Humanure – A Book Review

The humans who will have learned how to survive on this planet in the long term will be those who have learned how to live in harmony with it.

by Joseph Jenkins

Due to concerns over the effects flooding is having with our local sewage treatment facilities, Logan city sent out a bulletin on Feb 10th to residents of Logan and surrounding cities to “PLEASE AVOID UNNECESSARY DISCHARGE INTO THE SEWAGE SYSTEM… Until further notice, we ask that residents please avoid putting… unnecessary water down drains.” Which they said includes flushing. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of my trips to the toilet could be considered “unnecessary”.

I recently finished reading The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins. I found the information simply incredible. If you are looking for an alternative to flush toilets that wastes and pollutes our precious water resources, this book is a must read. Even if you don’t care about the environment, who wouldn’t be at least remotely interested in a fully functioning, completely sanitary composting toilet system that takes care of household human waste, uses no water, does not stink, and actually contributes to a healthy environment?

I’m sure it is because I have such an interest in the subject, but the book captured me. Previous to running across this book I had been considering what it takes to get into a commercially available composting toilet. The $900 to $1200 price tag was a big deterrent (and that’s for a cheap one). I now have built a complete functioning composting toilet system of my own, that does not stink, contributes to the environment, and is easy to maintain, all for less than $100. I like it so well that some days I even feel dismayed at the waste when I have to crap in a flush toilet during the day while at work.

To be sure, it’s not the kind of subject you would expect a normal person to get excited blogging about. But then again, I don’t consider myself normal.

The subject is actually not that abnormal as we read from the book’s introduction:

“This is the third edition of a self-published book. No respectable publisher would touch it with a ten foot shovel. Nevertheless, the book has now been sold around the world, translated into over a dozen languages and published in foreign editions on four continents. It has been talked about on NPR, BBC, CBC, Howard Stern, in The Wall Street Journal, Playboy Magazine and many other national and international venues.”

Discussing the growing concerns that well informed health professionals and environmental authorities have over the environmental dilemma of human waste, Jenkins shares that this may be “why I received a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services praising this book and wanting to know more about humanure composting, or why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote to me to commend the Humanure Handbook and order copies, or why the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection nominated Humanure for an environmental award in 1998.” (pg 196)

In addition to the practical information given in the book, Jenkins has opened my eyes to problems we face as it relates to the bigger picture. Rather than comment further, I’ll let him speak for himself. Here are a few excerpts from the book that I highlighted:

“The world is divided into two categories of people: those who shit in their drinking water supplies and those who don’t. We in the western world are in the former class. We defecate into water, usually purified drinking water. After polluting the water with our excrements, we flush the polluted water “away,” meaning we probably don’t know where it goes, nor do we care.
Every time we flush a toilet, we launch five or six gallons of polluted water out into the world. That would be like defecating into a five gallon office water jug and then dumping it out before anyone could drink any of it. Then doing the same thing when urinating. Then doing it every day, numerous times. Then multiplying that by about 305 million people in the United States alone.” (pg 15)


“According to a composting toilet manufacturer, waterless composting toilets can reduce household water consumption by 40,000 gallons (151,423 liters) per year. This is significant when one considers that only 3% of the Earth’s water is not salt water, and two thirds of the freshwater is locked up in ice. That means that less than one percent of the Earth’s water is available as drinking water. Why shit in it?” (pg 117)


In his section about wastewater systems, he notes, “My research for this chapter included reviewing hundreds of research papers on alternative wastewater systems. I was amazed at the incredible amount of time and money that has gone into studying how to clean the water we have polluted with human excrement. In all of the research papers, without exception, the idea that we should simply stop defecating in water was never suggested.” (pg 207)


Finally, I liked his ENVIRONMENTAL POTTY TRAINING 101, “Simple, low-tech composting systems not only have a positive impact on the Earth’s ecosystems, but are proven to be sustainable. Westerners may think that any system not requiring technology is too primitive to be worthy of respect. However, when western culture is nothing more than a distant and fading memory in the collective mind of humanity thousands (hundreds?) of years from now, the humans who will have learned how to survive on this planet in the long term will be those who have learned how to live in harmony with it. That will require much more than intelligence or technology — it will require a sensitive understanding of our place as humans in the web of life. That self-realization may be beyond the grasp of our egocentric intellects. Perhaps what is required of us in order to gain such an awareness is a sense of humility, and a renewed respect for that which is simple.” (pg 201)

Contrast this with the cost prohibitive complexities of attempts to use technology to tow an iceburg to be used for drinking water:

For more information, or to buy the book, or to watch informative videos about humanure, visit

Violent Rape, Terrorist Attack, and Forgiveness

The contrast of these two stories begs the question, why does forgiveness seem to be more possible to do for some and not for others?

I found the contrast between these two stories instructive, as it relates to forgiveness.
[In my children’s book, Little Ip and The Land of Contrasts, I talk about the beauty of forgiveness]

Story 1

Published May 2, 2010, Kym Klass

THE EXTRA MILE: Confronting attacker in court provides empowerment, closure

Kym relates her feelings about facing in court, the man who attacked and raped her. She carried the fear from this experience for over 18 years, and it took an immense amount of strength to bring herself into the courtroom to confront him and make a statement.

“Forgiveness doesn’t forget fear.” Kym says. “Sometimes that fear is immense enough to make a person feel broken. I don’t sit here and forgive and forget. I’m here to tell you it is hard to imagine feeling more afraid than I do right now.”

“I had a mix of emotions that morning” Kym relates. “…from feeling safe running with him in the same city (albeit behind bars), to his image from the courtroom pounding in my head. From his apology to me from the witness stand in court to his voice breaking when he said he had no idea he alone could cause that fear in me.
From the way he looked at me, to how he wouldn’t look at me when I read my statement.
I bought into none of it.”

“That next morning, I felt an empowerment I haven’t felt — ever — over this. If I’ve ever wanted to make a difference, my time in court might have been it. If I can keep him off the streets to keep other female runners safe, then I can only pray I’ve done that.”

My heart goes out to Kym. This has to have been a terrible burden to bear for so long.

Story 2

Published May 1, 2010

As Mumbai Trial Finishes, Wife and Mother Still Forgives.

Kia Scherr  of Nelson County in Central Virginia hopes that she will get to meet face-to-face with the Pakistani national charged in the November 2008 Islamic terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed her husband and daughter.

“It was a horrible experience to go through and, in some ways, I died a little bit, too,” Kia Scherr said. “But it made me look at myself and how I wanted to respond, who I really am and what I wanted to be. I don’t want revenge. I’d rather retaliate with love, kindness and forgiveness with the same intensity of the terrorists, but in the opposite extreme.”

When it was over, the father and daughter were found under a cafeteria table, shot dead.

With a yearlong trial ended and the court on the verge of a verdict, Scherr says she hopes to meet with Kasab.

“I would like to talk with him, show him forgiveness and compassion, something other than the violence he has known, as a response,” Scherr said. “He was filmed showing remorse for his actions and when he saw his colleagues in the morgue. He said he’d been lied to. If only we could find a way to make this young man embrace life instead of death, to speak out against the brainwashing he received and reveal the truth, perhaps we could save more lives.”


In making this comparison I mean no disrespect in any way to Kym. She has suffered greatly and deserves no judgment from me or anyone else for her feelings or actions. At the same time, one may just as easily judge Scherr for trying to hinder proper justice to a terrorist killer.

The contrast of these two stories begs the question, why does forgiveness seem to be more possible to do for some and not for others? Was carrying an emotional burden for over a decade as much of a choice for Kym as forgiving a terrorist is for Scherr?

Please share your comments below. God bless those of us who may find ourselves on either end the question.

Former soldiers ask for forgiveness from Iraqis

In my children’s book, Little Ip and the Land of Contrasts, I introduce villains into the story to help show that the villains in our lives may well be part of a greater plan to help us learn lessons in this life. I don’t know what the lessons are from this latest story I ran across yesterday, but I believe in looking for the good that can come from it.

I am appalled at the recent release of footage of a US air crew callously killing innocent civilians. but I admire Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber for their efforts toward reconciliation and responsibility.

“Please accept our apology…”, they write. “our sorrow, our care, and our dedication to change from the inside out … Our hearts are open to hearing how we can take any steps to support you through the pain that we have caused.

Read their full letter here.