From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

Toilet waste can be composted at home, with minimal effort and infrastructure involved.  It doesn’t smell, doesn’t attract vermin, and it’s not difficult to do.  The neighbours need never know, if that’s how you prefer it.

Some benefits of composting toilets over flush toilets are:

  • waste is dealt with on site, and doesn’t pollute waterways or get treated with chemicals in sewage plants
  • No water is used.  It’s ridiculous to waste one resource (clean drinking water) to dispose of another (fertilizer)
  • organic matter is returned to the soil, with improves soil structure and nutrition
  • no chemicals used
  • no cleaning products required
  • no waste products
  • no greenhouse gas emissions
  • no electricity
  • no smells
  • minimal infrastructure, no pipes or transport required
  • minimal cost, or totally free.

Flushing a toilet causes a mist of contaminated water to adhere to the walls and ceiling of the room, which can still be floating around hours later.  This sounds incredibly unhygienic to me, not to mention the smells that result.  Composting toilets have no such effects.  The waste is immediately covered, so is not in contact with water or air.  Because it is undergoing a composting process, no cleaning products are required.  Micro-organisms do the cleaning for you.  Chemical products actually hinder this process, so you’ll find it’s a lot more effective and less smelly if you don’t use them.

Composting is an aerobic process, which means is produces only carbon dioxide.  The anaerobic process that occurs to sewage waste produces the pollutants methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

Sewage is a large scale system that requires lots of resources to maintain.  Sludge is dumped to landfill.  Dams are built, while wildlife habitat and rivers are destroyed, purely so we can flush away valuable resources.  And now we are squandering more resources building desalination plants, while we buy fertiliser in plastic packaging from corporate-owned hardware stores, so we can feed the soil in our gardens and dispose of the packaging.

The long term sustainability of urban settlements is dependent on our ability to recycle human waste, and return it to the soil that produces our food.

There are a number of ways to go about making a composting toilet.  The waste can be composted in a regular compost bin or bay, if you feel confident that no animals will get in to it.  Using an enclosed composting bin, such as a wheelie bin or pickle barrel, eliminates the possibility of contamination.  Instructions for making this type of toilet are on the following page.  A worm farm can be used, and possibly bokashi composting, although I’ve never heard of anyone using this method.  One outhouse I’ve visited was crawling with what appeared to be mealworms, which I found somewhat disturbing.

For my household of three people and a reasonable sized garden, our last water bill showed that our usage is one third the average amount used by a single person household with no garden.  Since there is nothing else in our household that would indicate the discrepancy, I put this down to the single factor that the flush toilet is rarely used.

Urine can go directly on the garden. It is great fertiliser, it’s high in nitrogen and contains all the nutrients that plants need.  By peeing in a flush toilet, we are not only wasting water, but a valuable resource.  Urine is sterile, so won’t introduce any pathogens to the garden, and unless it is concentrated in one place, doesn’t create any smells.  Diluting it in water is recommended, as the high nitrogen content can damage plant roots.

Scientist James Lovelock hypothesises that urine is a result of a symbiotic evolution with plants, as we actually expend otherwise unnecessary energy to expel our wastes in a form that is readily available to them. Joe Jenkins, in The Humanure Handbook, says “it’s estimated that one person’s annual urine output contains enough soil nutrients to grow grain to feed that person for a year.  Therefore it’s … important to recycle urine…”

If your garden is too exposed for you to pee in it directly, a bucket can be used as an intermediary.  I find that peeing outside gives me opportunities to observe nature closely, discover insects and leaf patterns close up, which I wouldn’t do otherwise.  And I feel a sense of connection with my garden, that I am part of it and helping it grow.  By using a composting toilet, and growing food at home, I become integral to the land I live on.  I eat from it and return nutrients to it, so that natural cycles can continue indefinitely.


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