Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Drought, water and toilet paper

 We don't all have the same weather at the same time, I know, but we do all experience hot and sunny weather at some point — so if just now it is your winter or pouring with rain where you are, perhaps to bear in mind that this will not always be so.

Here in England we are going through an abnormally fierce heatwave. Some of our urban settlements are finding it hard to conserve enough water to support normal domestic consumption.

A few months ago in the Spring, we had plenty of rain but as the coronavirus pandemic took off, people began to stockpile toilet paper, leaving insufficient supplies in the shops to support normal domestic consumption.

With a degree of reluctance, because some things are best kept private, I feel it may be time to talk about toilet habits.

There are two pathways to consider; one for those who have a garden, another for those who do not.

Garden people first.

If you have a garden, it is helpful to know that human pee is one of the best nutrients for plants. At one point (I don't know if they still do this) in Oxfordshire they were collecting tankers of it to put on the land. If you put your (diluted) pee on the garden, your plants will flourish magnificently, need no expenditure on plant food, and grow crops appropriate to your health profile. Plant food comes in plastic bottles and we are encouraged to reduce our generation of plastic waste. Using human pee instead avoids that problem. So if you have a garden, you do well to collect your pee.

Humanure (human excrement) is also great for the garden, provided you prepare it first. To do this, you need a receptacle that keeps out all flies and animals, and bokashi bran (which neutralises pathogens in a fortnight, rendering it almost odourless and fit to add to your ageing compost). For human excrement, we have a bucket toilet with bokashi bran in the bottom, on top of which we put a piece of paper to catch the dropping, then parcel it up and add it to the curing bin, adding a good handful of bokashi bran on top. So no need to touch the excrement at any point, and the paper parcel adds carbon material (necessary for composting) to the humanure. What paper to use? As simple and natural as possible, whatever you have for recycling. 

Our home is in a densely populated urban area, and it is important to us to live responsibly, spreading no smells or diseases. This system works perfectly in that context.

For the pee, we each have a bucket in our own rooms.

My room is just under 7ft x 9ft. Here's my system.

My wardrobe. See that blue thing peeping out at the bottom?

That's my toilet.

To use it I just pull it forward.

It's easy and convenient to use.

Toilet paper manufacture consumes massive amounts of wood every year.

Yes, hemp sounds like a good idea — but doesn't it just shift the problem? Cash crops, mono-culture — these are hard on the Earth and tend towards social injustice, degradation of the land, deforestation and species loss. Why not just use no toilet paper? 

Using no toilet paper, is much cleaner. Here's something you may wish you'd never read. At the end of the day, if I always wipe my bottom with toilet paper, my underwear smells slightly of urine (yours will too). If I use a wet cloth instead, my underwear smells entirely fresh at the end of the day.

There are three options.

1) Use a new cloth every time, dropping the cloth you used into a bucket to go out with the laundry. I don't do this, because I see no point in it.

2) Use the same cloth each time. Have some water in a bowl, wet the cloth, wipe yourself, then wash the cloth off in the water, then add the water to the pee to dilute it ready to add to the garden. Wash the cloth properly with soap in the water you use to wash in at the beginning and end of the day (and that water should be in a bowl, to add to the pee, to throw on the garden; don't waste it).

3) Use a squirty bottle of water for a bidet effect. Old vinegar bottles have good tops for this. Then the wipe with a damp cloth gathers no pee, so the cloth stays entirely fresh, but you still rinse it. 

System 3 is what Muslims do, and has the advantage that you can take the bottle with you when travelling or out for the day. I would do it for that, but I get on better with system 2.

Then you're all done —

— and the bucket slides back under.

At the end of the day (and at the end of the night) just take the bucket with its dilute pee and use it to put on the roots of your plants. Swill out the bucket with a little further water, again onto the roots of the plants.

You will save a lot of water (laundry of whiffy underwear, flushing toilets, washing self, watering plants) because you are washing your actual self and your underwear will do a couple of days instead of one, you aren't flushing the loo and you have watered the plants. You have also fed the plants (bonus plant food from menstruating women) and spared the Earth the chemical burden of water treatment.

The other pathway, for people who have no garden, is all the same except at the end of the morning and the end of the night you empty the bucket loo into the toilet, and use your washing water to flush.

People with no garden can't really use the bokashi system for humanure either, unless you have a wormery on your property, which would allow you to incorporate it.

All of this has no odour (I have the keenest sense of smell imaginable), no mess, nothing nasty on your hands. It just require you to re-think and gently push back at tribal taboos.

It saves water + +

It feeds the garden

It lifts the burden of chemical treatment from the Earth

It helps stop deforestation

It helps stop the social injustice of cash crops

It helps preserve wilderness and species diversity

It keeps your nether regions a lot cleaner than toilet paper does

It is considerate to your neighbours in times of drought

Suddenly every bedroom in your home has a private ensuite bathroom

To my mind, this is how we build the kingdom and serve the Creator — this is what love is. I am getting less and less interested in religion, which seems to be all words and tribal barriers, and finding more and more satisfaction in these simple, direct ways of practicing faith. Love God, love your neighbour, think outside the box.

x x


Anonymous said...

"Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask" ;)

Thanks Pen for a well-put informative article. Mairin

Pen Wilcock said...

Haha — yes! xx

Victoria Pendleton said...

Thanks for your toileting advice. It made me smile even though I know it’s a serious matter. I never really thought about my use of toilet paper but I will now. I like the Muslim method the best, as an alternative. I have a septic tank with a leach field, so everything goes straight back to the earth, which is better than the city sewer system at least.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah, yes — we're in the town here, so we're on mains sewerage, but out in the Sussex villages many people have septic tanks. Whichever system, one of the biggest problems is anyone using wipes and throwing them down the toilet; that causes mayhem!

jill Houlden said...

I have been trying to cut down use of toilet paper, by using wipes made from scaps of cotton cloth....say cut up tea shirts , etc. i pop these into a bucket containing some water, and they go into the laundry . reading your article, i will try to take on more of your ideas. It seems to make so much sense. And...yes....religion which is mere words, is just playing at it.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi, Jill — well done; good system! x

Rapunzel said...

I am aiming to more fully adopt your system, with the added bonus of the small bucket I keep in my bathroom sink to collect the drippy tap water (we can't get the tap apart to fix it). I've been doing "family cloth" instead of toilet paper for a few years now, and it feels nicer than paper.
I wonder if diluted pee on my garden would deter the tomato eating deer? Time will tell.

thank you for this!!!!

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, even though we already know it, it helps to remind and encourage one another. x

Julie B. said...

I read this to Lloyd and he nodded in agreement the whole time. He lives in the woods so it is quite doable there. I am thinking about things I might change here, with houses all around me and no garden to speak of. We can all do something, though, can't we? Thank you Ember. xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...

"We can all do something" — that's the key! I find that the pathway unfolds as you walk along it, and perspectives change with changing practice.
One of the things that has intrigued me is the "Ewww!" reaction to using cloths instead of toilet paper, when most of us used terry-towelling diapers for our children, often with no liners. Disposable diapers had come in by the time my youngest child was born, not before that. And cloth sanitary towels were in use for our grandmothers, so presumably also our mothers. What interests me is how something nonchalantly managed as the norm can become something intensely distasteful, unthinkable, in so short a space of time!
It's the same with packaging and storage. In my childhood, fridges were small and not over-full, because we kept cold meat on a stone shelf in the pantry, and vegetables in a rack — now, having fridge space for them is non-negotiable. Fish came wrapped in newspaper, ice cream was sold in cardboard cartons . . . It makes me think that with a little effort, and by creating spaciousness in our lives by living simply, we could grope our way back to these more Earth-friendly habits without any great inconvenience. xxx

Anonymous said...

Hi Pen I want to try the pee as fertilizer. How much do you dilute the pee.

Pen Wilcock said...

The received advice is one part urine to ten parts water. But as that isn't what cows and sheep and badgers and foxes do, I ignore it. I mean, that would be a heck of a lot of water, wouldn't it? Every tie I pee in the bucket, I have a bowl of water to wash the cloth in, and I chuck in the bowl of water I've used to wash my face in the morning, also the water I rinse my toothbrush it etc. So I think it works out about 60/40 in favour of water. Our plants seem to do okay. I pour in in a different part of the garden each day, so the rain dilutes it too.

Elin said...

A friend of mine would pee in the sprinkling can and take it out at night after filling the rest with water and water the plants during summer. I thought it was pretty neat.

In our summer cabin we use a composting toilet, it still uses electricity but it solves the problem of us not being allowed to have the type of plumbing that allows for a water based toilet. The compost material is put into a standard compost afterwards since I am a bit too sensitive to use it as compost right away even though I think it is supposed to be possible. After a year or two I am fine with using it though. I would consider a urine separation system like you describe here in the cabin but here in the apartment I will keep to the water toilet. No family cloth or so for me at the moment but maybe when the kids are older. The squirt bottle is a possibility though but I think I would need to think a bit more about that.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Elin! Waving! Lovely to hear from you xx