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Transforming Human Poop Into Eco-Friendly Fertilizer

Everyone poops. But not everyone around the globe has access to a clean toilet. Some communities in Haiti have set up a clean and healthy sanitation system that can also provide a homegrown resource for boosting food production and their economy. The team at Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) specializes in ecosan or ecological sanitation, a process that transforms human waste into a safe and nutrient-rich agricultural product: eco-friendly fertilizer. This 2011 article from National Geographic explains the process:

Once a week SOIL workers drive through communities in a flatbed truck called the Poopmobile, collecting the toilet drums and replacing them with clean ones

The waste is then taken to a composting site outside the city, where workers mix the material with sugarcane bagas—a byproduct of making rum—to speed up the composting cycle.

“All the microbes get excited, they start reproducing like crazy,” said [ecologist and SOIL co-founder Dr. Sasha] Kramer… The activity heats the compost to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). This kills any disease-causing bacteria, which are adapted to the average human body temperature of 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius).

Workers check the compost temperature every two days, and “by the end of eight months, [we] end up with incredibly nutrient-rich soil,” Kramer said. Human waste may even be better than cow feces for compost, she added, since our meatier diets contain more plant-boosting nitrogen.

There’s no need to use expensive and fossil fuel-dependent chemical fertilizers either. Is human poop safe to compost?

When composted properly to kill pathogens, human waste is a “very rich nutrient source that’s quite suitable for growing crops for human consumption,” said Serita Frey, a soil microbial ecologist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Learn more about composting. Plus, watch more videos about poop: Turn human waste into drinking water – Janicki Omniprocessor, Gross Science’s Much A-Doo About Poo, and Poop Guy: A dad who is revolutionizing sanitation in Pune, India.

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