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Reader Roundup: DIY Composting Toilets

You don’t need to purchase a commercial composting toilet to safely recycle human waste. A simple setup of a bucket, seat and sawdust — giving these toilets the name “sawdust potties” — will do. We asked members of our Facebook community about their experiences with DIY toilet setups, as well as any building or sanitation codes they had to follow. Their consensus? This natural method is unexpectedly inoffensive, and it saves water to boot. — MOTHER

I’ve lived with a DIY composting toilet for 13 years. I’ve used just about everything as a composting medium, including pine shavings, coco peat, peat moss and sawdust. Sawdust is by far the best. I found that mice loved the coco peat, and I had problems with flies until I started using sawdust. I’ve discovered it’s best to keep as much liquid as possible out of the bucket, so I have a separate urinal. We have no code outside of the city limits here, so we didn’t encounter an inspection problem. — Michael Bandeko

We add a few scoops of coffee grounds to our coir shavings and lime. Flies hate it, and it adds an earthy smell. — Beverly Jones Miller

We use a composting toilet at home as a backup for bad weather. We’re planning on using it exclusively soon, as well as installing a greywater recycling system. Water conservation is a priority, and our city charges way too much for sewage. We also have a composting toilet in our RV to save water. — James Bill Riley

My mother wanted to use a piece of land that she purchased decades ago as a weekend and vacation destination. However, the newer codes in western Pennsylvania prohibited the installation of a composting toilet. The only “sewerage” system allowed was a mounded setup that would have easily cost $20,000. She ended up selling the land because the cost of the system was prohibitive, and the land wasn’t worth keeping without a sewage-disposal setup. — Sarah Menchini Anstey

My husband and I once neglected to empty our composting toilet bucket before we left for two weeks in the middle of summer. Much to our surprise, there was zero smell when we returned. We’ve found that the bucket toilet works great and plan to use one in the off-grid cabin we’re currently building. There are no codes where we are, so we’d rather go this route than shell out thousands to install and maintain a septic field. — Bee Kielb

I loved my DIY composting toilet and can’t wait to have another when we settle into our new home. I thought the smell might be a problem, but it wasn’t with mine. I oiled my wooden toilet with homemade rose oil and was rewarded with no offense to even the most delicate of noses. — Martha Hill

Photo by David Omick

jt
3/25/2016 11:28:03 AM

Hi - I really do think these toilets are the greatest. Easy to use, non-stinky, and smart! To empty - dig a hole, dump, and cover.


winters
3/25/2016 10:54:06 AM

About permitting agents and County or City Code blocking alternative toilets: 1. check your location for what the STATE allows for composting toilets. Find the least costly one of those, and get it permitted as the single bathroom facility. In WA state, for instance, they have a [very short] list of composting or alternative toilets, for which they will allow a great reduction in the size of the drainage field required for the "designed" septic system. Some folks have quietly just gone ahead and done that, made the smallest system they could get by with and get it permitted, then done their own thing AFTER all the dust was settled and everything inspected. AS LONG AS you take great care to do your alternatives PROPERLY, and then MAINTAIN them properly, there should be no problem. 2. Some folks have gotten wavers [called various things in different places, like "variance"] to put in alternative systems. This takes more study and work on the user's part, to show a good design, then, often the permitting agents will require at least 1 or more years of keeping a log of test data on how it's working. They might also come to visit to check it out for themselves. And yes...the septic and sewer industries HAVE been aggressively, purposefully BLOCKING anyone adding better solutions to the available systems. In WA, for instance, a guy had a very low-tech system which would keep a septic system Aerobic, therefore never pollute ground water or travel through the ground to pollute ground [regular systems ALWAYS revert to Anaerobic, and DO pollute both ground water and ground far from the system--they can't help it]. The systems this guy was promoting, are add-ons to regular systems, and can actually clear out and restore old clogged systems...meaning that the industries Lose Money if people install those aerators and that aerobic bacteria into their septic systems....many thousands of dollars lost per septic system by the sewer/septic industries...of course they blocked it! There was finally a Senate hearing about it; the State Health Department was rather speechless/embarrassed, with no good answer, when a legislator leaned over their desk and asked WHY the DoH had failed for so many years [more than 10], to even ask for funding to study those add-on systems...especially since WA has a high number of septic systems, and LOTS of water that's been being polluted. IT took a few more years, but those were finally allowed in. That was: http://www.sludgehammer.net/services/residential/


winters
3/25/2016 10:36:16 AM

We've tried the ones you buy...some are so large, it's hard to physically sit on them...a liability for those with mobility issues, and children. Plus, those are so costly...for huge plastic contraptions! It amazes me, that they really are no more complicated than a flush toilet arrangement, yet they cost thousands of dollars! Buckets are simplest; one of the very best composting systems for them I EVER saw, was one designed by Anna Edey http://www.solviva.com , who has actually invented a better mousetrap, so to speak. She's improved bucket pottie disposal, and, has also invented other composting solutions that can actually handled an old-fashioned, high-water use flusher, and other systems. Her addition, was earthworms--the ones found in the top few inches of dirt: she learned those actually abate the coliform bacteria that permitting agents are so very concerned about. Trouble is, the septic and sewer industries are so firmly entrenched, they really do block anyone from getting better, simpler systems approved. Anna Edey's systems can even be used in ecologically sensitive areas, such as shoreline areas, because coliforms are abated, and it's a closed system until the effluent has been run through it and treated by the biotics in the live system. They even work in winter freezing weather. Anyone who is handy at DIY, can read her book, and figure out how to put together one of her systems.