An Earthy Guide to the Best Composting Toilets

Comparing Composting Toilet Cost with Ease of Use

Promoted by Nature's Head
An Earthy Guide to the Best Composting Toilets

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Patricia Baird Greene
In order to find and follow your own path to the best composting toilet for your family and self-sustaining living situation, it may be helpful to first ask—why consider one? How much extra work will it be? How much will a composting toilet cost?

Every time we flush a toilet, we launch about five gallons of polluted water into the environment. If each American flushes 12,000 gallons of water per year, we are contaminating hundreds of billions of gallons of clean water! Those who do not have their own septic system are sending away water that, even after being treated with chemicals, may still be polluted and discharged downstream. With climate change upon us, fresh clean water is a scarce and valuable resource not to be flushed away.

Human “waste” with time and care, turns into natural beneficial organic materials. When properly composted over one to two years, it becomes a valuable soil amendment that is part of a natural cycle of “eat, excrete, compost, and grow” that helps us survive.

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Each of us annually wastes an astounding thousand pounds of beneficial organic resource material that can become what Joseph Jenkins calls “humanure” in his well known and excellent guidebook called The Humanure Handbook. When properly composted over a period of months and years, our poo becomes a valuable soil enhancer, but even if we do not have time or space to compost, keeping it out of the water is extremely important.

Modern composting toilets are super efficient, non-smelly and non-buggy, simple to use and light on labor. They look almost like a regular toilet, though they are plastic and operate quite differently.  But first, for those of you into low cost, self-sustaining living, I’d like to share a simple, do-it yourself bucket method I use of composting pee and poo that will cost under $100.

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Patricia demonstrates how to maintain her composting toilet.

The attractive wooden box in our bathroom has two round openings with toilet seats over five-gallon buckets. We are a couple and have a rule that boys mostly pee outside, while girls use the second inside bucket to pee (as it’s the pee that mostly causes foul smells). I dump that bucket before it gets ripe—about every three days (mostly on trees in our woods that seem to love it). One secret to no smell with this system is to scrub and clean the bucket well with detergent and vinegar and fill it one-third full of water for diluting the pee.

In the other bucket, we throw in a generous mixture of sphagnum peat moss and sawdust from the local high school woodworking shop to thoroughly cover the poo each time and have never had smell, bugs or problems.  The poo bucket goes out to the compost pile in the yard about every 5 days, where it is mixed with hay, greenery, some kitchen scraps, and turned on occasion. After two years we end up with a rich brown mixture that goes on flowers, fruit trees and berry bushes.

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Finished humanure

If the bucket solution sounds like too much work, yet you like the ecology of a composting toilet, there are many efficient and easy models to choose from for homesteading today. Maybe you live in sustainable living communities, an RV, a boat, a Tiny House or like us, in an off-grid homestead up a half-mile driveway in the woods. You may live where water is scarce and composting toilets make serious ecological sense. If you’d like to save ten thousand bucks and avoid a septic system, read on.

Most of the newer composting toilets look about the size and shape of a regular flush toilet and they make homesteading today much easier.

They separate urine into a holding container in the front with its own opening.  This eliminates the main source of odor. The plastic pee container is easy to remove and dump every few days.

Behind and divided from the urine opening is the wider poo opening into a separate and larger back container which is vented to the outside. There is also a handle to turn on the side of the container, which agitates and mixes the poo with sphagnum peat moss, coconut coir, or other organic material that is layered in the poo container to start.

The process uses no water and needs a temperature above freezing to work properly. As the contents dry, they shrink down into a rather pleasant, earth-smelling organic mixture. Composting properly destroys the pathogens, but the amount of time it takes varies widely depending on the ambient temperature, and the amount of moisture in the mix.  Depending on how many users, this back container will need to be emptied every two to three weeks.

After emptying, many users then choose to add a shovel-full of earth and compost the contents. Two rotating above ground compost containers are handy—first emptying into one and regularly rotating, then six months later letting that sit and emptying into the other container. The general time of complete composting is one to two years and it is generally not recommended for food crops. Other users who do not have time for composting close up the compost bag and put it in the garbage.

A competent handy person can install these toilets. There seems to be but one big disadvantage for half of humanity beyond the extra work of emptying—men must sit down to pee!

So how much will the best composting toilets cost?

In 2018 there is a price range among the most highly rated toilets.

Nature’s Head Self-Contained – $960

Separett Villa 9210 (DC/AC and commonly used for Tiny Homes) – $1089

Sun Mar Excel Non-Electric – $1988

Sun Mar Compact Small Capacity for 1 to 2 adults $1874

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