But we only had part of the larger system in place, because once a bucket was full we were (reluctantly!) emptying our BioBag into a plastic bag and sending our "business" off to the landfill with the rest of our trash. Instead, we want to divert this so-called "waste" away from the landfill and let it evolve into earth-enriching humus. Anyone who's ever bought a bag of composted cow manure at a garden center knows it adds organic matter and nutrients to a garden bed while improving the soil's moisture-holding capacity. (Less watering!)
The "Bible" of all-things-composting-toilet, The Humanure Handbook, puts it this way:
Feces and urine are examples of natural, beneficial, organic materials excreted by the bodies of animals after completing their digestive processes. They are only “waste” when we discard them. When recycled, they are resources, and are often referred to as manures, but never as waste, by the people who do the recycling. --The Humanure Handbook
Not only does our society's accepted practice of flushing away nutrient-rich urine and feces waste a potential garden resource and unnecesarily add volume to landfills, it squanders clean, pure drinking water. Every year, the average person in the average house uses thousands of gallons of fresh drinking water to flush their poop down the toilet: 4757 gallons with an older toilet, 1850 gallons with a low-flush toilet, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
More from the Handbook on this:
The world is divided into two categories: 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 excrement, we flush the once pure but now polluted water “away”, meaning we probably don’t know where it goes, nor do we care. – The Humanure Handbook
Enough about why we want to create "humanure"—and on to how. After getting ideas from a number of wonderful sites, we drew primarily on Living Outside the Box to create our own bucket-to-barrel system. All the directions are clearly laid out on the website. (You can also find more details with the pictures below.)
While many humanure composters use a shipping-pallet approach like the bin we set up for our general compost pile, we were squeamish enough to opt for barrel containment of our poop processing. We have two 55-gallon composting barrels set up and we've made our first "deposit" in one of them. It will be a long, long time before any of our humanure sees its way into a garden, though, because we'll let the composting process work its magic for a full year after we've filled our first barrel.
Shaun's Backyard is one of many composting info sites advocating a play-it-safe approach by waiting that year:
Human pathogens are destroyed in minutes in a hot compost pile (50degC [122degF] or above), and while a compost thermometer can measure the general temperature of the pile, it’s hard to be sure that all materials have been exposed to these temperatures, which is why a human waste composting operation must involve a retention period, during which the pile is left to age and cure for a year before it is used. --Shaun's Backyard
But no need to avoid our tomatoes down the road, because you're worried about what's feeding them. We plan to spread our fully-composted humanure on gardens we don't eat from. We'll use our kitchen and yard waste compost on the vegetables!
Postscript: When I posted this, I forgot to mention that we'll need to aerate the barrel every week. We ordered a compost crank from Lotech Products.
Please click on the photos below for more details.