Human Waste Composting

Humanure - Pallet-Style Bin Half-Full_50

Turn your turds into tomatoes, with a human waste composting operation!

Each time you flush your toilet, a huge amount of nutrients is lost, along with fresh drinking water, only to become pollution for precious natural waterways. You can avoid all of this by managing an effective human waste composting operation, and the end product is a rich and safe fertilizer for the plants in your garden.


  • Creates fertilizer
  • Saves nutrients
  • Saves water
  • Saves the world!


  • 8 x pallets (single-use)
  • 4 x 20L plastic buckets with lids
  • 1 x toilet seat
  • Scrap wood for making a humanure toilet (composting toilet)
  • A regular source of straw/hay/grass clippings
  • A regular source of sawdust

Jump to:

About Human Waste
About Human Pathogens
Sourcing Materials
How to Make a Compost Bin with Pallets
How to Make a Humanure Toilet (Composting Toilet)
How to Use a Humaure Toilet (Composting Toilet)
How to Start a Humanure Compost Pile
How to Add to a Humanure Compost Pile
Allowing Compost to Age and Cure
Using Your Compost
Using a Compost Thermometer
Why compost human waste?
Are there any smells?
Isn’t it dangerous?
Is it legal?
Will flies be attracted?
What about pet poo?
Related Articles
How to Compost
Tumbler Composting

About Human Waste

Human waste (affectionately known as ‘humanure’) is a resource that is overlooked. Our feces and urine combined contain enough nutrients to grow all the food we need to survive. Combining human waste with sawdust, kitchen scraps, weeds and prunings in a compost bin can generate enough heat to destroy human pathogens and compost the material, turning it into something new – rich organic fertilizer.

About Human Pathogens

As humans have existed for thousands of years, certain bacteria, viruses, protozoa and worms have developed alongside us, tailored to suit conditions inside our bodies, where they breed and lay eggs, and make us horribly sick.

It’s interesting to note that they can only get from one person to another through contact with human waste. This means that for thousands of years we have been mismanaging our waste, enough for these human pathogens to develop and survive.

Our current answer to the problem of human pathogens is to flush our waste, along with crystal clean drinking water, into a sewer system, where it mixes with anything and everything that is poured down drains and washed off roads, to a waste treatment facility, where toxic chemicals are mixed with the polluted water to kill off pathogens, and the finished product is pumped into rivers and oceans for aquatic creatures to deal with!

A better answer is for our waste to be collected from our homes and taken to a large-scale composting facility, where the natural activity of bacteria and fungi compost the material, destroying pathogens and creating rich fertilizer. Until such an operation is in place, managing your own human waste composting operation is the most sensible and responsible option, and it’s just as effective.

Sourcing Materials

  • 8x pallets (single-use) – Single-use pallets can be found outside many shops, especially gardening shops and hardware stores. They should be untreated with no paint, and if you ask, they should be free to take. Choose ones of a similar size, so they can fit together well to form your pallet-style compost bins.
  • 4x 20L plastic buckets with lids – These are also called pails, and can be found in many places for free, or purchased from hardware stores, fishing stores, and department stores. Builders and painters use and throw away heaps of them. Keep an eye out for skip bins at building sites. It’s important that you get at least 4 buckets exactly the same, all with lids. Your humanure toilet will need to fit them exactly.
  • 1x toilet seat – Any toilet seat will do. If you’re planning to decommission your flushing toilet, take the seat from that.
  • Scrap wood for making a humanure toilet – Your humanure toilet is just a box with a hinged lid. It’s easiest to make out of wood, but any material can be used – even an old chair can be retrofitted!
  • A regular source of straw/hay/grass clippings – This needs to be used as cover material for your compost piles. It is essential, but can be hay/straw, grass clippings or leaves (finer is best). If you have chickens, you’ll probably have a regular supply of hay/straw anyway, and the compost will benefit from the extra manure.
  • A regular source of sawdust – This is used as a cover material in your humanure toilet. It is best sourced from a local timber mill – where fresh logs are cut into planks. Sawdust from hardware stores is not suitable – it is sterile and contains treated wood sawdust which is poisonous. If you can’t get your hands on a regular supply of fresh sawdust, consider using ground newspaper or leaf mold.

How to Make a Compost Bin with Pallets

Pallet-style bins can be as simple as 4 pallets tied together, but here’s a way to make one that’s easy to work with. You will need 4 ‘stringer’ pallets for this construction. (stringer pallets have lengths of wood holding the slats together, whereas ‘block’ pallets have blocks of wood. You will have to modify the design if block pallets are all you can find.)

  • Step 1: Dismantle one of the pallets, keeping pieces intact. You will need the slats to build up the last wall of the bin, and the ‘stringers’ (the thicker lengths of wood) to make rails for the slats to slot into. Dismantling is easiest done with a claw hammer and chisel/screw driver.

    Dismantle the pallets

    Dismantle the pallets. Be careful not to trip over your daughter's bike while you're at it.

  • Step 2: Remove any slats from the bottom of the other 3 pallets.
  • Step 3: Clamp the back and side pallets together, such that the back pallet is tucked inside the sides.
  • Step 4: Take two of the stringers from the dismantled pallet, and clamp them parallel to the stringers on the side pallets, with enough room between them to allow slats to slot in without getting jammed.

    Humanure Pallet - slide the planks in

    Slide the planks in. Don't forget your pink Crocs. Safety comes first!

  • Step 5: Drill holes and screw the pieces together. Slot slats in and build up the front wall, to find out how many slats you’ll need to complete the bin.
  • Step 6: Unscrew the pieces. At this point I recommend coating all pieces with raw linseed oil, to preserve and weatherproof the bin. Each bin will need to last at least 2 years in the weather with all manner of decaying material inside them. Collapse is possible if you’re using softer woods prone to rotting. Raw linseed oil is a natural oil which dries to form a waterproof barrier. Coat pieces thickly and leave at least a day to dry.
  • Step 7: Prepare the site for your new pallet-style compost bin. It should be level.
  • Step 8: Re-assemble the compost bin on the prepared site. I recommend propping it up off the ground with bricks in each corner, to further reduce the chance of rotting. Slot one of the slats in to start the front wall, and store the others somewhere handy.

How to Make a Humanure Toilet (Composting Toilet)

A humanure toilet is a receptacle designed only to collect human waste in buckets for composting later. Human waste is not composted in the buckets, only collected and stored. There are many examples of unique designs for humanure toilets, and one can usually be made using scrap materials you already have. The size of your buckets will determine the dimensions of your toilet. It’s important that your buckets are all the same size, and preferably a popular size so you can easily get more if you need to.

  • A simple box can be constructed, large enough to accommodate one of your buckets, with a hinged lid that your toilet seat can be fixed to.

    Humanure Composting Toilet - simple frame

    Make a simple frame for your bucket and toilet seat

  • A hole must be cut in the lid which matches the diameter of the top rim of your buckets, so that the rim can fit inside the hole nicely.
  • The height of the toilet should be such that on level ground, your bucket will stick up through the hole in the lid.
    Humanure Composting Toilet - draw and cut out a hole

    Draw and cut out a hole. Make sure it allows your bucket to fit through it.

    Humanure Composting Toilet - Screw on the seats

    Screw the seats on

  • The toilet seat should be fitted so that it sits nicely over the hole. There should be no opportunity for urine to get between the bucket and the toilet and escape the system.

    Humanure Composting Toilet - end product

    Loaded and ready for action!

How to Use a Humanure Toilet (Composting Toilet)

Humanure Composting Toilet - scoop and pour some sawdust on your excrement

Sprinkle some sawdust to help eliminate the turdy odor

A humanure toilet is used in the same way as a regular toilet – all human waste and toilet paper is collected in the bucket. However, instead of flushing when you finish, a scoop of sawdust is thrown in to cover the waste. It’s a simple habit to get into, and odorless if you use a correct amount of sawdust.

The sawdust has two functions. It covers the waste, blocking odors, and it brings to the mix a high carbon component. Feces and especially urine are ‘nitrogenous’ material, which, in composting terms means that it provides bacteria with nitrogen for building proteins and reproducing. ‘Carbonaceous’ materials, such as sawdust, provide bacteria with energy. A good mix of the two is a recipe for rapid hot composting.

When a bucket is almost full, the lid of the humanure toilet is lifted, the lid of the bucket is secured, and the bucket is replaced with an empty one. Full buckets can be stored for weeks before composting with no problems. If you decide to stick with just the 4 buckets in your system, I recommend emptying them 2 at a time. If you’ve got a large family I recommend additional buckets and emptying 4 at a time.

Humanure Composting Toilet - sawdust bin

Make sure you have enough sawdust to keep the air fresh

When an empty bucket is placed in your humanure toilet, I recommend adding a few scoops of sawdust to coat the bottom. This helps to ensure all material comes away later when you empty your buckets into the compost pile.

How to Start a Humanure Compost Pile

Once you’ve filled two or more buckets using your humanure toilet, you can begin composting the material, along with your kitchen scraps, weeds, prunings, newspapers and cardboard.

  • Using a shovel, scrape into the ground at the center of your bin, and create a dish
    shape. Throw the excess soil up around the edges to further expand the dish. The idea is that if any moisture should leach out from the bottom of the pile, it will concentrate and absorb here, rather than flowing out and off the site.
  • Spread a thick layer of hay/straw/grass clippings in the bottom of the bin, at least 45cm thick. This material acts as a sponge (soaking up moisture that might otherwise leach), and allows air to penetrate the pile from below.
  • Add a layer of weeds and prunings, newspapers (shredded) and plain cardboard (shredded).
    Add kitchen scraps and any other compostable materials at this stage.
  • Empty your humanure toilet buckets into the center of the pile. The consistency should be sloppy but not runny (if it’s runny you should’ve added more sawdust!), and the weight of the material should sink it down into the center nicely. You may wish to hold your breath at this stage – it is the only part of the operation where you may encounter bad smells.
  • Cover the pile with a fresh layer of hay/straw/grass clippings, thick enough that the
    pile is not producing any bad smells.
  • Rinse your buckets, using a bit of biodegradable soap, water and a dedicated toilet
    brush. Use the same water from the first bucket to rinse the second and third, and then pour the water into the top center of the pile, adding a handful more hay/straw/grass clippings to cover this spot.

Your humanure compost pile is now started, and the materials should heat to at least
38degC (100degF) within a few days.

How to Add to a Humanure Compost Pile

Humanure - pea straw

Try asking your friends, neighbors, or gardeners for some straw/hay/grass clippings

It’s important to maintain a layer of hay/straw/grass clippings completely surrounding the
composting material; on the bottom, sides and top of the pile. This both insulates the pile – retaining warmth, and prevents evaporation the same way mulch does. It also prevents material falling out of the bin! Keep this in mind as you add to your piles.

  • Using a dedicated pitch fork (used only for your human waste composting operation), scrape the hay/straw/grass clippings from the top center of the pile to the sides. You shouldn’t have to dig into the pile to do this, just gently comb it back against the walls of the bin.
  • Using the fork, dig into the top center of the pile, pulling material back toward the walls to create a hole in the center. Make sure nothing leaves the bin. If you add to your pile on a weekly basis, you should notice some heat in the center. It’s the heat which destroys pathogens, and it’s into this heat we dump our fresh material.
  • At this point you can add any kitchen scraps, weeds, prunings, newspaper (shredded) or plain cardboard (shredded). Ensure the hole is big enough to accommodate all of your fresh materials.
  • Empty your buckets into the hole. As always, the consistency should be sloppy but not runny.
  • Add a layer of hay/straw/grass clippings until all odors are blocked.
  • Rinse your buckets, using a bit of biodegradable soap, water and a dedicated toilet brush. Use the same water from the first bucket to rinse the second and third, and then pour the water into the top center of the pile, adding a handful more hay/straw/grass clippings to cover this spot.
  • I recommend adding a few scoops of sawdust to each of your buckets, replacing the lids and shaking them, so the sawdust is dusted all around. The sawdust absorbs moisture and residual smells.

Allow yourself about 30mins to complete this task. Take the time to do a thorough job, and make sure no waste leaves the system. With practice, it may only take you 15mins.

Allowing Compost to Age and Cure

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.

Pathogens cannot survive so long outside a human host.

With both measures in place, your human waste composting operation is a responsible one, and the resultant compost is safe for use in the garden. Once your first humanure compost bin is filled, start a new one, and leave the first alone for a year. Since it takes a family of 4 about a year to fill a bin, using two bins in rotation should be all you need.

  • After the one-year retention period, the material in the first bin will have shrunk a little, but from a pallet-style bin you should have about 1 cubic meter of rich compost, ready for use in your garden.
  • Remember that your finished compost is something completely different to the waste and other materials you originally added. It has been consumed by bacteria, fungi, worms and other bugs, all of whom have contributed to the composting process, converting it to something new.

Using Your Compost

After leaving your first full bin for a year, it is ready to use. Grab a wheelbarrow and shovel, and start digging the compost out of the bin, removing slats as you go.

Spread compost around the base of trees, in vegetable gardens, even over lawn. It can be dug into the soil or mulched over. After only a few years of application, your soil will be rich in organic matter, sustaining life, retaining moisture and nourishing anything you wish to grow.

Using a Compost Thermometer

I recommend purchasing a compost thermometer to monitor temperatures in your humanure compost piles, especially when you are starting out, and experimenting with what you’re adding to your bins.

Compost thermometers have a long skewer which penetrates right into the center of the pile. They are waterproof and, if handled properly should last you a lifetime. After adding material to your humanure compost pile, stick your compost thermometer into the top center, right down until the dial is just above the surface. This will give an accurate reading.

As you experiment with different amounts of kitchen scraps, weeds, prunings, newspapers and cardboard, your focus should be on achieving temperatures 50degC (122degF) or above.

Don’t panic if your pile doesn’t reach these temperatures as you begin; keep experimenting until you find a ‘recipe’ that works.

Why compost human waste?

Flushing our waste down the toilet is the start of a costly process which ends in the pollution of waterways and oceans. Composting human waste is a simple and practical way of taking responsibility for ourselves. It’s regenerative too, which means it encourages life and soil fertility.

Are there any smells?

There are no smells in the use of a humanure toilet, as the deposits are covered with sawdust which traps odors. There are no smells from a human waste compost pile, as the pile is surrounded and covered with hay/straw/grass clippings, which traps odors. The only smell encountered is when buckets are emptied into the pile, before the pile is re-covered. This is a short period of time – about 5 minutes.

Isn’t it dangerous?

Human feces can carry human disease-causing pathogens. A well-managed human waste composting operation will destroy pathogens in minutes, and just to be sure, the compost piles are left to age for a year after filling – too long for pathogens to survive outside a human host.

Is it legal?

As we are slowly changing our attitudes toward recycling human waste, more and more commercial composting toilets are being approved. Check with your local authority whether or not your system can be approved, and consider all risks before you launch.

Will flies be attracted?

Flies should neither be attracted to a composting toilet, nor to a humanure compost pile, as there are no smells produced to attract them. If flies do hang around, it is an indicator that not enough cover material has been added – just add more!

What about pet poo?

Dog and cat feces potentially brings with it a host of other pathogens, some of which can infect humans. While I’ve read of people practicing mixing pet poo in with their human waste, I have yet to read of studies concluding it is safe. I recommend either having a separate compost pile to manage pet poo, or bury it in an isolated area of your yard, away from animals and children.

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69 comments on “Human Waste Composting

  1. I want to tell you that I really like your web site and will be checking out your new articles regularly. Amazing stuff mate. Thanks a bunch for sharing!

    • Hahaha, it’s not a project that wins hearts. There’s a saying you might find useful – “It is easier to apologise than to get permission.” Good luck!

  2. Surely the same applies to pet waste in terms of suvival of pathogens outside the host? I’ve looked for more info on this but struggling to come up with anything concrete,.. do you know where I might find studies / science on this?

    • Hi Mike, thanks for your comment. I haven’t seen any studies on pet pop, but I can offer two clues; 1: Joe Jenkins was very brief in discussing pet pop in his book, Humanure Handbook, saying that people should have a separate pile and only use the resultant compost in ornamental gardens. 2: There is a pet poo worm farm made by tumbleweed which claims its safe to use worms to break it down. If you do find something conclusive, please let us know! Cheers

  3. we are Egption(NGO)trying learn theEgypion youth how to live with harmony independatly in menshantin our wep site.we thancke you for all thisusfulinformation.

    • Thank you Osama, yours is a noble endeavour. This technology will save water and create fertiliser, both of which are scarce in desert conditions. Good Luck

  4. Would adding any of your Bokashi bran to the bins speed up the process or deal with any of the odours?

    We put prawn shells, fish skin, chicken skin etc. in the Bokashi and although it does not smell particularly nice it doesn’t smell like it would if it was in a bin.

    • Hi Mark, thanks for your comment.

      I was at first cautious to involve bokashi in my humanure system, for two reasons. Once you introduce bokashi, its there for good. If bokashi would interfere with thermophilic composting, the piles would fail. I tested bokashi scraps in a compost tumbler and observed no ill effect. I have since introduced bokashi to my humanure operation with no apparent problems. I rinse my kitchen waste bokashi buckets first, then use that innoculated water to rinse the toilet buckets. It doesn’t have any immediate effect on smells. Perhaps if bokashi bran were added along with sawdust, smells might be mitigated. Ill try it out and let you know. In the meantime i have noticed that if i leave a bucket full for over 3 weeks, the smell changes to a dank earthy smell – much less offensive.

  5. Thank you for the detailed explanations. I have been looking at the idea of humanure/composting toilets for some time now and unsure of the safety issues. I am planning to build a toilet soon.

    Funny thing is, I found your site after doing a Google search looking for designs to build your own toilet. Our special needs son is too big for a potty chair, yet too little and afraid of the outhouse. Your design seems a great answer for our situation.

    • Hi Paula,

      I recommend reading Joe Jenkins’ book ‘The Humanure Handbook’ before you design your system. He explains everything in much more detail. Even for a simple system like this, an understanding of composting and pathogens is invaluable.

      Also, there are plastic inserts you can get for a regular toilet which makes the hole a bit smaller so toddlers can sit on there easily. Try a google image search for ‘toddler toilet insert’.

      Good luck!

  6. Hello Shaun,

    I am creating a food forest on my 1/5th of an acre and am looking to build a composting system for humanure. I have the Humanure handbook but am wondering if you have any suggestions on desing. I may be forced, due to space limitations, to place it in the shade. Will this be a problem?



    • Hi Timothy, thanks for your question.

      The answer is, PERFECT! Shade is the perfect spot for a compost operation. In terms of design, access is most important; composting is a chore that, if all goes well, you’ll be doing weekly or fortnightly for the rest of your life! So put your pile somewhere easy to access (also make sure you can get a wheelbarrow to it for collection). Second consideration I would have is because the pile doesn’t require sun or watering (if you follow Joe Jenkins’ method), you can place the pile in a place so shady that nothing else will grow, so you won’t take up sunlight. Third thing I’d consider is because some nutrients will slowly flow out the bottom of a compost pile, I would wonder what sorts of trees could be planted next to the pile, such that their roots would take up these nutrients. I haven’t got that far yet with my operation, but am thinking mulberry for my circumstance.

      Good luck with your design, and your composting operation!

  7. Great article for people to start composting now. For those of you that are thinking of this in a “end of world” situation, Amazon sells toilet lids that attach to 5 gallon plastic buckets.

    • Hi John, it’s funny you should mention that! I’ve had a ‘humanure’ composting operation going for some years now. I haven’t combined it with biogas technology, but I have thought of that as a one-stop option for all wastes generated by a household. What’s most important when dealing with human waste is to ensure human pathogens cannot survive the composting/digesting process.

      BTW, I’m quite hopeful for the future, even though I enjoy imagining end-of-the-world scenarios!

      Good things

  8. Hi Shaun,
    I’m an engineering student, and for a team project, we decided to tackle this issue. we are considering converting a 50 gallon drum into a toilet/compost bin/deep placement fertilizer applicator. I guess my question is for compost that potentially contains pathogens if it is buried when applied does the buried compost become less dangerous and something that could be planted into the next year/growing season? and if so, what depth do you think would suffice?

    • Hi Kevin,

      Good choice for your project; I’m sure your team will learn a lot!

      Firstly, I will always recommend reading the Humanure Handbook by Joe Jenkins, as it thoroughly explains the ins and outs of composting faeces. Also there are some tables in there which show all the pathogens and their survival rates in soil and in compost at various temperatures.

      To answer your question, you can bury faeces under 1 foot of soil without risking exposure through direct contact. However, if the materials are not composted before they are put in the ground, pollutants may leach into nearby waterways or into underground aquifers, which is a serious long term issue.

      As you plan your design, remember that pathogens have evolved to operate at body temperatures, and often to spend some time in soil as part of their life cycle. Also, all human pathogens are killed in temperatures 50degC and above in hours, or at lower temperatures in much longer periods (some worm eggs can last a year in soil).

      Best of luck to you and your team. Let me know what you come up with or if you have any more questions. I’m always interested in talking shit!

  9. This is a good article. I have been composting my own waste for the last year. I took 3 pallets to make a bin and started composting neighbors green cut garden waste. I just swapped my empty green waste bin for their full bin. I started by chipper shredding green branches and it hit me why not put my own dropping in? I’ve heard about it for years. I knew the practice goes back to 4000 years in China and in Europe. I do nothing special. When I am done on the toilet seat, I sprinkle paper shredded newspaper, cardboard, leaves, what ever is green and hand full of dirt. When bucket is full I dump it on the compost pile as a layer. I got 3 more pallets and made a 2nd bin. When the 1st compost bin gets 4 feet tall, I empty it into the 2nd bin. Just keep rotating the compost pile. I know for a fact I have saved Gallons of water by not flushing. The compost is getting more and more blacker in color. Never stinks. I asked a roommate to piss in a 1/2 gallon milk jug and I use that to water the pile. Love ammonia. When I have to burn wood, I sprinkle a handful of ash into the pile. Helps break down the soil. My 2 cents.

    • Thanks Eddie, your experience is worth a lot more than two cents. Isn’t it a shame that what is common sense for some, isn’t so common after all!? In time I hope composting will be a mainstream practice, on the home- and community-scale. I recommend having a look at Joe Jenkins YouTube video on how he adds material to his compost piles. Im sure you’re already doing something very similar, but his technique means he doesn’t have to turn the pile, which as you and I both know, is a bit of work! Hope it helps.

      Good things

      • Have you thought of using an Archimedes screw, to more the waste to the biogas generator? The screw works for moving water.

  10. I was hoping to find a way to build the outhouse that would immediately go into a biogas generator so it would not have to be picked up and taken to it. Like I was thinking that if you built the biobas generator down lower than the toilet that it could be slid down a tube into the generator and no mess or smell. What do you all think? Am I insane? Its ok you can tell me it wouldn’t be the first time lol.

    • Hi Evone, I like your idea and I love your thinking.

      If you do an image search for ‘biogas toilet’, there are some ideas out there, and they’re all different. This suggests to me its an idea people are still developing, and there’ll be lots of room for improvement.

      My only thoughts are that the effluent out of the digester could contain pathogens, so it should exit into the ground where no one will be digging. I imagine a mulch pit with trees all around.

      I hope your idea takes off. Let me know what you come up with!

      Good things

      • I was thinking about the effluent problem. Why not move the effluent thru a metal pipe, that is heated with Solar heat, reflected on the metal pipe? The metal pipe will get hot enough to make steam. The heat will sterilize anything in the pipe. Don’t have to worry about any disease spreading. I think this will work.

  11. I just want to share what I have done. I have 2 dogs and neighbors have cats. I was at the thrift store and got a old pressure cooker, no rubber seal on lid. I made a solar cooker. I put the dog waste, cat waste my waste, some dirt and pulled up weeds in the pressure cooker. Then cook all this in the solar cooker. I can hear the water sizzling and I cook for a hour. I dump the pressure cooker on the compost pile and in a month it’s all ready to use compost.

  12. Shaun I am using my first composting toilet for a tinyhome I will be using as a guest home. I have decided to use composite tumblers. Do I just put the same stuff I would put in a bin and then the waste…

    • Hi Linda, glad to hear you’re ready to recycle, and if you’re using buckets for your toilet and sawdust (or other suitable cover material) you won’t have to worry about it sitting unused in your guest house – you can take your sweet time filling up buckets without any problems.

      However, I do have to caution you about using tumblers for composting human waste. I had the same thought myself, and two tumblers ready to go before I read Joe Jenkins book. Tumblers are designed to mix the contents, and your waste is going to be sloshed around in there, smattered all over the insides, and sometimes oozing out the bottom, all of which is fine for any other type of composting, but with human waste you want to avoid any spillage of raw materials, and you want to ensure ALL of it is thoroughly cooked in the compost bin before its handled, and you cant guarantee that in a tumbler. You could prove me wrong if you can isolate the tumbler, trap any leachate dripping out, and transfer the contents to a holding bin for a year (just to make sure). But it would be easier to stick with Jenkin’s method.

      In any case, I recommend the Humanure Handbook to anyone interested in human waste recycling, and I’m quite sure you can read it online for free.

      Best wishes to you Linda, and I hope you find a safe way forward with your project.

      Love always,


  13. Great tips, thank you!

    I had a question about winter and the compost bin/pile. How will the pile do in freezing temperatures? I live in north east texas and although we can have some mild winters, we are also known to get snow and like this past winter- an ice storm. How does the humanure pile hold up to freezing temperatures? Should I consider adding extra days to the year the compost sits just be sure? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated before we begin our humanure pile.

    • Hi Falon, I haven’t had any experience with freezing conditions, but found this bit in the Humanure Handbook:
      “Compost piles will not work if frozen. However, the microorganisms can simply wait until the temperature rises enough for them to thaw out and then they’ll work feverishly. If you have room, you can continue to add material to a frozen compost pile. After a thaw. the pile should work up a steam as if nothing happened.”

      I also recall Joe Jenkins talking about his piles staying hot all the time, regardless of the outside temperature.

      Good luck with your system!

      • I live in Indiana where it gets very cold and freezes!! My humanure compost piles work very well. I fill one pallet bin up with humanure composting, yard waste, garden and kitchen waste as well. When it’s full, I top it off with old straw or clippings or leaves. AND LEAVE IT ALONE FOR A YEAR. DO NOT ADD ANYMORE WASTE!!! My last pile I left for a year and a half. It will shrink appreciably and everything will have broken down to nice compost. Have fun saving your drinking water for drinking!!!

  14. The system is useful for managing a failed septic system. The separation of urine from the system was a key to managing our household of 7 adults. Composting in metal 55 gallon drums for a year, then adding to the garden. Checking temp with long compost thermometer periodically. Emphasis on ZERO escape of feces into any groundwater. Works well for observant knowledgeable persons. Works well and cheap

    • Thank you Frank, that’s good to hear. I think we often take for granted how effortless it is to flush a toilet, and how complicated things get when suddenly we can’t! Its good to know of back ups like this, so we dont find ourselves squatting over holes in the backyard, terrified that a neighbour might be noseying at the time!

  15. Hi Shaun,
    Thank you for posting this very detailed article. I have noticed how lovely the grass is around our septic system – – – It’s the most fertile spot on our property. What a waste to have all that plant food contained there. Looking forward to trying a humanure!

  16. I am thinking of using a children’s plastic round swimming pool, diameter about 6 feet and depth about 12 inches, for a composting container. Do you think that would work as well? There will be two adults only using the system, so we should be OK with one pool per year, wait a year, and then empty the first pool while the second one is being filled. Does anyone think this will work?

    • Hi Nancy, thanks for your question. While a plastic swimming pool will prevent liquids from leaching away, it will also prevent oxygen from moving through the compost, and that is crucial for hot composting (and killing pathogens). You may end up with anaerobic conditions (no oxygen) and different kinds of bacteria will get to work on the compost, and these are the nasty kinds which produce acids and foul odours. Better to use a compost bin (which lets air in the sides and bottom). If you do go ahead with it, have a sample of your finished compost analysed for ‘fecal colliforms’, as these will indicate whether pathogens would potentially survive your composting process. Good luck!

  17. Hi Shaun,

    Thank you for the article! I am about to start composting our excrements, and am wondering if I can use a tumbler instead of a stationary bin? If it is okay, how often should I turn it? We are only living in our friends backyard for a few months, and I do not want to leave her with a pile of our poop (especially because she doesn’t know how to manage it)!



    • Hi Meghan, glad you asked. I have compost tumblers and have considered using them for human waste, but decided against it because I couldn’t guarantee hygiene. As you know, once a tumbler is filled, it is tumbled to thoroughly mix the materials, and that would mean human waste would be in contact with every nook of the bin, and while the main portion might heat up very well (enough to kill pathogens), the heat will not get to all of it. Even if you carefully nestled straw in the tumbler, and waste in the middle and didn’t tumble, you would still have to compromise hygiene to empty the bin later, clean it, and deal with any leaks that have occurred. So I’ve stuck with the pallet-bin method, and leaving it for a year before using it as a failsafe system.
      Having said all that, these concerns are based on the potential for human pathogen transmission, and if you aren’t carrying any pathogens, you can’t transmit them to anyone else (I know someone who rinses nappies right over food gardens). So if you’re feeling lucky, you can try your luck. As always, I recommend reading the Humanure Handbook (you can find it for free online), after which you’ll have a thorough understanding of the risks and how to overcome them. Good luck!

  18. A renter unbeknowing to us had been emptying his holding tank from a motor home behind a barn on the property. The motor home was not discovered until the renter had vacated, without notice. I never go back to that area, it is quite a distance, but potential renters have told me about the obnoxious odor there.
    How can I get rid of that odor. Is it possible to compost this type of thing?

    • Hi Landlord, sorry to read of your circumstance. Such carelessness is the only reason human pathogens have been able to co-evolve with us; if we were hygienic, most would become extinct.

      You can fence off or otherwise isolate the area, such that children and animals can’t dig around in there. As for smells, all you have to do is cover it with organic matter – leaves, hay/straw, sawdust, mulch, compost, or even a less pungent manure if that’s all you have. You’ll be amazed at how a blanket of organic material can stave off smells and flies.

      As for the contamination of the site, you could plant some deep rooted plants, shrubs or trees around the site. They might even thrive.

      Good luck

        • If you apply all of that you’ll probably end up with the richest soil on the property! If the grass clippings have seed in it, you’ll end up with a verdant lawn.

    • To guarantee safety, isolate the area for at least a year. There are quite a number of ways to do this, from fencing, to growing a hedge around it, to piling up a huge pile of organic matter. You could do all of the above. So long as you’re sure no one (animals included) will dig into the contaminated soil.

  19. Hi Shaun,

    Congratulations! You’ve got the BEST composting toilet site on the entire web!

    In regards to Landlord’s concern about the odors emitting from the irresponsible dumping of human waste on his property, may I make an additional suggestion? He (and anyone else concerned with odors and disease from human waste) should learn how to brew ‘Lactobacillus Serum’ which has a number of uses and one of them is the complete elimination of odors from barnyards where animal manures create unpleasant odors.

    Using Lactobacillus microorganisms would also greatly decrease the chances of any disease spreading. In barnyard situations, responsible farmers now spray down their manure piles and animal bedding with these microorganisms because they not only eliminate odors, more importantly, lactobacillus organisms immediately go to work on killing dangerous salmonella and ecoli pathogens. Additionally, these microorganisms will also start the composting process and speed things up.

    In a composting toilet, it would be a very good idea to give waste matter a quick spray with a Lactobacillus serum before adding the sawdust for a much safer, healthier and odor free system.

  20. Hi there, your site is great. I may have missed if you talk about this, but can one use chicken wire around the posts of the compost bin instead of wood? We live in California, no extreme weather to worry about. I’m thinking a close tight mesh kind.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Tracey, that sounds like a good design. You can also use a close mesh along the base and an extra piece over the top to keep rodents out. Good luck!

  21. farmers tend to like the wastes from cattle , goats and chickens ……but human feaces are first readily available from your body. highly nutritive and the human urine contains high amount of nitrogen. if we change our minds towards organic production of food then humanure is the best option. very profitable since no need to purchase fertilizers and health wise

    • Hi Cheku, changing minds is the tough part. Most people learn from a young age that faeces is something to stay away from. It seems these early lessons become more rigid as time goes on.

  22. Shaun,

    You’ve created a well organized information source and communication hub for expanding useful knowledge. Kudos!

    A jacuzzi hot tub was given to us for recycling. Since it would hold liquid and has a lid, we are considering to use it to convert human waste to humanure. Do you think it could work?

    • Hi Gary, many thanks for your comments.

      As always with humanure composting, I strongly recommend reading through Joe Jenkins book ‘the Humanure Handbook’ before you start your system. Its available for free as an eBook somewhere.

      My concern with a jacuzzi would begin with aeration. For hot composting to occur, fresh air needs to be able to draw into the pile. See if you can incorporate the drain hole and even the jets as part of your system.

      My 2nd concern would be leaching liquids. Every composting system involves liquids leaching out the bottom, but in the case of humanure this carries the risk of passing diseases. I recommend either situating the jacuzzi over a patch of ground which you’ve shaped into a ‘dish’ or depression, so leachate does not leak out the sides or anywhere people will come in contact with it.

      Third issue is retention time. Once your jacuzzi is full, you should be leaving it untouched for a year to ensure pathogen elimination. Meanwhile its assumed that you would be adding to a new pile. So unless you get another jacuzzi, you’ll have to come up with a design for a second pile.

      I hope that doesnt discourage you at all. These are important considerations, but they’re not dead ends. You’ll just have to be creative with your design.

      Let me know how you go!

      Good things

  23. Excellent advise! What you give freely has much value, and I trust life gives back to you.

    I did a search for the Humanare Handbook and found it in print and as an e-book for $10 to $20. I like supporting people who put out such helpful content. Just got back from living in a tree house and doing work exchange on a farm in the rain forest on Maui. That experience was great but depleted funds — so any ‘breaks’ in spending are appreciated.

    Anyway, with a little more searching, I found the handbook as a PDF file for free downloading on in case other readers would benefit as well.

    We are now back on our son’s property where we earlier began using a composting toilet. I built an outhouse here last winter and we used the bucket and sawdust method, with a bin built from pallets. We were only half-informed at the time. The pallet bin is full.

    Armed with the more complete information you have generously provided, we will experiment further and give an update. Mahalo!

    • Hi Helen, heat can sterilize just about anything if its hot enough. To kill off pathogens in human waste you’ll need a temperature over 50degC throughout the material for at least 10mins (less time the hotter it gets).
      My first thought however, is about the energy cost involved in cooking waste. If you’re paying for electricity or gas to run the oven this could be costly.
      Second thought is about the smell of cooking faeces. I cant imagine what that might be like, so a test run might be important before you commit to this method.

      Good luck, and let me know how it pans out!

  24. I’ve been using the bucket toilet system for seven years now. I just can’t stand to waste the water, if I ever got a place with a flush toilet I would probably replace it. :-)

    I’ve been using the compost solely in the orchard, but was looking into using some of the older stuff in my vegetable garden. Much of what I have read has discourage this, but I have a feeling that it will be just fine if I do let it age for the recommended time.

    It’s such a useful, flexible system. I’m glad more people are trying it.

    • Hi Lucy, glad to read your thoughts on this, sometimes it seems crazy to be the only one around to have such a view on human waste.

      There are a lot of do’s and don’ts out there about a lot of things, which, sincere as people are when they write them, come from an assumption that you don’t know enough to be responsible. If you know how pathogens survive in soil, and you know what sorts of measures can be taken to prevent their transmission, then whatever system you design and implement will be a responsible one. If you want to be sure, you can have some of your aged compost tested to see if pathogens can survive your processing.

      Good luck with your projects!

  25. Hi I am about to build space for humanure process. The area I am considering is on a slope. As read I understand I need to make a level site so excess liquids do not leach out. However there is a creek about 100m below in the valley. I think the many trees would filter any escapes out but would like advice first ideally. Is this process out of the question on a sloping property when there is heavy rainfall . maybe the initial depth of the bowl shape that is dug should be deeper? thanks for great site and your time.

    • Hi Kym,
      You’ll have to design your system well, as it wont be enough to assume nothing is entering the creek – you need to be sure. There are some simple things you can do to minimise leaching, and contain anything that does leak out the bottom of your pile.

      1: Put a roof or plastic sheet over your pile. If your design this well, you could collect some of the water for cleaning buckets and keeping the pile moist in summer.
      2: Before you install your bins, when you’ve levelled your space, create a depression in the ground like a dish, with a channel leading to a bucket. Imagine a giant spoon pressed flat into the ground. Line this area with a strong plastic sheet and install your bins carefully on top. If anything leaches from your system it will first gather in the dish part, then if it overflows it will spill into the bucket, which you can then pour over the pile again.
      3: Make sure you start your compost piles with a thick bedding of dry spongy material like straw, to soak up liquids before they can leave the pile.
      These measures together should leave little to chance, and help protect the creek from contamination. There may be more to consider for your particular situation, so I encourage you to slow down and think about this from as many angles as possible before starting your operation.
      Let me know how it goes.
      Good things

  26. Hi and thanks so much for your time and valuable info. Just to confirm…does the plastic sheet just go in the bowl insert part? Not the whole base of system? I understand I need the microorganisms to come up from the ground and they would not be able to if plastic covered the whole area. Also rethinking I think the creek is a lot furthers way. And to share and take your idea further maybe a small kids pool for insert with plastic flexible tube into base of pooland conecting to side of a bucket with lid would stop any smells etc except for wen emptying. Thanks again.

    • You can choose to have the plastic sheet cover the whole area. All the microorganisms necessary for composting are already on the plant materials that you add to the pile. Some people add a handful of soil to their compost too, just in case something’s missing. You might miss out on worms, but if you imagine laying the sheet deeper in the ground, then covering with soil before building your bins, worms could migrate in from the surrounding area, and so could fungi. This might also protect the sheet from accidental damage/leaks. Good to read your ideas!

  27. Hi Shaun, how does this design sound to you? I have a compost toilet that separates the waste and so I am adding poo & toilet paper (no urine) to a bed of chicken-manured straw in a circular wire-mesh compost heap. Do I leave it covered with a plastic sheet or open to the elements? We live in the sub-tropics, so I thought the wire mesh design is both affordable and won’t get too hot, but is it ok to leave it out in the rain? I have tarp over it currently. There are ponds not too far away and want to make sure I get it right… Thank you so much for all your fantastic information and keep up the wonderful work!

    • Hi Fiona, thanks for your interest and congrats on composting your own waste!

      Unless you live in a dry climate, the material you add to your compost bins should have enough moisture for effective breakdown. You mentioned separating urine so you might be a little short on moisture. The best time to introduce moisture is when you’re adding to the pile, so experiment with different amounts to find a healthy minimum. Any additional moisture will be unnecessary, and heavy rains will cause leaching and the weight can cause the pile to collapse and become a sloppy anaerobic mess. Your tarpaulin should do a good job of managing moisture – keeping heavy rains out and keeping humidity in. If you have some spare shadecloth this would do well too and allow some moisture to drip through.

      Another option ig you’re especially concerned about leaching, is to dig down 30cm or so and lay down a plastic barrier and site your compost operation on top. Also, plant some trees immediately around the bins so their roots take up any excess leachate. All of these measures together would be awesome too.

      Hope this helps. Good luck with your project!

  28. hi thanks for your advice in the past. I have been composting fairly successfully I think but have a couple of concerns. Rats are digging holes in compost probably to get food scraps…how to prevent that if you have any advice please. Also I don’t think the compost is hot enough. The human waste is put with sawdust then added to centre of pile with the food scraps but there does not seem to be much steam when I open the pile. also now it is coming into winter and there is quite heavy rainfall should I cover with a tarpolan. finally I have an excess of sawdust so is that ok for cover material on pile or will not let enough air get in? thanks for your time if you can help.

  29. Just wondering if you or any readers have any thoughts on waste that may contain pharmaceuticals? In other words, if you are taking any medications, will those remain active after the humanure has been “cured”? Or would the pharmceuticals interfere with the curing process?

    I just bumped into this article and started wondering …:

    NPR’s article “Is it safe to use compost from treated human waste?”

    • Hi Deb, thanks for your question. Not sure I can be much help here as I haven’t had any experience with pharmaceuticals in compost, but maybe someone reading this might be able to help out.

      Off the top of my head I’m thinking pharmaceuticals tend to be designed to have some sort of effect on biological systems, and so I imagine some might become involved and break down in a compost pile, and others may have some complicated effects on the life in the pile, but it’s hard to imagine no effect at all.

      If you do find out let us know.

      Good things

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