Farmers want your human waste.

The BBC radio 4 programme, Farming Today says that farmers are using increasing amounts of human waste to fertilise their crops, as the cost of conventional fertiliser – which is closely linked to the price of oil – has shot up over the past year.

Water companies are trying to get rid of their treated sewage as they are no longer allowed to dump it into the sea. The farmers are taking all they can get. This practice is regulated under the The Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989.

China and Japan have long traditions of re-using human waste as fertilizer. In England, as recently as the 19th century, “nightmen” would take human waste from backyards to sell to farmers.

Approximately 1.3M tonnes of sewage sludge (dry solids) was produced in 2006. The processes used for treating domestic effluent in septic tanks also produce an organic sludge. For both, the options for use or disposal are mostly restricted to treatment, followed by either:

β€’ use as a soil conditioner (biosolids)
β€’ incineration
β€’ landfill

Defra and UK Water Industry Research carried out what are referred to as the long-term sludge experiments, from 1994 to 2005, examine the effects of heavy metals from sewage sludge on soil micro-organisms. The Environment Agency has the following roles;

  • enforce the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1998
  • inspect water companies sludge registers every year
  • carry out farm inspections to make sure the sludge is being applied in accordance with the regulations and with the Code of Practice for the Agricultural Use of Sewage Sludge

So, you see it’s well controlled and smart use of your personal resource. Next time you plop a potato onto your dinner plate be proud of that personal contribution you’ve made to UK farming today. πŸ™‚

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16 Responses to Farmers want your human waste.

  1. the Grit says:

    Hi,
    The main problem with using human waste as fertilizer is that it absolutely has to be sterilized before application to the fields. Otherwise, there is a tremendous danger of spreading disease, as can be seen from our current ecoli outbreaks. There is also the potential that something like Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, Mad Cow Disease, could crop up. Still, making use of available resources, with caution, is a good thing.

    the Grit

    • Ann Roberts says:

      if human waste was used last week in Bangor there was a terrible disgusting smell all over the area .

  2. matt says:

    I forgot to mention it has to be worked into the soil within 24hrs too.

    So, I wonder, does that mean spreading the muck from the backsides of the BigMac generation will produce a crop of clean, shiny burgers ripe for the picking. πŸ™‚

  3. earthpal says:

    Boys and their toilet humour. πŸ˜€

    Yes, another seemingly great and natural waste solution. And the pathogens that Grit mentions would be dealt with by dehydration.

    Great website here:
    http://www.tve.org/ho/doc.cfm?aid=573

    Even us “superior” humans are part of the eco-system but modern life has caused us to abandon the role we have in the natural cycle of life.

  4. the Grit says:

    Hi earthpal,

    Not necessarily. Many disease causing bacteria can go into a dormant state, the name of which escapes me at the moment, that can resist extreme environmental conditions for years. Remember that bacteria were found, still alive, in the tombs of Egyptian mummies after being sealed in for thousands of years. The only sure, and practical, way to make human waste safe for use as fertilizer is to heat it to at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of ten to twenty minutes. In this area, it’s much better to be absolutely safe than really sorry.

    the Grit

  5. earthpal says:

    Yes, you are riht Grit, it’s better to be absolutely sure. In all honesty I don’t know enough about the resistance of pathogenic faecal bacteria to form an opinion. I know that bacteria can grow under increased temperatures but not all bacteria is bad anyway. And dehydration will kill off some pathogens.

    This is what WHO say:

    Dry sanitation or ecosanitation as it is called, can provide viable alternatives to water-borne sewerage in some areas. Dry sanitation approaches usually require the separation of urine and faeces. Urine which generally poses little threat to human health, also contains most of the nutrients (88% of the nitrogen, 67% of the phosphorus, and 71% of the potassium) (Wolgast, 1993; Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, 1995). Separation of urine allows it to be used safely as a fertiliser after minimal treatment. Similarly, faeces which contains most of the pathogens, also can be safely used as a fertiliser after storage at ambient temperatures for two years or composting at high-temperatures for six months (WHO, 1996; Mara and Cairncross, 1989). Several types of dry-sanitation systems have been used in China, central America, Sweden and elsewhere.

    http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/sanitproblems/en/index4.html

  6. earthpal says:

    Matt, will you check your spam box please. I sent a comment here and it hasn’t appeared. Thanks chux.

    EP – Got it. Not sure what’s going on with spam filter. Have checked settings. Your’s (with only one link) should have got through. Damned nusiance. Maybe Microsoft’s new patch is over riding WordPress!

  7. paula says:

    Hi,

    I am pleased to read your information regarding human waste and conditions it must be in before spreading onto the land I witnessed my neighbour land owner/pretend farmer spread his own & untreated human septic contains onto the an joining field which is next to my own cottage which is nestled in a small hamlet of 20 cottages here in Yorkshire. I am not sure and will be quite shocked to learn that this is legal or even allowed I was completely stunned that this human waste is used at all for fertilizer. In this case we feel he was just getting rid of his own waste as a cost issue more than anything to do with being interested in environment.

    I would be interested to hear any comments about this.

    Many thanks Paula

  8. matt says:

    If the waste wasn’t heat treated then you should contact Environmental Health at your local council. They may put you onto a central agency.

  9. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    It might be of interest to you that, in our latest round of earmark spending, several million tax dollars have been allocated to support a project called, and this is not a joke, “poop to power.”

    the Grit

  10. Jill says:

    I’ve never in my life heard anything so disgusting! I can’t believe that our body bowel waste (being polite as I can here) is used to fertilize food!!!!!

    How bliddy filthy? And it’s no bliddy wonder we have out breaks of ecoli and other disgusting infections that “can’t be explained”! *rolleyes*

    Well, I can explain it now, our food/land/environment and the air we breath is filled with poop! That’s why! *angry*

  11. matt says:

    Understand your thoughts entirely Jill but it’s heat treated to kill the bugs.

  12. Clive says:

    We would all prefer not to s..t. And those about us who ‘go’ every day are low types. But sh…ing is a wonderful, natural process (as distinct from eating Macca’s) which takes from our bodies the dead bacteria that have kept us alive by doing their duty in our gut. And if we had the (uncommon) common sense to eat the plain whole foods that our grandmothers cooked – eschewing all the drugs and additives we so enjoy – then our c..p would be much more user friendly than it is. With the right soil profile and some other considerations, it could be piped untreated – yes untreated – straight onto suitably timbered (flora covered) areas and left to do it’s next round of duty, for the flora. Compared with waste dumps at mining sites – we won’t even consider nuclear waste – the human waste, so handled, is almost a piece of cake within a few weeks of hitting the ground. Those of us don’t s..t would be offended by the pong but, hey….

    It’s quite a lot like death really. These days we ‘pass’ rather than dying and we generally go six feet under or get burnt. Going that far under is silly. This is at last being realised, with shallower burials in cardboard boxes under flora cover being encouraged by the enlightened. Great natural stuff, using the carcase this way. Getting burnt is truly disgusting and will have to be curtailed eventually, just like all the chemicals we currently apply to our s..t in the treatment centres.

  13. Michele says:

    I understand the cost effectiveness for farmers but what about air quality?
    This odor hangs in the air and only lightens up through the winter and then comes back again in the spring with such a strong odor! This is unfair to those who life around these farm fields and choose not to farm this way. You can’t even enjoy being outside because of the stinch! So, much for having family and friends over. You become a prisoner in and around your home. Never ot leave the windows open again due to this foul odor!!
    Some one please help, we are gagging!!!

  14. Andy says:

    I agree with you about the stench, its disgusting and it gets in the clothes my wife hangs out to dry. So much so she has to rewash them and try and dry them indoors. I don’t mind if it was treated for the smell along with all the other treatments it is supposed to go through but its like everything else if it costs the farmer money then some of them will always cut corners.

  15. Maxine says:

    We have a farmer local to us who is using this disgusting fertilizer, and you are absolutley correct, IT STINKS.

    The whole of last summer we couldnt sit out in our garden because the smell was foul. Not only was the smell disgusting the amount of flies was also out of control.

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