From Haiti to Mars: a giant leap for human waste

Mars One aims to land the first colonists on Mars in just 12 years’ time. One of their first tasks will be to start growing food using nutrients from their own waste − techniques for which are being pioneered by engineers in Haiti.

An impression of what the Mars One basecamp will look like.
An impression of what the Mars One basecamp will look like.

Writing in the latest issue of the ICE Waste and Resource Management journal, Mark Sanders of CH2M Hill says everyone on Earth too could benefit from greater recycling of the valuable nutrients in human waste.

'If faeces and urine are managed appropriately, nutrient-rich organic compost can be created without the need for high energy and high water consumption wastewater treatment techniques,' he says.

How is it done?

US non-government organisation Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) has developed a thermophilic composting system for human waste in Haiti, where only a quarter of the population has access to proper sanitation.

The resulting compost is both safe to handle and rich in nutrients – potentially enough to grow the same amount of food previously eaten. SOIL is continuing to refine the process to cut composting time and reduce volume losses, to better benefit efforts to rebuild Haiti's damaged ecosystem.

Sanders concludes, 'The engineering community must accept that use of inorganic fertilisers is unsustainable, while also recognising the huge potential that human waste has to play in the recirculation of nutrients throughout the environment.' Certainly life on Mars will not be possible without it.

For more information, please contact the ICE Proceedings editor Simon Fullalove on +44 (0)20 7665 2448 or at [email protected].

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