Outhouse - Photocredit: unsplash.com/Amy Reed (@amybethreed)

Since I’ve been asked some questions about the composting toilet I built, about how it works and what’s the goal of it, I decided to share some of the research I’ve been doing. Warning: I will not sugarcoat this topic, so if you don’t want to read about shit, just stop reading.

So what’s the difference between the good old outhouse and a composting toilet?

The outhouse was – as the name suggests – outside, so the problem of it being smelly didn’t really exist or at least wasn’t a focus. You just dug a hole, put a “house” over it and used it until it was full. In the early days they probably just dug a different hole at some other place. Later on it was emptied regularly.

The composting toilet is in some ways not that different, but the focus and intent is. For example one of the main goals is to conserve water, and by extension not water down the excrements so that they cannot be used for anything other than be treated in a plant with a high input of energy. To go even further, the idea is to create/close cycles in nature. So by composting your excrements, it is – with time – converted into valuable soil that can be used to grow food again.

That is probably the part that worries the most people: “But diseases can be transmitted and all kinds of stuff…” – Well, I can only rely the information that I found during my research, but it all depends on the time and quality of the composting process. I would probably still not use it for my vegetables but for bushes and trees instead, but that’s only because I didn’t go into the nitty gritty science of that topic (yet).

If that’s the part that worries you, there is always the possibility to just collect it in a (thick and preferrably not see-through) bag and throw it in the trash. With this solution, no natural cycles were closed, but at least the other goals that I mentioned can be achieved.

I also briefly mentioned the smell before… well, I read in a few articles, that a big part of the smell comes from the combination of urine with excrements. I did a small field test about a year ago and did notice a big difference. Having said this, I also feel the need to mention, that even though it does smell a lot less, it still smells. So it is imperative to always close the lid and preferrably have a way to ventilate the area of collection.

To achive this separation of urine and excrements, I used a special toilet seat produced by a company called “Separett” that offers all kinds of different non-water toilet solutions. From a very simple toilet seat like I used to a high-tech composting toilet.

In my first few weeks of usage, what surprised me the most, is the ratio between urine and excrement. I do need to empty my urine bucket almost every other day, whereas the excrement-bucket is still only half full after a few weeks. In the beginning, the smell was not really detectable, but now after about 3 weeks it seems to be time to clear out (even though it’s still not too bad). And I don’t have any ventilation yet!

Does anyone of you have different experiences? I’d love to read about them.

It’s all down the drain… or is it?

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