Humanure Recycling: A Composting Toilet for Garden Compost

Carol Steinfeld and Claire Anderson explain the benefits of using a composting toilet to recycle humanure for garden compost.

| June/July 2002

Learn about how to use humanure recycling created from a composting toilet.

Composting toilets are a world away from the odoriferous outhouses of yesteryear. And low-flush conventional toilets offer an option for those unprepared to recycle human manure. To save money, extend the life of your septic system and help protect water quality, read on. Become a water-wiser watermiser.

One person using a composting toilet can produce more than 80 pounds of compost and save more than 6,600 gallons of water per year. While composting toilets make environmental sense, they also can put dollars and cents back into your pocket by reducing your water bills and extending the life of your septic system.

Composting toilets stabilize and recycle human manure and toilet paper without using or polluting drinking water. Unlike flush toilets, which treat human manure as waste, a composting toilet lets you reclaim and recycle nutrients — using the same biological process as garden composting piles to break down excreta, or human manure. What's left is nutrient-rich organic matter, or humus, which can be used as a soil amendment.

Once considered an option only for parks, homesteaders and seasonal cottages, composting toilet systems are turning up in suburban residences and' commercial buildings, often in environmentally sensitive areas.

Composting Toilets

Commercial composting toilets first appeared in the United States in the 1970s, as mostly just a way to avoid installing a flush toilet and expensive septic system. But issues of shoddy construction and overoptimistic designs plagued both the manufactured and build-it-yourself models, and users struggled with odors, flies, incomplete processing and hard-to-empty systems. The legal foot came down in the early 1980s when a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health gave these systems failing marks. Since then most designs have improved significantly, reflecting a healthier respect for the aeration and heat requirements of composting.

Many of today's composting toilets can be used with vacuum toilets (such as the 1 pint microflush SeaLand, originally made for recreational vehicles and boats) and Japanese foam-flush toilets (see Page 92 in this issue for more information). In many states, using a composting toilet allows a property owner to install a smaller septic system. Many owners now opt for service contracts to maintain their composting toilet systems.

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