A composting toilet isn’t the first item of discussion, even among an eco-friendly crowd. When environmentalists talk about waste, it’s usually car exhaust or industrial pollutants, or consumer waste that contributes to mountainous landfills. It is usually never the waste that comes from our bodies. Why is this?
Because it’s gross.
People are often squeamish about discussing their feces. But we should. While water scarcity is becoming more of a reality as global climate change picks up, we citizens of the developed world enjoy the luxury of sewers and water-treatment. We excrete our wastes into fresh, potable drinking water supply and then flush it back into a system where the water has to then be extensively purified again.
To be rigorous ecologists, shouldn’t we be looking to minimize our impact on the waste-stream? Couldn’t the water that is piped into our toilets be better used coming out of taps, to drink? Could our waste, which is nitrogen-rich, be broken down and re-used somehow? Is it safe?
Many environmentalists are confronting the taboo of talking about the wastes that we intimately produce every day. Their solution? Composting toilets.
The story of progress is one where human beings develop sanitation methods to combat diseases. A subterranean sewer is a great step up from open, street-level sewers. Left untreated and in close proximity to where we dwell, our wastes can be quite dangerous. Anyone who has accidentally ingested some “mild” form of pathogenic bacteria, such as giardia, which can be transmitted from feces, will tell you that a little microbial contamination can go a long way toward making you very sick. Composted feces is treated, not chemically, but by aging it in a compost heap, the same as you’d throw your kitchen scraps on. By maintaining a healthy breakdown of the waste, microorganisms will produce enough heat to kill pathogens. By aging composted feces, any unwanted pathogenic organisms are neutralized. The compost can then be used around one’s yard, as a side-dressing for fruit trees, for example. In Asia, though, untreated bodily waste is broadcast onto fields. Composted waste (which has been dubbed “humanure”), can be applied to crops safely.
If you’re going to compost your humanure, you’ll need a composting toilet. Many can be purchased from specialty retailers, but, generally speaking, the more complex the system doesn’t mean the best outcome. Let’s take a look at a simple design. All you’ll need is a ten-gallon bucket, some lumber, a toilet-seat (if you prefer), and some sawdust. That’s it.
How to build a composting toilet.
First, build a wooden box. It should be tall enough to sit comfortably on. You may want to leave one side of the box open, or install a door with a hinge. Cut a hole in the top of the box, about a foot in diameter. Install a toilet seat onto the top of the box, covering the hole.
Now, get two ten-gallon buckets. Make sure there’s a lid for one. Fill one with sawdust and fill just the bottom of the other with sawdust. The one with just the bottom covered in sawdust is the receptacle for your toilet. Slide it into the box you made.
There you go. Every time you use your composting toilet, cover your poop with sawdust. When your bucket is close to full, empty it onto your humanure compost pile. You may also want to keep some toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer in a plastic bag, in your bucket of sawdust.
Here’s an adorable plan for a cob, pit-composting toilet with a bamboo enclosure (http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Composting-Toilet), which, if you’re into these things separately, will make your heart race when combined.
If you have your own eco-friendly toilet model, please share in the comments section. We’re not squeamish and we want to hear all the innovative solutions to a very natural by-product.