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Building a Compost Toilet

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 11 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Compost Toilet Environment Composting

Compost toilets conjure images of smelly, damp, fly-ridden outside cubicles, but in fact this couldn’t be further from the truth.

They have actually been around for a long time with the Chinese using them for hundreds of years.

So why not build you own compost toilet? Go on … you know you want to!

What Is A Compost Toilet?

A compost toilet is a convenience which doesn’t use water. For this reason, it can also variously be termed a ‘dry’, ‘biological’ or ‘waterless’ toilet.

True they may be placed out of doors, but modern compost toilets are just as often to be found within the home.

And just so you know, they’re clean, hygienic and don’t smell.

Why Build A Compost Toilet?

Compost toilets are a perfect solution for locations which are cut off from a regular mains supply of water or where water is expensively metered. They are also ideal for houses in very water-logged or low-lying areas where septic tanks can get swamped.

But above all, with a flush toilet using as much as 100,000 litres of water a year even before industry sewerage costs, they are a simple and sustainable solution to an otherwise very energy-intensive business.

Benefits include:

  • A massive saving on energy bills
  • Conservation of water in areas where it is in short supply
  • Prevention of sewage sludge going to landfill
  • Reduction in methane emissions in conventional disposal methods
  • They avoid the need for bleaches, chemicals, and water treatments
  • They are low maintenance and low cost.

How Do They Work?

Compost toilets can work in various ways; nevertheless all of them aim to do the same thing: break down human waste so that it decomposes into harmless, useable, organic matter.

The way this is done is by creating an enclosed environment which allows for aerobic decomposition. By making sure the collected faeces has the right conditions, i.e. it’s not too wet, organisms such as worms and bacteria can thrive and the material can break down without a problem.

Types Of Compost Toilet

Compost toilets are not a new idea and there are many different types and designs. They range from simple, self-constructed versions to state-of the art designs for the most self-conscious eco-home. However, there are four basic types:

  • Batch – where two or more sealed containers are filled with waste and rotated on a carousel. Once one container is full, it is replaced with an empty one.
  • Continual Process – where waste slowly biodegrades in one container and compost is routinely extracted from the bottom of the heap.
  • Remote – where the composting facility is located separately from the toilet.
  • Self-contained – where the composting container and the toilet are a single entity.

It is possible to invest in commercial compost toilets which include high-tech features such as electric fan ventilation, heaters to speed up the composting process, or mechanical mixing – the possibilities are endless.

However, the most basic of models is still just as effective.

Building A Simple Compost Toilet

If you wish to build a simple low-temperature compost toilet – or ‘mouldering’ toilet, the easiest way is to construct two chambers below which human waste will be collected. For one year, one of the chambers is used while the contents of the other, is decomposing and then the following year you swap over.

In order to prevent unwanted odours, after each use, the faeces should be covered in a thick layer of ‘soak’ which is used to literally ‘soak up’ excess liquid and so prevent anaerobic - and smelly - decomposition. Soak is typically material such as shredded paper, straw, or grasses.

So, now you know – are you ready to exchange flush for compost?

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