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'Humanure' Victory: Green Toilet Wins Austin City Approval

  • Composting commode is first to gain official stamp.
    By Asher Price
    Austin American Statesman via Common Dreams, June 19, 2009
    Straight to the Source

It took more than four years of negotiations and construction, but this month an Austin Water Utility inspector gave final clearance to a glorified outhouse that is on the vanguard of down-and-dirty environmentalism.

Known as a composting toilet, the East Austin commode relies on the alchemy wrought by bacteria to transform human waste into a rich trove of soil. Specialists in so-called humanure have hailed the approval of the toilet as a watershed moment for common-sense environmentalism.

Users flush not with water but with a scoop of sawdust from a nearby bucket, saving the drinking-water-quality water used by conventional toilets, not to mention the energy and money required to pump and clean the wastewater.

"It's the ecologically sound thing to do," said David Bailey, 32, an itinerant carpenter and puppeteer who spearheaded the project. "Rather than using purified drinking water for a waste stream, we're using naturally occurring, ambient bacteria to create soil, one of Earth's least renewable resources. You have more water to drink and bathe in, and you end up with topsoil that's every gardener's dream."

The technology, simple as it is, is unlikely to become widespread. City code bars any property within 100 feet of a sewer line from having a composting toilet. There's also the "ick" factor. And despite issuing its first such permit, the city does not sound especially keen on composting commodes.

Austin Water Utility spokesman Kevin Buchman said the composting toilet is "not something we're endorsing or even recommend. It's an option for people building homes and trying to do what they believe to be environmentally sound."

Click here to read the rest of this article and to see a fun video on humanure composting.

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