It would be naive to suggest that the Asian societies are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Asian history is rife with the problems that have plagued humanity since the first person crawled on this planet. Those problems include such things as oppressive rule by the rich, war, famine, natural catastrophes, oppressive rule by heathens, more war, and now overpopulation.
Today, Asians are abandoning the harmonious agricultural techniques that Dr. King observed nearly a century ago. In Kyoto, Japan, for example, “night soil is collected hygienically to the satisfaction of users of the system, only to be diluted at a central collection point for discharge to the sewer system and treatment at a conventional sewage treatment plant.” 25
A Humanure Handbook reader wrote an interesting account of Japanese toilets in a letter to the author, which is paraphrased here:
“I just got through reading your Humanure Handbook. This is the book of the year! Your book really opened my eyes about humanure. I never even thought about using sawdust/leaves/hay as a solution to odors and about thermophilic composting. How brilliant! My only real experience, outside of continuously composting yard refuse/kitchen scraps either in an open pile or directly burying them and then using them on my vegetable garden for over twenty years, comes from living in Japan from 1973-1983. I’ll take this opportunity to tell you all I directly experienced about their humanure recycling. As my experience is dated, things may have changed (probably for the worse as toilets and life were becoming ‘westernized’ even toward the end of my stay in Japan).
My experience comes from living in small, rural towns as well as in metropolitan areas (provincial capitals) from 1973-1983. Homes/businesses had an ‘indoor outhouse.’ The Vault: Nothing but urine/feces were deposited into the large metal vault under the toilet (squat style, slightly recessed in the floor and made of porcelain). No cover material or carbonaceous stuff was used. It stunk !! Not just the bathroom, but the whole house! There were many flies, even though the windows were screened. Maggots were the main problem. They crawled up the sides of the vault onto the toilet and floor and sometimes even made it outside the bathroom into the hall. People constantly poured some kind of toxic chemical into the vaults to control the smell and maggots. (It didn’t help — in fact, the maggots really poured out of the vault to escape the chemicals.) Occasionally a slipper (one put on special ‘bathroom slippers’ as opposed to ‘house slippers’ when entering the bathroom) fell into the disgusting liquid/maggot filled vault. You couldn’t even begin to think about getting it out! You couldn’t let little children use the toilet without an adult suspending them over it. They might fall in! Disposal: When the vault was full (about every three months), you called a private vacuum truck which used a large hose placed in an outside opening to suck out the liquid mass. You paid them for their services. I’m not sure exactly what happened to the humanure next but, in the agricultural areas near the fields were large (10 feet in diameter) round, concrete, raised containers, similar in looks to an above ground swimming pool. In the containers, I was told, was the humanure from the ‘vacuum trucks.’ It was a greenish-brown liquid with algae growing on the surface. I was told this was spread onto agricultural fields.” E.A. in IL
In 1952, about 70% of Chinese humanure was recycled. This had increased to 90% by 1956, and constituted a third of all fertilizer used in the country.26 Lately, however, humanure recycling in China seems to be going downhill. The use of synthetic fertilizers has risen over 600% between the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s, and now China’s average annual fertilizer usage per hectare is estimated to be double that of the world’s average. Between 1949 and 1983, agricultural nitrogen and phosphorous inputs increased by a factor of ten, while agricultural yields only tripled.27
Water pollution in China began to increase in the 1950s due to the discarding of sewage into water. Now, about 70% of China’s wastewater is said to be dumped into China’s main rivers. By 1992, 45 billion tonnes of wastewater were flowing into China’s rivers and lakes annually, 70% untreated. In urban areas, 80% of the surface water is polluted with nitrogen and ammonia, and most lakes around cities have become dumping grounds for large quantities of sewage. It is estimated that 450,000 tonnes of humanure are dumped into the Huangpu River alone in a year. Half a million cases of hepatitis A, spread by polluted water, occurred in Shanghai in 1988. Soilborne diseases, practically non-existent in China twenty years ago, are now also causing problems. “Increasingly, Chinese urban authorities are turning to incineration or landfill as the ways of disposing of their solid wastes rather than recycling and composting, which means that China, like the west, is putting the problem onto the shoulders of future generations.” 28
For a sense of historical perspective, I’ll leave you with a quote from Dr. Arthur Stanley, health officer of the city of Shanghai, China, in his annual report for 1899, when the population of China amounted to about 500 million people, roughly double that of the US today. At that time, no artificial fertilizers were employed for agricultural purposes — only organic, natural materials such as agricultural residues and humanure were being used:
“Regarding the bearing on the sanitation of Shanghai of the relationship between Eastern and Western hygiene, it may be said, that if prolonged national life is indicative of sound sanitation, the Chinese are a race worthy of study by all who concern themselves with public health. It is evident that in China the birth rate must very considerably exceed the death rate, and have done so in an average way during the three or four thousand years that the Chinese nation has existed. Chinese hygiene, when compared to medieval English, appears to advantage.” 29
Sounds like an understatement to me.
Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins
Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: