Toilets That Make Gardens From Humanure: An Eco-Friendly Future Can Come From Your Toilet

Image Credits : www.givelove.org

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With environmental consciousness gradually permeating the human society, efforts to conserve water and greenery are gaining the much-needed momentum. Unknown to many, the curse of the water crisis is looming over villages, cities, countries and continents, posing a serious subsistence risk. No matter how much we curtail water usage in our daily lives to combat the situation, most of us still continue to ignore the truth that our day starts with inevitably wasting no less than 6-7 litres of water, with every flush of the toilet.

Irrespective of the fact that very few opt for the smaller flush button on the toilet which ensures effective cleaning with much less water wastage, hardly anyone knows that the simple bodily function of defecation can be turned into a highly productive eco-friendly investment.

Why is that needed, one might ask, given the prevailing taboo and disgust about anything remotely related to the bowel.

A single flush creates an alarming level of pollution

Let us state the big picture here. Where does this water end up every time we flush our toilets? Truth is, the contaminated water is treated with persistent chemicals in sewage treatment plants and eventually released into lakes, rivers and oceans, where it ends up threatening the aquatic lives and polluting the groundwater, surface water and freshwater. In developing countries, the scenario is even worse as often the toilet water finds its way into water bodies, completely untreated. Hence, a simple flush can amplify to an exponential level of pollution.



Yes, there is a solution – Humanure

Remember how scientist Mark Watney grew potatoes in the sterile soil of Mars in the movie The Martian, making use of his own excreta? In reality, the science fiction movie might have shown the most credible solution, as proved by Joseph Jenkins from Pennsylvania, USA, better recognised as the author of The Humanure Handbook.


Humanure handbook

Humanure, as the name suggests, is the green manure obtained from human faeces, after a proper method of composting which kills all the harmful pathogens. Humanure can be extremely nutritious for the plants and ensures zero water wastage and contamination through toilets. In fact, the idea behind compost toilets in each home, as propagated by Jenkins, insists that every house should be self-sustainable with the toilet discard being recycled into all-natural fertiliser.

Jenkins and The Humanure Handbook

The Humanure Handbook, published in July 1996, explains the A to Z of compost toilets, an idea which met with a lot of resistance at the outset. However, it did not take long for environmentalists all around the world to realise its importance. Soon, Jenkins’ book sold thousands of copies, turning him into a full-time consultant. He has travelled to many Asian, African and European countries offering guidance about compost toilets, which he and his family commercially labelled as “Loveable Loos”.

From toilet to lush gardens

A box-shaped wooden toilet where, instead of a cistern for flushing, one will find a bucket beneath. After each usage, sawdust is added as a biofilter to the excrement collected in the bucket, to initiate the decomposition process. On a regular basis (mostly once a week), the toilet material from the bucket is dumped into a compost pile and later other organic materials like household garbage (biodegradable), garden waste etc are mixed with it.

Humanure toilet demo in Kolkata, India. Image Credits : www.givelove.org

Over a considerable period of time, it turns into superior quality “Humanure”, following other steps of treatment as detailed in the book. This can then nurture lush gardens of flowers, fruits and vegetables. In fact, the chemical-free vegetables and grains farmed with Humanure can be easily turned into palatable dishes, thereby bringing the process to a full circle.

Making of Humanure toilet

Jenkins has designed a foolproof mechanism for processing Humanure which negates all concerns about an obnoxious odour or bacterial diseases.

Humanure is not limited to its pioneer Joseph Jenkins, rather it has launched a worldwide initiative towards eco-friendly toilets, as adopted through different programmes by governments across the world, as well as individual households.


Also Read: To Stop Open Defecation, This American Lady Crowdfunded Rs. 4.8 Lakh From 432 Donors & Built Eco-Friendly Toilets

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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It's not how much we give
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