In the spring of 2005, after much soul searching, we installed a flush toilet. The sawdust toilet described below had really been working quite well for us, but we were finding it to be a bit more work than we could handle. I'm a freelance musician, and it always seemed that the night before I would be going away for a few days we would discover we had just filled our final bucket, and I would have to go out in the dark and cold to empty and clean at least one bucket for my family to use while I was gone. Our lifestyle just didn't seem to mesh with the demands of the sawdust toilet. However, because it did work so well, I am leaving the information about composting toilets below for those people who may still be interested in our experience. And in case you are interested in our new flush toilet: I thoroughly researched the various low-flow models out there, and chose a Toto Ultimate, which was available locally from Mr. Plumber. Low-flow toilets have a bad reputation, but not all toilets are created equal, and this one is awesome! In my research, I found Terry Love's website invaluable. Thanks Terry!


Why a composting toilet?

From an environmental perspective, ordinary flush toilets simply aren't the best answer. Sure, it's convenient - simply press the lever and everything disappears. But where does all that stuff go? It becomes a toxic sludge and sometimes it ends up directly in our lakes or harbours - untreated! But even with a waste management plant, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to process that sludge, and toxic waste is generated. Even with a rural septic system, that sludge must be disposed of periodically. Keep in mind that no matter what the system, rural or municipal, precious water is being used to flush away waste. Fortunately, at the same time that we reduce pollution from human waste we can reduce the demands on fresh water systems by using a composting toilet!

Our system

We had originally purchased a self-contained (and expensive - over $1000.00) system from Envirolet (Sancor). More recently we have discovered that the Clivus Multrum is the grand-daddy of all composting toilet systems and that all others pale in comparison. Too bad we didn't find that out earlier - oh well, live and learn. Suffice it to say that we have been very unhappy with our Envirolet - it didn't work very well and every time we tried to improve it we had to spend more money, all for naught. After almost a year of fighting with it, I dismantled it and dragged it outside, where it sits alone in the woods. Although tempted to replace it with a flush toilet, we still felt very strongly about the value of composting; after some more research, we found an effective, simple and very inexpensive solution. It requires a little more work than a simple flush, but so does everything if one tries to be environmentally responsible.

Here's how it works: Waste is collected in an indoor toilet, then transferred periodically to an outdoor compost bin. The toilet is made out of scrap wood (left over from construction), free plastic buckets with lids, and a toilet seat. The compost bin is constructed out of free pallets and scrap electrical wire. Total cost: $16.00. Other needs: sawdust and straw (or leaves). A 2-inch base of sawdust is placed in a bucket and set inside the wooden toilet in the bathroom. After each use, more sawdust (kept handy in another bucket) is used to cover it up. As long as the waste is kept covered with sawdust, there is absolutely no odour. When the bucket is full, it is carried outside, dumped into the compost bin, covered with straw, and left to compost. Nature then takes over, and the process comes full circle - the food we ate came from soil, and now it has been returned to soil. No one got hurt, no water was wasted, and no pollution was added to the environment.

So far we have been incredibly happy with this system - it is so much easier than the trials I went through with the fancy expensive one, and it is esthetically more pleasant to use too.

Recommended reading

The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins. Jenkins Publishing, P.O. Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127 USA