Reed Bed System & Composting Toilets

One of the characteristics that separates 21st century homo sapiens from the other species with which we share the planet is that we relentlessly take from the natural world but seldom give back. The flawed economic system by which we imagine we sustain our lives places a commercial value on the planet’s resources but not an ecological one.

It is almost a cliché now to say that when we throw our waste away, there actually is no away but only someone else’s door step or some other life form’s habitat. But raised awareness does not seem to have reduced our disposable habits.

Our dilemma is that we must consume natural resources to live, yet these resources are finite and many are rapidly depleting. We have belatedly begun to re-cycle but far from enough. So we need to change our mindsets. We must start using only what we need, not what we think we need. We have to learn from nature and treat our waste as food – to nourish ourselves and all the other life forms of the planet that actually do sustain our lives.

In Paris and London and other European cities, it was once common to gather night soil – what Joseph Jenkins calls ‘humanure’ – to be returned to the land. George Orwell wrote in the 1930’s of back-to-back housing with several large families sharing a single outside earth toilet.  But as our lives have increased in affluence so has our squeamishness about our effluence. ‘Away’ is now the flushing toilet and the sewage works and someone else’s problem that we no longer need to think very much about.

In 2005, Louise and I went to France to set up a home and eco-centre to experiment with leading lives of less resource use and less waste. Circumstances have since conspired to hold up our plans, at least for the time being. But what follows are some photos of how we approached re-using our household waste-water and our valuable ‘humanure’ to nourish our land. In our largely urban modern society, few of us live in places where we can practically do this, but the same principles apply to how we need to think about all of our waste, be it biological, domestic or industrial. “Rethinking, Refusing, Reducing, Re-using, Repairing, Re-cycling” and – only when finally unavoidable – “Returning” back to nourish the land-base we all depend upon to sustain us.      

 

Building a Reed-Bed Waste Water Purification System

(Links & Resources in English and French follow)

 

 

 

Drainage pipe in planted trough providing air for 'aerobic' bacteria

Newly planted troughs with perforated drainage pipe providing air for ‘aerobic’ bacterial purification

Horizontal beds, vertical bed and final 'polishing' pond

Aerobic horizontal beds, anaerobic vertical bed and final ‘polishing’ pond

Pond with inspection chamber (above to left) and 'humanure' compost (back right)

Pond with inspection chamber (above to left) and ‘humanure’ compost (at back right)

Landscaping still to be finished but wastewater purifying underway!

 

‘Humanure’ Compost

Compost bins under construction

Compost bins under construction

Compost after six months (though not used until eighteen months)

Clean compost after one year (though, for extra safety, not used until two years old)

Simple composting toilet

Simple composting toilet

Simple double-chamber composting toilet (with compost chambers underneath)

Traditional bucket compost toilet

More sophisticated double chamber composting toilet at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales

More sophisticated double chamber composting toilet at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales

Fruit garden (where two year old compost ultimately used)

Fruit garden (where two year old compost ultimately used)

Compost is not used on vegetables growing directly in the soil

Humanure compost is not used on vegetables or fruit growing in direct contact with the soil

 

Useful Links & Resources

In English:

 

Constructed Wetland Association

http://www.constructedwetland.co.uk/index.html

 

Geoff Durno – Reeds from Seeds

http://www.reedsfromseeds.co.uk

 

Nick Grant – Elemental Solutions

http://www.elementalsolutions.co.uk/services/water-and-wastewater

 

Joseph Jenkins – Humanure

http://www.jenkinspublishing.com/humanure.html

 

Centre for Alternative Technology

http://www.info.cat.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/information/SewageTreatmentAndCompost Toilets.pdf

Wikipedia – Composting Toilet

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composting_toilet

Wikipedia – Reedbed Water Treatment

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reed_bed

 

En Francais:

 

Joseph Orszagh – Eautarcie

http://www.eautarcie.com/index-fr.html

 

Joseph Jenkins – Humanure

http://humanurehandbook.com/downloads/Humanure_Manual_French.pdf

 

Association Eau Vivante

http://www.eauvivante.net/

 

Association Toilettes du Monde

http://www.toilettesdumonde.org/

 

Association Empreinte

http://www.habitat-ecologique.org/enquete.php

 

Terre Vivante

http://www.terrevivante.org/33-la-gestion-de-l-eau.htm

 

Ekopedia

http://fr.ekopedia.org/Toilette_s%C3%A8che

http://fr.ekopedia.org/Gestion_de_l%27eau

Responses

  1. […] and photographs by my fellow blogger Jon Barrett at Converging Crises. Jon and Louise constructed a composting toilet on their land in France. Their toilet uses reeds to turn raw sewage into ‘humanure’ for […]


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