It all started when I read a highly humorous book, The Humanure Handbook, self-published by a US recycling enthusiast called Joe Jenkins.
This explained how I could easily construct a sawdust toilet system and prevent the waste of hundreds of kilos of soil-enriching nutrients and thousands of litres of drinking water. Or perhaps it was a book called Farmers for Forty Centuries about a chap visiting China in the early 1900s who described how the Chinese composted everything, including “night soil”.
Actually, it was probably in the mid-1980s, having dropped out of college and become involved in Green politics, that I began trying to lead a low-impact lifestyle. Or perhaps it was earlier when I kept toads and cockroaches as pets and developed a love of nature.
Whatever it was, I blame the BBC asking Newsnight reporter Justin Rowlatt to live “ethically” for a year and report on his experiences. He asked viewers what he should and shouldn’t be doing as part of his Ethical Man project. My e-mail caught his attention and he asked me if he could come and film my compost toilet. Of course he could!
Not everybody will want a compost toilet, but those who do should consult Joe Jenkins. We can all reduce our water use by adopting the mantra “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” or retrofitting a dual flush or savaflush system. The simplest way to reduce your flush volume is by putting a “hippo”, or water-filled plastic bottle, in the cistern. These measures will save you money if you’re on a water meter, as well as help the environment.
Once a month in the magazine (and every week on my new Community Care blog) I will share with you my attempts to live an ethical life and the many aspects of sustainability I’ve learned over the years. And I will you encourage to change the way you use energy, how you travel and what you eat.
Feel free to write to me, challenge and question me, and disagree with me. But whatever you do, don’t do nothing.
John Cossham is Community Care’s ethical living expert.