On February 9, 2022

Vermont: Stop sending toilet compost to landfills

Dear Editor,

As Vermont embarks on its climate action plan, how are our toilets helping us get to the sustainable future we need? Compost toilet systems can protect water resources, complete the nutrient cycle, and even help build climate resilience.

Many Vermonters use composting toilets to safely and affordably transform their human waste into a high-quality compost that can be used to fertilize plants. Unfortunately, Vermont regulations essentially require that homeowners send this compost to the landfill as trash. This is a waste of a resource, and causes climate-damaging landfill methane emissions.

On Jan. 12, Bill H.586 was introduced by Reps. Rogers of Waterville, Burke of Brattleboro, Dolan of Waitsfield, Kornheiser of Brattleboro, McCullough of Williston, and Pajala of Londonderry. This bill will lead to regulations and best management practices to guide the on-site composting of human waste and the safe use of the resulting compost.

Regulatory barriers are a major roadblock to implementing closed-loop systems in Vermont that can complete energy, nutrient and water cycles, and help our communities thrive. “I introduced H.586 to bring the state’s rules around waterless toilets and eco-sanitation in line with current best practices and scientific knowledge,” says Rep. Rogers of the bill.

Flush toilets are the largest single user of water inside the home, turning potable water into wastewater that is expensive and resource-intensive to purify. The nutrients from wastewater systems are often discharged into water bodies where they contribute to nutrient pollution, harmful algal blooms, and other damaging ecological effects.

Compost toilets can collect our “waste” without using precious potable water, and reclaim it as compost to build soil and grow plants. These toilets can also help prepare Vermont communities for climate change by offering safe, resilient, decentralized sanitation during extreme weather events and in the face of rising water tables. Additionally, since inadequate wastewater treatment capacity is a primary barrier to expansion of Vermont’s village centers, composting toilets facilitate village development by reducing the load on existing wastewater infrastructure.

Many people throughout Vermont are already using compost toilets, (including Vermont’s own state park system), with benefits to our shared environment –—but their adoption is slowed by the absence of any legal method for the safe and practical use of the resulting compost.

The guidelines resulting from bill H. 586 will include simple, safe procedures to empower people to reclaim their bodily nutrients as a resource. The Rich Earth Institute urges citizens to contact your legislator and a member of The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife to voice your support for this bill.

Julia Cavicchi is the executive director of Rich Earth Institute.

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