The truth about composting toilets

End of May 2015

So there we have it…our composting toilet is fully operational and at last I can give you an honest evaluation.

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BEFORE

Naturally, we are very proud of our composting loo, which has gone from a dusty storage cupboard under the stairs, to a quirky little cabin toilet, made from reclaimed materials. It is, without a doubt, our most successful eco project to date. We reckon we have spent around 90€ on it in total, expenses of which covered three 25-litre buckets and a beautiful hand-carved olive wood ladle from Amazon, a nice cut of pine, two packs of discounted floor tiles, a roll of wall insulation, two LED spot lights, and some hinges from a local DIY store.

AFTER

We have sourced out a continual supply of untreated sawdust from a very talented local cabinet maker, who gave us in the region of 1000 litres of the stuff for 4 euros…yet another reason to love Le Bon Coin!

For the wood panelling, sawdust chamber and the toilet sides, Pete used offcuts of wood and chipboard he brought home from work. Add to that a reclaimed toilet seat, a broken down pallet and an old wall lamp we brought with us from Chamonix and our composting loo is complete.

We’ve decided to start a quote wall, for some enlightened toilet reading. Here is a small selection of my favourite eco quotes and inspirational posters from our wall:

quote

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Broken Nutrient Cycle

Intact Nutrient Cycle

Community-Service-Ghandi-Quote-Be-the-change-you-wish-to-see-in-the-world

Outside, inspired by the Humanure Handbook, we have a newly constructed ‘humanure’ compost system in place, where we store and compost our waste. Pete used Alexander’s old cot and some other reclaimed materials to make it, and it took him less than half a day to finish. In fact, it probably took me longer than that to gather up all the dried grass cuttings from our land, which serve as cover materiel!IMG_2939

I have personally emptied the waste bucket and it didn’t make me gag whatsoever.  It takes just a couple of minutes to empty it on the humanure compost pile, where you then cover its contents with straw or dried grass. We use a watering can to rinse out the bucket (water that will eventually come from a well or rainwater collection tank, once we can afford to put the system in place).

B1x112EYou have to bear in mind that our humanure compost won’t be ready to use on our garden for another two years yet, by which stage it will have broken down and will be the most perfect free fertilizer you could possibly get your hands on. Once the first humanure compost bin is full, we start filling the second one and if necessary, add a third, so that by the time all two or three bins are full, the first is ready to be used on the garden. We store straw undercover between the two large bins, so that we always have a dry supply with which to cover up our bucket deposits. This helps to speed up the composting process and prevents any unwanted odours.

Now for the nitty gritty part…does it really smell?

When you step foot in our composting loo, there is definitely a smell in there, but it is not unpleasant. The odour is a mixture of wood panelling and sawdust, and it makes you feel like you are going to the loo in a little cabin in the woods. Having been brought up caravanning, there’s nothing at all shocking about it to me. On the contrary, I absolutely love it!

The strangest thing about using it is when you stand up and start looking around for the non-existent flush. When it comes to toilet protocol, the fact that there is no flush makes you almost feel like you are forgetting to do something and may leave you feeling a little perplexed at times, but it’s just so quick and easy, and before you know it, you’ve saved gallons of water and you’re composting your own waste product. Amazing!

Although it looks very ornamental, the wooden ladle I bought is not very functional as it’s much smaller than I expected. You can hardly get any sawdust in it, so we’re on the look-out for a larger measuring scoop instead.
Of course, in order to keep the area as tidy as possible, you have to try to keep everywhere (besides the bucket) clean of sawdust, which you often find either scattered on the floor or around the toilet seat thanks to the unsteady hands of an eager child…or those of a tipsy adult. And yes, I am speaking from experience! A little bit of maintenance is nothing though when you compare it with the satisfaction of doing our little bit for the environment and a larger scoop should not only help limit the spillages but do justice to my poem:IMG_2892

I know that a composting loo is not practical in every household and I’m not telling you to all go out and rip out your old system in favour of it, but I do think that everyone should be more open to trying them out and use them instead of classic running water toilets when given the choice. It is true that they are quite hard to come by, certainly over here in South West France, but I would hope that anyone visiting our house would feel comfortable enough to use our composting toilet (at least once), so they can make up their own mind. If, however, you’re one of those people who criticises or writes off a composting toilet without first-hand experience, then maybe you should stop talking out of your backside and give it a go! You might be pleasantly surprised.

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