The Secrets of Toilet Composting


Not to be crass or anything, a lot more people are talking openly about poop (blame it on Dr. Oz and Oprah). And with growing surge in sustainable living taking place these days, a lot more people are also talking about composting toilets!

First off, a composting toilet is not a pit that you dig when going camping. A modern day composting toilet is one that belongs inside a bathroom along with a sink and a shower. The only difference is that a composting toilet is not connected to the water supply and septic system, thus saving considerable energy and cutting back on sewage pollution, not to mention serving as a cheap and effective natural fertilizer.

So, if a composting toilet is not connected to the water supply, then where does the poop go (okay, I'll call it waste from now on) and how does it get there? Well, at some point you (or your children) will have to manually remove the waste when it becomes a reusable end product fertilizer that can be used in your yard as compost. Before you jump to any conclusions about this being a "stinky and dirty job" let's dispel a few myths by explaining the different types of toilet composters and how they operate.

Some composting toilets are self-contained systems while others are central units powered by vacuum (and some electricity) to flush waste into a remote composting unit below the toilet.  While there are do-it-yourself systems out there, many of the "hands-free" composters offer all the conveniences of a regular toilet with the added environmental and money-saving benefits. Indeed, composting toilets cost from 25-75% less than a regular septic system.

Some composters use heat and inject air to speed up the aerobic decomposition rate, while others may require a drum to be turned once in a while. The best modern-day composting toilets will separate urine and feces, thus providing two types of fertilizers. Urine is actually responsible for providing the bulk of plant nutrients after being broken down into an odorless liquid fertilizer. This can take as little as three months. In Sweden (the original source of composting toilets), authorities allow composted urine to be used as agricultural fertilizer after six months of storage time. As for solid waste, this will take four to six years to become highly mineralized soil, which you can bet is some of the best fertilizer on the planet!

A common misconception about composting toilets inside the home are that they smell and require constant emptying. This is far from the truth. Since the original amount of waste typically decomposes to 10% its original volume (after 5 years, only 1-2% remains), there is less emptying than you might think. In fact, a full-sized composting toilet could go without emptying for several decades. Smaller models may require emptying multiple times in a year. It's not every day and week though. Regarding smell, composting toilets use "positive sectioning" to keep odors in the unit. Some units even come equipped with exhaust fans using minimal electricity. In fact, if used properly, composting toilets should be less odorous than regular toilets!

One last thing worth mentioning about composting toilets is their place with governmental health authorities. In some countries, the issue is greyer than grey water itself. In Sweden and Canada, for example, composting toilets are generally accepted.

In other countries, where sewage is not available, most health authorities will approve systems that use proper decontamination procedures.

If sewage is available, the use of composting toilets is generally prohibited. However, amidst the growing green movement, this is being widely challenged and more people are using composting toilets these days. Just be sure to check with your local authorities first.

Author: Ryan Jones