What is Humanure and What Can I do with It?

If you are exploring composting toilets or other forms of alternative waste systems, likely, you have already come across the term “humanure” being used but not defined.

What is Humanure?

Humanure is a neologism (a newly coined word becoming more popular in everyday speech but not entirely accepted into mainstream language) that was coined and popularized by the writer Joseph Jenkins in a book he published in 1994 composting toilets. Humanure is a contraction of “human” and “manure,” and Jenkins uses the term to refer to the end-product of the toilet composting process.

Humanure does not refer to sewage or night soil (raw human waste often spread on crops in developing countries). Instead, it is fully composted human manure (along with additional carbon materials such as sawdust). Humanure is a highly nutrient-rich organic matter that is safe to touch and with no unpleasant odor. It will resemble exactly the compost you produce from household and garden composting bins.

What Can I do With It?

Joseph Jenkins is a powerful advocate who raises his voice to use humanure as a soil amendment for agricultural and non-agricultural purposes. You may not be aware of this, but human fecal matter and urine are both very high in essential nutrients for soil health: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Humanure has the same level of nutrients as found in synthetic fertilizers and animal manures that you may purchase in garden stores. Jenkins and others argue that humanure is an essential human resource (and product) that can help diminish our reliance on synthetic fertilizers and promote safe, organic agricultural output.

However, there is quite some debate about whether humanure should be used on crops. Humanure certainly does not have the health risks associated with night soil, and Jenkins and others have argued that it is entirely safe for crops. It is probably true that fully composted humanure is safe for agricultural purposes. The reluctance to use it this way in developing countries probably has more to do with aesthetics (what we might call the “grossed-out” factor) than health and safety issues.

However, many health and agricultural specialists have raised a valid concern about whether users are fully composting their humanure. Those who argue we should err on the side of caution point out that it can take two years or more for specific pathogens to be destroyed and that users may not be waiting long enough to ensure the compost is completely safe.

But even if humanure is not used on crops, there are still many important uses for it as a soil amendment. Suppose you are producing humanure from your composting toilet. In that case, you can use it on your flower beds, around trees (including fruiting trees, since there will be no risk to the fruit from humanure on the ground), on your lawns, for houseplants, and almost any other area where you would like nutrient-rich soil.

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