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The Humanure Handbook

A Guide to Composting Human Manure

by Joseph Jenkins

256 pages, paperback, Jenkins Publishing, 3rd ed., 2005

Joseph Jenkins has composted humanure at his home in Pennsylvania for 26 years, while raising a family. During that time he has developed a depth of insight into the processes involved. His easy writing style, thorough research and execrable humor have caused The Humanure Handbook to be published in Finnish, French, Mongolian, Korean, Hebrew, Spanish, Norwegian, Slovenian, German and Cambodian.

Praise for The Humanure Handbook

"Finally we have a comprehensive book on recycling human excrement without chemicals, high technology or pollution." "Well-written, practical...thoroughly researched." -- Whole Earth Review

"Jenkins provides a convincing case that human waste can and should be a safe composting material." -- Mother Earth News

We think The Humanure Handbook ranks right up there with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring as one of the most important environmental exposes of all time." -- HortIdeas

The Independent Publisher Most Likely To Save the Planet Award in 2000

Reader Feedback from the First Edition quoted in the Second Edition

"The first edition of this book was self-published on a meager budget and was expected, by the author, to require a total lifetime print run of about 250 copies. It was assumed that there was little, if any, interest in the topic of composting human manure, but the degree and nature of feedback that resulted from this unlikely book was surprising. The first edition of Humanure eventually amounted to over 10,000 copies in circulation. Excerpts from a sampling of the letters sent to the author are presented below.

"Thank you so much for your book. I believe that it is one of the most important books ever written. (I also enjoyed your web site very much.) I finished reading your book less than a month ago and have already participated in building two compost bins and am currently in the process of building the toilets to go with them." S.U. in ME

"The potential of the ideas in Humanure is so great in problems such as hollow food, landfill capacities, population densities . . . that I feel rather evangelical about the book and hope that others will also." R.S. in OH

"If this short sentence, ‘We are defecating in our drinking water,' was put in front of our eyes frequently enough, more and more people would realize that this absurd behavior can't go on much longer." S.A. at BioLet International

"Your book is pure gold, just what I needed to give to my County Health Department head who is willing to go along with my desire for alternative systems." M.T.

"Your discovery of the proper small scale of the operation is world-shaking, together with the exemplary continuous-by-small-increments rate of production." F.A. in DE

"I enjoyed your book immensely. It clarified several technical and practical points. My mother is appalled that we would put one of ‘those things' in the new house we're building, certain it can't be legal. Now that you've put the point in print we've been reduced from lawbreakers to just crazy. Pleasing me and irritating my mother, you score big in my two favorite categories." K.L.

"May I join the chorus, too? The most exciting book I've read in a long, long time is yours. What a gem! Fun! A bumper sticker ad for the book should read, ‘The Humanure Handbook Proves It: People Are Smarter than Shit!' Some people, anyway. ‘Fecophobia': A new word for me and one that speaks volumes. As E.O. Wilson discovered ‘biophilia,' so there is such a thing in humans as ‘biophobia,' and you've discovered and named very appropriately one of its roots: fecophobia. It's a real problem, and its solution, I think, is biophilia, fecophilia. Your discovery of appropriate shit technology, including an appropriate ‘throne,' makes the billions we spend so we can shit in drinking water appear finally and totally absurd." V.L. in FL

"My budget is limited, so I don't buy many books. This one, however, I really had to have for my personal library. I borrowed your book via interlibrary loan and have already read it twice, but I wanted one to keep! Please send the Humanure Handbook!" L.M.

"I really celebrate your book and your willingness to step forward and break the crystallizations of fear around composting human manure. I know for a fact I would not be taking the steps toward taking responsibility for managing the feces and urine within our community without this book." L.F.

"Your book proved to be not only entertaining but also an invaluable source of information and reference. Thank you! At the hostel, your book has made it to the ‘shelf of recommended literature.' On this shelf we display books we recommend our guests to read. Your book is placed between Thoreau's Walden and The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening." J.N. in GA

"I just wanted to thank you for your valuable research you have done on the sawdust toilets. I enjoyed your book very much and have loaned it to many friends who seemed too embarrassed (or cheap) to buy it themselves. There must be quite a few readers of your book out there because I am seeing quite a few sawdust toilet and human manure discussions going on in the various straw bale and homesteaders news groups." D.K. in IL

"I'm just reading the Humanure Handbook and kicking myself for a fool! I've been composting for a long time. I've been buying everything I can on composting - old and new - especially on composting toilets and have been banging on about it for years, but have never managed (apart from the mouldering Clivus) to use one. Now the solution is so simple I shall simply remove our existing W.C. under the stairs and replace it with a sawdust toilet and everything else is in place! At the moment, I've been saving all my urine, which I add to the woodchip piles and that steams along merrily enough. Thanks for your book and providing the missing link! Yours steamingly," N.S. in UK

"My wife and I found a copy of your Humanure book last year, and have been living well with a sawdust toilet since then. (A blessing, after having spent gobs of time and money putting together a 150 gallon fly-breeding solar toilet - nothing like feeling little crawlies on your bum!)" P.U. in NM

"I continue to be moved to hilarity by your writing, and the cartoons are pretty good too. Best of all is that your method of killing pathogens and parasite eggs and returning nutrients to the soil is virtually free. We are an environmental education center as well as a land trust community. So far we focus mainly on sustainable building, biointensive gardening, and wildlife management. I have a particular interest in a very simple lifestyle - sort of a radical eco-luddite anarchist type myself. Thanks again for the book!" M.M. in TX

"Your book came up in a search on and here I am, having just finished it, feeling like a man whose universe, at least one little corner of it, has condensed and collapsed, fallen into effortlessness, into rightness like a neutron star, like a compost pile. eureka! refinement! My shit makes sense! at last! Thank you." R.P. (fellow common-senser) in MA

Quotes from The Humanure Handbook

"The world is divided into two categories of people: those who shit in drinking water and those who don't. We in the western world are in the former class. We defecate in water, usually purified drinking water. After polluting the water with our body's excrements, we flush the once pure but now 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 250 million people in the United States alone.

"Even after the contaminated water is treated in wastewater treatment plants, it may still be polluted with excessive levels of nitrates, chlorine, pharmaceutical drugs, industrial chemicals, detergents, and other pollutants. This "treated" water is discharged directly into the environment. . . . "

"It is estimated that by 2010, at least half of the people in the US will live in coastal cities and towns, further exacerbating water pollution problems caused by sewage. The degree of beach pollution becomes a bit more personal when one realizes that current EPA recreational water cleanliness standards still allow 19 illnesses per 1,000 saltwater swimmers, and 8 per 1,000 freshwater swimmers. Some of the diseases associated with swimming in wastewater-contaminated recreational waters include typhoid fever, salmonellosis, shigellosis, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, pneumonia, and skin infections.

"If you don't want to get sick from the water you swim in, you can always follow another standard recommendation: don't submerge your head. Otherwise, you may end up like the swimmers in Santa Monica Bay. People who swam in the ocean there within 400 yards (four football fields) of a storm sewer drain had a 66% greater chance of developing a "significant respiratory disease" within the following 9 to 14 days after swimming. This should come as no surprise when one takes into consideration the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The use of antibiotics is so widespread that many people are now breeding antibiotic resistant bacteria in their intestinal systems. These bacteria are excreted into toilets and make their way to wastewater treatment plants where the antibiotic resistance can be transferred to other bacteria. Wastewater plants can then become breeding grounds for resistant bacteria, which are discharged into the environment through effluent drains. Why not just chlorinate the water before discharging it? It usually is chlorinated beforehand, but research has shown that chlorine seems to increase bacterial resistance to some antibiotics.

"Not worried about antibiotic resistant bacteria in your swimming area? Here's something else to chew on: 50 to 90% of the pharmaceutical drugs people take can be excreted down the toilet and out into the waterways in their original or biologically active forms. Furthermore, drugs that have been partially degraded before excretion can be converted to their original active form by environmental chemical reactions. Pharmaceutical drugs such as chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, antiseptics, beta-blocker heart drugs, hormones, analgesics, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and drugs for regulating blood lipids have turned up in such places as tap water, groundwater beneath sewage treatment plants, lake water, rivers, and in drinking water aquifers. Think about that the next time you fill your glass with water."

. . .

"Proper sanitation is defined by the World Health Organization as any excreta disposal facility that interrupts the transmission of fecal contaminants to humans.40 This definition should be refined to include excreta recycling facilities, as excreta are valuable organic resources which should not be discarded. Compost toilet systems are now becoming internationally recognized as constituting "proper sanitation," and are becoming more and more attractive throughout the world due to their relatively low cost when compared to waterborne waste systems and centralized sewers. In fact, compost toilet systems yield a dividend - humus, which allows such a sanitation system to yield a net profit, rather than being a constant financial drain (no pun intended)."

. . .

"The almost obsessive focus on flush toilets throughout the world is causing the problems of international sanitation to remain unresolved. Many parts of the world cannot afford expensive and water consumptive waste disposal systems. . . . "

"Sanitation problems could be avoided by composting, instead of discarding, humanure. Keeping fecal material out of the environment and out of streams, rivers, wells, and underground water sources eliminates the transmission of various diseases. Composting effectively converts fecal material into a hygienically safe humus, yet composting the humanure of municipal populations is not even being considered as an option in most of the western world.

"Not only are we polluting our water, we're using it up, and flushing toilets is one way it's being wasted. Of 143 countries ranked for per capita water usage by the World Resources Institute, America came in at #2 using 188 gallons per person per day (Bahrain was #1). Water use in the US increased by a factor of 10 between 1900 and 1990, increasing from 40 billion gallons per day to 409 billion gallons per day. The amount of water we Americans require overall (used in the finished products each of us consumes, plus washing and drinking water) amounts to a staggering 1,565 gallons per person per day, which is three times the rate in Germany or France. This amount of water is equivalent to flushing our toilets 313 times every day, about once every minute and a half for eight hours straight. By some estimates, it takes one to two thousand tons of water to flush one ton of human waste. Or, in the words of Carol Stoner, "For one person, the typical five gallon flush contaminates each year about 13,000 gallons of fresh water to move a mere 165 gallons of body waste." Not surprisingly, the use of groundwater in the United States exceeds replacement rates by 21 billion gallons a day."

Table of Contents of The Humanure Handbook

Chapter 1 - Crap Happens

Chapter 2 - Waste Not Want Not

Chapter 3 - Microhusbandry

Chapter 4 - Deep Shit

Chapter 5 - A Day in the Life of a Turd

Chapter 6 - Composting Toilets/Systems

Chapter 7 - Worms and Disease

Chapter 8 - The Tao of Compost

Chapter 9 - Graywater Systems

Chapter 10 - The End is Near

Temperature Conversions




About Joseph Jenkins

Joe Jenkins maintains a business in north western Pennsylvania (Joseph Jenkins, Inc.), where he resides on 143 acres with a large garden, an orchard, several family members, and a compost pile or two. He does speaking engagements when time allows, provides consulting services, and maintains a publishing business.

Jenkins began writing The Humanure Handbook as a master's thesis while attending Slippery Rock University's Master of Science in Sustainable Systems program in northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 90s. Not content with academic convention, but fastinated with the topic of humanure composting, Jenkins decided to convert the book's language into a popular format and self-publish the thesis as a book.

The intention was to learn how to "self-publish" using a book that probably no one would ever read. As expected, every possible publishing mistake was made on the first edition of the book, published in January 1995. Yet, an unbelievable 10,000 copies sold. Clearly there was more interest in this topic than Jenkins had expected, so he revised the book and published the 2nd edition in 1999. The second edition sold another 15,000 copies and won awards. The 3rd edition, published in 2005, sold out its first 10,000 printing and is now working through a another 10,000 copies.

The book and topic receive regular coverage in the news and have been mentioned on Howard Stern, BBC, CBC, NPR, the New Yorker, Grist, Seoul Broadcasting (SBS), Playboy, Wall Street Journal, Mother Earth News, and many others.

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