ANOTHER STEP FORWARD

WATER-LESS LOO

“The typical American uses 13,000 gallons of water each year to remove a mere 165 gallons of body ‘waste.'”

“There are two kinds of people in the world, people who sh– in drinking water, and people who don’t.”

Today we are somewhat thrilled to finally order a composting toilet (saved $500 too!!!).   Another small step towards our water and waste reclamation project to eliminate or reduce our water consumption.

We’ve been hankering to get one of these toilets for many years. Of course, it would have been cheaper and more satisfying to do what many other across the country are doing– building a simple (not to mention inexpensive) “diy sawdust toilet. ”   This purchase was a hard decision to make and, believe me, we don’t like to part with such a hefty amount of money.

We decided against the sawdust toilet since we are in a unique situation. Others may be less constrained by space, code or “recognition.” Since our four compost drums and pile are in close proximity to a school, our produce business and clients to consider, and the City of Pasadena aware of our accomplishments, we felt it best to spend money for a whole system set up with composting chamber to break down the waste. However, we still feel the sawdust one toilet is the best and most efficient model. A model that we really should be striving for. Instead, we’ll save this diy project for another situation with more land (see Peace & Carrot’s Homestead’s sawdust toilet with humanure drums) improving on the typical out house that was used by my mother and father on their first homestead in New Zealand. (btw, in Florida we had our own well and septic system)

We chose the Envirolet model over its competitors because it has a highly efficient aeration chamber, which means you don’t have to add peat moss to the toilet every time you use the loo.

The Envirolet waterless toilet also comes with a small wind turbine which affixes to the top of the vent pipe on the roof and helps draw air constantly through the aeration chamber. This deftly prevents the unit from down-drafting and expelling odors.

Our first choice was Envirolet’s waterless, non-electrical model since we like to limit any unnecessary watts.   With this non electrical toilet the liquid waste isn’t composted. It exits the unit through a small tube that runs outside and into a drain pit (basically a gravel-filled hole in the ground). Since we are installing the chamber in the cellar, we couldn’t just build this type of pit/drain system. Instead, we opted to buy the 120V AC power model, where a five gallon bucket can be used to drain the excessive liquid into and then the bucket will be emptied into our compost pile. It was a hard choice. We really didn’t want another electrical appliance but figured our solar panels will supply adequate power.

Back to the subject of using urine in the compost pile: Every day, we urinate nutrients that can fertilize plants. Instead, these nutrients are flushed away. Urine is the fastest acting, highest nitrogen portion of human waste. Adding this liquid to compost urine acts as an accelerator.

Save $50!

For those of you who are interested in buying an Envirolet now or in the future, you can save $50 by giving our name, ‘Path to Freedom,’ as a referral.


Out with the old, in with the new

PAY DIRT

Progress in the yard has been slow, but steady. All the sandy and rocky topsoil has been shoveled out into buckets, awaiting a time when we can rent a dumpster. In the meantime the soil fills every empty container we have in the driveway. Now that the “bad soil” is gone, the guys have been digging out the mulched driveway that has loads of “good dirt” underneath a layer of mulch. The mulch/dirt is about 1 foot deep in the driveway that measures 10 ft wide by 60 ft long, we are figuring we have about 600 cubic feet of soil! This equals 22 cubic yards of soil: that would be 400 1.5 cu bags from a nursery, or 3, 7 yard dump trucks. Monetarily speaking, the 1.5 cu bagged organic soil mix sell for about $5 a bag, that’s about $2000 worth of soil! Amazing.

For a few years now, after we took out the concrete in the driveway to keep the rainfall from running out into the street, the driveway has been a place where we have piled straw and tree trimmings (free from local tree services).   Over time, these layers upon layers of mulch have composted into dark, black, rich soil filled with worms. What’s great is that there is no need for us to buy organic soil for this project – saving us lots of money if we had to do it otherwise.    We have enough “good soil” made on the homestead
— for free! That’s a victory in itself to be able to have “produced” enough rich soil to use throughout the yard and raised beds on such a little property such as ours. No more relying on outside sources for soil.

BTW: the chickens and ducks are thrilled with our digging up the mulch/dirt since we are finding hundreds of juicy grubs — yum, yum!


Lighting without electricity

LET THERE BE LIGHT

Over these past few months, we’ve been taking steps to use less electricity.   Changing certain habits is progress; one has to be serious, committed enough to incorporate any change however small.   We can protest on the streets against this or that or we can protest by our actions – like the saying goes: “actions speak louder than words.” One step we have taken is to use more candles and oil lamps (that run on B100).   It’s so much easier to flip on a switch when you need light, but we find candles and oil lamps are certainly much cozier! Every morning during this dark winter period we eat breakfast by candlelight and oil lamps.

When we do need to use the grid tied lights, we make sure that we never leave them on longer than needed, turning them off when we leave the room.  In addition, all but two decorative light fixtures have been replaced with energy saving bulbs.

No Comments

  1. gerry medland says:

    Hi Anais,What an informative post,I am not far behind you with a composting loo!I have thanked you so many times for the inspiration that PTF provide through its pages,Actions do speak louder than words,if we care enough,we do enough,anything less is not acceptable in my humble opinion.Vision requires action!OK it is a long haul but the rewards are immense!I continue to be inspired on a daily basis,long may you continue in your valuable work!

  2. Anonymous says:

    As always, inspiring! Thanks for sharing your steps and victories and photos…

  3. Joshua Parkinson says:

    I’ve gone back and forth on the concept. My concern is for both health and resource reasons. I guess health is the biggest probably as far as a tipping point. With all those candles burning particles into the cramped, enclosed, and sealed air of a home or room, and especially if the burning is of petrochemically derived fuels. And if a vegetable alternative is used, such as olive oil or other oils that have to produced by someone else using possibly questionable practices and monocultured cropland, it has to be questioned how much ecological and other savings really come out of it compared to truly judicious use of electricity. For example, what about compact flourescents or even LEDs. Even a small headlamp like the Tikka ones that use LEDs and run on AAA batteries for an incredibly long time, and could be charged with a cheap solar battery charger. If light usage is pared to a minimum, and the light bulb is carefully chosen, and especially as LED technology increases and cheapens, I have to wonder if it isn’t all around better to use renewable energy to power the comparatively little amount of electricity required to power personal lighting in such scenarios. This is particularly true for those of us in not such a pleasant climate such as I where there is a subzero windchill right now, and so where our homes are sealed like a drum, and the indoor air quality is terribly poor enough as it is!

    Would be interested in hearing your thoughts. I don’t have any actual numbers to really consider the question fully, but it would be an interesting experiment to find out.

  4. Joshua Parkinson says:

    P.S. – if you decide to reply, please ignore the consideration of using used oils and such as I consider that living off of the gluttony of others, and so try to live outside those bounds for continuously need resources on my own personal journey towards sustainability. Thanks.

  5. Anais says:

    Hi Joshua

    Thank you for your post and bringing to light some important concerns. 😉

    Before I go into discussing the points you brought up, like to congratulate you on your 900 plus bike miles.

    Sure, our path is not for everyone and nor are we saying we have all the answers (just trying to do what we can in our situation — which we are leaning isn’t perfect)

    One point that we have taken into consideration in our decision, is that we figured that candles can be locally made (especially beeswax!) These are natural and I believe they aren’t too polluting. My father used to make his own when we had bees and they have a very soothing smell.

    I think our view is leaning more towards “locally produced lighting” instead of purchasing “factory made”( which, we feel is unsustainable requiring lots of resources — transporation, water, petrol, and chemicals)

    You brought up the cons against growing oil crops which are valid but there are certainly cons against the energy efficient lighting options.

    Fluorescent bulbs or batteries, however, have to be mass produced by workers (or machines) in a factory somewhere (fluorescent bulbs are know to contain small amounts of mercury and are considered toxic)

    Candles or oil lamps wouldn’t be a good idea in sealed homes, like you said, whereas our home is a “drafty old house” where what fumes there are can escape.

    We feel that oils (like olive oil or another vegetable based oils) have been used for centuries and can be locally and sustainably grown. There’s even hemp to consider which is a “weed” growing in waste places and needing no chemical applications.

    Also, if you looked closly at solar technology – how would we, in what people are calling a “post petroleum world,” produce such high tech technology? Where would the all the components that make up a solar pv panel come from? Where do they come from now, how far and wide a trail do they make before they make it to us, the consumer?

    So, it is with the LED or energy efficient lighting — where do all the elements come from and can they be produce %100 locally in a post petroleum world?

    It’s time to look “beyond the peak” and take a closer look at even sustainable technology – someone, somewhere has to make it and somehow it has to get to us.

    The best, most efficient way would be to impliment appropriate technology. Appropriate technology is the kind of technology that fits small-scale, grassroots, people-centred economics.

    Unless we find local (within 100 mile radius), sustainable ways to produce solar panels or EE light bulbs then we are going to have to find other solutions — and fast.

    These (solar, biodiesel, etc) all are band-aid solutions, we are still learning and adjusting our steps. It’s an imperfect world and we are on a search for the best, local, truly sustainable solution.

    Right now it comes down to this; I CAN make a candle to have light, but I CANNOT make a light bulb and therein lies the answer to the choices we have made (for now).

    We need to re-localize all aspects of our lives a we certainly have a ways to go and there are going to be tough choices ahead.

    I am sure there are more opinions on the subject and would like to hear what other’s have to say on this.

  6. gerry medland says:

    Hi Joshua!Thanx so much for your insight and thoughtful post,may I take time to add a few words from my humble perspective in the UK?I have learned that we cannot do all things alone.However,surely it is better to re-create out of waste,a pleasing alternative?Each of us walk our individual path,there are many trails,all lead to freedom!We have to co- exist and learn from each other,that is true freedom!I wish you continued success in your quest!

  7. Anais says:

    Gerry

    Thanks for your insight on the subject. Great points.

    In a post petroleum world who’s gonna make all this new fangled sustainable technology (the solar panels etc) ? It might be that we will have to be creative and recycle the waste that is left behind or starting coming up with local energy solutions.

    Food, water, clothing, energy and other necessities of life will have to re-localize and be produced or grown from community or close surrounding communities.

    Reduce, Recycle and Re localize!

  8. gerry medland says:

    In a perfect world we would have all the solutions to all the problems that blight us today.We are living in an age that will never be repeated and therefore sustainable choices have to be made,actioned and analysed.There is no one answer,but there are numerable answers of low impact living in a post oil society.We are not ostrich like,we cannot bury our heads in the sand!The start is now not some point in the future,all input is of value,what works is important.

  9. Anais says:

    Gerry

    Another great and perceptive post. Thanks for your POV. 🙂

    Agree 100% – low impact living is the key and we all are going to have to put our heads together to forge this path.

  10. Joshua says:

    Thanks for your well-thought reply. For many of your comments, in essence, you are truly preaching to the choir! Nonetheless, you have brought up some things that I would like to comment about if I could, and welcome your reply. And also, I would like to note I was not commenting on your path, but on the essential question of the light source.

    You are right that we may indeed get to the point where all the wheels stop turning all at once, but I don’t see peak as a total crash instantly, and never a total wipe-out as there will always be oil, just a whole lot less of it! I would think, combining the wisdom of ages and the skills and knowledge of today, we won’t simply revert to several centuries ago altogether, but will still make today look like space-age insanity! I used to be like you, but the more I think about it, the more I come to realize that there are parts of this world that are important and very beneficial. Only, things are so terribly cheap and easily wasted that we do waste like crazy on things we have no need for using electricity borrowed from millions of years of sun. But we can combine some of the choice benefits of our newfound knowledge to combine with the wisdom of millenea.

    If peak managed to crash our entire society instantly, then yes, we would have no choice but to use locally produced beeswax candles, although how much can you actually sustainably produce for such uses nearby for everyone? And with oils, how much nearby cropland will you have to sacrifice for our most essential fuel needs when that land will be terribly needed for food growing, especially in a place such as where you live! I live in the midwest and have cropland galore (if we don’t stop paving over it!), and I would still be worried.

    Nonetheless, I can’t see our entire society crashing to nothing so instantaneously, and we still have time to prepare, and time to change once it really does start to hurt, if we’re smart.

    Sure, certain things will have to be made not quite so locally, but it’s been that way for time immemorial. Imagine if we did create the perfect sustainable life after forced into it by peak. We will end up using every bit of knowledge we have, and part of that does include LEDs. Think of all the things that are actually important about our modern knowledge, such as basics like necessary lighting, essential transportation, communication, realistic survival-based hospital care, water purification, agricultural season extension glass and plastics, steel and glass producing, etc. And quite frankly, if we don’t, there will be major crises, including inescapable mass deaths. Some of the technologies we are discovering are truly revolutionizing and essential, although most are being pioneered more in third world countries than here. Look at water! Even with all of our oil supplies, we are still running into a major world-wide water crisis, not to mention widespread desertification (no thanks to deforestation and terrible agricultural practices).

    And there is a larger aspect to this than basic necessities, such as quality of life issues based on the benefits of communication, for example. Knowledge is truly power, and people have such access to knowledge now in regards to everything from health, to gardening, to politics. Can you imagine not having this access, and having to rely purely on heresay, and having to simply trust your local paper or neighbor or politician to tell you everything correctly? And sure corruption is still rampant in our society, but I would argue it is far harder to get away with it and continue to get away with it, no matter how bad it seems to us here. You don’t have to go much farther than across the border to see what I mean! Even simple cell phones in remote villages in third world countries allows farmers to find out for themselves the real market prices of their crops and stop being taken by lying merchants and left to rot with nothing. And think of the speedy evolution of knowledge in such an atmosphere of incredible communication.

    I think it would be, excuse the severity of the term, an atrocity to completely ignore everything we have developed with total abandon. (don’t think I’m angry here, I am still in quite good spirits) I entirely agree, cut out probably about 99% of everything. And we will not be able save but a tiny fraction of our energy and physical goods consumption from evaporating into thin air, even with all the alternative technology. But we have developed invaluable knowledge dispersed among all the crap, and waiting in the wings of “appropriate technology” of third-world aid workers and permaculturists and such. And oil won’t simply disappear. The price will richochet back and forth between skyrocketing and dropping as the stake hits the heart, and the consequences of that staking play out. There will be wars and death and poverty and depression, because people won’t be willing to let go at any cost. They’ll even live in utter squaler before biting their pride and going back to more simple lifestyles, and even growing a simple garden! No lie, you can already see it playing out in the poverty areas around the world. The severity of such things will of course be determined largely by how quickly oil falls, or sources are cut off. But there will still be oil and other fuels. Our entire industrial landscape will be unfathomably altered, but it will still be there, running to the last, probably for generations to come, whatever it is that we have them producing.

    I hate everything that can ever be made with petroleum and plastics, but think of the life we could have if we hand picked the critical and essential jewels of our modern knowledge, and the knowledge still in development, and melded it with simpler more self-sufficient lifestyles, and actually built and kept things to last. The LED light bulb, the printing press, the telephone, polytunnels, glass and steel, water purification, essential surgeries in hospitals, even a basic and efficient essential goods transportation system. What if we not only excessively limited our consumption, but also redirected those essential wastes to safe reuse or inactivation?

    All the things you see as evils I see as just as evil. But over time I can now not ignore the realization that to hope just for total abandonment, including the good qualities, is a path to desolation and ruin in the reality of the world. That’s besides not salvaging the few good things to come out of the last centuries from good people. We are all in this together, there’s no escaping that.

    And the wisdom of ages is far from complete or idyllic. It can be destructive, toxic, and detrimental. A hundred times better than what we are doing now, but not exactly a sustainable paradise. Agricultural practices, for example, were not exactly perfect for the earth, humans, or sustainability, even compared to a decent organic farm now, let alone to the truly cutting edge of growing food and building soil out there. We know so much now, and we have such incredible potential tools, but we simply aren’t using them.

    And I would give my left nut, no lie, to go to an ecovillage and live my life out there, but we are all in this together, and no ecovillage will be able to survive if the society and government around it collapsed or came for it. It’s isolation is a product of the luxury of modern life – laws, communication, stable government, protection, and a society that is well off enough to be civil and apathetic.

    It’s all a great conundrum that turns my brain in knots even now. How can I accept even the tiniest bit of toxin to be produced? Or the tiniest product not brought from the plant and returned to the soil? It’s unfathomable for me to even consider it, as I am a perfectionist and an extremist in personality and my focus is on permaculture and a toxin free, natural world. But I can’t escape these thoughts anymore. It’s that foreboding grey in the landscape of black and white that tears you up with shifts and questions. And the harsh truth is oil and energy is here to stay, only the gluttony will change, and the way we use what’s left, and what little we can continually renew.

    ~~~~

    But looking back at this lighting issue. Probably 90% of the average household’s non-refridgerator electricity is used on everything besides lights, all of which is essentially a total waste. Of that remaining 10%, they don’t even need to use 95% of it on lights, much of which could be eliminated by shutting off or getting rid of unnecessary lighting, and switching the remaining lighting to compact florescents. Now they could eliminate an even larger chunk of that last bit by switching to LEDs, and really focusing the lighting needs. And in a year or two, that could be divided down even more times as the rapid advance of technology continues. And one LED lightbulb and one solar panel or windmill or micro-hydro could last you for decades.

    Of course, if you aren’t concerned about the long term (or short term depending on your physiology) health effects of all those smoke particles filling the air, then it wouldn’t matter, and candles and such are the obvious choice. But air quality is one of those things that weren’t exactly idyllic in the times of old (not that it necessarily is now), and respiratory problems and cancer rates and even headaches aren’t exactly dissappearing. It’s already shown that plants in the home lead to positive changes in health due to their ability to clean the air.

    But a lot of people still have that blah attitude towards such health issues just like many do towards sustainability, peak oil, and the degredation of the environment. But the problems still exist, and the sources of the problems are still right there in front of us.

    So I posed the question partly saying, considering the downsides of both avenues, is it really worth to potentially compromise health when you could be helping improve it instead?

    I hope you don’t take offense to any of my comments, but after reading your reply, I had to reply myself. I do love candles, but they soon give me a headache in closed spaces, and so rarely use them anymore. I’ve heard this complaint from others as well.

    Also interesting is the concept natural sleep cycles, and how the advent of unnatural (as in not the sun) lighting has thrown our entire system out of wack. It’s very interesting, and they have shown how radically different our natural sleeping patterns are when deprived of such lighting.

  11. Roger Gray says:

    Unfortunately, and I am not sure, but human urine on the compost may make it illegal to sell anything you grow . . . not sure of that, but entirely possible. While I am sure you are healthy, accidentally poorly composted human urine can contain pathogens that can be fatal or severely damaging to infants — where they would not bother an adult. Be very careful here, neh?

    No need to post this . . . but a thought . . .

  12. Anais says:

    Roger

    Thanks for your comments. The urine would be put into a seperate composter and would not be used on any vegetables (should have mentioned that in my post) Sometimes I forget to cover all the bases.

    Check out http://www.liquidgoldbook.com/

  13. Joshua Parkinson says:

    Cogratulations on the composting toilet. It is a goal of mine when I get my own home! Along with a make-shift greywater system. Will probably have to be done under the radar though.

    I coincidentally just read an article in the latest Permaculture Activist magazine about a big permaculture cooperative in Austin, TX that wanted to have a very public composter. They found out that Austin allows the toilets themselves, as long as they meet national guidelines, but that there was a stupid arbitrary law in the city that if the property was nearer than a hundred feet to any sewage access, you had to attatch ALL toilets to it. They ended up getting a large parcel of brownfield though that had enough span in it to locate one outside that distance. All these regulations get so frustrating, it can make you not even want to try to venture into these kinds of things!

  14. Anais says:

    Hi Joshua

    Thank you for your indepth posting. Sorry if my reply sounded to “preachy.” I am so used to defending our path to people that sometimes I get a little carried away.

    I see your points. It’s frustrating since the path and choices aren’t very clear. I mean here I am using a computer to tout our “simple life.”

    I forgot to add that fact about natural sleep cycles. I believe I posted sometime back about how light affects health.

    Sustainably combining old and new ways will be a dilemma that we are going to have to face.

    I agree, companies don’t value making things that last. If they made EE appliances that lasted 20 years ( I think we have the technology to do that?) then perhaps there wouldn’t be so much waste. Alot has to do with our wasteful consumption – buying new things all the time (even when the old ones are “bad” we are just “tired” of them)

    I recently saw a 60 minutes segment on MCMANSIONS — unbelieveable! 12,000 square foot house for three people and the lady of the house said it was too small! These houses are becoming more and more prevalent throughout the country.

    And then there are those with solar panels on their huge homes who live with every modern gadget and luxury. Our gluttony of consumption will have to be diverted to more sustainable projects.

    I hate living in such a grey area like you so rightly mentioned. I wish it was easy as black and white.

    In the meantime, I guess all we can do is do the best we can with any and all sustainable options that are available and learn to be flexible and adapt to whatever the situation.

  15. gerry medland says:

    Hi Joshua,
    I have read thru your comments with great interest and I have to agree that your points are valid and challenging.We are all travellers and however we decide to travel is entirely of our own free will,as the song goes,’there are more questions than answers’I hope and wish that you find your answers.In the meantime I look forward to future posts by your good self,it is always a positive exercise to gather information,I believe that it is the use of information correctly that will play a key part on my personal path.Thanx for sharing valuable input………

  16. Anais says:

    Thanks for the congrats! Fine way to celebrate our 6 yr anniversary.

    Lucky for us, the City of Pasadena doesn’t yet have any laws on the books regarding compost toilets. We called them up and they said they didn’t see a problem with it!

    🙂

  17. Anais says:

    Great to see such vital discussion! Keep it coming, we all can learn from everyone’s POV.