Rumble Pie | Deep Ecology Blog

Rumble Pie #4
Cradle-to-Cradle Composting

BEING EMBEDDED in this industrial paradigm makes it difficult to acknowledge the underlying assumptions of our cradle-to-grave culture, much less challenge them. Surrounded by processes in which living things are packaged as products and rendered lifeless, it's easy to forget that every other species on the planet -- and every other previous human culture -- will increase its own standard of living and improve the quality of its ecosystem at the same time. If you live in the City of Toronto or its outlying areas, then you probably can't see the futuristic forest for the technological trees. But if we don't step up and manifest some collective culture-change quickly, then pretty soon we won't be able to see the forest or any trees -- both figuratively and literally.

SO WHILE IT MAY be hard to believe, an revolutionary old-new approach to transporting our toilet waste has now achieved legal status in North America, and it just may mean a most decisive development for our civilization. Last week, the largest daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, the American-Statesman, reported that city officials there have finally granted official municipal-level approval for the very first permitted composting toilet system in an urban area in the United States. Up until now, a few urban eco-freaks have installed industrially manufactured composting toilets in their homes, but the contingent of hard-core ecologists who insist upon simple systems have had to compost covertly. But now the pioneering Rhizome Collective has established a legal precedent by building a D-I-Y two-chamber humanure composter that's open to the public.

AUSTIN?! YES, AUSTIN -- it may be a hippie haven, but it's certainly not marginal; strangely enough, it is the state capital of conservative Texas. Austin has a population of over three-quarters of a million people, making it about as big as San Francisco, and it is the second-fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States; but it's also the largest city in the USA without a major league sports franchise. Instead, it is the birthplace of and home to the corporate headquarters of Whole Foods, the largest retailer of organic and unprocessed foods on the continent, and MSNBC has called Austin the greenest city in America. So it's no small wonder that this new eco-innovation has sprouted out of its fertile fields. But it's also important enough on the national scene to command credibility, meaning that other urban areas could copy Austin, its compost code could be replicated elsewhere.

NAMING THEMSELVES after the expanding underground root systems that send up above-ground shoots to form vast bamboo networks that are notoriously difficult to uproot, the Rhizome Collective has been doing grass-roots research and development into the most pressing ecological challenges of our generation for over a decade now. Last year, Rhizome founders Scott Kellogg and Stacey Pettigrew authored Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide. This important book is inspiring us at Green Apple to seriously consider revamping our entire business model and expanding our services in the future to include more edible landscaping, ecological infrastructure, and radical bioremediation. We are appreciative of Rhizome's accomplishments and the progressive political path that they have trailblazed for us all.

BUT IT IS PENNSYLVANIAN Joseph Jenkins that deserves the most amount of credit for this bureaucratic breakthrough. Fifteen years ago, he wrote what would become a foundational text of the modern environmental movement, the Humanure Handbook. In easy-to-read everyday language, he proposed that instead of using perfectly good and increasingly valuable drinking water as a transportation system for our feces waste, that we reconceptualize it as a resource, facilitating fertilizer production as a form of micro-husbandry, like bread-, wine- or cheese-making. Amazingly, Jenkins believes so strongly in his biotic Bible that he has even formatted it for the web and published it online freely for our benefit. Check out the full contents of the book here, and find much more at Humanure Handbook dot com; we are all in debt to this ecological genius.

THIS YEAR AT GREEN APPLE, in order to minimize the inconvenience to our clients, we decided to rent a portable toilet for our onsite work crews. But we're unsatisfied with its performance and the pollution that we are ultimately responsible for. And so we've made a decision to transition to a commercially-produced compost toilet system that we will install ourselves onto a trailer that we can transport from project to project. We are still in the midst of deciding which specific make and model is best suited to our specific needs. But the news out of Austin is reason enough to celebrate small victories, and it gives us a good kick in the butt to expedite our own humanure composting plans. We are publicly committing to make the changeover this season, and once we have it operational, we will proudly post photos of our handiwork online.