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Night soil

Night soil is produced as a result of a waste management system in areas without community infrastructure such as a sewage treatment facility, or individual septic disposal. In this system of waste management, the human feces are collected in solid form. Night soil is a euphemism for intentionally collected human feces.


Waste management


Feces are excreted into a container or honey bucket, and are sometimes collected in the container with urine and other waste. Often the deposition or excretion occurs within the residence, such as in a shophouse faced with overpopulation. This system is used in isolated rural areas and is important in developing nations or in areas that lack the adequate infrastructure to have running water. The material is collected for temporary storage and is disposed of depending on local custom.


Disposal has varied through time. In urban areas, usually slums, a night soil collector will arrive regularly, at varying time periods depending on the supply and demand for night soil collection. Usually this occurs during the night, giving the night soil its name.

In isolated rural areas such as in farms, the household will usually dispose of the night soil themselves, but this practice is generally not referred to as night soil, though the eventual fate of the night soil, and style of handling, is similar.[citation needed]

After arriving at a collection point, usually as a special treatment centre within the city, or perhaps an open cesspit, methods of dealing with the waste vary. The waste may go on being shipped to another larger centre to be ultimately taken care of, or be disposed of at that particular juncture.

Sanitation issues

Without proper treatment, the use of human feces as fertilizer is a hazardous practice because of disease-causing microbes they contain. Nevertheless, in developing nations it is a common practice. Parasitic worm infections, such as Ascariasis in these countries are linked to night soil, since the larvae are in feces. There have also been cases of disease-carrying tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables being imported from undeveloped nations into more developed nations.

Human waste may be attractive as fertilizer because of the high demand for fertilizer and the relative availability of the material to create night soil. In areas where native soil is of poor quality, the local population may weigh the risk of using night soil.

The safe reduction of human waste into compost is possible. Many municipalities create compost from the city sewage system, but then recommend that it only be used on flower beds, not vegetable gardens. Some claims have been made that this is dangerous or inappropriate without the expensive removal of heavy metals. There are other simple yet effective ways to process the compost into safe and useable material. One method, that has been successful, is known as "humanure" where the material is piled in a compost heap with kitchen refuse and high-carbon materials such as yard waste, heated through biological activity and kept for an optimal period of time whereby the pathogens are destroyed. Many people in the USA and other countries have been practicing this method for over ten years now without any negative consequences.

Historical examples


The term is known, or even infamous among the generations that were born in parts of China or Chinatowns (depending on the development of the infrastructure) before 1960. Post-World War II Chinatown, Singapore before the independence of Singapore utilized night soil collection as a primary means of waste disposal, especially as much of the infrastructure was damaged and took a long time to rebuild following the Battle of Singapore and subsequent Japanese Occupation of Singapore. Following the subsequent development of the economy and the standard of living after independence, the night soil system in Singapore is now merely a curious anecdote from the time of colonial rule when new systems developed. This system is now obsolete in virtually all provinces in China.

The collection method is generally very manual and heavily relies on close human contact with the waste. During the Nationalist era when the Kuomintang ruled mainland China, as well as Chinatown in Singapore, the night soil collector usually arrived with spare and relatively empty honey buckets to exchange for the full honey buckets. The method of transporting the honey buckets from individual households to collection centers was very similar to delivering water supplies by an unskilled laborer, with the exception that the item being transported was not at all potable and it was being delivered from the household, rather than to the household. The collector would hang full honey buckets onto each end of a pole he carried on his shoulder and then proceeded to carry it through the streets until he reached the collection point. This was an unpleasant occupation and was predominately done by manual laborers.

Tudor Britain

A gong farmer was the term used in Tudor Britain for a person employed to remove human excrement from privies and cesspits. Gong farmers were only allowed to work at night and the waste they collected had to be taken outside the city or town boundaries.


India's ancient caste system assigned untouchables with the disposal of night soil. This "manual scavenging" is now illegal in most Indian states, although the practice undoubtedly continues in many rural areas.[1]


The reuse of feces as fertilizer was common in Japan. Waste products of rich people were sold at higher prices because their diet was better. Various historic documents dating from the 9th century detail the disposal procedures for toilet waste.

Selling human waste products as fertilizers became much less common after World War II, both for sanitary reasons and because of the proliferation of chemical fertilizers, and less than 1% is used for night soil fertilization.[2]

The proper disposal or recycling of sewage remains an important research area that is highly political.

See also


  1. ^ Zaidi Annie (2006). Manual scavenging is still a disgusting reality in most States despite an Act of Parliament banning it, Frontline, Volume 23, Issue 18 (html). Retrieved on 2007-05-07.
  2. ^ Masao Ukita and Hiroshi Nakanishi (1999). Pollutant Load Analysis for the Environmental Management of Enclosed Sea in Japan (PDF) 122. Retrieved on 2006-10-30.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Night_soil". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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