Not That Gross: The Myth-Busting Low-Down on Composting Toilets

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Not That Gross: The Myth-Busting Low-Down on Composting Toilets

Brace yourself because here's a rather disgusting statistic: The average person in the U.S. produces 265 to 360 pounds of poop per year. That's as much as a large adult panda, black bear, or ostrich weighs! As you probably know, proper disposal of all that waste takes a toll on the environment. So what's an eco-conscious person with a colon to do? Consider a composting toilet.

When I first started thinking about a composting toilet I had questions. Many. Questions.

What is a composting toilet?

If you've spent any time off the grid, perhaps backpacking in remote areas, you're familiar with a rudimentary composting toilet that is little more than a collection bucket with a seat on top. And many of us are all too familiar with chemical port-a-potties found at concert and fair venues. Thankfully, the modern composting toilet bears little resemblance to either of these.

A composting toilet is a dry toilet that uses nature's natural decomposition process to turn waste to beneficial compost. Unlike your traditional home toilet, the composting toilet does not connect to a septic system or municipal sewer system, and it requires no water.

Composting toilets aren't a new phenomenon--for years they have been used in boats and RVs.

How does it work?

The waste that goes into a toilet is 90 percent water. The bowl of most composting toilets separates solid and liquid waste. The liquid waste is collected in a chamber and is either evaporated or manually lifted out and used as a liquid fertilizer. (Yes, human urine can be used as a garden fertilizer.) Depending on how many people are in the household, the liquid waste chamber needs to be emptied every two to three days.

The remaining 10 percent of the waste--the solid waste--is mixed with peat moss and naturally turns into compost. Many composting toilets have an apparatus that mixes the solid waste and peat moss--no direct contact required. The solid waste collects in a chamber of the toilet. It needs to be emptied far less frequently than the liquid waste; a household of 2-3 people may only need to empty the solid waste every few months.

You really want to know: Does it stink?

I have listened to numerous testimonials of people who live with a composting toilet in their homes, and all swear that the toilet doesn't have an unpleasant odor. It does have a soil smell due to the peat moss; most people report that it smells like their garden or garden supply store. For most folks this is a pleasant smell.

Some composting toilets have a fan to help with venting any odor outside. This fan runs all the time and has a whispering sound.

Where can I use the compost?

The compost--both solid and liquid--that is produced by the composting toilet is safe to use in your vegetable or flower garden. The natural decomposition process gets rid of any dangerous bacteria.

What about TP?

By all means, please use it! Place it in the toilet bowl just as you would with a traditional toilet. It will be composted right along with the other solid waste.

Can feminine hygiene products be composted?

One hundred percent cotton tampons and sanitary napkins can be composted with other solid waste as can menstrual blood. Products such as plastic tampon applicators can not be composted, but cardboard applicators can be.

Where do you buy a composting toilet? And how much do they cost?

Composting toilets can be purchased through online retailers or at eco-building supply stores. Don't expect to find then at your local big box home store.

Expect to pay a couple thousand dollars for a composting toilet. Yes, they are pricey, but when you consider the price of water and septic hook ups, they're a value. Traditional flush toilets are a great convenience until they stop working, and then repair bills can add up quickly.

Of course the cost isn't only to your personal budget, there's also the cost that traditional sewage treatment and septic tanks take on the environment. And composting toilets require no water. With environmental experts predicting drought to continue in areas such as southern California for the foreseeable future, this is a consideration that is on the minds of many homeowners. The average American uses 7,665 gallons of water each year just to flush their toilet. In the United Kingdom, flush toilets gobble up 30 percent of the water supply.

What about building codes?

Building codes vary greatly from state to state. In some places around the country, local building codes do not address composting toilets. For more information about building codes and composting toilets check out this web site.

Related on Organic Authority

5 Reasons Composting Toilets Are No Pipe Dream

Clean the Toilet Naturally: The Toilet Volcano!

Celebrate Your Toilet

Photo of baby in bathroom via Shutterstock

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