By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Officials at West Virginia’s Camp Creek State Park may have hit upon an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way of dealing with human waste. At a cost of less than $1,000, park workers are installing so-called micro-flush toilets, doing away with the old-time privy system. Along the way, they’re giving employment opportunities to thousands – of worms.
The old privy system was simply a hole in the ground. Use the toilet and walk away. Trouble is, human waste is not only stinky, it’s particularly attractive to flies. The micro-flush toilet is a simple design wherein human waste drops, not into a dirt hole, but onto a slanted grate. The grate is covered over with topsoil, straw, and a not-so-secret ingredient: Live red wiggler worms. The waste that drops into the system is separated – liquids go out to a tiny leach field. The solids are composted with the help of the worms. In practice, after you’ve made your deposit, and washed up with a small amount of water, the toilet is flushed, washing the toilet bowl with a mere eight ounces of rainwater (collected in roof-top cisterns).
The waste and water fall into the medium below, and the wiggler worms immediately set to work converting human waste into clean, environmentally friendly and unstinky topsoil. There is no need to hire an outside firm to come in and pump the poo; rather, every few years workers simply dig out the “composted” material and spread it around locally. Cost effective? Certainly!
The idea isn’t new: The micro-flush system has been used in Ghana for years, where it has not only improved ‘life’s niceties,’ but improved the health of thousands, by breaking the disease cycle where insects would multiply in waste, then take on humans as hosts. Here’s a more detailed explanation from the Global Sustainable Aid Project.