It’s a pollution problem we don’t talk about much. Animal waste has long been regarded as valuable by farmers and gardeners: it’s one of the most cheapest and most useful fertilizers available. Human waste, however, is not so easy to use; often it has bacteria or germs that make it dangerous. And then there’s the disgust factor: it’s smelly, dirty, and gross. So we flush it down the toilet and don’t think about it any more. We invest chemicals and energy in treating the waste water. Most treatment facilities then run the water downstream, not even recycling the clean water back into the city system. But especially in places where water is a scarce resource, rethinking the way we deal with human waste is an easy way that anyone can green their lifestyle. Here are five steps you can take to change the way you deal with waste.
1. Don’t flush so often. Everyone’s heard the old rhyme: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” It’s the simplest, easiest step you can take to change the way you deal with waste: stop flushing every time you use the toilet. Urine can stand in a toilet indefinitely without creating much smell or problem, and you save gallons of water every time you don’t flush.
2. Use less water when you flush. If you have the money, replace your toilets with the low-flush version: they use considerably less water for every flush. If you can’t afford to buy new toilets, you can easily make any toilet use less water by putting something in the tank to make it reach the fill line faster. Fill an old milk carton or glass jar (the bigger, the better) with sand or rocks, screw the cap on tight, and put it in your toilet tank. The volume of the jar will take up space so your tank will need less water to fill. Most toilets will function just as well with less water.
3. Use cloth toilet paper. Sound crazy? It’s not any different from cloth diapers, which were standard for every family until a few generations ago. And cloth diapers will work great as toilet paper for adults, too. Get a pack of flat fold cotton diapers from Target, use them for toilet paper, and simply wash them with the rest of your laundry. Stains can be avoided by spraying a little Bac-out on them; you can also keep a bucket available and soak them in water before you wash them. They’re small, so they won’t really add any additional loads to the laundry you already wash. They can easily be hung to dry.
4. Get a composting toilet. Even better than a low-flush toilet, composting toilets will actually make your waste useful again. The process of composting destroys any pathogens in your waste and turns it into humus, which can be used as fertilizer.
5. Dig a hole. The simplest, easiest way to deal with waste is also the cheapest: all you need is some land and a shovel. According to Leave No Trace, an international resource for best environmental practices in outdoor activities, buried waste should be at least 200 feet from any water source and at least six inches below ground. This works best if you only need to use it once in a particular area, such as while camping or hiking. When you’re staying in the same area (such as your house), it’s better to compost the waste than to bury it.
Most of us would rather not think about human waste. But waste doesn’t have to be dirty or gross. With the right techniques, it can be useful, productive, and even good for the environment.
“Dispose of Waste Properly.” Leave No Trace.