The total solar eclipse in August will bring a lot of people to Oregon. While most of us are only thinking about the awesome natural phenomenon we get to witness, some of us are thinking about bathrooms. Andrew Millison, an instructor in the OSU Horticulture Department, is currently seeking volunteers to collect samples from porta-potties at the Oregon Eclipse Festival taking place at Big Summit Prairie, 40 miles east of Prineville.
“You know, everyone hates porta-potties,” said Millison. So, why volunteer to spend more time in proximity to one than you need to?
Half of the porta-potties at the Oregon Eclipse Festival will be composting toilets. These bio-filtration porta-potties were first developed about 20 years ago with the help of Andre Soares and his work at Ecocentric IPEC, a South American organization that develops methods for sustainable living.
They piloted the composting toilets at the Boom Festival in Portugal, a “biennial transformational festival” that features a variety of musical performances and art exhibits. This festival is pretty revolutionary for its focus on environmental impact, and the Oregon Eclipse Festival is following suit.
This is where Millison comes in. Millison’s focus at OSU is permaculture, which is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. In fact, Millison founded Permaculture Design International, a collaborative design firm working on large-scale projects globally. Naturally, Millison is interested in a process that turns human waste into something useful for the environment. The porta-potties that Millison and his crew will be testing have “bio-digesters,” which means they digest all the solids and turn them into liquid that could have an agricultural use.
Millison insists that the process will not be messy. Once samples are collected from the tank at the end of the system, they will be transported to the Crop & Soil lab at OSU where they will be analyzed and potentially returned to the land. Toilets at the Boom Festival have composting tanks that contain nutrients such as carbon that neutralize odors, giving you a much more pleasant bathroom experience.
“These people want to take over the porta-potty industry [and] create a useful product,” said Millison.
He also mentioned that Oregon’s inventory of porta-potties is completely reserved, so besides these eco-toilets, we’re getting porta-potties shipped from Washington, California, and Idaho. That’s a whole lot of human waste.
Millison already has a crap-load of volunteers—pun intended—thanks to enthusiastic OSU students. However, if you’re interested in helping with this study, Millison is offering a free pass to the Oregon Eclipse Festival. The festival promises lots of whimsy, including music, yoga, and “art boats with mermaids, hot air balloons, and hijinks, and [a] community of people as luscious and inspiring as one could hope,” so handling a little human compost could be well worth your time.
The Oregon Eclipse Festival is a week-long event beginning Aug. 17 and ending Aug. 23. For more information, visit http://oregoneclipse2017.com. If you’re interested in volunteering or want more information about the porta-potties, email Andrew Millison at andrew.millison@oregonstate.
By Anika Lautenbach