A study, in the journal Scientific Reports, finds that if less than 1% of agricultural land was converted to solar panels, it would be sufficient to fulfill global electric energy demand. In previous research by the same authors, they showed that solar panels could increase crop yields on dry, unirrigated farmland. And, a separate study concluded that solar panels would also work well on irrigated fields due to less drought stress and reduced watering requirements.
The solar panels also benefit from the cooler environment created by evaporation from the crops. There is a huge potential for solar and agriculture (“agrivoltaics) to work together – a win-win for our food, water, and energy supplies.
Have you ever wondered how safe your drinking water is?
Water is essential for life and access to clean drinking water is something we should all have. Unfortunately, that is not the case. If you are concerned, or just curious, about how to determine the quality of your drinking water, continue reading to learn which water testing kits are right for you.
Why should I be concerned about the quality of my water?
Although the U.S. has some of the best drinking water in the world, people shouldn’t take their water safety for granted due to aging infrastructures and other possible environmental issues. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency, sets the standard for U.S. public drinking water. However, regulation of the law is less than ideal and it does not apply to private wells.
Aging water pipes may contain copper and lead or other contaminates. Homes built prior to 1990 may have lead connectors on plumbing connecting to the water main. Ground source water may contain nitrates and nitrites (fertilizer run-off), pesticides, animal agriculture, and more.
You may not be able to see these contaminants, but you can easily test for them with home water testing kits. Don’t wonder whether or not your water is contaminated – find out with a home water testing kit.
Do water testing kits detect water quality issues?
Most at-home test kits use quick-read chemical strips to provide pass/fail indications of major hazards including lead, some chemicals, some pesticides, and bacteria. They generally don’t explain how much of a certain substance may be in the water. However, these strips provide a good start and can be augmented by further laboratory tests when indicated. If you just want to get a quick read without waiting to send something to a lab, quick-read water testing strips are a good start.
The kits do a good job of measuring dissolved solids; however, they have a harder time if small chunks of solder, pipe or rust break off in the water.
How often should you test your water?
Since the quality of your water can change over time, the EPA recommends that people test municipal water annually. People with well water should consider testing more often because ground water is at higher risk for bacteria contamination.
What can you do if you find problems?
If you find problems with your drinking water, you have several options that don’t require ripping out old pipes. Fixing problems can be as simple as buying NSF-approved water filters that are certified to stop lead and other contaminants. Just make certain the filter you choose is designed to block the contaminants in your water source. Other, more expensive, steps may include getting a water delivery service. See “How to choose the best drinking water filters” for additional information.
Water-testing kits for home use
There are many water testing kits available to help you determine the quality of your water. The most thorough kits require samples to be mailed to a laboratory for a full report on dozens of contaminants. More basic testing can be done with an at-home kit that doesn’t require you to mail in samples and wait for results. Some water testing kits evaluate only lead, bacteria or a limited set of common contaminants. These are usually less expensive than kits that include more extensive testing.
As consumers seek assurance concerning the quality of their drinking water, testing kits can provide a reasonably inexpensive and quick option for preliminary detection.
Water Test Strips:
The PurTest Home Drinking Water Test Kit is a fast and easy test that can detect 11 different contaminants including lead, bacteria, pesticides, chlorine, copper, iron, iron, hardness, alkalinity, pH, nitrates, and nitrites. This test strip kit includes one strip each for testing bacteria, lead and pesticides and two testing strips each for iron, alkalinity, pH, hardness, chlorine, copper, nitrate and nitrite. The additional test strip included for these contaminants can be useful for testing multiple water sources, or for follow-up testing. There are no mailing requirements or wait times to get results. Results from this kit are provided within a range; the test doesn’t provide specific values.The Good Housekeeping Institute worked with the Water Quality Lab at the University of Nebraska to measure the accuracy of commonly available water kits. They rated this kit at the top in their tests verifying that it accurately detected the contaminants it said it would test. (About $40 buy at Home Depot or Walmart.)
The First Alert WT1 Drinking Water Test Kit tests your water for EPA standards of bacteria, lead, pesticides, hardness, nitrates, pH, and chlorine and requires no additional laboratory testing. A kit includes one bacteria test vial, one lead/pesticide test packet, one nitrate/nitrite test packet, one pH/hardness/chlorine test packet, and a user’s manual. You can pick up this water testing kit for about $10-$15. While this is a more limited number of tested contaminants than many other at-home or mail-in kits, it covers the basic information that many homeowners are concerned about.
The Test Assured Drinking Water Test Kit is a 10-in-1 kit that tests for lead, bacteria, pesticides, iron, copper, alkalinity, pH, hardness, chlorine, nitrates and nitrites. It does not need to be sent to a lab to learn the results. Each test is calibrated to EPA standards for each element and is made in the USA. If you are not satisfied, the company has a 100 percent money back guarantee! You can pick up this handy kit for about $30.
If your water comes from a private well, test it with Watersafe WS425W Well Water Test Kit. This water tests 10 different contaminants including iron, copper, lead, bacteria, pesticides, nitrates, nitrites, chlorine, pH and hardness. The kit has easy-to-read strips that provide ranges for each tested contaminant and is not as specific as laboratory testing which can be used for follow up testing if more detailed testing is warranted. You can pick up this kit for about $25.
Live in the city? Test your drinking water with the Watersafe WS425B Drinking Water Test Kit. This kit was specially developed for testing city water, delivering professional lab results in your home. Like other Watersafe products, this kit tests for EPA recommended levels of contaminants like copper, iron, lead, chlorine, nitrates and nitrites, bacteria, fertilizer, pesticides, hardness, and pH. Amazon reviewers love how easy this kit is to use and you can purchase it for about $20.
The Watts Premier 173006 All-In-One Water Test Kit includes two tests each for chlorine, chloride, pH, total alkalinity, hardness, nitrate, nitrite, iron, sulfate, hydrogen sulfide, and copper. It also includes one test each for lead, pesticides, and bacteria. Each test is color-coded for ease of use and delivers results within minutes. Amazon reviewers are happy with the results, but recommend thoroughly reading the instructions before beginning. You can pick up this kit for about $40.
The Baldwin Meadows 9-in-1 Drinking Water Test Kit provides multiple test kits that will allow you to monitor your water quality on an on-going basis. The kit includes 100 test strips, and it provides results for nine contaminants on 1 strip including: total alkalinity, pH, hardness, iron, lead, copper, nitrite, nitrate, and chlorine.The kit does not include bacteria testing, which should be tested for separately, if needed. (Amazon about $20) A 14-in-1 Drinking Water Test Kit is also available. In addition to the preceding, it tests for water hardness, cyanuric acid, fluoride, carbonate, and bromine. (Amazon approximately $25)
Water Test Meters – TDS
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meters measure the electrical conductivity of water or, in other words, the total amount of mobile charged ions found in water. If an element is dissolved in water and can conduct electricity, it is called an electrolyte (salt is an electrolyte). Different types of water will contain different amounts of dissolved substances. For example, natural mineral water and tap water can each typically have a TDS value of 100-200 mg/l. However, in areas with high concentrations of minerals, the natural tap water could be considerably higher. To further complicate this, high concentrations of specific constituents such as calcium may have an impact, but TDS does not specify the different parameters that constitute the final number.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWR) guidelines are nonenforceable, a maximium limit of 500 mg/L has been published. In a study by the World Health Organizaiton (WHO), a panel of tasters came to the following conclusion about the preferable level of TDS in water (mg/l):
Excellent: Less than 300 mg/L
Good: 300 – 600 mg/L
Fair: 600 – 900 mg/L
Poor: 900 – 1,200 mg/L
Unacceptable: above 1,200 mg/L
A TDS meter is not sensitive enough to measure toxic levels of lead, chromium-6, or arsenic in a sample. This is because the reading displayed on an inexpensive TDS meter is in parts per million, while things like lead, chromium-6, and arsenic are toxic at part per billion concentrations (1000 times lower). Since TDS is an aggregate measure of charged compounds in water, uncharged things like motor oil, gasoline, many pharmaceuticals, and pesticides do not contribute to a TDS measurement.
Although TDS meters are cheap (about $15) and easy to use, they may need to be used in conjunction with other technologies such as test strips for more accurate home testing results.
Complete Water Analysis Test Kit +TDS Meter
A Complete Analysis Test Kit with a TDS Meter includes one set of 10 test strips and one TDS hand-held meter. It tests for lead, iron, copper, bacteria, pesticides, nitrates, nitrites, chlorine, pH and hardness. Approximate price $45. Note: ordering a strip test kit and separate TDS meter could be less expensive.
Comprehensive Lab Kit
If you want more comprehensive information on the quality of your water, a laboratory mail-in test kit will provide more specific testing data. Many states have a public health laboratory that will test drinking and well water. Additionally, the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, requires all municipal and other public water supplies to be tested regularly for bacteria, nonorganic chemicals, naturally occuring radioactivity, and naturally occurring compounds. If, however, you want an independent lab to test your water, there are kits available including:
The Essential Indicators Water Test from Drinking Water Specialists provides fairly quick turnaround and expansive testing capabilities. Follow the kit’s simple directions to collect a water sample, then mail it to the laboratory and receive comprehensive results for over 170 different indicators of water quality. The company will send results and treatment suggestions via email within about six business days. You’ll need to test for bacteria at home, though, due to the fact that temperature and other conditions cannot be regulated in transit to the laboratory. Unlike many other bacteria tests, the Essential Indicators kit tests for eight different forms of bacteria — adding to the amount of useful information you’ll gather from this kit.
Users found the directions to be easy to follow and the results proved to be thorough and insightful. Many people expressed that the value of this kit represented a tremendous savings over using similar local water testing facilities. (Buy on Amazon, $129)
Finally, if you don’t know which test kit is right for you – just Dowse it!
How to buy an at-home water testing kit; Chicago Tribune, Debbie Carlson March 18, 2018
According to ABC News, most bottled water is nothing more than reprocessed tap water. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, tap and bottled water are comparable in terms of safety (unless you live in a place where the water is known to be contaminated). In fact, tap water is regulated under more stringent standards than bottled water. If you’re still not convinced about the quality of your tap water, you could filter your tap water and still save significant money over the cost of bottled water.
The Cost of Drinking Water Tap Water vs. Bottled Water
Bottled water costs approximately 2,000 – 3000 times more than tap water, and Americans drink millions of gallons of it every year. If you drink 64 oz. of water daily, you would consume about three 20 oz. bottles per day. Assuming each bottle costs $1, it would cost $3 per day or $1,095 per year. The same amout of tap water would cost $0.48 per year. That’s right – tap water would cost $0.48 annually vs. $1,095 annually for bottled water.
Safety and Taste
Although most plastics are now marketed as BPA-free, research has found that plastic bottles may contain BPS instead which is a chemical similar to BPA, causing the same disruption of hormone signaling as BPA.
Experts caution that extreme heating of plastics should be avoided to minimize leaching of chemicals from the plastic. The U.S. Food ad Drug Administration recommends storing bottled water in a cool, dry place, away from household solvents, fuels , other chemicals, and direct sunlight. In comparison, glass and stainless steel water containers are very inert and don’t leach anything into the water.
Time after time, tap water has been rated as better tasting than bottled water in blind taste tests.
Many people choose bottled water for convenience, but obtaining a reusable glass bottle or stainless steel thermos and filling it from the tap doesn’t take much time and is both cheaper and better for the environment. Even the U.S. Transportation Security Administration recommends bringing an empty container with you and filling it once inside security to reduce waste and sam money. https://www.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips/going-green-while-traveling-through-airport-security.
Humans buy about 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minute in total. Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year, averaging about 13 bottles per month for every person in the U.S. and only about 23% of plastic bottles are recycled within the U.S.
It is estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean annually on top of the 150 million metric tons that currently circulate in our marine environments. That’s like dumping one garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day for an entire year. That much plastic is bound to impact our environment, our ecosystems, and our health.
By using a reusable water bottle and filling it with tap water, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually.
Earth Water Alliance Celebrates Earth Day Every Day
Puerto Rico Water Filter Distribution
Our partners in Puerto Rico are still super busy with several projects and programs concerning water quality and disaster resilience. After Hurricane Maria, Earth Water Alliance provided 200 Sawyer Point One bucket water filters to 19 regions throughout Puerto Rico.
We are currently in discussions with Surfrider Foundation Rincón regarding expanding their water program in western Puerto Rico. An integral part of that program during the relief work was community awareness talks about water quality, filter distribution, and expansion of their water testing to include wells, streams and springs that people were using for household water sources. They tested and distributed various filters or treatment methods including Sawyer, Lifestraw, DIVVY system, and several chlorine-based methods.
Surfrider Foundation Rincón distributed about 1,000 and were very happy with the performance of the Sawyer Point One model. They report that it is fine for most uses. They were a bit concerned about its ability to handle smaller microorganisms since Puerto Rico had a close call with an epidemic of leptospirosis and there is no field test or easy lab detection method for that bacteria yet. For sites or areas where they were encountering high levels of bacteria they recommended the chlorine & boiling routine or use of the more expensive Sawyer .02 filter. Since the price is higher for that model it is better suited for use at a neighborhood/barrio level. Conclusion: because lepto bacteria and some other pathogens have a radial diameter of about .05 microns, there is a statistical chance the Sawyer Point One might not catch all of them. But, in most cases they concluded the Point One was perfectly appropriate, and they are still very interested in continuing to distribute them as part of their continuing water quality effort.
Puerto Rico’s Sustainable Agriculture Movement
Currently, only 15 percent of Puerto Rico’s food is grown locally; everything else is imported. Considering the island’s tropical climate, with four growing seasons and fertile terrain, that statistic is especially shocking. Add the doubled cost of goods—tacked on by the Jones Act, a century-old maritime law that requires all ships entering any U.S. land or territory be built and crewed by American citizens, and requires punitive fees of foreign vessels—and it simply doesn’t make sense. Right now, Puerto Rico is basically GMO headquarters; there are more permits for transgenic seed experimentation than anywhere else in the U.S. or its territories. Meanwhile, iconic staples like rice and beans are almost entirely outsourced. The island is a food desert.
Puerto Rico’s growing sustainable agriculture movement involves a network of grassroots organizations and projects throughout the island to support farmer’s market, organic seed distribution, community gardens, restaurants using locally sourced ingredients, and the introduction of sustainable agriculture in classrooms. The shift toward local agriculture means the island is closer to autonomy.
Local organizations like Resiliency Fund, Guagua Solidaria, Proyecto Semiteca, Huertos Comunitarios y Permacultura Urbana – Viejo San Juan, and Surfrider Fondation Rincónare restoring and rehabilitating local farms, building latrines, pruning guava trees, setting up rainwater catchment systems, implementing solar energy, teaching polyculture and crop diversity, collecting and distributing heirloom seeds, supporting farmers markets, developing seed libraries, and providing workshops. Recently, 27 public school teachers in San Juan area participated in a program that included an introduction to permaculture design methodologies and the integration of seed libraries into garden and landscape designs.
Navajo Reservation – Smith Lake and Baca, NM
Five years ago, DigDeep began planning a well at Smith Lake, NM. They needed an additional source of clean water to serve hundreds of families without running water or toilets. Thousands of people across the US came together to make this dream a reality, but unfortunately the site theydrilled was dry. (Note: the driller did not drill where EWA dowsed but instead drilled where access was easier for their equipment.)
Subsequently, DigDeep found an old abandoned well near the elementary school, tested the water, and have now rebuilt that well. The well water is pristine and the location will provide an additional water source that is closer to many of the homes they serve. Current work at the site involves building the well house, constructing a 10,000 gallon holding tank, and install electicity, public taps, a driveway, and fencing.
Earth Water Alliance is a proud supporter of the Baca, NM water distribution expansion project which will provide more reliable and timely distibution of clean drinking water to the people of the Navajo Nation.
Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
The Pine Ridge Reservation is flooded! The aftermath of Winter Storm Ulmer, which hit the Midwest on March 13th, is still wreaking havoc on the territory.
It’s been reported that over 1,500 tribal citizens were displaced from their homes and 75-100 structures were damaged by the flooding. 500 people remain without access to potable water, culvert systems are plugged, and roads are impassable. Pine Ridge now faces millions of dollars of damage. Recovery will take a long time and the tribe is woefully understaffed and under-resourced.
The Lakota People’s Law Project has set up shop at tribal headquarters in Pine Ridge to join the effort. They are in the process of assembling a group of qualified professionals (engineers, skilled laborers, heavy equipment operators, grant writers, etc.) to help untangle the complicated web of prerequisites coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of South Dakota that must be met before they will provide assistance. They will need help from these institutions to navigate the waters ahead.
Dowsing and Intuition in the Classroom
Earth Water Alliance is assisting fellow intuitives and dowsers who are teaching basic dowsing and intuitive knowing at elementary and secondary schools.
Join us on our journey as we celebrate Earth Day Every Day!
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Earth Water Alliance member trains Jamaican students in organic farming and dowsing methods
The Rita Marley Foundation recently conducted organic farming training programs for high school and kindergarten students. A total of 105 high school students in Clarendon, Jamaica received instruction on the practices of organic farming and dowsing from US-based agricultural consultant Steven Herbert, a water resource consultant for Earth Water Alliance.
Organic farming works in unison with nature by replacing chemical treatments with natural methods. Emphasis is on building soil, boosting its organic content, and encouraging proliferation of soil biology.
Students were also taught the art of dowsing, a method of locating water with L-rods or other dowsing tools. Dowsing assists with gaining information about nutrient levels, necessary fertilizers, amendments, and optimal planting locations.
As simple as it gets with no expensive cartridges to replace or chemicals to add. A bucket filter can be constructed in minutes. The bucket adapter kit includes everything needed to attach the filter to any plastic bucket or container. Each kit includes a 0.1 micron hollow-fiber membrane filter, one bucket hole cutter, a filter cleaner syringe, a filter hanger, and one adapter hose (bucket is not included). No pumping, chemicals, or electricity required.
Obtain a clean rain barrel, bucket, or plastic container.
Use the hole cutter to drill a hole 1.5 inches from the bottom of the bucket (you can do this by hand).
Screw the connector, hose and filter onto the bucket.
Connect the hose.
Snap the hose into the filter.
Fill the bucket with water from any source.
Lower the filter head below the water line in the bucket and let gravity do the rest.
To stop filtering, just hang the filter from the top of the bucket using the filter hanger.
When the water from the filter starts to slow down, simply back wash it with clean water using the filter cleaner syringe provided in the kit. Filters can continuously be back washed and reused to provide approximately 170 gallons of water per day and 1 million gallons of water per filter.
Effective against waterborne disease
With its 0.01 micron absolution filtration, the Sawyer filter removes 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.9999% of protozoa/cysts.
Donate Filters for Clean Water for Puerto Rico
100% of donations for Puerto Rico to EarthWaterAlliance go directly to provide water filters to people in desperate need of clean, safe water.
With increasing concerns about contaminants in water that may affect health, distillation can remove contaminates from drinking water.
Distillation is an effective method for removing most contaminates
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: “Distillation is an effective water treatment technology for commercial and household use. When water is purified by distillation, it is boiled in a container and the steam is sent into cooling tubes. The steam is condensed and then collected as purified water in a second container. The impurities in the water are left behind in the first container and can be discarded. The distillation process removes almost all impurities from water. Distillers are commonly used for removing nitrates, bacteria, sodium, hardness, dissolved solids, most organic compounds, and lead. Contaminants that easily turn into gases, such as gasoline components or radon, may remain in the water unless the system is specifically designed to remove them. Distilled water may taste flat to some people because the water’s natural minerals and dissolved oxygen often have been removed.”
Contaminants Removed from Water by Distillation
Distillation can remove most impurities from water. Compounds removed include sodium, hardness compounds such as calcium and magnesium, other dissolved solids including iron and manganese, fluoride, and nitrate. Distillation effectively inactivates microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoan cysts. Distillation can also remove many organic compounds and heavy metals.
Contaminants Not Removed from Water by Distillation
Depending on the contaminates, a combination of treatment processes may be required to effectively treat the water. Certain pesticides, volatile solvents, and volatile organic compounds with boiling points close to or below that of water will vaporize along with the water as it is boiled in the distiller. These compounds will not be completely removed unless another process is used prior to condensation.
Distillers use heat to boil contaminated water and produce steam. Impurities such as inorganic compounds and large non-volatile organic compounds are not vaporized and are left behind in the boiling chamber. The heat inactivates bacteria, viruses, and protozoan cysts. The steam rises and enters a cooling section. When the steam cools, it condenses back to a liquid. The resulting water can have up to 99.5 percent of impurities removed. The water remaining in the boiling chamber has a much higher concentration of impurities and should be discarded.
Since volatile organic compounds can also vaporize as the water is boiled and turned to steam, methods for removing them can be incorporated into the system. Distillers that use a combination of removal methods are more efficient than those with a single method. section
Incorporating gas vents (small holes in the passage leading to the condensing coils) can allow volatile organic compounds to escape before entering the cooling section.
Another option is to use an activated carbon filter to remove volatile organic compounds from the condensed water before they enter the storage tank.
Distilled Water is water that has had many of its impurities removed through the process of boiling the water and collecting the resulting steam. In an emergency, the following is a simple method to obtain drinking water from contaminated water is to distill water using a pot and stove follows:
Get a large pot with a lid and an empty drinking cup.
The glass should be big enough to hold a fair amount of fresh water.
Make sure the glass is short enough that you can still put the lid on the pot.
A Pyrex or metal cup is safest, as certain types of glass will explode when exposed to heat. Plastic may melt or deform.
Make sure the pot and lid are suitable for using on a stove.
Slowly pour the contaminated water into the pot.
Do not overfill. Stop well before the water level has reached the mouth of the glass.
Make sure no contaminated water splashes into the glass while boiling. You don’t want to get any contaminated water into the drinking glass, or your newly made distilled water will be contaminated.
Place the pot, cover upside down on the pot.
Position the pot lid so the highest point or handle is facing down directly above the glass. This will allow the water vapor to drip into the drinking glass as it condenses.
Make sure the pot lid is providing a good seal along the edges of the pot. Without a good seal, a lot of the steam will escape and diminish the supply of fresh water vapor.
Bring the water to a slow boil over low heat.
Make sure you bring the water to a boil slowly over low heat. A violent full boil can contaminate the drinking water by splashing into the glass.
Too much heat can cause a glass to break.
If the water is boiling quickly and violently, the glass may shift away from the center of the pot and the handle of the pot lid.
Watch the pot as the water condenses.
When water boils, it becomes pure vapour, leaving behind anything that was dissolved in it.
As the water becomes vapor, it condenses in the air as steam and then on the cover’s bottom surface as water droplets.
The droplets then run down to the lowest point (the handle) and drip right into the glass.
This will probably take 20 minutes or more.
Wait a little while before drinking the water.
The glass and water will be very hot.
There may be a small amount of contaminated water left in the pot, so be careful when removing the glass of distilled water not to splash any contaminated water into your fresh water.
You might find that the glass and fresh water will cool faster if you remove it from the pot.
Be careful as you remove the glass so you don’t get burnt. Use an oven mitt or potholder to take it out.
In an emergency, a simple, effective method to obtain drinking water from contaminated water is to distill water using a pot and stove.
Composting Toilets Save Water and Improve the Environment – an alternative to flush toilets
Per capita consumption of water in the US is three times that of the average European and fifteen times that of the typical person residing in a developing country. Of all the potable water that comes into the average American household, fully a third gets flushed down the toilet. With worldwide average consumption rates rising twice as fast as population, and population projected to double in forty years, it’s plain to see that flushing will be a luxury we can no longer afford. Water is essential to life, but with this gift comes the responsibility to promote sustainable use of this precious resource.Composting toilets save water and provide an environmentally compatible alternative to flush toilets.
Supplies may be increased by dowsing for water, rainwater harvesting, or desalinization. However, it is better to conserve water in the first place. Agricultural practices may lose up to half of the irrigation water in the process of distribution to evaporation and runoff. More efficient methods such as drip irrigation can make a big difference. Industry can potentially save a lot through water reuse. Within the home, more efficient washers, dishwashers and low-flush toilets can reduce water usage significantly. The practice of “cascading”, or reusing dishpan or shower warm-up water in the toilet bowl or on outside plants can save more. But, the biggest savings can be realized by eliminating flushing altogether.
Composting toilets and latrine systems are a viable, environmentally compatible alternative to flush toilets. This technology may enable you to avoid building an expensive mound system while enriching your soils.
Once you decide to install a composting toilet, there are several design decisions that must be considered to determine the best solution for your particular circumstances. The elements of a composting toilet must be designed to either passively or actively manage oxygen levels, temperature, moisture, carbon to nitrogen ratios, and pathogen levels. You will also need to determine whether to purchase a pre-manufactured model or to custom-design a site-built unit,
Pre-manufactured, self-contained units come with a variety of features, needing only to be hooked up to a ventilation system. Some designs may be fully adequate for year-round continual use. They may be single or multi-chambered, require electricity for heating and aeration, or be totally non-electric. Models are available that dehydrate or incinerate the contents, but these are not truly composting.
The centralized Clivis Multrum model, features a large continuous-use system. Centralized or remote means that the bowl is on the main floor and the actual composting unit is in the basement. In this design, fresh material is deposited on top and finished compost is removed from the bottom of an inclined chamber. Material going in includes both feces and urine since it is not urine-separating. The Phoenix system features a vertical chamber, and the manufacturer claims its design efficiently prevent contamination of lower layers with fresh deposits. If the unit is to be used continuously, especially by a large family, a multi-chambered model may be recommended. However, most pre-manufactured remote systems are only offered in a single vault option.
Refer to our article titled Composting Toilets – Decisions, Decisions for links to some popular manufacturers of pre-manufactured models. https://earthwateralliance.org/composting-toilets-decisions/
A pre-manufactured, self-contained composting toilet costs at least $1,400. However, a homemade unit can be built for much less. Site-built systems are only as expensive as materials and construction costs. If recycled materials are used, a composting toilet can be built for minimal cost other than the time it takes to build and install the unit.
Double vault composting toilets
All of the composting latrines I designed and built in Africa and Latin America are double-vault, fixed-batch systems. The larger-sized vault, was made out of rammed-earth, ferro-cement, or brick. It had one and a half cubic meter capacity which was enough for a large extended family or small school. A smaller version for an average-sized family featured a one cubic meter vault. In both styles, a stool or stoop plate was mounted over each vault. It might take a year to fill up one vault, at which time the use is switched to the second, leaving the contents of the first to “cure” undisturbed. By the time
the second vault is filled at the end of the following year, the first is ready to be emptied and reused.
There are alternatives, however, to dual vaults built permanently side by side. Another variation is a composting unit with multiple chambers which can rotate each time one is filled. Also, a single stationary unit may be designed to accept removable bins.
Determining the size of a composting toilet
If the composting toilet is operating ideally, the contents should be fully composted with all pathogens destroyed by the end of six weeks. To calculate the capacity of each vault, allow for twice as much time. Thus, allow at least three months.
Certain factors should be considered when making these calculations. Will the use be seasonal or year-round? Will it mainly be day-use only or continuous use? (Day use tends to accumulate a much higher percentage of urine by comparison.) Here are the relevant statistics you will need. One person produces 40.6 fluid oz.s (1.2 liters) of urine per day. The same person also produces 20.3 fluid oz.s (.61 liters) per day of feces. Over a full year, that amounts to 155.8 gallons of urine and 57.9 gallons of feces, or a total of 1,300 lbs. of excrement. In terms of volume, that represents 20.8 cubic feet (.6 m3) of urine and 7.7 cubic feet (.2 m3) of feces per average person per year. Keep in mind that the volume of the contents will constantly decrease during the composting process. In fact, the volume will decrease to as little as ten to thirty percent of its original volume by the end of the incubation period.
In tropical climates, the design may be able to operate passively. In temperate climates, the design may need to be more of an active one. This means a small electric fan installed in the vent pipe is needed to increase the efficiency of aeration and an artificial heat source may be required to keep the contents above “biological zero” (42 degrees Fahrenheit) to speed composting. For every ten degrees Celcius rise in temperature, the composting rate doubles. This is known as the Q10 temperature coefficient. Different microorganisms operate at different temperatures. From 42 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, actinomycetes and fungi dominate in psychrophilic or mouldering processing. At 68 to 112 degrees Fahrenheit, mesophilic bacteria operate under most typical conditions. Between 113 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, thermophilic bacteria take precedence.
The reason for aerating is partly to evaporate liquids, but most importantly to encourage aerobic decomposition. It is the anaerobic bacteria which are mainly the pathogenic and odor-causing microorganisms. Beneficial aerobic bacteria thrive in the higher oxygen and temperature levels which destroy the anaerobic organisms. If a composting unit is operating efficiently and is well ventilated, there should be no noticeable odor detectable from above.
Another design decision is whether to separate out urine or not. There are several advantages to separation. First, it reduces moisture levels in the compost, hopefully to the ideal consistency of a well wrung out sponge. Second, it prevents the ratio of nitrogen to carbon from becoming too high. This is another cause of odors. Third, it will minimize the amount of effluent you need to deal with. Urine separated out may be directed to an outside charcoal or limestone-filled soak-pit. It may also be directed to a conventional septic system or stored in a tank. The tank may be emptied periodically by a collection service, or used on trees, flowers or other non-food plants. Human urine is relatively sterile and actually has more nutrients than the feces, but it also has a high salt content.
Urine-separating seats may be purchased to mount on your custom-made bench, or the entire bowl can be ordered if preferred. When seated, the urine is directed forward to be captured and drained separately. If there is enough room, a separate waterless urinal can be installed to supplement the composting toilet.
Finally, it is advisable to construct the inside of the composting chamber with a slightly sloped floor so that the minimal leachate produced may drain toward a collection device. Radiant heat may be designed into this floor. Otherwise, a submersible aquarium heater, a light bulb in a fire-proof box, a heat tape, or waste heat from a dryer duct may be installed to warm the contents. Build the unit a foot or so off the floor in case of flooding, and naturally, install an access port for removing contents and another for inspection or turning contents.
Conclusion – composting toilets save water
Considering an alternative to the flush toilet is not just a good idea to make us less vulnerable to infrastructure collapse, it is also an environmental advantage with regard to water conservation and soil enhancement. Composting toilets are an environmentally friendly solution for water scarce locations. They are a sanitary alternative to pit latrines, are more economical than mound systems, and produce garden quality compost for soil enrichment. Dry composting toilets save water and improve the environment by providing an alternative to flush toilets.
Composting toilets and latrine systems are an environmentally compatible alternative to flush toilets and centralized sewage treatment centers. The following is an outline of the decisions required during the selection or design process.
Your initial decision is whether to purchase a pre-manufactured system or to custom build your own design. If you decide to purchase, then:
The second decision is whether to have a self-contained unit or one which is centralized. The self-contained unit is easily portable and is generally used when there is no basement and use is seasonal or sporadic. A centralized system features a permanently mounted stool with the composting unit remotely placed in the basement or floor below.
If you choose to design and build your own system, then:
The first decision is whether the composting toilet will have a single vault with removable bins or two chambers for alternating use. If the unit is to be used continuously, especially by a family, the latter model may be necessary.
The next major design decision is whether to separate out urine or not. There are several advantages to separation including: reduction of moisture levels, improved nitrogen to carbon levels, reduced odor, and flies are not attracted.
Finally, elements of a composting toilet system must be designed to either passively or actively manage oxygen levels, temperature, moisture, carbon to nitrogen ratios, and pathogen levels.
Upcoming articles will explore various composting toilet and latrine designs.