Sunday, August 21, 2016

Anti-Septic Solutions

Clivus (pronounced "cleevus") Multrum toilets are a brand of composting toilets that have received the "best available technology" (BAT) designation in Maryland, which means they could be used as alternatives to septic tanks if combined with greywater systems on new construction. They could also allow reduction of septic tank sizes by 30% when installed without a greywater system. If folks want to bypass the 5-year recurring requirement for a groundwater discharge permit, they might try using the composted urine from the toilet as a nitrogen booster to compost high carbon material in a separate long-term, thermogenic compost pile. One drawback to this and other types of waterless toilets that require a vent fan is that you might want to include a backup source of power to keep the fan running during power outages. Another is that it may cost you more to heat and/or cool your home due to the continuous venting through the toilet.

All of this is particularly relevant to someone who has a home in the critical area (within 1,000 feet of a tidal waterbody or wetland) in Maryland. Structures outside the critical area will probably not be subjected to the expense of a change to their septic system, now that Gov. Hogan has announced a turnabout on the mandate for denitrifying septic systems. Homeowners who must still upgrade could take the Multrum toilet/greywater route, though it is not clear whether regulations would still require them to own a septic system and if it would still need to be upgraded. The new tack being taken by the Hogan administration may favor the composting toilet/greywater system option in lieu of costly septic system upgrades. One person I know with a house in the critical area told me his septic system would cost him $20K to upgrade due to the very deep leach field it requires.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) does not condone the use of compost that is harvested from composting toilets and says that it should be bagged and sent to landfills. There are no laws that specifically prohibit use of this compost on one's own property, though the low composting temperature of Clivus Multrum toilets means that owners should limit the compost use to ornamentals (roundworms being a possibility, and all).

What MDE and the general public need to wrap their minds around is that we must get comfortable with humanure composting. Once you get into compost gardening, you start to realize how valuable and scarce compost is. Compost is also valuable outside of gardening. We are not going to be able to continue the highly polluting practice of synthetic fertilizer production from natural gas if we want to keep from burning up the planet. Christophe Pelletier lays it out for us in economic terms,
In the future, we are going to see a new look at fertilization. The economics of agriculture will change. This is inevitable, because the cost of inputs will increase. This will be a direct consequence of the increase of the price of oil, and of the depletion of phosphates reserves. This change of economics will drive renewed interest for manure, and for sewage. These sources will become attractive and competitive, as they contain large amounts of minerals directly available. Because of their nature, they have a high content of organic matter. One of the most efficient ways to remove nitrates from water is to grow plants with it. One of the main sources of phosphates will be manure.
Now, if manure is going to be so important to growing food in the future, let's not rule out humanure until after a thorough investigation of its appropriateness.

Pelletier weighs the value of manure against the future cost of synthetic fertilizer, but the carbon cost could also be factored in. Compost, in general, can be helpful in reducing greenhouse gasses. The points made by the U.S. Composting Council could be easily extended to include humanure compost.

If the least expensive and most effective method (using a bucket and manually adding your scat to a compost pile) seems too undignified or time-consuming, composting toilets are another option better than sticking with the sewer or septic systems that are currently harming our environment. In Maryland, we are fortunate to have an authorized distributor of Clivus Multrum toilets with plentiful experience.
Compost Fit for a Prince

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