Thursday, 21 July 2011

Waste Not, Want Not - Saving Our Environment

Today I am going to talk about the dark side of  living on the water. What to do with your waste, and more specifically your sewage.

Since I moved onto the water four years ago, I have become ever more aware of the problem of garbage, sewage and toxic stuff leaching into our water ways. We tend to live in this Utopian mindset that we have endless fresh water and all will be diluted by it. It's just not so and I know because I watch it all float by from my front door and it totally disgusts me.

 Every little oil or gas slick I see on the water sends me into a frenzy. I feel close to all the different animals that call this part of the river home, and when I think of them having to drink and eat from the contaminated water it makes me feel physically sick. I watch vasts amount of plastic garbage float downstream daily on its way to the great garbage patch in the ocean. That stuff  NEVER goes away, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces (eventually) and gets eaten by all manner of sea life which we then catch and eat thereby ingesting all the toxins contained in plastic. What goes around...comes around!!

Please, please, please... stop using plastic as much as you can. If you search them out, there are alternatives for all of it. Just be diligent, future generations will be depending on it. Read the Plastic Diet to find out more. Read David Suzuki's article on the state of the oceans today to see why it is vital that we act today!!

I have become quite fanatical about trying to reduce my plastic footprint and recycle everything I can. I now throw out the equivalent of one small plastic shopping bag of garbage a week and ninety percent of that is cat litter. It's been really bothering me to be throwing clumpy clay cat litter into the landfill. I thought of training the cats to use the toilet but, there are studies that show that pathogens in cat feces may be killing sea otters. Even the treatment plants can't treat cat feces to remove the pathogens.

My other big concern has been my own waste management. As it stands right now all the water from my home just drains directly into the river. This has made me conscious of what I add to the water. All my personal care products, household cleaners, laundry soaps etc had to be overhauled to make sure that only biodegradable, natural things were going down the drain. Here are some recipes in case you want to try this as well. This has had the added benefit of saving me money as the simple, natural products that I can make from things like baking soda and vinegar are much cheaper than store bought chemicals.

The toilet has been my biggest shame of all. I thought I would have to save my money to buy an expensive composting toilet ( in the range of around $1600.00) or spend many thousands trying to get a system in place to hook into the city sewer line.

 I've been doing some research and have found that all sewage, whether human or pet, is compost-able and all you really need is some buckets, pine sawdust, some hay and for pets some Septo-Bac, an enzyme-active biological compound formulated to increase the digestion rate of sewage.

 The only other requirement is some land space to do all this. This is the hardest thing to come up with when living on the water. Perhaps a community garden would be a place to ask for a corner of land to give them prime compost? I have a few friends with a fair size plot of land that would probably be OK with a compost area.

For pet manure composting you need a hole, a lid, some Septo-Bac and some green and brown yard trimmings. You can line the hole with a few different things like mesh screen or a garbage can with the bottom cut out and holes drilled in the sides. Layer the bottom with pebbles to insure good drainage and your ready to start. Here is a video in which a woman shows her set up and explains how it works

And this video is from an excellent organization called City Farmer which shows you how to do the garbage can lined hole

They aren't recommending that this will be compost that you later dig up and use for the garden but it turns all the waste into a liquid that leeches out the bottom ( recommended to put this hole away from the food garden, ornamental bushes are OK)

Apparently there is no smell and the whole process is natural, you got to like that!

Now as to the humanure, there is an easy, cheap way to deal with that. You can build your own system or buy one pre-made for you.

 What is required is four - 5 gallon buckets with tight fitting lids, a box frame built to hold one bucket snugly with a toilet seat attached and some pine sawdust. You use the toilet like any other, can throw the toilet paper into it( try to buy paper that doesn't have chemicals in it and is totally biodegradable such as for septic fields) and cover your deposit with enough sawdust that you can't smell anything foul. When the bucket is full, take it out, put a lid on it and store until you have two or four full buckets.

The other part of this system is the composting site. You can build a three or four bin set up with used shipping pallets. You may need to staple some mesh over them if they have large gaps between the boards. Stand them up on end and make a three sided container by tying or screwing the pallets together. A fourth pallet or some bales of hay can be used to hold things in at the front. The middle bin can have a roof built over it to store your hay under and use a non toxic tile such as slate  so that you can collect rain run-off to store in a barrel. This water is used to clean your buckets after emptying them and for handy water should your compost need watering. It should have the consistency of a damp sponge. If it gets too dry it won't cook properly.

Keep your compost pile covered with lots of hay. When it's time to make a deposit, clear the hay away from the center of the mound. Use a pitchfork to create a depression in the center. Dump all your buckets into the depression, then recover with the old straw from around the edges and add fresh straw to top that off.  You can also add a mixture of 60 percent brown(dead leaves etc) and 40 percent green (fresh lawn clippings) to the compost as well as all food leftovers such as meat, bones, egg shells, coffee grounds, veggie scraps, fat etc. I had always heard that meat and fat etc were not recommended in composting, but these people over at  Humanure swear it is all OK. The trick seems to be, to dig a depression in the center of your pile and bury it all to some degree and cover well with straw. A piece of wire grate can be laid over top to keep out savaging animals. With those worried about bears and other critters attracted to the food, apparently having it surrounded by piss and shit, takes the charm away from it.

Once you have dumped your buckets, use some water to rinse them out and then some more water with biodegradable soap and a long handled toilet brush to give them a cleaning. Dump all the water used to clean the buckets onto your compost pile. Leaving the buckets to air out in the sun for a day or two is supposed to help with any lingering odor issues as well as making sure to line the fresh bucket with some sawdust before the first deposit. Someone brought up a point that metal buckets ( if you can find ones with lids and a swinging handle) would be less likely to absorb lingering smells. I would maybe worry about them rusting possibly, make sure it's a galvanized bucket!

So that's it really. You don't have to turn the piles or anything. If they smell, add more hay and green material, and make sure it's a big enough pile to cook properly. Let it sit for a year or two then use as compost in your garden. The high heat attained is enough to kill any dangerous pathogens and it apparently grows amazing crops! From what I could gather on the Humanure site, it seems like it would be OK to compost your pet waste in the same pile as well. For those not comfortable with the idea of pet waste in their garden then I would recommend you compost it separately as discussed above.

Have any more questions? Here is a link to a forum to discuss any humanure composting concerns and innovations. This link will take you to the video library at Humanure which has videos on all aspects of composting human manure

 Just think if we all did this...... we would be saving the landfills from all our yard and kitchen waste not to mention all our pet waste,  we would be saving our water sources from raw sewage and the chemicals needed to treat it, we would be saving tons of gallons of water from all the flushing that we aren't doing and in the end we would have something healthy to replenish our depleted soils with, so we can grow healthy lush crops! And all for the price of some buckets, sawdust and hay!(which hopefully you can find for free)

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  1. I totally agree with all you have said. We are in the process of building a bathroom addition to our float cabin right now. I did buy one of the expensive compost toilets (a Sun-Mar non-electric) with a solar powered fan. I have read the Humanure literature and it sounds do-able as well. I think you are a bit more handy at making things than I am. At least we do have the land space nearby for the compost disposal. We do drink our lake water from under the cabin so I am extra careful with what goes in the water too. Not sure if you do that with the Fraser. It was a bit muddy and "busy" for my likeing. - Margy

  2. Hi Margy, yes, unfortunatly we can't drink the river water as it has way too much silt in it as well as all the other garbage. But I still want to be proactive in not adding to the pollution problem that exists here. I can't wait to hear how you like your new toilet once you get it set up and running.

  3. Hi Rhianna
    The only functional difference i see between the $1600.00 version and the free bucket version of composting toilets is that the expensive ones evaporate urine out of the toilet with fans, pipes, and heat. If you try this I'd be interested to know if the urine is a problem or if sawdust will soak it up enough to keep the mess dry. Have you read of any way to deal with this?
    Also if you want to haul your buckets all the way up here every couple of months, you are welcome to start a compost pile.

  4. I love your endless enthusiasm and interest in all the varied topics you tackle! Thanks for writing for us.

  5. Hi Rick, according to the website, the sawdust deals with the smell, I am in the process of setting this up and would love to take you up on a location to compost. I have a source of sawdust lined up, just looking for the buckets now.

  6. Hi Jamie, thanks so much for your lovely comment, glad to know someone is reading and enjoying.

  7. Hi Rhianna - just checked in to see how things are going. My bathroom is finished and the tub and compost toilet are installed. I get to go up to the cabin in a week to try it all out. I'll write about it on the blog when I return. How are things going with your toilet and renovations? - Margy

  8. I really like this, there's so much going on, I keep spoting more details.
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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me a comment, Rhianna

The Eclectic Ark