Waterless toilets combined with composting hit two birds with one stone—you avoid wasting water (and save, on average, 40,000 gallons of water per year) and turn what would otherwise become toxic waste into vibrant, nutrient-dense garden compost.
Waterless urinals are becoming more common (they can be found on some college campuses and in some restaurants, for example) and indicate that there is an awareness of the problem and that some people are taking steps to reduce or eliminate water waste.
However, when it comes to home use of waterless toilets and composting systems, many people are gripped by what the Humanure Handbook terms “fecophobia,” the fear of using humanure for agricultural purposes (as well as fear of handling or even talking or thinking about handling feces, composted or not). For those people this may be an uncomfortable topic, but as clean water supplies become more scarce and agricultural lands become less fecund (not to be confused with “fecal”) this is going to become a necessary discussion. Bear in mind that "humanure" must be composted for two years at a high temperature, and is typically used for fertilizing non-food garden plants.
How waterless toilets work
The most basic waterless toilet system is the composting toilet where decomposition occurs under the toilet receptacle itself. This idea is similar to a Porta-Potty, but instead it's permanent, usually constructed of wood and cinder blocks and instead of a chemical pool at the bottom there is soil and a big pile of composting humanure. This setup requires technical knowledge and carpentry skills, and instruction for building one is beyond the scope of this article.
A more simple setup is an outhouse with a sitting arrangement with a hole which allows defecation into, for instance, a five-gallon bucket. When the bucket is full, it is carried to a compost pile, dumped and left to compost for a minimum of two years. This system makes sense for homeowners with a good sized yard or those living in the countryside. Some people even place a simple composting toilet in their bathrooms, next to their "regular" toilet. If emptying a compost toilet bucket disgusts you, you can make it much easier by lining the bucket with a biodegradable bag. Just tie up the bag like a trash bag, and carry it out the the compost bin.
We've tried it; we liked it.
While living on a farm in Connecticut for three months, this setup was my regular toilet. I was surprised (pleasantly) by the lack of odors (after each use you throw some sawdust, straw or leaves in the bucket which totally suppresses odors). Dumping it out wasn't any worse than dumping out a bucket of vegetable scraps into the compost pile. Networx editor Chaya Goodman Kurtz also lived on a farm with a simple composting toilet, and vouches for the fact that when maintained properly, the composting toilet did not smell.
Prefabricated waterless toilet systems
For those living in a more urban environment (or who prefer a different system) there are a number of companies offering waterless toilets. (This is only a small sampling and a quick internet search will render many more options.)
Clivus Multrum: One of the originators in the industry, Clivus Multrum offers a number of composting toilet options. One is called a Foam-Flush Toilet ($3,995.00) which looks and feels as similar to a conventional flush toilet as possible but only uses six ounces of water per flush, 95% less than the average 1.6 gallon toilet. This is a great compromise if you've got a spouse or occasional guests who would not be able to accept the idea of a “composting toilet” or a waterless toilet.
The toilet empties into a chamber where composting takes place. This toilet, as well most other commercial models, require either an elevated room or a basement below to allow placement of the composting chamber.
Envirolet: Similar to these other commercial composting toilets, Envirolet's systems are meant to be convenient to use and to look and feel similar to conventional toilets. One of their models, the Waterless Remote Composting System ($2,849) and can handle ten people per day. Envirolet toilets use a large under-toilet chamber for the composting process.
Biolet: Biolets also look similar to a conventional toilet and are made for inside the home. The Biolet 10 Standard toilet ($1,799.00) can handle full-time use by three people or part-time use by four. It utilizes electric evaporation and ventilation in order to eliminate odors, excess liquid, and to facilitate the composting process.
Sun-Mar: The Sun Mar Compact Composting Toilet ($1,674) looks bulkier than a conventional toilet but unlike the previous commercial models, it doesn't require a huge storage chamber under the house. It is rated to handle one adult per day or a family of two. It requires an electrical hookup and occasional manual turning with a recessed handle “to mix and aerate the compost.”
Each of these companies makes numerous models of waterless toilets at different prices and it is worth researching further if you're interested in acquiring one. For further reading on the topic of waterless toilets and humanure composting, see Joseph Jenkin's The Humanure Handbook.
Jordan Laio is a Hometalk - http://www.hometalk.com - writer. Read more articles like this one - http://www.networx.com/article/all-about-waterless-toilets - or get help with your home projects on Hometalk.com.