Credit: Flickr / redjar

Composting toilets are more than just big litter boxes. Honest!

Don't let the 'ick' factor of compost toilets turn you off of these eco-friendly devices

It was a neat experience. I needed to use the loo at a friend’s place and asked where it was. My friend started to walk me there, explaining I’d need directions before using the toilet for the first time. Her husband chimed in, “Just think of it as a big litter box!”

Directions? Litter box? Composting toilet!

During the past few years many of our friends have been installing these eco-friendly biffies in locations where regular toilets were a complex option. For a while there were e-mails going back and forth (we were included in the list because of property we eventually plan to build on) about the merits of envirolet versus sun-mar, or the bioLet electric versus a much simpler non-electric version.

As I read through the detailed discussions I had two thoughts:

  1. I had no idea there were so many options.
  2. Eww.

Well, actually I had three thoughts. The third? Home Depot sells these?

But now that I was actually confronting my fears and on my way to use the ‘big litter box’ I braced for the smell: there wasn't any. It looked like a normal toilet in a normal bathroom and I actually didn’t need any special skills to use it (close the lid when done).

Modern Composting Toilets

Composting toilets, to the uninitiated, have a certain rustic image. Most people visualize something one step removed (both in odour and ick) from an outhouse.

In fact they’re quite different from pit toilets in that compost toilets collect your waste and “using evaporation and aerobic decomposition” they transform waste into “hygienically safe humus” rather than filling a hole or using a plumbing system to flush it away.

I know. I prefer the idea of my waste being flushed away rather than having it hanging out down the hall being transformed . . . but the thing is, in the right situation compost toilets really are an interesting option. Consider:

  • One estimate says toilet waste accounts for 30-40% of your household water use. Many composting models use no water at all, and the ones that do only use very little.
  • Composting toilets need maintenance, but are fairly straightforward and just require the humus tray to be emptied a few times a year.
  • They don’t make sense in every location (particularly if you’re already attached to a sewage system) but they are a good option if you are on a septic field or for a spare toilet where you don’t already have plumbing, or in a shed or at the cottage.
  • Depending on the model they are very easy to install and can be set up in a day.
  • With many models your guests won’t even know they are using a big litter box – honest.

Have you got any experience with using a composting toilet? Good or bad? Share it in the comments.