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

7/27/2021 10:38:08 PM

Great feedback. Am eager to try this to save water. Currently i have found the most eco friendly kitty litter is wood pellets, as they disintegrate into sawdust i use it as mulch for my fruit trees. But have a surplus that will be a good source of sawdust.

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.

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:

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