Mark Nelson does not want you to flush your poo. Why, he’d ask you, are you using perfectly good drinking water to carry perfectly good fertilizer out to pollute (formerly) perfectly good waterways?
Seriously, not only does even my low-flow toilet waste a gallon or two of water with every poop, but septic systems like mine are also apparently notorious groundwater polluters, claims Nelson, and this all while I’m buying fertilizer from the store and spending several mornings a week outside using, again, perfectly good drinking water to water my plants.
In The Wastewater Gardener (given to me by the publicist), Mark Nelson, a former inhabitant of Biosphere 2, makes the case that our feces taboo is holding us back from economic and environmental improvements, as well as inhibiting our ability to aid those in need around the world. You can’t just rescue valuable poop from the sewage treatment plant and hand it out as fertilizer, because by then it’s been polluted by medicines, metals, and whatever else people think it’s okay to flush down their drains. It’s wastewater gardening at the individual and small community level, then, that can unlock these improvements, allowing us to conserve water, grow more crops even in undesirable locations, and avoid the contamination of natural resources.
For those who want to try wastewater gardening at home, Nelson offers specific instructions for projects like composting with humanure, which is apparently especially excellent for growing trees. The more enterprising among us can research constructed wetlands as a source of water treatment and hydroponic gardening, or join the international Wastewater Gardens movement.
If you’re not yet ready for any of those suggestions, however, Nelson still has a starting point for you: simply conserve water. Use low-water appliances, and consider matching the quality of water that you do use to its purpose. Clean, fresh, pure water is for drinking, cooking, and bathing, but water captured from your shower, or the latest rainfall, is excellent for watering plants.
And just keep that idea of the composting toilet in the back of your mind for when you *are* ready to try it.
[I received a free copy of The Wastewater Gardener from the publicist, because I can’t review something if it hasn’t made me seriously consider putting a poop garden out behind my house.]