Bathroom Compost Box: It's Not For Everyone

Learn how one office solved its plumbing problem by throwing toilet paper in a compost box rather than the toilet.

| August/September 1991

  • 127-compost-box-the-last-laugh.jpg
    It turns out used toilet paper make an excellent feed stock for a compost box.

  • 127-compost-box-the-last-laugh.jpg

Since the mid-1970s, I have been affiliated with a nonprofit educational corporation located in drought-stricken Southern California. Our headquarters has long been afflicted with a troublesome sewer line that would occasionally back up. After an intensive investigation, our founder, R. White, deduced that the plumbing problem invariably arose after a guest used liberal, nay, exorbitant, amounts of toilet paper. Instead of investing in costly sewer repair or replacement, White decided to try a different approach. He placed a 10-gallon plastic clothes hamper next to the toilet (used regularly by about a dozen people) and hung a sign on the wall commanding that, henceforth, all paper matter be discard in the hamper. Use as much as you like.

Presto! No dirty clogs. No plumber's friends. Every few months the contents of the hamper was buried, and it quickly decomposed.

As time went on we began conducting experiments with the hamper-turned-compost-box. We added a layer of soil to the bottom and introduced a few earthworms for good measure. The worms loved it in there. Apparently, it created an amorous atmosphere for them: They bred profusely. Best of all, there was never any "outhouse odor" from the hamper. Rather, when the lid was lifted, the hamper smelled earthy, like rich soil.

Eventually it occurred to us to carry our experiment to its logical conclusion: to see how long we could go without emptying the hamper. To start, we added a small amount of soil to the bottom of the hamper, accompanied by 85 earthworms and 17 wood lice (also known as sow or pill bugs). We returned the hamper to the rest room and the test was on.

Days turned into weeks, then into months, as roll after roll of paper was fed into our voracious hamper. It was never emptied, never moved; occasionally, the paper contents were lightly compacted and small amounts of water were dribbled in for the creatures entombed there. Yet the hamper never seemed to fill. Nor did the atmosphere around it suffer. Instead it released the same fresh, earthy smell as always. Time, effortlessly, rolled on.

Four years later, we decided to release our findings to a small and unsuspecting audience attending our company gala. In preparation for the grand event, we'd stopped adding toilet paper to the bin a month earlier and covered the top with a layer of soil.

Lynn Wells
2/15/2013 9:48:33 PM

Is this compost safe to use on vegetable gardens? Or should it be restricted to flowers or lawns? I already divert the amount of toilet paper going into the septic system, but I use the waste as fire starter. It would be great to be able to do something more constructive with it.

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