Composting Toilet - What Is It? And Why Do I Need One?
We have owned our composting toilet since June 2013, and we think everyone with a boat, an RV or a Tiny House (on second thought pretty much everyone!) should install a composting toilet! Watch this video to get a preview and see our Composting Toilet in action, and answer the all important questions What is it? and Why do need one?
So…what is a composting toilet? Why should everyone have one? Does it smell? What’s the benefit? Aside from the wonderful fact that you no longer have to worry about a black (sewage) tank, here is our personal reasoning:
What is it?
A dry composting toilet uses no water, so there is no plumbing involved, no chemicals needed, no flushing, it’s completely natural and organic. The toilet is like a mini ecosystem that separates the liquids (the pee) and the solids (the poo) so the solids can convert into humus (not hummus, the dip made from chickpeas). Returning humus to the soil is an ecological benefit no different than adding animal manure purchased from a landscaping store. The toilet has a trap door that leads into the lower tank (aka compost area) and the liquids are directed to the front tank. This keeps the two from mixing so you don’t get the chemical reaction that creates the sewage smell (ya know that smell that seems to linger in the bathroom for 30 minutes after someone has left their deposit).
The compost dumping schedule depends on how many times you go #2 in a day, how much toilet paper you use after going and how many people are in your home. For us we dump the solids every 3 weeks or so. You can empty the solids tank in a composting bin to be used for fertilizing ornamental plants (some campgrounds have compost piles if you ask), if a compost pile isn’t available you can simply put the solids into a composting bag and throw it into the trash (it will continue to compost in the bag and isn’t considered a bio hazard). Boaters may empty their solids overboard if they are the proper distance offshore.
The liquids can be diluted and sprinkled on the ground, poured down a sewer or for boaters emptied overboard (again at a legal distance from shore). Typical dump schedule for us (2 people with full-time use) is every 3 days for the liquid tank.
We have the Natures Head composting toilet (the photo below is our toilet out in the wild!). We choose this toilet because it’s a reputable company that offers one of the smallest and lightest weight composting toilets on the market (that we could find at least). There are several other options out there (especially for homes) but for the size of our bathroom and simplicity of use, we liked this composting toilet. Priced under $900 the Nature’s Head is also the least expensive option that we could find without doing a bucket style DIY project (which is an option for those who are crafty or are on an extreme budget).
Why do you need one?
It saves a lot of water and energy! This is a really big deal when you are Wild Camping and have limited water. No more using your fresh water for flushing and that’s good news for everyone! The American Water Works Association Research Foundation finds that over 30 percent of household water use is just for flushing toilets. We have all been taught the flush-and-forget system: We don’t see where it goes and we don’t have to deal with it (you know “out of sight, out of mind”). Wastewater treatment is extremely energy intensive and the world as a whole shouldn’t continue using perfectly good drinking water to flush away our waste.
It smells LESS than a regular toilet!
Yes, you read it right, it smells less than a regular toilet and the smell is way less offensive while ‘going’. When the solids and liquids are separate they don’t create that typical sewage smell that lingers on for hours. Inside the solids tank is peat moss or coconut COIR (we use coco COIR because it’s more sustainable), it smells like dirt and is reminiscent of walking into your favorite nursery. There’s also a fan inside the tank that directs the air, along with the smells outside, while keeping the moisture down inside the solid tank.
No black tank and no more emptying a black tank!
If you are anything like us, this should be reason enough to switch your toilet! Having to haul out that long hose, put on your rubber gloves, hold your breath, open the hatch and watch as the giant black snake gurgles and wiggles with sludge then slowly but surely comes to a halt; no thank you! Emptying a bucket of what looks and smells like dirt is way…way better! Plus, when living off the cord, you don’t have to worry about your black tank filling up before you are ready to move along (pun intended). For the crafty you can remove that black tank and replace it with a second fresh tank to store even more fresh water for dry camping, or combine your grey and black tank for more used water storage.
It’s fantastic plant food!
We’ve been using animal poo (like cow patties) for a long time as manure for gardens because of the benefits…so why not use ours!?! There is even an entire book dedicated to the subject called The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure. And let’s not forget the liquids! Ammonia in pee has tons of great nitrogen (the stuff in fertilizers) and can be used for landscapes, food, fuel, and fiber. Its liquid gold, or at least according to this book, Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants. Both of these books make for great bathroom reading material :)
It’s simple (unless you’re Jason) to install yourself…
Because there is no plumbing, only one vent to run outside and one tiny fan that needs power, there isn’t much to install at all. Just make sure you watch Jason’s How Not To Install a Composting Toilet before you get started.