Composting Toilet: A Toilet Alternative for the Environmentally Conscious
Fresh water is a commodity that not everyone in the world gets to enjoy. In fact, there are many third world countries that are without fresh water at all. In the developed countries, we actually waste a lot of water. This is done through irrigation, watering your lawn, livestock, exotic plants, and toilets. Yup, flushing your toilet uses anywhere between 3.5-7 gallons per flush. In an attempt to save water, many people have started either installing new toilets that are designed to use less water, or use a composting toilet. I’m here to go over the latter. These toilets are probably unknown to most people, so let’s get started.
To start off, what is a compost toilet? Actually what is compost. Most people from the city are probably unfamiliar with this term. Compost is decomposed organic matter. When you compost something, it means that you are letting nature do what it’s best at. It basically recycles organic material like leaves and vegetable scraps. So, a composting toilet is a type of waterless toilet or micro-flush system that uses the natural process to treat human waste by composting. The great thing about these toilets is that they use very little to no water. Typically, they are used in national parks, cabins, and developing countries with limited fresh water. They are also a big hit when trying to live off the grid as they do not require to be connected to the main sewage system.
The question many people probably have is, “what about the smell?” Well the beauty of a composting toilet is that the tank hold two containers in it. One for liquids and one for solids. Liquids are directed towards a front tank while solids are dropped into a lower tank via a trap door. The smell comes from a chemical reaction that happens when the two mix together. By separating them and separating the solids in the composting area (the lower tank) you will not get that bad, lingering smell.
Composting for the Environment
The best thing about composting is that it is great for the environment. When your tank is full, you can empty it basically anywhere, though obviously a composting pile is preferred. The compost can then be used as organic, environmentally friendly fertilizer for your plants or your garden. If you are using this at a cabin or boat and you have no need for a compost pile, it can still be disposed of easily. Just put it in a composting bag and throw it away with the trash. It does not count as a biohazard and continues to compost while in the bag. Boaters can even throw it overboard, as long as they are far enough away from shore.
The liquids can be basically disposed of the same as the solids. However, liquid do not compost, so do not pour them on your compost pile. You can dilute the wizz and sprinkle it on the ground, pour it into the sewer, or if you are a boater, again just dump it overboard.
How does a Composting Toilets Work
Composting toilets have a few main components that are required for it to work properly. A composting chamber for your solid waste. A ventilation unit to make sure the degradation process is mainly aerobic and to get rid of the fumes. A separate container for your liquid waste. And a way for taking the tank out to empty it. The separate container for your liquids is very important. If your pee ends up in the same container as the compost, it makes the whole process useless. Urine, while being a liquid, causes an anaerobic environment and ultimately impedes decomp. In addition, it also contains ammonia that harms microbiological activity.
The way composting human waste works is really the same as composting other organic materials. The only difference is this is happening in an enclosed space and there are more gases and bacteria involved. The correct balance between oxygen, moisture, heat and organic material is needed to ensure a rich aerobic environment for the matter to decompose properly. This can be done a number of ways. If you buy a composting toilet like a Sun-Mar brand toilet, their patented Bio-Drum does all the work for you. If you make your own, which you can, you will have to add in the dry carbon mix to start the compost process.
For a composting toilet to be efficient, it has to do these separate processes. Compost the waste and toilet paper quickly and without there being any odor, the finished compost should be safe and easy to handle, and it should evaporate any liquid. That last part is very important, just like keeping the urine separate. In fact, all human waste that enters toilets is 90% water. So that water must be evaporated and carried back to the atmosphere through the ventilation system.
Why is a Composting Toilet Great
There are a number of reasons why these toilet alternatives are a good choice. Though you may have to have an open and flexible mind to use it as it is completely different than anything most people are used to. For starters, a composting toilet saves a lot of water and energy. For those of us who are always environmentally conscious, we are always looking for new ways to reduce our energy output and ultimately our carbon footprint. This is a great way to do so. The American Water Works Association Research Foundation (wow, long name) found that over 30% of all household water is used just for flushing your toilet. In addition, water treatment and sewage treatment use a ton of energy and a lot of our waste still ends up polluting our oceans or freshwater areas.
Another great fact about compost toilets is that they actually smell less than a regular toilet. This is due to a few factors. The first is the one I have mentioned a few times and that is the separation of liquid and solid waste. This eliminates that lingering smell. Another reason for this is because of what is inside the compost chamber. Many people use peat moss or coconut coir as a base for the compost. Other tanks like the Sun-Mar have their own process which does not require any additions. This makes the tank smell mostly like dirt instead of, to put it plainly, poop. In addition, there is usually a fan or ventilation that directs all fumes outside, as well as keeps the moisture down inside the tank.
Benefits of Compost
Many commercial fertilizers are enriched with nitrogen or other chemicals to promote plant growth. This is done by introducing additional nitrogen into the soil for the plants to absorb. However, we have all heard of the saying, too much of a good thing. The soil has a natural balance to it and when that is thrown off, it can severely damage the cycle and affect the whole ecosystem. With compost, it is organic and natural. Compost is basically super food for plants. It can energize the soil food web, making it easier for plants to grow and thrive. It can also help the soil retain moisture.
Composting Toilets for RVs: DIY
If any of you have every owned or rented an RV, you know that emptying the bilge is a painfully smelly task. However, if you own an RV, or even a boat, you can make and install your own composting toilet.
Before you do anything, you first have to remove the toilet that is already pre-installed. This can be tedious and it may be better to hire someone to take care of that. The best DIY toilet I found uses a plastic olive barrel, computer fan, plastic tube, and the already owned toilet seat modified to fit the new installment. (side note, best to get a 15 gallon barrel) Now you may have to make some adjustments to your toilet area like cutting the wood or plastic that held the original toilet to make the barrel fit. For the toilet seat, make two holes on the top of it. One for the air inlet that will allow some oxygen to flow in, to stabilize the aerobic environment. The second hole is for the air outtake fan and tube. This will take all the fumes out of the container and help evaporate the liquid.
As for the compost chamber, you will need to add your own dry carbon mixture to start the composting process. Easiest mix to use is 1 pint of peat moss, 1 pint of wood sawdust, and 1 pint of wood shavings. But that is adjustable by yourself. In addition, you will have to add more to that mixture every time you go to the bathroom. Mainly to keep the balance as this is a very rough DIY toilet. Ultimately, you are free to experiment however way you choose. But switching to a composting toilet may just help you save some time, effort and money as emptying your bilge can be pricey.