The Wastewater Gardener

Phil Moore | Wednesday, 21st January 2015
Why we all need to consider our waste and explore alternatives to flushing it.
Author: Mark Nelson
Publisher: Synergetic Press
Publication year: 2014
RRP: £21.00

You could say that my deepening relationship with permaculture has been one of auditing my own waste. That, and dealing with my own crap. Literally. So, it has been an utter pleasure to read The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time by ecosystem engineer Mark Nelson.

Described by the author as "adventures in the shit trade" the book is composed of a series of case studies, written in a lively and conversational manner, exploring alternatives to flushing away one of our most valued yet underused resources: human waste.

From his beginnings as a "willing incompetent" at Synergia Ranch in New Mexico where the alchemical magic of compost turned desertified land into orchards, to his time inside Biosphere 2 (the first man made biospheric system) in the early 90s, to more recently, his work on the restoration of the southern Iraq marshes, Nelson shares a wealth of anecdotes and experience.

Genial in tone, Nelson guides the reader over the various ways in which he has been exploring our (mis)management of what he calls the "Fecesphere". The modern flush toilet - symbol of progress, emblem of eco-crisis - has been described by some as a "pathogen dispersal unit". Hallmark of our disconnection with the natural world, and its processes, Nelson equips readers early on with the necessary facts about the madness of modern bogs and the wastage involved. But the book's strength is its breadth as Nelson takes us on a tour of his life's work, choosing avuncular storytelling over numbers and graphs. I would have liked more detail about Bioshphere 2 as I have read elsewhere that the experiment was riddled with unforeseen complications and failures.

His overriding message is sound ecology. Nature recycles everything; ecosystems neither generate nor produce waste. Understanding wetlands as 'the world's kidney's', they do a grand job of cleaning our water. By copying nature with constructed wetlands as local systems Nelson argues that the closer to home an issue such as wastewater management and dealing with our shit is, the more of a conscious impact it will have on the way we behave. And this is what the book sets out to do: to impart a systems based understanding of the world.

What marks out The Wastewater Gardener for the average reader is that it is not a technical 'how to' but a plainly stated call, with humour and humanity, for us all to think a little harder when we're sat on the loo. We are after all, each one of us, Biospherians.


We have 3 copies of The Wastewater Gardener to give away. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, all you need to do is send us a DIY practical solution. The best 3 will be published in the magazine or on the website and you will win a copy of the book! Top tip: make sure you send pictures! Email your solutions to rozie[at] 

Further resources

Septic Tank Options & Alternatives

Create an Oasis with Greywater


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