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taking temperature of compost
Thermophilic Composting of Human Manure in Pennsylvania, USA.
Overview Thermophilic (hot) composting of human manure renders it hygienic and safe to use as a valuable fertilizer for food gardens.
Scale household, farm, community
Location Barkeyville, Pennsylvania, USA (79.5W, 41.31N)
Elevation Elevation 305 to 610 meters
Climate Humid Continental, warm summers (Daf - G.T. Trewartha)
Agricultural Region Dairy Farming (L)
Population Density 17-35 persons / square kilometer
Principal Crops Vegetable crops (Brassica sp., Pisum sp., Phaseolus sp., Lycopersicon sp., Solanum sp., Capsicum sp., Allium sp., Cucurbita sp., Zea mays, etc.)
Domestic Animals ducks and chickens
Soils Gray-Brown Podzolic, Inceptisol, Ochrepts (5)
Natural Vegetation Mixed broadleaf deciduous and needleleaf evergreen trees (M)
Ecoregion Eastern broadleaf forest (Oceanic) Province (221)
Basic Principles addressed Use Renewable Resources, Conserve Resources, Manage Ecological Relationships, Empower People, Manage Whole Systems, Maximize Long-Term Benefits, Value Health
Page Author and Date Claire Anderson



The conversion of human manure to humus is known as "thermophilic" (hot) composting, which involves the cultivation of heat-loving microorganisms in the composting process. These organisms, which include bacteria and fungi, create an environment in the compost which destroys disease organisms in human manure, converting it into a user-friendly, pleasant-smelling humus safe for food gardens. In residential situations, human manure can be collected in a sawdust toilet, which can be as simple as a five gallon bucket. A sawdust toilet is one component in a three-component system, consisting of the toilet itself, a clean, organic cover material (such as rotted sawdust, peat moss, leaf mould, or grass clippings), and a compost bin. Each deposit in the sawdust toilet is followed by the addition of a carbonaceous cover material, such as well-rotted sawdust or peat moss. The cover material acts as a biological filter, suppressing odor, and aids in attaining a proper carbon-nitrogen ratio for composting. When the bucket is full, it is emptied into an outdoor composting bin. The additions are immediately covered with a clean, bulky organic material such as straw, leaves, or weeds, which eliminates odors and entraps air as the pile is built. In addition to human manure, a mixture of materials, food scraps (including fats, oils and proteins), weeds, and grass is important to achieve thermophilic conditions. After the heating period, the compost is left to age to allow for further decomposition and for the destruction of any potential pathogens that may remain. 

lessons learned

Rich in nutrients, composted human manure is a valuable soil amendment that helps to maintain fertility and crop yields. Compost provides a multitude of benefits. Humus in composts helps stabilize the soil, reducing erosion, improving water holding capacity and soil structure, and creating air spaces in the soil. Humus also chelates some heavy metals and other contaminants and can act as a nutrient storehouse, slowly releasing nutrients to plants. Compost applications help support microbial populations that maintain soil health. Recovering and recycling nutrients in human manure by composting, instead of disposing them as sewage, helps eliminate the pollution of surface waters with nitrogen and phosphorus. When composted using thermophilic methods, human manure poses virtually no health risk, as disease organisms are destroyed by heat and aging. Human manure composting can be applied at the community level as well. In some areas of Europe and Canada, municipalities collect organic materials, such as food scraps, yard materials, and paper products from individual homes, combine them at a centralized location, and use thermophilic composting to generate compost. More and more nations are recognizing the value of recycling organic materials by composting. As population densities increase, the ballooning amounts of organic refuse will have to be dealt with responsibly and constructively. 

principles illustrated

Use Renewable Resources

Human manure is a readily available, renewable on-site resource.

Conserve Resources

Returning human manures to the soil conserves and recycles nutrients within local ecosystems.

Manage Ecological Relationships

Recycling human manures links human back into the ecosystems that support them. Composting supports a wide array of macro- and microorganisms in soils, enhancing soil health and likely helping to prevent plant disease.

Empower People

Human manure composting creates valuable fertilizers by a simple process that is achievable by anyone, accomplished without money, electricity, or high technology.

Manage Whole Systems

Recycling organic materials by thermophilic composting maintains natural processes of nutrient cycling within ecosystems, and eliminates the concept of excrement as "waste."

Maximize Long-Term Benefits

Thermophilic composting of human manure can be carried out over the long-term without stressing ecosystems, consuming external resources, or producing garbage or sludge for our landfills, preventing the accumulation of pathogenic wastes, while helping to build soil fertility and organic matter resources.

Value Health

Human manure composts can help sustain soil health, which, in turn, sustains the plants we rely on to maintain human health. Environmental health is sustained by adhering to the principles of nutrient cycling and by eliminating a potential source of pollution. 


composting toilet

A hinged-top sawdust toilet in an urban home. All deposits (urine and feces) are collected in the five gallon bucket and covered with a clean, organic material (such as well-rotted sawdust or peat moss). Toilet paper and the cardboard tubes are also discarded into the bucket for composting.

For more info on sawdust toilets, visit:

compost bins After the bucket is full, it is emptied into the outdoor compost bins and covered with a clean, coarse organic material, such as straw or weeds. The bucket is cleaned and rinsed with a mild soap and water solution and the rinse water is poured back onto the pile.  
composting Along with human manure, organic yard and kitchen materials (including meats, fats and oils) are added to the compost pile. The product of the natural processes of thermophilic composting and aging: an hygienic, nutrient-rich fertilizer, safe for use in food gardens.