It’s easy to build a composting toilet; however, building a comfortable system take a little more work.
Along those lines, Raven Wolf left an entertaining comment beneath my recent video on building Joseph Jenkins’ “Lovable Loo” bucket toilet:
“Awesome–compost everything–including human poo–but good to add those nice touches like a toilet seat and a bucket. When I was pregnant with my son 18 years ago, I lived with a friend who had a composting “stage” in the woods. He was a huge fan of the Humanure Handbook. My friend was a bit hardcore about it tho. No walls, no roof, not even stairs to get up on it–just a big wooden box with a hole on top in the middle of the woods. He did not use toilet tissue–just a pile of hay next to the hole (you add it after you poo to add bulk and control odors)–you had to bring a jar of water and soap to rinse your butt–which is OK when it’s not freezing out–which it was. I had to climb an icy rock to get up there. I slipped off multiple times. As the sleet and snow were hitting my bare ass, I decided to move indoors into a building with plumbing.
I still agree 100% with the logic of composting human waste and want to build a composting toilet outhouse here someday—but with walls and a roof!!!!!—and a portable heater for winter. Brrrrrrrr!”
The farther you get into composting and homesteading, the more you risk alienating normal people who appreciate the little things like comfort and not freezing their bare bottoms off in a sleetstorm.
Speaking of alienating, despite his excellent trailblazing with composting toilet systems, Joseph Jenkins has never been a family friendly writer. The 3rd edition of the Humanure Handbook contains a lot of scatological excess. Unfortunately, he has now subtitled the 4th edition S— in a Nutshell. If my 3rd edition had that title, I never would have bought the book just because I wouldn’t want it on my shelf. Talk about scaring off the normal people.
Back to comfortable composting toilets. We need to get close to the ease of a modern flush toilet or the average person isn’t going to be happy.
Let’s take a look.
Benefits of a Flush Toilet
1. No handling waste
2. Located indoors in a warm house
3. Pull a lever and the deposit is gone
4. Cleaning is minimal
5. No smell
6. Bacteria/parasite exposure is exceptionally low for user
Can your composting toilet claim all the same benefits?
Probably not. So why would you use a composting toilet?
Well… composting toilets have their own benefits.
Benefits of a Composting Toilet
1. No septic tank/sewer required
2. No plumbing or water required
3. “Waste” is recycled into quality compost
4. Installation is very easy
5. Can be set up off-grid
6. Water-free (except for possible rinsing)
7. Very environmentally friendly
For my current cabin, I am just using the bucket toilet for now. It is indoors and uses sawdust as a fill material. It’s not as convenient as some systems – and certainly not as comfortable as a standard flush toilet – but it’s certainly cheap and simply to set up.
You do have to deal with some materials, some smell and some inconvenience, but the huge savings on a septic tank as well as the ready source of compost makes it worthwhile. If you maintain your system well, you get used to it and the bugs and odor aren’t much of an issue.
Finally, I cover composting human “waste” in detail in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. It’s not scary, and if you’re a cheapskate – and crazy composter – like me, a composting toilet is well worth a slight drop in convenience. It doesn’t have to be the nightmare Raven describes.
*Image at top via TheGraphicsFairy.com.