Using Composting Toilets to Save Water and Add Sustainability to Your Homestead

| 10/31/2014 9:31:00 AM

It’s important to my husband and me to make our small farm as sustainable as possible. Composting toilets are the perfect fit for sustainability because they don’t use water. We want our farm to project different values than those that allow the immense use of water by Ohio’s ethanol plants, big agriculture and fracking. In this article, I’ll discuss our two years’ experience with composting toilets.

Composting toilets save water: Older toilets use as much as five to seven gallons-per-flush (GPF) of water. Although newer toilets cannot use more than 1.6 GPF, and high-efficiency-toilets use 1.28 GPF, that’s still a lot of drinkable water going down the drain. Compost toilets use zero water because there is no flushing. I discuss below what happens to the waste.

Besides saving water, it’s convenient to install a toilet in a cabin, boat or RV without connecting it to a septic system. We did this in an RV to allow farm apprentices to have private housing a distance from our home.

Composting toilets are Sustainable: The problem associated with composting toilets is usually how to safely dispose of human waste. What has nature always done with animal waste? It composts it, of course. And that is what we do on our farm.

Being a former physician, I recognize the potential dangers of fecal contamination to human drinking water and food. Let’s examine how we can deal with this safely.

Urine does not contain bacteria. When it does, the person has a “urinary tract infection.” What is in urine is a lot of nitrogen in the form of urea. In “Nature’s Head” composting toilet (below), the urine is collected separately from solid waste. We therefore use this diluted urine to fertilize nitrogen-hungry plants like sweet corn.

11/7/2014 2:20:09 PM

Ok Doc, what one never reads about is maintenance post # 2. Since composting toilets are waterless / flushless toilets, do owners / guests (?) have to clean the toilet after every visit/deposit? Does it then require twice as much toilet paper for this sort of 'maintenance'? How do you deal with this if say the in-laws come to visit with 3 kids? I want to know about the nitty-gritty, literally, before I'll consider a composting toilet. As a doc, you are likely less squeamish that your average blogger, so I'm asking for details.

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