Kick the Bucket

Perched on the rickety wooden frame, doing my best to hold my breath while I do my business, I reflect that it’s not so much the stench of pooping in a bucket that bothers me, but the indignity of it all.

Heck, I grew up in the woods and pooped there plenty of times without even a bucket to sit on, but there is a noble comfort about squatting with majestic branches waving overhead, sunlight dappling the soft pine needles you’ll soon use to cover up your excrement. All that is definitely lacking in this plastic sided shack with the crooked wooden crate holding a bucket with a lid that is too big for the frame, so that each time you take it off to drop a deuce you struggle, getting your face closer to the bucket than you’d like, and you nearly tip the whole mess over onto your shoes.

1On an intellectual level, I understand that composting our own “humanure” for gardens is so much better for the environment than flush toilets, I can admire the folks who do this daily and in theory I’m happy to contribute to the sustainability of the farm we’re visiting.

But the theory is different from the practice, and therein lies the problem with so many “solutions.”

The other day I received yet another email with a link to a video on building houses out of plastic bottles with the message, “You should try this in Nicaragua!”

I understand the sentiment: many Nicaraguans need houses, we have a lot of plastic bottles in Nicaragua. Demand + supply = voila! Plastic bottle houses! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Plastic bottle houses are made with recycled materials, but just because someone doesn’t have a house doesn’t mean they want one made out of trash, no matter how good it might look at the end. For appropriate technology to be appropriate it also has to be culturally appropriate. If it feels like trash, or looks like it’s going to fall down, then poor Nicaraguans – just like most other humans around the world – will opt to keep their crappy scrap metal house until they can afford to build themselves an unsustainable but pretty concrete block house.

bottles.JPGBecause I receive so many emails like this, I’ve developed a fool proof way to vet them.

The only way I’ll take seriously any design for a sustainable house, toilet, or cook stove is if the person sending the design has one themselves.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but it seems to me that environmentally conscious people in the U.S. spend an inordinate amount of time in their acclimatized homes on the internet watching YouTube videos on how to make the best rammed earth/plastic trash-filled bottle/used tire house, best composting toilet system and how to hook up a solar light. I’ve watched a lot of these videos myself. Many of them (like this one and this one) are really cool, and I firmly believe that there is a place in the world for any good low-impact design.

I just wonder, First World do-gooders, why that place isn’t in your own home?

Why not build yourself a plastic bottle house?

Why not remove flush toilets from your home to replace them with a bucket and a bag of sawdust for your own organic garden?


I’ll tell you why you won’t (with the exception of a very small percentage of the extremely dedicated population)…

…nobody wants to poop in a bucket.

It’s that simple.

I certainly don’t want to poop in a bucket. We have to haul water to my house by ox cart, and STILL we have a flush toilet.

Does that make me a bad person?


Does it make me happy every day that I can flush all my family’s poop away? Absolutely. – Becca

rancho-esperanzaNote: I feel compelled to give a shout out to the one outstanding exception to this rule. Rancho Esperanza in Jiquilillo has the best Bucket of Poo experience on the planet. They are a high-traffic hostel with lovely little cabañas on the beach and they have several shared stalls each with a wooden bench with a hole and a toilet seat – not unlike the pretty pit latrines my Back-to-the-Lander parents built in the woods of North Idaho. The stalls are decorated, comfortable, and most importantly, they don’t smell. Hidden away under the bench is a bucket where all your human waste goes. The bench has a cabinet door at the front for staff to easily remove a full bucket and replace it with a clean one, no struggling with lids required. Next to the seat is a container of sweet-smelling sawdust and a cup for measuring the portion of sawdust you throw on top of your poo. It’s a lovely experience, most especially because someone else takes away your poo and deals with it!



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