due cause. 

As for humanure (as with all manures), if properly composted and aged, it is perfectly safe to use. The big problem arises when the manure is not correctly handled. Problems can arise if the compost is too moist or too dry. If the composting temperature is not high enough or not maintained long enough. If the hot pile is not turned (just because the center is hot enough doesn't mean that the outer edges are!) Human manure, by itself, will not properly compost. Thus additional material needs to be stirred in, such as peat moss, sawdust, brush clippings, etc. Even after hot composting, the recommendation is to consider the time period just to make sure all pathogens are inactivated. For humanure, I think the current recommendation for properly composted material is a one year waiting period. I'm not sure about this though. 

As for parasites.....parasite "eggs" will not survive proper hot composting. And anyway, if you think you have parasites and are contaminating your humanure, I'd suggest you go see a doctor rather than simply refrain from using manure. Parasites don't spontaneously develop in composted manure. The eggs came via the manure to added to the pile. So if you fear getting parasites from your humanure, go get yourself dewormed, then you won't be contaminating your pile. 

What goes in comes out, so the saying goes. So if you are sick and passing disease pathogens, then you need to compost in a fashion to kill those pathogens. If you have intestinal worms, the eggs are coming out. Again, deal with it-- get dewormed and properly hot compost. If you are taking medications that your body eliminates via feces, then they will be going into your compost. You may wish to combine your finished humanure compost pile with a regular compost /soil pile so that the soil microbes can help breakdown those medications. But don't assume that nature can deal with all of them. Many may still remain. If you are eating commercial foods, those chemicals may end up in your humanure too. Again, active soil microbes may be able to deal with some of them. By the way, if you haven't noticed, we live in a contaminated environment. So our compost can never be totally "clean" of unnatural chemicals. We wear commercial made clothing, eat commercial made foods, use commercial products (soap, shampoo, skin products, first aid products, etc). New clothing, houses, cars, even pajamas exude chemicals. Just about everything edible has added chemicals even if not listed on the ingredients list. The inside of cans and bottles are chemical lined. Plastic leaches chemicals into our food and drinks. Storing water in plastic for long term also leaches chemicals. Perhaps not enough for the government to get excited, but these chemicals have been detected in people's urine, so they are indeed there! Personally I just take steps to avoid as much chemical contamination as feasible and live with the rest. I'm not interested in living super remotely, so I have to accept some contaminates in my life. 

Next.....Saying that you'll only use your humanure on trees doesn't totally makes things safe. Yes, there's no rain splash to worry about. But you'll be walking on that soil where you applied the humanure, so your feet will be tracking it about. USDA testing has found that apple pickers contaminate apples with deer & mouse feces by the simple act of climbing a ladder using their hands on the ladder rungs. The worker walks through the orchard, unknowingly walking in mouse droppings. Now the soles of his shoes are contaminated, and proceeds to contaminate the ladder rungs as he climbs to pick apples. If he uses his hands on the ladder rungs (instead of using the ladder side rails) then his hands are contaminated, which contaminate apples as he picks them. That very same thing can happen in your own orchards. And how many people sanitize their shoes after visiting their orchard every time? So you really do need to make sure your humanure compost is safe from pathogens, in fact any manure compost. 

I use manure compost all the time. But I hot compost it and have a waiting period before using. I would not fear humanure if it were properly composted and aged. But quite honestly, I would not trust other people's humanure compost. I have seen far too many people cheat or take shortcuts with their animal manure composts. So I'd have to assume they are doing the same thing with the humanure. 


In Hawaii, cesspools must all be eliminated by 2050. While sewage systems in town areas may be the solution, at great expense to install due to the lava nature of this island, rural and outlining residents will need to look for other options. Septic systems will work for most, but be extremely expensive for the individual. Others, due to their land and the cost factor, will not be able to go that route. Thus composting toilets may their only legal option. But I predict that the poverty section of our population will use illegal methods, such as buckets and outhouses unless the government comes up with a financial assistance plan. People are struggling to live on $10,000 a year or less, so it is impossible for them to budget a legal option for handling human waste. 

1 comment:

  1. I've received a number of emails about this topic. Plus I've had a few people approach me around town. It surely is controversial subject. It's one of those things that everybody has an opinion about......perhaps except me. I don't fear manure, but I have respect for the danger associated with it, sort of like how I feel about bears. But I can negate the danger of fresh manure a lot easier than I can a bear!

    Everybody wanted to know if I use humanure. Curious lot, aren't we? Have a secret and everybody and their brother wants to know it. It's not a secret that farmers in my area use manure. All sorts of manures benefit the soil, be they green manures or from animals. Most farmers find animal sourced manures to give benefits that green manures don't. I saw this effect while living in NJ, where lettuce farmers swore by spring applications of chicken manure. By the way, back then manure was applied fresh from the chicken farm with no problem. Since then something went wrong in our livestock farming system, making fresh manure dangerous for foods eaten fresh, such as lettuce, On this farm, all manure is hot composted and aged before being applied to the soil. Plus the farm's manure system is a closed cycle, meaning that I do not import manure from areas off the farm. That way I can control the quality and safety of the manure and compost,