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MUD pitches "humanure"

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Hundreds of thousands of gallons of potable water are used daily to flush local toilets. Missoula's Wastewater Treatment Plant, meanwhile, which treats human waste once it's washed down the drain, is the largest local producer of greenhouse gasses.

"We really don't have to do this anymore," says Tim Skufca of the nonprofit Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD), which aims to demonstrate environmentally sustainable living practices.

Skufca says he's got a more prudent way to manage poop: composting toilets.

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When MUD moves its tool library from the Northside to a central Missoula location sometime next year, Skufca wants the bathroom in the new digs to be equipped with a German-made composting toilet. The commode would be installed with a mechanical ventilation system capable of drying refuse—thereby expediting breakdown of waste—and pumping odors outside. Peat moss or sawdust would further dry the "humanure," thereby hastening biodegradation. Skufca points to an example most Missoulians can appreciate: "If you see dog poop, once it's dry, there's nothing there."

MUD envisions taking the end product and using it as fertilizer on native plants surrounding the new tool library. But there's a problem. City health code and state building code ban composting toilets. That leaves MUD asking the Missoula City Council to issue a demonstration permit so the nonprofit can legally install an off-sewer restroom at its new location.

The proposal has its critics. Perhaps most vocal among them is Jim Carlson of the Missoula City-County Health Department. Carlson argues that composting toilets in an urban environments are simply too risky. Bugs thrive in human waste and insects carry disease, as does excrement itself.

"It's important to remember that human solid waste is about one third bacteria by volume," Carlson says.

Carlson also envisions complaints cropping up between neighbors about odor generated from the composting process. "Just because it's ventilated doesn't mean it won't be a private nuisance," he says. Moreover, Carlson argues that a significant portion of the wastewater plant's greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the natural decomposition process, so regardless of where poop breaks down, a certain amount of carbon dioxide is produced.

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