Humble Pile: Human Waste Composting Project in Chicago
Poop. Everybody does it.
That adds up to a lot of waste - waste that could potentially build soil and fertilize gardens. But most of us don't want to think about it. We just want to flush it and forget it.
Enter the Humble Pile. An enterprising gardener in Chicago wants to green the city with that waste, and right now, it's strictly guerilla-style, as it's an 'unspeakable' subject, and against the city's ordinances.
43-year-old Nance Klehm, an urban grower, started the do-it-yourself human waste composting project, turning brown into green, one bucket at a time.
Klehm sent out 30 letters inviting families around Chicago to collect and save their waste in "dry toilets" (sawdust toilets). Here's the letter:
We want to tell you about humble pile, a nutrient recovery project happening
We are working together to transform
- waste into fertility
- pollution into resource
- isolation into connection
We want you to help us.
Our massive small-scale urban nutrient recovery project, humblepile, is underway. you've probably been wondering what you can possibly do to help prevent total systems collapse.
Here is your answer: a poetically and practically perfect activity that will feed your feeling of joy, alleviate alienation, connect you to nature. yeah, we can actually save fuel, eradicate certain forms of pollution, save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and create rich fertile soil rather than parched earth.
Compost your sh!t and p!ss.
Hear us out.
Sawdust toilets don't smell.
They are no more dangerous than wiping.
Close the nutrient loop.
Billions of humans suck nutrients and don't give back to the dirt.
Change that now.
Stop wasting live water.
Stop sewage spills by composting your crap.
It's fun. Joyful. Sensible."
11 of those households chose to participate, and she now collects and composts the material in 32-gallon drums, stored at a secret location to avoid prosecution for violating waste disposal and storage ordinances.
"I'm just interested in people understanding that their body is producing soil all the time, and there's no reason not to return it back to earth." - Klehm
After a two year composting process, the 'night soil' will go back into gardens in Chicago, including a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse at a homeless shelter. The resulting compost is full of nutrients, and it also gets tested by Klehm for E. coli, which allays fears of it being 'dirty' or dangerous.
Our family used the sawdust toilet system for six years during our tiny house experiment, and we had no problems with odor, disease, or pests. It's smart thinking in these times of resource depletion. For more information about composting human waste, the Humanure book is an excellent comprehensive resource.