Terra Preta Sanitation, In which we learn of The World Toilet Prize

Fearlessly, finally, blogging on from here in Berlin, Germany, where I’m positively flushed with what we might call, the latest Tales from the Toiletten.

Just before leaving for our study tour in Europe, I spoke at the 20th Anniversary Natural Resource Management “Tipping Point” Conference dinner on local sustainable food. I included of course the story of our 100% Electric Ute, and added, at some risk, a few rather personal tales on The Transformative Power of Poo. Now, it seems, we’re destined to continue this Toiletten theme.

By chance on arrival we found a campaign for a Berlin based documentary film called UnDune. The film profiles a new system of “managing our business” using a closed nutrient cycle waste management the Germans have called “Terra Preta Sanitation”.

Given our existing fascination with Terra Preta soils, our commitment to developing a biochar machine, and desire to learn more about closed nutrient cycling systems, this was a seriously golden opportunity – we HAD to meet the film makers.

We contacted one of them, Dennis Raetzel, who invited us to meet with him at Lichtenberg Community Garden for a chat.

The garden site borders an industrial complex, where, we were told, ground is likely polluted with toxic residues like lead. To avoid working the contaminated earth, a group of about ten locals, including Dennis, are growing food in raised beds fashioned from pallets and other recycled materials. Dennis said it’s difficult to access land in Berlin. They have thus taken what they could get, and ensured the garden is somewhat portable, in case they should be asked to move on at short notice.

As it happens, right on site there’s another project called “The Old Foundry”. There, Dennis and a collective of passionate makers are transforming the abandoned factory into a creative hub, which already includes two music studios, a printmakers room, sewing room, woodworking equipment, metal work equipment, and even a 3D printer currently under construction.

We toured the old foundry building with Dennis and his UnDune co-producer, Gregor Pieplow. Gregor’s noteworthy father, Hiako Pieplow, has recently written a book called “Terra Preta -The Black Revolution from the Rainforest” (only available in German at this stage).

Dennis and Gregor shared an impressive depth of understanding, knowledge, and passion for developing resilience using the Terra Preta Sanitation system and related concepts. The film UnDune will be released later this year and we’ll ensure to announce it here. We’ve bought an advance copy already to help fund the post-production, and encourage you to donate as well, if you can.

As I understand it, the waste management solution explored in the film is a water-less toilet, which uses a combination of pulverised biochar and stonemeal to cover and process faeces.

When the bucket positioned beneath the toilet seat is full, it is closed for a month to enable an anaerobic fermentation. Micro-organisms can be added to boost the process, though they are naturally present already. Following this, the contents, which do not smell, are added to a worm farm. The worms apparently adore this “food” and thus begins an aerobic fermentation. After more time, the end result is a completely safe, highly enriched soil improver.

The UnDune film profiles other closely related projects in Germany, including Terra Boga – a biochar production facility used for soil enrichment in the Berlin Botanical Gardens.

When it was looking like the day couldn’t get any better, Dennis and Gregor – completely straight-faced – began telling us about the WTO: the World Toilet Organisation. Apparently this lesser known WTO has recently awarded The World Toilet Prize to a Professor in Hamburg, who spent ten years devising a closed loop toilet system. The system is installed and available for any member of the public to experience at a Hamburg Train Station!

By this stage I was just about crying with laughter and begging Dennis to contact the World Toilet Prize Winner on our behalf. Apparently the Professor is a man very much in demand. I’ll be, uh, relieved if he, or any other of their contacts are willing to talk ‘business’ with us.

Like us, Dennis, Gregor and their friends at The Old Foundry Berlin collective would also like to develop a small scale biochar machine for the common area, for the triple purpose of heating, biochar and energy production. We plan to keep in touch to share plans and progress as we all work to make this idea manifest.

Stay tuned to hear who within Dennis and Gregor’s network of noteworthy biochar / Terra Preta Toiletten experts are willing to meet with us.

Needless to say I’m intrigued about what this could all mean for nutrient cycling systems in the future design of Stellar Violets garden-farm. It does seem to bode well for enhancing our ability to build farm fertility safely, effectively, and efficiently, year on year ad infinitum.

Our thanks to Gregor and Dennis – legends.

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