Designing Landscapes: Bill Gates, here’s the toilet that will save the world

By James Young

Dear Bill Gates,

Your search is over. Please send the $42 million check to my house. I have invented the toilet of your dreams.

On July 19 of this year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a strategy to help bring safe, clean sanitation services to millions of poor people in the developing world by investing in the research and development of a new, affordable, and sanitary toilet system. The Foundation is offering $42 million in grants to make this happen.

The $42 million CYS toilet. Outdoor use is optional.

AKA, the Composting Toilet.

Actually I didn’t invent the composting toilet. It’s been around for years.

In some respects, it’s been around for centuries. It’s not really an invention, more like a discovery. Like when Columbus “discovered” America. Meaning he really didn’t discover it at all, judging by the thousands of people who were already here when he arrived. Some people like to remember it that way though, as crazy as that sounds.

So, like Columbus, maybe I can gain fame for “discovering” the composting toilet when all I may have done is reveal it to people who just don’t know any better.

And judging by the monumental investment by arguably one of the most technologically informed people in the world, it appears this may indeed be the case. Just like the ‘New World’ that was there all along. It’s just new to some people.

I might note once again that it is indeed the 21st Century and this problem of poop should really be solved by now. People have been taking craps for a long, long time. It crosses all races and all religions. It knows no borders. We Are the World. And We Crap. A Lot.

So why haven’t we learned the simple and freely available methods to make use of such a valuable resource. Why do we insist on treating it like toxic waste worthy of multimillion dollar techno-solutions?

What this Century deserves is an equation to solve the poo problem: N (Nitrogen from Poo or Pee) + C (Carbon from any normally compostable plant material) = the solution for all the pootastrophes of the world.

N + C = $

The key to this equation is the addition of ‘C’ (Carbon; plant material) to the ‘N’ (Nitrogen; Poo and Pee). Adding the C allows the most efficient composting action to take place and that completes the equation, resulting in the $. Most crap disasters around the world occur simply because of the lack of adding Carbon in the form of plants.

In practical terms, this simply means Covering Your Stuff with things like straw, hay, weeds, moistened sawdust, peat moss, fine wood chips, etc. Choose any and apply thick enough to thoroughly Cover Your Stuff and snuff out the smell (keeps the flies away as well). If you smell it or see it, you haven’t added enough ‘C’. Cover. Your. Stuff.

Typical failures around the world of just burying the N and making a huge underground pile of it (though in small quantities that will work as any house cat will tell you) are not adequate. Doing this will eventually contaminate ground water because for populated areas it’s too much Nitrogen in one place. And you can’t just throw it in a river as if clean water isn’t a valuable resource like they do in other poor places. Neither can you make an Olympic-sized pool of it like they blindly do on industrial farms with cattle manure. The stink will float for miles, disease vectors (like flies) will proliferate, and the aforementioned contamination of water will eventually result. I mean, what can you expect to happen in these situations? A poo fairy to take it all away one blessed night?

You must complete the equation above by adding the C.

And this modern folly of taking all that Nitrogen, mixing it with perfectly clean drinkable water, and flushing it down tubes and tanks, sending it in a tremendous stinking underground tidal wave of What-Everyone-in-the-City-Just-Ate, miles away to a multimillion dollar treatment facility that nobody wants in their backyard is so fantastically ridiculous that one has to wonder if we’ve really made any progress at all as a species. Are we homo sapiens or homo ignorans? Are we lost in such a technological fantasy world that we believe the only way to solve simple problems is through gadgets and machines? What would Spock do? Beam that Stuff to outer space? Illogical.

Cashing In

Every so often, you have to empty the CYS toilet by dumping it on the compost heap. Then, the real magic begins. Raw stinking “waste” material quickly reveals its true essence, an essential resource; soil fertility in the form of finished compost — humus. By applying it to your garden, a loop has been closed, a wound has been healed in Nature’s optimum system and it is now operating in sustainable-mode again. And that’s just as essential to the survival of humanity as clean water and clean air.

And once the work of depositing the N + C mixture on the compost heap is done, there are no further inputs required. No batteries to charge or replace, no fuel, no machines to maintain or parts to repair, no workers to monitor and be monitored. The rest occurs without effort in Nature’s optimum system. A gift to humanity that has been here since humanity began. No Columbus necessary. It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s the answer to the $42 million question. And it’s free.

An additional benefit of composting poo and pee is the sequestering of carbon into the soil, which is about the only effective way to reverse global climate change.

Of course, I have been assured man-made climate change is a hoax, so no one should ever talk about it or do anything about it and we should just shut our mouths and go back to admiring these “natural changes” in climate because even though all evidence points to man-made climate change, some say the sample of evidence is too small so we must naturally conclude that the exact opposite of the evidence must be true because there is not enough evidence to be 100-percent certain. Therefore, because we are not 100-percent certain, we must throw the full weight of evidence in the exact opposite direction until we reach 100-percent certainty. Then, and only then, when we reach 100-percent certainty, can we switch over and accept the ‘theory’ as true and do something about it because the definition of a theory is; if you don’t like it you can ignore it, and that is what a sane person would do, as any half-wit will tell you…

Good Books on Poo

Here are two wonderful resources if you want to take advantage of all the valuable products you produce every day.

Joseph Jenkins is really the Columbus of composting toilets. Or if you prefer, the guru of poopoo. He wrote the “bible” of poo: the Humanure Handbook.

Another book on the positive use of poo on the farm and at home is titled, and I kid you not: Holy Sh*t, Managing Manure to Save Mankind,  by Gene Logsdon.

How to Make Your Own CYS Toilet

You can buy a simple bucket composting toilet from the Humanure website or make one yourself like I did. Follow this link for plans to make your own.

Composting Bucket Toilet Plans

The idea is to keep it simple; just a place to comfortably sit on your bucket. Easy to clean, easy to assemble, make it out of scrap wood for almost no money.
The construction and materials are simple. This one is made out of 2 x 4 framing lumber (ripped into 2 x 2s), plywood leftover from another project, and some extra cedar siding. You could use fence boards or scrounge up any scrap board for the sides though. In my case, the only parts bought specifically for this toilet project were the seat, hinges and buckets.

Back To Bill and His Big Toilet Initiative

Of course, maybe the CYS toilet doesn’t fit Bill’s model of the future. The Gateses of the world envision tubes and lights and machinery and technicians glowering over control panels. Perhaps Nature’s systems, in their eyes, are as obsolete as last year’s software upgrade. The CYS toilet is not gadget worthy. If you can’t imagine Captain Kirk using it, it’s not part of the future. They need Steve Jobs to come out with an iToilet (quickly obsolesced by the iToilet 2 of course). That, unfortunately, is how progress is measured today. May our children be the wiser.

Ode to Poo

In the year 1492,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
discovered an old, old world,
and called it ‘New’.
500 years later,
we’ve gone to the moon,
and still we know not,
the value of poo.
That’s not quite true,
Bill Gates named a price,
at least for the loo,
it’s in the millions,
about 42.

James Young

James Young is the owner of Blue Wheelbarrow Landscaping in Edmonds.

  1. Hi James,

    Love your article! So true…
    It’s going to be interesting so see how BG $42MIO will change the way we use toilets?

    Best regards,

    Peter Andersson
    PS. Been building composting toilets for quite a few years. 🙂

  2. Great article, can’t wait to see what you spend your $42 Million on…wow how many buckets could that buy? that’s a lot of families who haven’t got a loo who would have a loo.
    x keep up the good work.

  3. Wonderful!
    I’m with you — have a manufactured composting toilet, but I’m not happy with it, so I think I’m going the bucket route (which I’ve done on occasion). It’s not a big deal — simple, cheap, works! Bit of a problem in the winter, trudging out to the compost piles through the snow with full bucket & finding unfrozen straw to cover, but doable.
    Would be neat if the Bill Gates of the world financed things that are simple, cheap, require no $$ maintenance, and work!

  4. This is a nice design too:

    I’m designing one at present which is sort of a cross between that and the ecowaters net one (i.e. a net-drum design but using a wheelie bin instead of a drum).

    I also like the idea of nice ceramic stools, like this project has had made:
    (scroll down for relevant pics)

  5. THANK YOU! Thank you for saying this. I’ve been telling my friends and family this since the BG grant announcements were made. It reminds me of the Bill Mollison quotation THOUGH THE PROBLEMS OF THE WORLD ARE INCREASINGLY MORE COMPLEX, THE SOLUTIONS REMAIN EMBARRASSINGLY SIMPLE….’
    – Bill Mollison

  6. I would love to manage this and have found that zoning and building codes require a septic system. Also, they do not approve composting toilets in Maine and Nova scotia, where they were used for years. Do you know of any way around this?

  7. The problem is that in the places the Gates Foundation is trying to help finding:” hay, weeds, moistened sawdust, peat moss, fine wood chips, etc. Choose any and apply thick enough to thoroughly Cover Your Stuff and snuff out the smell (keeps the flies away as well). If you smell it or see it, you haven’t added enough ‘C’.” Is all but impossible. Anything remotely resembling these substances must be used as fuel. Try to find any of these items in the refugee camps in and around Somalia.

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