Human Waste Streams: Opportunities and Regulations

Your Bodily Waste Streams

As I mentioned in my previous post, Homestead Upcycling: How to Profit from Waste Streams, the idea of doing something constructive with waste streams is an exciting concept I picked up in a permaculture design course.  Humans generate many different kinds of waste: some of it comes from our homes and ends up in a landfill, and some of it comes from our bodies and ends up in sewers or septic tanks.

Bodily waste streams can be repurposed, just like household waste streams can be repurposed. Urine can be used for fertilizer; and poop can be used to generate methane or composted as fertilizer.

Rethinking Your Human Waste

We should also talk about the water that is normally used to move all of these bodily materials away from the house. In addition to toilet water – our sinks, showers, and washing machines waste water as well.

The water from bathroom sinks, showers, and washing machines is often referred to as “gray water.” Gray water can be good for irrigation, as long as you don’t put it directly on the food you plan to eat. The water from toilets and kitchen sinks is referred to as “black water” because of the additional organic materials it contains.

When I started thinking about the design for the house we would be building on our new land, I immediately started looking for ways to minimize the amount of water we use – and I also found several ways to repurpose much of the water that we do need to use.

Read more: Alternative Strategies for a Disrupted Water Supply

Composting Toilets and Local Laws

To minimize water usage, you can start with composting toilets.  This can be as simple as a large bucket with sawdust in the bottom and a seat on top.  You can certainly get away with this when you’re camping, but it can be more difficult when you have to deal with government authorities and regulations.

I checked the state laws regarding composting toilets in Florida, where I live. Amazingly, the state will let you have a composting toilet, but the law only allows two specific types. I researched both types. One was more complicated and expensive than the other, so you can guess which one I decided to use for my new house!

So, it would make sense that if we could have a composting toilet to handle our solid waste, then we would be allowed to bypass using a septic tank and just irrigate our gardens and fruit trees with the liquids, right?


Check the Laws About Septic Systems Too!

At one time, Florida did allow its residents to use gray water for subsurface irrigation. But that changed in 2009, and it is now illegal. Here’s what we are faced with now: we are being required to install a septic tank, and we are required to bury our composted poop six inches below the ground each time it’s ready to be removed from the house.

As disappointing as this is, I can still use permaculture principles to turn problems into solutions!

If I put the septic tank (which can be smaller because the toilets won’t be dumping into it) in an area where I intend to pasture goats and chickens, the liquid will irrigate that area. And deeper down, the trees in that area will benefit as well.

Read more: 9 Simple Ways Anyone Can Conserve Water

Collecting and Storing Rainwater

Although I won’t be able to use as much of my gray water as I had hoped, I will be able to replace some of it by using collected rainwater to irrigate my gardens. At least they haven’t made that illegal!

And I can store the rainwater in the gabion (rock-filled wire cage) walls of our garage, thus keeping it elevated so that a pump won’t be needed.

The moral of this story is: Whatever your ideas, make sure they are legal before investing your time and money to build something that you’ll have to destroy later; and don’t give up when you run into obstacles – there are always creative ways to turn each problem into a solution!

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This post was written by Karen the Newbie Homesteader


  • m5th says:

    Can you explain how this is set up with maybe some pictures? I love in Florida too and our house is concrete block.
    Store the rainwater in the gabion (rock-filled wire cage) walls of our garage, thus keeping it elevated so that a pump won’t be needed.


  • Faith says:

    I live in Mexico where the reason contamination problems exist (I am told) is due to the closeness of the (BLACK and grey) waste water to the intake water. So I see the wisdom in the laws regulating disposal of human waste, something that the ancient Israelites of Moses day were expected to do for the same reason – to prevent contamination and the disease that comes along with it.

  • Janet says:

    A barrel with several holes drilled around it and a pvc pipe coming off it can act as a septic tank for the human liquid waste. The pvc pipe would stick out of the ground with a removable cap that would allow you to pour the liquid through. The holes in the barrel beneath the ground would allow leakage and irrigation in the area where your chickens or other livestock stays. I built my box gardens THEN got the rain barrels. I now wish I had planned better and placed the box gardens closer to the rain barrels so I could run soaker hoses off the barrels with more efficiency. The rain barrels are a true blessing walking around the house you can tell where the water runs off the most. Rain barrels can be made attractive or boxed with attractive trellis to blend more into the landscaping. Also look for the 55 gal. my first one was made from a 35 gal Rubbermaid trash can and in just a small shower it is filled. I haven’t yet purchased any gold fish, but what I read gold fish are the answer to maintaining a mosquito free environment with standing water in the rain barrels. And the survive the winters some how ???. I live in Central FL. and appreciate the info shared, upon remodeling I too planned on a composting toilet. I spent $1,500. right after I moved in on a new drain system. I wish now I had spent it on a composting toilet…oh well, you live and learn.

  • Dori says:

    We left FL for many of these reasons. Now you are not even allowed to camp on your own property in some places. (and I’m not talking about in town residential areas, I mean more than 10 acres.) We have since moved to amore friendly environment where we can do as we choose on OUR land. Even though I was born and raised in FL, I do not agree with most of their laws and rules for housing. I guess it was good that we moved away, now no complaining to the neighbors.

  • CL says:

    Can anyone recommend a good rain barrel? I live in OK and would have to drain it for winters….is there a good site to learn how and where to place them and how to care for them?

  • Cindy Mantooth says:

    CL – Google ‘Collapsible Rain Barrel’ and it will bring up the ones that I purchased. I bought two 45 gal. sizes and placed them on old pallets. You’ll need a way to raise it off the ground so you can use the spigot for your hose to collect the rainwater. We placed our two under downspouts and used those accordion shaped bendable downspout directional hoses to direct the water to the top of the rain barrels. I used a scrap piece of window screen to keep out most of the debris that ran off the roof. We disconnected our downspouts where they attach to the side of the house and installed the hoses there. The hoses can be directed away from the house in the winter. We store the rain barrels out of the weather during the winter.

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