JSTOR: A History of Human Waste As Fertilizers

In eighteenth-century Japan, human waste served a critical role in local agricultural production says JSTOR Daily. Their question in the recent article on sanitation history: can similar solutions help manage waste today?

In the 1700s, Japanese community members saw human waste as a valuable substance for their crops and a viable tool for soil restoration and food security. It was so esteemed that landlords actually owned the rights to it and stealing the waste was a punishable crime! At this moment in history, the valorization of waste in the country put Japan’s sanitation miles ahead of European countries facing public health and hygiene challenges.

That’s when sewer-based sanitation comes into the picture. “As a short-term solution, Western sanitation saved millions of lives, but in the long term, it may prove to be far from ideal. It is also expensive and resource-intensive. It requires large amounts of water, complex machinery, and energy, which is typically derived from fossil fuels.” These expensive and resource-intensive sewer systems are also infeasible for rapidly expanding urban neighborhoods with high water tables, contested land tenure, and limited space. What might be more ideal?

SOIL’s safely treats and composts human waste in a way that is “similar to the Japanese farmers—and then uses it to enrich the country’s depleted lands,” says JSTOR. “Combining the benefits of Western sanitation and Japanese sewage recycling,” SOIL and fellow members of the Container-Based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA) are showing the world how to tackle the urban sanitation crisis while revalorizing waste and responding to tough environmental challenges.

Click here to read the original article to learn more about the fascinating history of the use of human waste as compost and how SOIL and CBSA practitioners are devising a better way. Go compost!

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