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An evaluation of waterless human waste management systems at North American public remote sites

Hill, B. G. (2013)

Published in: 2013
Pages: 191

PhD thesis, University of British Columbia (Vancouver), Canada

Hill, B. G.

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danijela milosevic

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The absence of sewers and roads at backcountry sites makes the management of human excreta offensive, intensive, and expensive. Proper management is essential in order to prevent deleterious pathogen and nutrient discharge. The dearth of resources, vague certification standards, absence of monitoring, and erroneous popular perception have caused misapplication of systems and mismanagement of end products. Elevated environmental impacts, human health risks, and management costs have resulted. The diversion of urine from urinals and by urine diversion seats significantly reduced the mass of helicopter extracted excrement. However, until a more robust urine diversion system is developed that does not clog, only urine from urinals should be diverted.

Composting toilets failed to produce safe, stable, and mature end-product at all sites surveyed.
They should be re-named sawdust toilets, following European nomenclature, to avoid further
confusion. Performance was dramatically improved with urine diversion, elimination of
bulking agent, and optimization for vermicomposting. Despite improving mineralization and
reduction of volatile solids, operating costs, exposure risk, and E. coli, Eisenia fetida
earthworms did not reduce Ascaris suum ova concentration or viability. Vermicomposting
toilets, unlikely to produce residuals approved for unrestricted discharge, should be designed
to minimize waste, costs, hazards, and environmental impacts. This approach is seemingly
opposite from sawdust toilets, which at considerable cost, strive against unfavorable
biochemistry and thermodynamics to produce ‘compost’ for onsite disposal despite
precautionary federal regulations.
Solvita® test paddles, useful in the assessment of end-product, could be used with
vermicomposting toilets, to ensure low ammonia is present in feedstock (values 4-5) and to
ensure stability (values 7-8) prior to disposal.

Pit toilets, commonly excavated to depths greater than seasonal high ground water, carried the
greatest risk of pollution. These were conceptually redesigned to prevent disease
transmission and treat nutrients with septic fields. In order to reduce the risks of
eutrophication and ammonia toxicity, fields should: be oversized by at least a factor of 10
based on daily urine output; maximize the depth of unsaturated soil with curtain drains where
necessary; lie >60m from surface water; and where appropriate use natural wetlands such as
moist, acidic, productive and phenotypically plastic graminoid meadows.

Bibliographic information

Hill, B. G. (2013). An evaluation of waterless human waste management systems at North American public remote sites. PhD thesis, University of British Columbia (Vancouver), Canada

Filter tags

Case studies in other formats Composting, vermicomposting (solid waste), composting toilets English North America Rural


An evaluation of waterless human waste management systems at North American public remote sites

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