Thursday, March 10, 2011

Composting Toilet Reality Check

Over the last year of living at the Luck Cabin I have been able to learn about how some sustainable ideas work in reality.... and not just how they work in the manufacturers description. Which may be where the first problem starts - things that have to be manufactured have a chance of costing a bit much and not really being the easiest thing to work with.
I wanna start out with saying I do not regret having a composting toilet system , a septic system is destructive & i want no part of putting one on my land - I do however have some things to share with those who are considering a similar composting solution to mine.
(Not all composting toilet methods are created equal!! You can spend anywhere between $10 handmade to over $2,000 mega system.)
#1: the urine container fills up fast. For just me alone it fills up in a week or so. If people come over, it has the chance of overflowing if I dont think to empty it right before they get here.... which i am here to say is GRROOOOSSSSSsssSSSS. So gross! JEzuz, and i dont get grossed out very easily, as ya'll should know. I can skin a dead chipmunk, but urine splashing out onto my face is another monster all together!
#2: You will be scooping poop! The thing is it is supposed to be nice composted poop turned into garden goddess blackness, but there are times when this plan doesnt work out, and also what about the very last shit you took before you are about to clean out the poop container??? Yeah, that one didn't have time to compost. This is when i really think a Humanure system, handmade with a bucket that can be easily pulled out and dumped is MUCH better then any permanent system (if you are in a cabin, obviously not in a boat!)
#3: Winter = Cold = Poop ain't gonna turn to dirt! My cabin was not warm enough to keep up composting temperatures, so basically what happened during winter was the poop was kept at a really nice cold temp that kept it fresh! mmmMmmMm! Perfectly preserved poop waiting for me to scoop out!
#4 : When ya scoop it out the container, if it didn't compost good enough your whole house will stink like poop but worse. Enough said there.
#5: Who's gonna clean up after? I know this sounds minor but the reality of it is a bit different, I have to use plastic bags or something to cover my hands and arms to scoop out the poop (cause remember some of it wont be composted), then i use a shovel to scoop it, and then a bucket to poop the poop in. So once all these things have poop on them, you have to find a way to clean them. Spray a hose outside, of course.... and have poop splatter back onto your clothes when it flings off the bucket.
I have chose to let time take care of these things, in the rain. I leave the buckets, shovel out in the weather to clean it off.


NOTE :::: ALL of this is way more intense (I believe) if you have more then one person using the composting toilet... I am by myself, mostly dealing with my own waste. Decide how much you love your partner ahead of time and be prepared to dive your hands into their poop if you want this kind of system.

Again --- BUCKET! Easy to remove trays! something, anything.... is better then scooping! Find a composting system that makes the removal of the waste as simple as possible, because in a ideal world it's black dirt, in the real world someone took a shit yesterday and it didnt get a chance to become black gold.

My vote is to have two systems ideally. Depending on your situation of course, but if you are in a cabin (aka not in a boat, RV, or tiny house on wheels) use a easy bucket humanure style toilet, and build an outhouse for guests during parties.
At least.... that is what I am about to start building this summer.



Aisha said...

thanks for sharing i was thinking of getting composting toilets but now I don't know, Im not scooping my guests shyt no matter how much I love you, so low flow it is. Lol best of luck with the outhouse.

Gratuitous said...

I once managed a semi-sustainable hostel called The Hostel in the Forest (look it up; amazing place), and they've used humanure systems for many years. And they have dozens and dozens of people using them every day!

Simple: Common 5-gallon buckets in a wooden box with a hole on top large enough to accommodate a standard toilet seat. People do their biz (they are encourage to pee outside if possible), wipe with TP, then dump some sawdust on top (bulk sawdust is cheap or even free from nearby sawmills). Every day, the assigned "poop-tech" empties each bucket into larger containers and wheelbarrows it to the compost bin.

Now, it may not be very important for a single person or a family, but they keep the humanure in a separate compost for eventual use on flowerbeds or whatever, but not vegetable gardens, for fear of parasites.

It works. And the smell is surprisingly mild, but then again the toilets are all in well-ventilated outhouses. In your case, because of cold winters you probably would want to install it in a bathroom with a ventilation option for warm weather. Or since it's so simple, you could have two, one in and one out. Regardless, the sawdust has great smelly-goodness absorption properties. Of course, in a pinch (no pun intended) you could use whatever you have, leaves, dirt, etc. Hell, why not toss the kitchen scraps right on the pile (again, no pun intended)?

Meg said...

Seriously? You empty every week??? I have to empty mine every day, or about every 36 hrs!! I know I drink a lot, but I had no idea it was that much more!

I agree with you on all you say, though. I got mine for my trailer, so was prepared for the inconveniences with this much smaller system, and when I have a permanent place to live, I am definitely getting one of the larger systems. Still cheaper than a septic, and way nicer, too.

They are really pushing them in other countries, Europe and all, because it is just so much easier when you have a lot of people. I really think that is what we need on the coast, have you seen how they are building up those places? I really do not believe anyone thinks that is sanitary, sand just cannot hold that much.

I have to agree with you on the tray thing, though. Why does it not have an easier way to get it out?

Vicky said...

Interesting post. I've been considering using a litterbox, like a cat because it's supposed to be better to squat instead of sit while doing your business. I would probably keep the toilet for guests, though. I'm not sure how my friends would react to pooping cat style.

Anonymous said...

For public health reasons I have two words for you: Septic System.

For your own sanity, i have two words for you: Septic System.

Leslie's Gone Oko said...

Anonymous -
you really should at least get a fake name, it will make your opinion sound more credible.

My compsoting toilet does not cause me any mental problems, so sanity is not an issue.
i am looking at the larger picture here, of public health. Septic systems are not infallible first of all, they can be quite disgusting. In fact, maybe you havent seen one put in, but I have --- they find the best portion of land on your property, the spot that would be best to grow food. They dig far and wide to put in the spetic field, filling the earth deeply with something akin to packing peanuts in giant plastic nets--- aka, forever ruining this plot of land which could be use for growing food. The spetic system also has to be pumped (and where does all that shit go?) and tanks will frequently will overflow due to neglect or break due to tree roots.

Where i live, there is water everywhere - creeks, springs, pond, etc.... a septic system would polluted the water underground and springs closer to the surface, and so it not possible to put one in, unless it is pumped uphill with an elaborate & expensive energy sucking machine.
I look at this from the perspective of using up resources, energy, what is causing pollution etc... which means I am choosing the method that causes the least health hazards in the end. Health hazards are not only measured in piles of shit.

Ike said...

Amen on the septic system...

I like your conclusion about the humanure system. Like Gratuitous said, it works for as many people as necessary.

Peace, Quiet, Joy said...

There's a reason why shit and piss are brown and yellow and not blue.


kirk said...

I use a 5 gallon bucket.I fill it with coffee grounds that I get from free from starbucks. No smell except I associate doo doo with coffee ground smell now.

Cheryl said...

I know this is an older post but I've just stumbled upon it. You mention scooping out the poop. My understanding is that one should be able to dump the container. Is that option not available to you? Or is it too heavy to dump? We're looking for a solution for our family of three. We want to build a TumbleWeed type tiny house on wheels, so we won't be able to do traditional humanure. Thanks for your time. :)

Anonymous said...

I am delighted to point out you are doing this somewhat incorrectly, and it can be much easier and pleasant. First, it is vitally important to use the fan, and as you say, you are not using it. The fan dries out the solids. The solids should look nothing like that disgusting muck in your video. It should be dry, crumbly material with a mushroom like smell. The fan uses almost no power, but must run 24/7 - as the instructions say.
Second, you can dispense with the bottle altogether, and eliminate all odor associated with urine, by running a hose from the urine drain, through the floor (or wall) and to a simple French drain. This is a pit about 2' by 2' by 2', filled with gravel. You MUST run the tube down into the ground - not just let it pour on top. You can't pour urine on the ground undiluted - it will start to smell.
You can read detailed instructions on my composting toilet blog. urine diverting toilets
Finally, you need to keep the edges of the solids bin, where the top meets the base, much cleaner to ensure a tight odor free seal. And the bowl can be kept spotlessly clean with a paper towel and vinegar.
The good news is, your composting can be made a lot easier and more pleasant.

Anonymous said...

Composting should occur down to about 55 degrees, but it might be happening pretty slowly. All composing toilets are a bit different, but for this one you show - the Nature's Head, you can do the following. Make absoutely sure you are using peat moss, as a previous poster mentioned. The handle mixes all the poop and peat moss up, making it much easier to deal with and empty. When full, open the bin, and pull a compostable garbage bag over the top. (these are cheap on Amazon). Invert the lower base, dumping the poop mixed with peat moss into the compostable bag. Put the entire compostable bag into a composter designed to deal with human waste (use a compost bin that is sealed and not open to the bottom - material cannot leach out into the ground). Now, you do not need to touch, scoop out or clean the bin. In fact, the material left inside helps speed up composting. Just close it up, and you are good to go. I've used this type of toilet for years, and never had to touch poop, never had to scoop poop. The way you show it, it looks awful. It does not have to be like that!

Anonymous said...

We too have this model. We are a family of 2 adults and 2 mid sized children. Maintenance is more than I would prefer, especially considering that I live in a climate where there is snow on the ground 6+ months of the year. Coco peat is essential as is the fan and an extra roll of sealer for where the top half meets the bottom. Soaking the urine jug in vinegar will keep it clean and make it easier to see just how full it is! We dump the bottom half into a dedicated compost bin located a ways away from the house (not fun in -40C) no dirty hands necessary, though I do always wear gloves. I would never consider a septic system. This might be inconvenient, but it is much better for our land. The next best option I have seen is the Phoenix Composting Toilet boasting maintenance only on a yearly basis. The cost, however is notably more than the Nature's Head.

Tristan said...

It's always concerning to hear about green technology doesn't live up to expectations. I hope all readers realise that this is only one person's experience with one particular product.

There are so many commercially available composting toilets circulating these days.

Despite what the manufacturers say, Nature's Head is NOT a full-time use system so probably a poor choice for to try out. Sun-Mar, Nature Loo and Rotaloo are better full-time alternatives where, as Leslie puts it, the "s*** she took yesterday" actually has a chance to become black gold she is after. This is a common problem with composting toilets that buckets for pee and poop which aren't using the the true batch composting processes. This is where new waste is separated from the old so what you are emptying is treated waste.

Nature Loo is probably a good place to start learning about a batch composting system

These systems also do not collect urine because, except for a boat or caravan, you don't need to! It is simply diverted away into a trench.

Leslie, I think what you did is a great idea but I hope you try another toilet out in your cabin some day.