The Common Law

Composting Your No. 2s? Austin Officially Welcomes the 'Humanure' Movement

Composting Your No. 2s? Austin Officially Welcomes the 'Humanure' Movement

I heard that Austin approved composting toilets for people. Is that true? Can I put one in my backyard?

Gray water. Composting. Yard-ins. Many Austinites are already familiar with these green-friendly terms. But "humanure"? Has Austin really gone so far as to authorize human waste to go somewhere other than the sewer line?

Yes. In June, after years of consideration, Austin became the first city in the country to approve use of human composting toilets, which rely on time and natural bacteria to break down human waste and create fertile soil. The city permitted a human-waste composting outhouse on a 9.8-acre former landfill in East Austin's Montopolis neighborhood owned by the Rhizome Collective, a group that promotes sustainable, environmentally friendly practices. Users of the Rhizome toilet finish their experience by dumping a scoop of sawdust on the waste rather than flushing.

There are a number of things you should know before you invest time and energy in submitting your permit request to build your composting toilet. The city bars any property within 100 feet of a sewer line from having a composting toilet, which essentially prohibits the vast majority of suburban residential homes. Moreover, composting toilets are only lawful in Austin if the unit is approved by the National Sanitation Foundation or engineered by a registered professional engineer. These restrictions, coupled with the fact that many are uncomfortable with the idea itself, suggest that it is unlikely we will have an abundance of composting toilets any time soon. Nonetheless, the first-of-its-kind decision to approve the toilet has garnered national attention and is viewed by some as a significant (even if impractical) recognition of the importance of sustainable living and water conservation.

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The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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