Application of Pit Humus and Compost

Compost is the soil-like substance resulting from the controlled aerobic degradation of organics. Pit humus is the term used to describe the material removed from a double pit technology (double ventilated improved pit, fossa alterna or twin pits for pour flush toilets) because it is produced passively underground and has a slightly different composition than compost. Both products can be used as soil conditioners.

The process of thermophilic (high-temperature) composting generates heat (50 to 80° C), which kills the majority of pathogens present. The composting process requires adequate carbon, nitrogen, moisture, and air. The Double VIP, Fossa Alterna or Twin Pits for Pour Flush are ambient-temperature variations of high-temperature composting. In these technologies, there is almost no increase in temperature because the conditions in the pit (oxygen, moisture, C:N-ratio) are not optimized for composting processes to take place. Because of this, the material is not actually ‘compost’ and is, therefore, referred to as ‘pit humus’.

The texture and quality of the pit humus depends on the materials, which have been added to the excreta (e.g., soil added to a Fossa Alterna) and the storage conditions.

WHO guidelines on excreta use in agriculture (Volume IV) stipulate that compost should achieve and maintain a temperature of 50° C for at least one week before it is considered safe to use. Achieving this value, however, requires a significantly longer period of composting. For technologies that generate pit humus, a minimum of 1 year of storage is recommended to eliminate bacterial pathogens and reduce viruses and parasitic protozoa. WHO guidelines should be consulted for detailed information.


Design Considerations

It has been shown that the productivity of poor soil can be improved by applying equal parts compost and top soil to it. The output from one Fossa Alterna should be sufficient for two 1.5 m by 3.5 m beds.

Appropriateness

Compost and pit humus can be beneficially used to improve the quality of soil. They add nutrients and organics and improve the soil’s ability to store air and water. They can be mixed into the soil before crops are planted, used to start seedlings or indoor plants, or simply mixed into an existing compost pile for further treatment. Vegetable gardens filled with pit humus from the Fossa Alterna have shown dramatic improvements over gardens planted without soil conditioner. The use of pit humus has even made agriculture possible in areas which otherwise would not have supported crops.

Health Apsects/Acceptance

A small risk of pathogen transmission exists, but, if in doubt, any material removed from the pit or vault can be further composted in a regular compost heap before being used or mixed with additional soil and put into a ‘tree pit’, i.e., a nutrient-filled pit used for planting a tree (see also small and large-scale composting). Compost and pit humus should not be applied to crops less than one month before they are harvested. This waiting period is especially important for crops that are consumed raw.

As opposed to sludge, which can originate from a variety of domestic, chemical and industrial sources, compost and pit humus have very few chemical inputs (see also pathogens and contaminants and health risk management). The only chemical sources that could contaminate compost or pit humus might originate from contaminated organic material (e.g., pesticides) or from chemicals that are excreted by humans (e.g., pharmaceutical residues). Compared to the chemicals that may find their way into wastewater sludge, compost and pit humus can be considered as less contaminated.

Compost and pit humus are inoffensive, earth-like products. Regardless, people might refrain from handling and using them. Conducting demonstration activities that promote hands-on experience can effectively show their non-offensive nature and their beneficial use (see also awareness raising).

Operation & Maintenance

The material must be allowed to adequately mature before being removed from the system. Then, it can be used without further treatment. Workers should wear appropriate protective clothing.

References

Further Readings

  • Cover image of a reference journal article.

    BALLIETT, A. (2007): Terra Preta. Magic Soil of the Lost Amazon. In: Acres U.S.A. The Voice of Eco-Agriculture 37, 16.URL [Accessed: 13.05.2010]. PDF

    This article provides detailed information on terra preta, the historical background and the latest ideas and theories of creating a synthetic terra preta.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    BERGER, W. (2011): Technology Review of Composting Toilets. Eschborn: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). URL [Accessed: 06.02.2012]. PDF

    This GIZ publication explains the design, use and operational requirements of composting toilets. Ample examples for composting toilets from around the world are included in the publication to show that these types of toilets have a wide range of applications under a variety of circumstances (for wealthy or poor people; for cold, hot, wet or dry climates; for urban or rural settings). The appendix contains a listing of suppliers.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    DRESCHER, S.; ZURBRUEGG, C.; ENAYETULLAH, I.; SINGHA, M.A.D. (2006): Decentralised Composting for Cities of Low- and Middle-Income Countries – A User’s Manual. Dhaka: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science (EAWAG), Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (SANDEC) and Waste Concern. URL [Accessed: 16.08.2010]. PDF

    This book describes approaches and methods of composting on neighbourhood level in small-and middle-scale plants. It considers issues of waste collection, composting technologies, management systems, occupational health concerns, product quality, marketing and end-user demands.

  • Cover image of a reference journal article.

    FACTURA, H.; BETTENDORF, T.; BUZIE, C.; PIEPLOW, H.; RECKIN, J.; OTTERPOHL, R. (2010): Terra Preta Sanitation: re-discovered from an ancient Amazonian civilisation - integrating sanitation, bio-waste management and agriculture. In: Water Science and Technology, accepted for publication. PDF

    The objective of this study was to investigate the suitability of terra preta sanitation (TPS) systems as an alternative sanitation option. The effects of lactic-aid conditions in urine-separation dry toilets and a subsequent treatment by vermicomposting are assessed. Research focused on analysing standard chemical and biochemical properties of the toilet products to evaluate their stability and maturity, and establish nutrient status.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    JENKINS, J. (2005): The Humanure Handbook. A Guide to Composting Human Manure. Grove City: Joseph Jenkins Inc. . URL [Accessed: 16.08.2010].

    A comprehensive book on recycling human excrement without chemicals, high technology or pollution. Well written, practical, and thoroughly researched, this self-published book is built on nearly twenty years of experience by the author, who tells us about every aspect of dealing with excrement on the home-scale level. Only available for free as web book.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MANGAN, F.; BARKER, A.; BODINE, S. ; BORTEN, P. (n.y.): Compost Use and Soil Fertility. PDF

    This paper gives information on compost maturity and compost quality.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MORGAN, P. (2004): Plant Trials Using Fossa Alterna Humus. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF

    The ultimate proof of the usefulness of eco-humus and urine in agriculture is to demonstrate its effect on plant growth and yield directly. This chapter describes a series of trials in which the growth and yield of vegetables planted in humus derived from the Fossa alterna were studied.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MORGAN, P. (2004): The Value of Leaves as and Additive of Fossa Alterna Pits. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 21.06.2013]. PDF

    This is a short description and findings of a trial adding leaves to fossa alterna pits. Leaves help the composting process considerably, by adding more air into the mix, and by adding a composting process undertaken largely by fungi to the already existing bacteriological process undertaken by soil micro-organisms.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MORGAN, P. (2010): Methods of Using "Toilet Compost" in Agriculture. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF

    This document gives a simple overview over toilet compost, its preparation and fields of application.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MORGAN, P.; EcoSanRes (Editor) (2007): Toilets That Make Compost . Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute. PDF

    This book describes in an easy-to-understand and picture-based way how to construct three different low cost sanitation solutions, namely arborloos, fossa alterna and urine diversion toilets.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MORGAN, P.; EcoSanRes (Editor) (2009): Ecological Toilets. (pdf presentation). Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute. PDF

    This book describes how to construct Arborloo toilets and how it can be upgraded to VIPs at a later stage.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    PREMAKUJMARA, D.G.H. (2000): Compost Bins as an Alternative Solution to the Problem of Household Waste Problem in Urban Areas. URL [Accessed: 05.08.2010]. PDF

    This paper describes a household composting project implemented by SEVENATHA in Dehiwala Mt. Levenia Municipal Council near Colombo in Sri Lanka with support from UNDP.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    ROUSE; ROTHENBERGER, S.; ZURBRUEGG, C. (2008): Marketing Compost. A Guide for Compost Producers in Low and Middle-Income Countries. Duebendorf: Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (SANDEC), Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science (EAWAG). URL [Accessed: 05.05.2010]. PDF

    This guide describes a marketing approach to composting, and is intended to help compost producers run more viable initiatives by unlocking the value of their product. The handbook does not cover everything there is to know about marketing, but starts with the basics and introduces the key principles and techniques. These include understanding the ‘marketing environment’, identifying appropriate target customer groups, and developing and promoting products to suit the market.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    SCHOENNING, C.; STENSTROEM, T. A. (Editor) (2004): Guidelines for the Safe Use of Urine and Faeces in Ecological Sanitation Systems. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute. PDF

    These guidelines provide a thorough background on the safe use of urine and faeces for agricultural purposes. Aspects like the health risk associated we the use of human excreta in agriculture and how to limit them are discussed.

Case Studies

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    KINOBE, J.; OLWENY, S.; NIWAGABA, C. (2010): Composting at Households in Kitgum Town, Uganda - Draft. Eschborn: Susana. URL [Accessed: 16.08.2010]. PDF

    A case study on household-level composition in Kitgum, Uganda. The project aims at using composting to develop practical operation and management strategies for peri-urban areas and to demonstrate the safe reuse of faces by co-composting them.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MORGAN, P. (2005): Ecological Sanitation in Southern Africa. Many Approaches to a Varied Need. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 21.06.2013]. PDF

    This document describes the ecological sanitation situation in South Africa, focussing on the range of technological options, promotional methods and recycling methods and the problem areas.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MORGAN, P. (2005): Growing Maize with the Help of Toilet Compost and Urine on Poor Sandy Soils. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF

    This document reports the field trials of application of urine and toilet compost on a maize field in Epworth in Simbabwe.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    MUELLEGGER, E. (Editor); LANGEGRABER, G. (Editor); LECHNER, M. (Editor) (2010): The ROSA Project. Vienna: Ecosan Club. URL [Accessed: 01.07.2013]. PDF

    The ROSA project stands for Resource-Oriented Sanitation concepts for peri-urban areas in Africa. This Sustainable Sanitation Practice (SSP) issue contains the following contributions: 1. Introduction to the ROSA Project, 2. From Pilot Units to Large-Scale Implementation - Ethiopia, 3. Implementation of UDDTs at Schools - Kenya, 4. Urban Agriculture for Sanitation Promotion, 5. Operation an Maintenance in Practice, 6. Experiences from Strategic Sanitation Planning, 7. Main Findings and Main Achievements.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    OLUFUNKE, C.; DOULAYE, K. (2009): Co-composting faecal sludge & organic solid waste, Kumasi, Ghana. Eschborn: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA). URL [Accessed: 22.05.2012]. PDF

    This project aimed to gain scientific knowledge on the technical, socio-economical and operational aspects of co-composting (organic solid waste and faecal material). Dried faecal sludge (drying bed) is co-composted with the organic fraction of solid waste. The final product is used as compost for urban and periurban agriculture.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    SOIL (Editor) (2011): Can We Sell EcoSan Compost in Haiti?: A Market Analysis Report. Sherburne: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL). URL [Accessed: 22.02.2012]. PDF

    With the support of Oxfam Great Britain, SOIL conducted a market assessment of compost and fertilizer sales in Haiti with a specific focus on identifying possible markets for the sale of compost generated by Ecosan projects.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    ZURBRUGG, C.; DRESCHER, S.; PATEL, A.H.; SHARATCHANDRA S.C. (2002): Decentralised Composting in India – Lessons Learnt. Leicestershire: Water Engineering and Development Centre, Loughborough University. URL [Accessed: 05.08.2010]. PDF

    The paper discusses the findings of a study of 20 compost plants, ranging in size from household composting to large centralised composting facilities, in Bangalore, Chennai, Pune and Mumbai.

Training Material

  • Cover image of a reference journal article.

    TULADHAR, B. (2003): Home Compost Bins. In: ENPHO Magazine.URL [Accessed: 05.08.2010]. PDF

    This article describes the home compost bins that were promoted in Kathmandu.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    VALLEY VIEW UNIVERSITY (Editor) (2008): Small scale composting of human faeces - in a Nutshell. Hohenheim: University of Hohenheim (Germany), Berger Biotechnik, Valley View University Ghana. URL [Accessed: 11.08.2010]. PDF

    This leaflet provides a summary on why and how to compost faeces.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    LAOIS COUNTY COUNCIL (Editor) (n.y.): Turn Spoil into Soil – A guide to Household Composting. URL [Accessed: 05.08.2010]. PDF

    This 8-page guide-book consists of information on need of composting and how to start composting at household level.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    NYACHHYON, B.L.; MALLA, G. (2005): Manual for Composting at Domestic Level. Kathmandu: Zero Waste Nepal and Rotary Club of Mt. Everest. PDF

    This booklet describes the process of composting at the household level and provides instructions for building and operating a compost bin made from a 200-litre water tank.

  • Cover image of a reference book or miscellany.

    DRESCHER, S.; ZURBRUEGG, C.; ENAYETULLAH, I.; SINGHA, M.A.D. (2006): Decentralised Composting for Cities of Low- and Middle-Income Countries – A User’s Manual. Dhaka: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science (EAWAG), Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (SANDEC) and Waste Concern. URL [Accessed: 16.08.2010]. PDF

    This book describes approaches and methods of composting on neighbourhood level in small-and middle-scale plants. It considers issues of waste collection, composting technologies, management systems, occupational health concerns, product quality, marketing and end-user demands.