FUMAIN n. (from Latin fimus, manure; humanus, human). A by-product of the human digestive system used for agricultural purposes.
Soil fertility has always been a concern for farmers. To be fertile, soils need to be supplied with nutrients. Currently, this supply of nutrients is mainly provided by organic fertilisers (from living animals or plants) but also by mineral fertilisers obtained by means of artificial synthesis processes thanks to the chemical industry for nitrogen and mining for phosphorus and potassium. However, these mineral fertiliser production processes are polluting and rely on non-renewable and increasingly scarce energy and mineral resources.
At the same time, in France, more than 99% of households evacuate their urine and faeces using a flush toilet, leading to a consumption of 26 litres of drinking water per day. Moreover, the treatment of this "wastewater" by wastewater treatment plants is costly in terms of fossil fuels, which are responsible for greenhouse gases, and is not always efficient, as a significant proportion of the nutrients from human dejecta still find their way into watercourses, causing significant local pollution which can lead to the development of green algae.
What is the link between soil fertility and human excreta?
The nutrients that are brought to the food system by mineral fertilisers in the fields end up mainly in our urine with an average of 85% of nitrogen, 60% of phosphorus and 75% of potassium (Esculier, 2018).
Faced with these multiple issues of water pollution, overconsumption of water, pollution by mineral fertilizers and the need for nutrients for agricultural production, a collective of Bordeaux citizens created the Fumainerie. Its aim is to support the development of a more ecological sanitation system based on a better use of human excreta and contributing to making our food system more resilient. In particular, La Fumainerie offers residents a dry toilet management service and a reuse of human waste.
La Fumainerie is an association under the law of 1901 founded in 2019 by a collective of Bordeaux citizens who seek to promote, build and experiment with a network for the collection and recovery of human excrement via the democratisation of dry toilets, to enable water savings and optimise the circularity of the nutrient cycle.
Ambre Diazabakana, an agricultural engineer and environmental specialist, co-founder and employee of La Fumainerie, explains in an article in Rue89 Bordeaux: "The idea is also to gain resilience. The more diversified a system is, the more resilient it will be if it is confronted with a change. My objective is to apply this principle to sanitation to accompany the changes to come.
Since March 2020, this French network for the collection and use of dry toilets in urban areas has been providing a dry toilet rental service to some thirty Bordeaux residents. In doing so, La Fumainerie is experimenting with the technical and logistical feasibility and social acceptability of using dry toilets in an urban environment. In this way, La Fumainerie is running the first collective urban sanitation network disconnected from the main sewer. Beyond the experimentation, the association wishes above all to participate in the structuring of a local network for the circular management of human excreta, through the territorial animation undertaken with local authorities and economic actors.
How it works
La Fumainerie has chosen to take charge of all the logistics in order to limit the constraints that could prevent volunteers from installing dry toilets in their homes. They offer rental equipment and a collection service during which the bins are emptied and changed, making it easier for Bordeaux citizens to adopt this alternative. They also install, manage and maintain a network of dry toilets.
The association also aims to change people's perception of excreta, replacing the vision of waste with a resource. It raises awareness and supports its users by training them in the challenges of collective sanitation and by enabling them in turn to spread this type of initiative.
La Fumainerie is part of a local economic network by working with several Bordeaux companies such as "Un petit coin de paradis" which manufactures dry toilets and "La Planche" which makes wood chips to mask odours and promote biodegradation.
Since urine and faeces are rich in nutrients and contain phosphorus and carbon, the Fumainerie is experimenting how they can be used in agriculture, thanks to their partnership with Pena Environnement. This company, located in Saint-Jean d'Illac, is the only one that currently has the infrastructure and authorisations required to convert excreta into compost. A scientific committee will accompany the Fumainerie's experimentation in order to evaluate the reduction of pathogens and to quantify the medicinal residues.
The association currently operates with the financial support of local authorities, the European Union and private foundations. In 2020, it also launched a participatory funding campaign on "I adopt a project" which enabled it to acquire part of its fleet of dry toilets. In 2019, it won the Coup de Coeur awards at the department's Agenda 21 Trophies and the Coup de Coeur award for the Social and Solidarity Economy from Bordeaux Métropole. Finally, the members of the network can also participate financially in the operation of the service by freely setting the amount of their contribution.
The little extra
In order to limit all their greenhouse gas emissions, the association collects the bins in a carbon-free way, by cargo bike.
To learn more about this theme, we invite you to watch the video of Les Greniers d'abondance on nutrient recycling (below).
This sheet was produced by Emma Plouchard and Adèle Guen, LFC volunteers - December 2020
Les Greniers d’abondance, 2020. Vers la résilience alimentaire. Faire face aux menaces globales à l’échelle des territoires. https://resiliencealimentaire.org Lallemand, F., 2019. Engrais, nutriments, et fertilité des sols. https://resiliencealimentaire.org/engrais-nutriments-et-fertilite-des-sols/
Last modification : 21 Apr 2021.
La Fumainerie is an association founded in 2019 by a collective of Bordeaux citizens who seek to promote, build and experiment with a network for the collection and recovery of human excrement via the democratisation of dry toilets, to enable water savings and optimise the circularity of the nutrient cycle.