Earthquakes, Tsunamis and ... Compost?

"It's snowing still." said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes" said Eeyore. "However," he said brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

A.A. Milne — Winnie the Pooh

Here in Alberta it is supposed to be Spring but we had a huge dump of snow on the weekend that still lingers, resistant to melt. One of the forums I follow has many members in more tropical climes. I'm jealous and frustrated as they talk of ripening fruits while I have yet to plant a seed.

But ... when I compare my situation to my friends in Japan I am mute with the horror that continues to unfold.

Can Composting Help in an Earthquake Crisis?

When I started this newsletter I googled earthquake and compost together just to see if there was any relationship. We have a couple of recent examples of severe earthquakes with huge impacts on their countries and citizens.

An earthquake, or an earthquake with the double whammy of a tsunami, kills and injures hundreds or thousands of people. It also damages or completely destroys the basic infrastructure we all rely on in everyday life.

Right now in Haiti 1.5 to 2 million people are still homeless. They are living in makeshift tent cities. Japan is currently trying to find facilities for 550,000 people. Another 70,000 could soon join them due to continued issues with the nuclear reactors.

Where is the toilet?

It's not easy to fix a whole water and sewage system in order to provide flush toilets for the masses. Adding a few hundred thousand souls to the systems in place in school gyms or auditoriums often quickly overwhelms the facilities. And, as anyone who has spent a weekend at a festival served with porta-potties knows, toward the festivals end the temporary toilets are often overflowing. Pit toilets might be a solution but they generally result in water pollution where large numbers of people are involved.

Then the material in these various potties needs to go somewhere and in a pinch that might means dumping raw sewage on top of the rest of the dump. Not ideal in other words.

Jenkins Low Tech Toilet Solution

Joseph Jenkins, the author of The Humanure Handbook has a low tech, cheap, safe and largely odor free solution. It's one he has used in his own home for the last 30 years. Remember that google search? It was Jenkins that emerged supreme. With a few 5 gallon buckets and some high carbon covering material such as sawdust or peat a basic excrement collection system can be put together. With a little plywood and a toilet seat from a broken flush unit and it even sort of looks like a toilet except that it's not hooked into the water system and all the issues that can entail.

Toilets for Haitian Earthquake Victims

Jenkins brought his toilet technology to Haiti. The excrement and sawdust mix is brought to a large compost pile where Jenkins trained people on how to build a good hot compost using other organic garbage - 80% of the trash in these tent cities is organic material - and bagasse - the leftovers from the sugar cane used to make rum.

The toilets are so inoffensive that many people have elected to have a toilet right inside their tent. The final result of this is decent toilet facilities, elimination of the disease vector from uncovered human manure, an end of the raw sewage dump with its problems and a final product of a safe, rich compost that can be used to rebuild the soils of Haiti and help to feed her people.

The Humanure Handbook

Go to the website for a review of The Humanure Handbook. There you will find YouTube videos showing Jenkins' team's work in Haiti along with a link to a completely free online version of the third edition of the Handbook. Most people will find the book both fascinating and surprisingly entertaining to read. You may even be persuaded to trade your flush toilet for the bucket model Jenkins uses.

New at

I've just put up a new section of the website for your stories and your questions. I call it Compost Confessions. I'd love to share your compost disasters and your brilliant successes. There are some good reads already. Check this page to access the stories and feel free to tell us all one of yours.

Another new page is for Compost Questions. I've been answering many questions directly to those who have asked but stupidly haven't shared the questions and answers with you. I'm going back through those old emails and will be posting the questions and answers. You are welcome to contribute if you have another answer to give to the question or if you have a question you'd like to ask.

Bye for now. Best Regards Leslie

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