A composting toilet is a dry toilet that uses a predominantly aerobic processing system that treats excreta (humanure), typically with no water or small volumes of flush water, via composting or managed aerobic decomposition. Composting toilets use the natural processes of decomposition and evaporation to recycle human waste.
Waste entering the toilets is over 90% water, which is evaporated and carried back to the atmosphere through a vent system or a composting facility. The small amount of remaining solid material is converted to useful fertilizing soil by natural decomposition.
The correct balance between oxygen, moisture, heat and organic material is needed to ensure a rich environment for the aerobic bacteria that transform the waste into fertilizing soil. This ensures odor-free operation and complete decomposition of waste.
When human waste is properly composted, the end product does not contain any pathogens or viruses (these are destroyed by bacterial breakdown). This nutrient-rich fertilizer can then be used on plants or around the base of trees, as part of the natural cycling of nutrients, reducing or eliminating your need for commercial fertilizers and preserving local water quality.
How Do Composting Toilets Work?
Most composting toilets have three basic elements: a place to sit, a composting chamber, and a drying/composting tray. Most models combine all three elements in a single enclosure, although some models have separate seating, with the composting chamber installed in the basement or under the house, some might even work with a container system which is rotated when full and mixed into the garden compost system. In the case of enclosed systems the drying tray is positioned under the composting chamber, and some sort of removable finishing drawer is supplied to carry off the finished and composted material.
Besides the environmental benefits, there are other advantages of composting toilets. Because no water is required for composting toilets and they employ aerobic activity to break down waste, they are an ideal option in areas that lack access to running water. Also, less water usage means less stress on freshwater supplies, and a lower the water bill. Composting toilets are relatively simple to install, as no plumbing, septic tank, or sewage treatment is required. In addition, local soils maintain their respective fertility, as nutrient-dense humus is returned to the ground. Finally, compost toilets can be installed in both rural and urban environments, depending on local ordinances.
Still, there are some drawbacks of composting toilets, as they require proper commitment, attention and maintenance. The system receptacles need to be emptied periodically, anywhere from a few days to every few weeks. Plus, the systems may be aesthetically unappealing, especially those which allow excrement to remain visible. All units require periodic cleaning, which may be unpleasant if the system is not functioning properly.
Is It Possible to Build Your Own?
If you’re reasonably handy, YES! If changing a light-bulb is as handy as you get, you might be better to get assistance or look at some of the commercial composting systems available. You can also go down the anaerobic route and purchase one of the many “self-contained closed-tank” systems, but depending on design and your wishes you may be faced with high costs and having to install an overflow system.
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