Midcoast Green Collaborative Forum

July 10, 2008

Sustainability Post #25 — Composting Toilet

Filed under: Conversation, Information — Tags: , — Topher @ 12:17 pm
Humanure Handbook

Humanure Handbook

I have two composting toilets in my house. The basic method is one advocated in the book at the left.  A book voted most likely to change the planet.  It might at that.  I have purchased 5 copies of this book (including one for the local code enforcement officer, and the local library), and as my lending copy seems not to have returned home, I may need to buy another one.

The basic idea is that wastes are collected and covered with carbonaceous cover material (sawdust is a common material).  This is then moved outside, and allowed to aerobically decompose in a compost pile and produce fertilizer for gardens.  The high temperature of the aerobic decomposition (up to 140ºF) kills all human pathogens.

Outhouses and chamberpots, this is not.

Unique advantages: During power outages, my system just keeps on working.  Neighbors have no water, and no way to flush.  You can buy a camp toilet, a 5 gallon bucket and some sawdust; and keep it in the basement for emergencies.  When a member of my family broke their leg, the hospital wanted to send us home with a commode (basically a tall stand with a pot under it), I told them I would just raise the toilet to the right height (and put it a grab bar).  They looked at me strangely, but after getting home a spare wooden box under the toilet was all I needed.  The need for many gallons of drinking water every day to be contaminated, transported, separated, filtered, poisoned, and released into the environment is gone.  Aerobic decomposition produces carbon dioxide, while anaerobic produces methane (which if released if 20-30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas).

Smell: No really, they don’t smell much (I contend no more than water toilets).  I have far more trouble with the smell from the cats not finding the litter box.  Admittedly, there is a tendency to become desensitized to local smells, so I am heartened by the number of people who comment on how good the house smells when they come in (usually related to the food being prepared).

Work: Yes, This system involves some manual labor moving buckets (I have a yoke for carrying them). Dumping the buckets is an onerous chore by anyone’s measure.  However, this is not a property unique to composting toilets, septic tanks need to be emptied (and they are truly foul, due to anaerobic decomposition), and municipal waste treatment facilities produce waste that no one wants to deal with.   Thus, the difference is that a composting toilet doesn’t currently have a infrastructure for someone else doing the dirty work for you (though, of course, you can hire someone).  I never have to plunge my toilets.  I expect when and if these become accepted, there will be a truck to pick up your buckets, and another to deliver certified organic manure to those that want it.

Cost: My cost was under $50 for 9 buckets with lids, two toilet seats, two toilet structures (made from leftover wood), and three composting bins made from pallets.  On going expenses are negligible, toilet paper being the largest expense, sawdust is obtained from a local lobster trap manufacturer for the cost of a gratuity.  I save money on compost, getting about 2-3 yards worth every year.  The size of the leach field (required by code) was reduced by around $3000.



  1. I too have purchased a few of these books and given them away. It was a life changing read! He discusses microbes that neutralize oil spills (which sent me off on a Paul Stamets reading binge). You don’t have to do the bucket lug if you can put one in outside with two chambers then just switch sides every year. Avena botanicals (deb soule outside of rockland) Has one of the most beautiful set-ups I’ve ever been in. It may be just for summer use…I also saw two guys who built these systems speak at common ground fair last year. they were great…

    Comment by Terrill — July 10, 2008 @ 8:02 pm

  2. Very nice!!

    Comment by namJoimiobexia — August 2, 2008 @ 8:00 pm

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