Sunday, 7 February 2010

Humanure; The potential for composted sewage in Organic Agricultural systems

This morning I am pondering the potential use of human manure in organic cropping systems. The loss of all the basic essential soil elements and organic carbon could be significantly reduced through the application of composted human sewage. In most of the world the industrial waste water is now separated from the residential. Could this heavy metal and chemical-free composted sewage be used on organic fields?

In Global Development of Organic Agriculture: Challenges and Prospects the authors hint at the potential for the use of composted human wastes claiming the tremendous benefits to the soil. This topic is also hinted at in the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) Growing Organic Web Pages. Reclaiming these lost of nutrients in the urban sewage treatment systems could easily be enough to renew the fertility of the world's agricultural soils.

Most people do not agree.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) strongly recommends that sewage sludge NOT be allowed in organic systems claiming the content of dangerous chemicals, detergents etc. In Eco Living Solutions the authors are strongly against the use of human wastes in agricultural systems claiming high chemical and heavy metal content. In many places around the world, including Nova Scotia, farmers, activists and political parties are fighting against the use of sewage sludge on farmland.

The primary problem with this discussion is that much of the data is from 1988 or older. Urban sewage treatment systems have changed significantly in much of the world since then. Opening up this debate could help re-design the way sewage is treated and recycled. The benefits to farm systems, food production and the poisoned and over-nutrified aquatic eco-systems could be significant.
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