I recently discovered the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.
Today’s post may go outside of the comfort range of my more delicate readers, but remember… I literally wrote the book on extreme composting.
ALL ORGANIC MATTER MUST RETURN TO THE EARTH – TERRIFYING AND HORRIBLE THINGS INCLUDED!!!
There’s a gap in our thinking when it comes to our own waste. For some reason, recycling banana peels and coffee grounds is “great” but recycling sewage is “oh heck no I’m not doing that! Gross!!!”
I understand, really. It took me quite a while to come around to the idea of composting everything.
The first guy that changed my thinking on the subject was Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook. I built one of his “lovable loo” composting bucket toilets and installed it in our Tennessee house for a year as an experiment. It worked decently, but had problems with attracting some flies and odor. Close, but not quite what we wanted.
Granted, the problem wasn’t really in the design so much as the fill material we had available. Peat moss worked great, but it consumed too much peat moss. I couldn’t find any safe sawdust locally, so that option was out, leaving us stuck with wood chips. Not great.
There are other composting toilet designs, ranging from quite expensive dehydrating Biolet models to the collection of cool outhouses Paul Wheaton covers in this video.
Now I have a new favorite… and have to say, I think it’s the best composting toilet system I’ve seen for both ease-of-use and simplicity of design.
The Best Composting Toilet System?
A few years ago, a man named Sandy Graves dropped me an email after finding my old Florida Survival Gardening website. He told me he’d developed a different composting toilet system and that I ought to come out and see it at some point.
I get emails from kooky people now and again, so the idea of going to see a stranger’s toilet wasn’t really all that high on my list… until I did some more research and realized he had something new and interesting going on.
Before the videographer who was helping me on the Crash Gardening series quit, I was going to go over with him to see Sandy’s system so we could film a pro-looking video. That never happened… and time moved on. I corresponded with Mr. Graves a few more times via e-mail but no solid plans ever firmed up. His office was about an hour from my homestead and it never seemed to be a good day for me to pack up and head off out of town to look at composting toilets.
Until a couple of weeks ago when we sold our homestead.
I’d loaded up a trailer with all our worldly possessions and we were heading down 40 towards I-95 when my wife says, “Hey – isn’t this where the guy with the composting toilets has his place?”
“Yes,” I said, “I should just stop now and see what he has going on… we could just film a spontaneous video!”
Rachel thought that was a great idea, so when we spotted the sign for “C-Head, LLC,” I pulled in.
Out front was a U-Haul trailer remarkably similar to the one being pulled behind my van, and I noticed it was being packed by a solidly-built, gray-haired man with glasses.
“Are you Sandy Graves?” I asked.
“Hey – I know you!” he replied, “David! Welcome! We’re just packing up for the Mother Earth News Fair!”
I asked if he had time for a video, so leaving the packing behind, Sandy took me to see the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.
Check it out:
The system began as an experiment on Sandy’s boat… then moved to land… then became an entire business with a variety of models.
The BoonJon composting toilet system ties in nicely with a backyard compost bin. Sandy encourages soldier flies in his compost piles and told me he keeps discovering new things about the species that makes him appreciate them more.
I was amazed how little fill material was required for a BoonJon composting toilet. Quite affordable! Back when I built my composting toilet, it consumed a lot of fill material.
A Unique Way To Fertilize With Urine
The diversion of urine into a separate receptacle is also a very good thing. That allows you to use it as a liquid fertilizer in your garden or orchard.
The way Sandy irrigates his beds with urine is quite clever (don’t you dig inventors?) and grows some of the biggest tomato plants I’ve seen in a Florida garden.
He also grows some good-looking raspberries:
When you think about how much water we waste – plus all the fertility we literally flush away every day – composting toilets make a lot of sense.
Why would we use clean water to dispose of… fertilizer?
Everything is upside-down when you think about it. I’m glad for people like Sandy Graves who are using their talents to make a difference in the world through simple technologies. Decentralizing waste management makes a lot of sense.
Imagine how much water we could save!
How many gardens we could feed!
How many wastewater plants we could close!
What do you guys think – is this kind of composting too crazy for you?
Not crazy at all. I’ve been using 2- 5 gallon buckets that I keep in my garden room and do a “direct deposit” fallow garden row rotation. I also keep a bucket with it’s lid in my laundry room so I can by-pass using the connected head. When depositing to the garden row I dig as deep until I hit hard pan. I include some of my kitchen and garden waste and since my soil is heavy clay & rock I’ll amend it for the future. Rinse the bucket from the rain barrel and water a potted plant with that then leave it upside down sitting on top up 2 cement blocks so it doesn’t get smelly. I’ve gone back to the beginning of the row after 2 months and it’s all gone and the worm life is incredible.
That’s so funny, I just ran into these guys in Asheville at the Mother Earth fair and he explained the system to us. I was really impressed with them and their toilets and you could tell they really believe in their product. It’s definitely not the most “sexy” design, but that’s not really a priority for us. The other thing that was a great selling point was that their toilets are 2-3 times less expensive than Sun-Mar. We’re gonna order one soon.
Right! It’s less Star Trek and more pioneer – but looks like it would work forever.
I first heard of a compostable toilet watching Tiny House Hunters on TV. I was amazed I had never heard of it sooner. This is great! I hate wasting valuable byproducts. Then again I hoard my dryer lint and shove it in empty toilet paper rolls for fuel and my girlfriend is embarrassed by that! I can’t imagine how she would feel when I implement this new way of composting 🙂
“OMG NOW YOU’RE HOARDING POOP????”
As a master gardener, I’m appalled about hearing someone who proclaims that they know a lot about gardening to even propose the idea of using human feces as fertilizer… lol
Nice idea. It’ll never happen until it has to. I may do it myself, but I doubt I could get my wife to.. unless maybe we owned several acres of land. Then maaaaaybe.
Just out of curiosity – is your wife gung-ho on pooping into the back yard?
“As a master gardener”
I admit it – I laughed.
Fortunately, we never had to “go in the back yard” when we had our setup. It was a pretty simple indoor system. My wife had bad memories of visiting the outhouse at a primitive camp when she was a kid that makes her less than engaged by outdoor toilet systems; however, she definitely sees the value in reusing fertility rather than seeing it wasted.
That is the best c-t system I’ve seen! I have very often used a chamber pot and out house for those dutys…. An could never figure out why folks found it so appalling… It is a byproduct of eating. As a kid we had an outhouse, and it grew the best navel oranges and sweetest grapefruit I’ve ever eaten. A family of 4 an we would often wait till the the other was done to use the outhouse over the inside toilet… (in the mornings…) Just the mindset we were raised with I guess… And the lack of freezing temps here in Fl… And the comments on black soldier flys are right on… They are awesome!
I have to say in terms of “Ease of use” AND “Simplicity of design” as well as about every other category, I would strongly disagree with this system being labeled as the “Best”. I have used many of the modern brands available and almost all of them have something that stands head and shoulders over this system.
I would concede that it competes quite well in the “Price” category. As you mentioned, many of the other commercial brands are quite expensive.
Also worth pointing out is that while it does have a venting system available for it, it’s sub-par at best. A slight breeze outside and your vented odors are coming right back in the house. Adding some form of small 12v fan to this system would fix that issue.
As to the “ICK” factor of dealing with and using the waste product, simply adding it to a compost bin to fully break down completely removes that issue. Well… except from the minds of people squeamish because the “Know” what that compost used to be.
Love it or hate it, these types of systems are catching on (even in the US) and aren’t going away anytime soon. It’s great to see people like you willing to take a deeper look at them 🙂
Thanks for stopping by. The simplicity and lack of electric required are quite attractive compared to many of the more “upscale” types. If price were not an option, I’ve probably still go for something like this or just for a Jenkins-style system.
OG&G – I see that you are in the business. Welcome. I have long wanted to have a roundtable with the manufacturers and sellers of other composting and desiccating toilets to answer questions from the audience. I will gladly address any concerns that you see with the system vis-a-vis other available systems, cost notwithstanding.
The BoonJon/C-head does not come with a ventilation system per se because solutions to this problem vary significantly. It is very easy and cheap to install an inline 12v fan system per the video on the website or you can use a Nicro day-night solar vent, both systems will prevent any backflow of air from outside. In many cases a simple passive ventilation system will work. Most people don’t want to have to purchase a ventilation system with the toilet that may be overkill or not necessary at all. I stand by my claim that you do not need to ventilate the BoonJon in most cases and this is from 5 years experience using it on a daily basis, and here are the reasons.
With other urine diverting compact composting systems you use a dough mixer bar arrangement that mashes the waste into the composting medium. While this may speed up the composting process somewhat it never really composts the waste while inside the toilet. It mostly disguises the waste as compost. The process of mashing the waste into the medium increases the surface area and releases a lot of moisture and this must be drafted off using a ventilation system. The BoonJon on the other hand rolls the waste in medium covering it on all sides and wicks off the surface moisture which serves to remove the odor. The bulk of the moisture remains inside the feces until it can be removed to a composting tower or dehydrator where nature can break it down much faster than inside a box.
In composting toilets that mix the urine and feces and use the sieve or slide system, you have odor issues that must be vented away. Mixing feces with urine is what creates the sewage smell and contributes significantly to the release of moisture inside the toilet. Basically you are feeding the bacteria in the feces with nitrogen rich urine and the odor is the gas they produce in the process of eating. That is why all other systems state that ventilation is required. With the BoonJon it is usually not necessarily needed.
What some consider the downside of the BoonJon system is that you must empty the toilet weekly. The upside is that you don’t need electricity, the waste can be composted much more quickly, using methods that are much more hostile to pathogens and parasites than simple composting raising your confidence it its safety, insects and vermin are prevented from making a home in your home, and the product is usable much earlier, especially the urine which can be used immediately. From a permaculture or survivalist standpoint this is something very desirable.
I’ve looked and searched but can’t seem to figure out where I can get this system! Please send me purchasing information.
Sandy Graves has passed away – I do not believe it is still in production.
I love it!! I’ve always wondered why everyone believes it’s a good idea to mix & flush precious pure drinking water down the toilet with raw sewage. This compost idea makes much more sense. Thanks for giving us other options! I will be ordering one very soon!
This is great timing for me. Thanks for sharing the insider look at this simple design.
We’ve got a complicated Sunmar drum-style composting toilet and It. Is. The. Worst. Thing. Ever. We’ve had it for several years and have messed with all sort of configurations and no matter what, it still makes mud on one side and uncomposted “coconuts” on the other.
And when something goes wrong with those giant poop machines, you have a huge amount of poopmud to deal with. I am not squeamish but it’s GROSS.
So if any of your readers are going for composting toilets, tell them to get a simple one like Mr. Grave’s toilet. Then if something goes wrong, it’s not hard to deal with it.
Hi, David, I am in the soils group with you and am looking at an opened contractor bag with lots of mulch, and sliding it over in the crawl space for the next one( close to 0 cost, eh?). I like the separation of liquids idea, but feel that with sufficient mulch, the smell issue will dissapear. what are your thoughts on this?
I tried mulch for quite a while in a bucket toilet. It’s okay but not great. Smaller particles seem to absorb the smell better. You use more mulch and have to empty much more often, though if that’s what you have – use it! Adding some finer biochar does a good job mixed in with the mulch and will cut down the odor. You also get much hotter compost and faster breakdown when you don’t separate the urine out.
Hi All- I’ve been using a Boon Jon for several months now and am very happy with it- particularly compared to the systems which dehydrate the liquids instead of separating them. The one issue I am having is cluster flies laying eggs in the unit- I appreciate any suggestions about solving this problem. Otherwise, this system is great- no odor, compact, no need of a vent system, and since I’m in CA, no need to add supplemental heat.
Thanks for the field report, Jo. I’ll send your comment on to Sandy and see if he has a solution.
If you are living around livestock or if you have fresh fruit in your home, or if your BoonJon is located outside in an outhouse or near garbage, you are more likely to get an infestation of flies and their larva commonly referred to as maggots. This can be disgusting and can be a common problem with all compact composting toilets, even the ones that tout having screens. There are a couple of solutions that should help.
You must thoroughly clean the toilet if it is infested. Clean your BoonJon inside completely with spray on oven cleaner. Be careful using this as it has a lye base and you should use gloves and eye protection. This will dissolve the egg casings. Follow the instructions as if you were cold cleaning an oven. Use water to rinse out all the parts. Let it dry completely. Mix one or two cups of diatomaceous earth with the medium each time you recharge the bucket. The newer models come with a basket in the back that you can put two moth balls in which will aid in repelling the flies.
If you open the lid and a fly flies out, act then. You can add a Hot Shot No Pest Strip inside the toilet housing for a period of time to eradicate any flies that enter the toilet. Store it in the foil pack it comes in and inside a jar or air tight container. If you have fairly good ventilation inside the bathroom, you can leave the strip inside permanently but read the instructions and use your own judgement.
Some locales are more prone to attract flies so more diligence is needed in those cases. Black soldier flies will help eradicate the local fly population so if you can incorporate them in your gardening, do so.
Year round hot composting of feces in small residential yards in the U S is limited by local ordinances no doubt AND the lack of available prefab insulated composters on the market. With the exception of the Hotbin unit in the U.K., all other options look to be cheaply constructed, totally lacking in science based technology, require manual tumbling with large arm muscles, or multiple units and batch composting methods over many months. Any good ideas on the subject