Composting toilets (or compost toilets) provide households with sustainable, eco-friendly solutions to human waste management when you can’t connect to sewage or want to live a sustainable life. However, picking the right product isn’t always easy. You want to do some research before buying such a system. Here’s what you need to know.
What is a composting toilet?
A composting toilet may look like a “normal” toilet, but it manages waste through a different process, which often doesn’t require flushing. This eco-friendly system turns human waste into compost by breaking down the organic matter into a nutrient-rich fertilizer.
It’s a natural process artificially re-created to facilitate the disposal of human waste in mobile or off-grid houses.
The transformation is possible thanks to the composting toilet’s ability to create an environment where bacteria can start a series of chemical reactions that eventually lead to the decomposition of waste.
Types of composting toilets
Composting toilets can come in various sizes and models, but overall, you can usually pick between two major categories – self-contained composting toilets and split systems:
- Self-contained composting toilets are all-in-one systems that include a pedestal (the seat) and one or two detachable containers for the waste. They are suitable solutions for tiny houses, RVs, boats, and generally, homes where you have limited space. The downside? Due to the small dimensions, this composting toilet requires regular emptying to efficiently store and break down waste. The more people use the toilet, the more frequently you need to remove the compost from the tank.
- Split systems have two separated sections—the pedestal is above the floor, and the tank is hidden below. The two sections communicate through a series of pipes that enable waste to move down the tank, where the decomposition process starts. The system is more complex and has a larger capacity than a self-contained composting toilet. That’s why it requires extra space for the tank, making it suitable for off-grid houses where you have enough room under the floor. Split systems could be either dry or water-based, depending on the manufacturer.
Split vs. central system – all you need to know
Both split and self-contained systems look pretty much like a “traditional” toilet, which means you still have the same level of comfort you’re used to. Most of the products available use no water or small amounts of flush water, which means you can easily find a solution that doesn’t require plumbing or water connection.
Composting toilets do need electricity to function correctly—you want to support the system with a heater and the proper ventilation to keep the smell out of the bathroom and provide the tank with enough oxygen. The good news is most of them have low consumption, so you can supply the energy required to power your toilet with a generator or solar panels.
As a side note, composting toilets that don’t require energy exist, but they’re not equally efficient. The decomposition process is slow, and you can rarely control odors without a fan.
The benefits of choosing a dry sanitation system are multiple—both split and central systems provide a sustainable, environment-friendly solution to human waste management. A composting toilet can help you save as much as 6600 gallons (24,984 L) of water per person a year. Moreover, buying a composting toilet can become a profitable home investment, as studies have shown that every $1 invested in dry sanitation can generate up to $11.6 or even $22.9 in return.
Overall, one type of system isn’t better or worse than the other. Both have pros and cons, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that can be labeled as the best fit for all households. As a general guideline, you need to consider a series of factors before picking the best composting toilet for your needs, and this blog post has a dedicated section to help you make that decision.
How does a compost toilet work?
The principle behind compost toilets is simple: human waste gets separated into the solid and liquid matter, and then bacteria break down the organic elements, transforming waste into fertilizer. Some toilets use anaerobic decomposition, but most models available on the market use aerobic decomposition and require an environment rich in oxygen.
That’s why a carbon additive is often necessary to help create air pockets. The most popular options available now are coconut coir, sawdust, and peat moss, which are also excellent solutions for reducing potential odors during the process.
Depending on the composting toilet you buy, some things might vary. For example, if you have a self-contained system, the decomposition takes place in the tank right next to the seat, while in a split system, the aerobic digestion takes place further from the toilet itself.
In this second case, the capacity of the tank is more extensive, so there’s no need to empty the toilet very often. More complex systems require minimum maintenance, so you don’t have to worry about emptying the tank for long periods.
How to choose the best composting toilet for your needs
While the decomposition process is relatively simple, buying and installing the system doesn’t always come easy or cheap. So, you want to perform due diligence before purchasing a composting toilet.
Let’s see what you need to consider when evaluating the various types of composting toilets available in your country or region.
1. Space and purpose
Think about where you need the composting toilet and how often you will use it. If you need a mobile system for your boat or RV, you’ll have to look at small, self-contained systems. At the same time, you need to make sure you calculate how often you’ll have the possibility to empty the toilet’s tank when you’re on the road or off-shore.
On the other hand, if you need something permanent for an off-grid house, you might have to choose a more complex system compliant with the local rules and regulations for human waste management.
2. Price, complexity, and maintenance
Another significant factor to consider when buying a composting toilet is your budget. Composting toilets are rarely cheap, and the more complex the product, the more you’ll have to pay for it.
Moreover, if you opt for a complex split system, you’ll need to consider the challenges that might come with the installation. While you handle a small number of moving parts when installing a composting toilet, you still need some DIY skills to ensure all pieces are set up correctly. Otherwise, you might have to handle more than the routine maintenance as you start using the system.
The smart way to consider this is to weigh in the initial and long-term maintenance costs because not all composting toilets are made equally, and some need more care than others.
3. Capacity and waste disposal options
Last but not least, the capacity of the composting toilet can also influence your buying decision. A small self-contained system is a perfect option if you’re living alone. However, if you have a large family, you might want a more complex system that’s big enough to serve all your needs and doesn’t require to be emptied any other day.
Knowing how to get rid of the compost might also help you pick the best value for money. If you can’t use the manure to fertilize fields, you want to know where you can dispose of the compost and how much that’ll cost you in the long run.
5 Best composting toilets in 2022
Now that you know how a composting toilet works and what you should consider when picking the most suitable solution for your needs, let’s go over some of the best products available right now.
1. HomeBiogas Bio-Toilet Kit
The HomeBiogas Bio-Toilet Kit is a modern alternative to regular compost toilets and helps you make your home eco-friendly in more than one way. Not only does it help you store human waste in a self-sustainable manner, but it also turns it into cooking gas. It helps you save water and reduce methane emissions.
This system is different from most composting toilets, as it leverages anaerobic digestion to decompose waste and turn it into methane and fertilizer. It uses small amounts of water to flush, and the fertilizer resulting from the decomposition process can be used to fertilize your garden and crops.
It’s a relatively easy to install, safe, and suitable system for off-grid houses. This toilet kit can serve up to six people depending on its size, is totally odorless and looks and feels like a regular, modern toilet!
2. Camco Portable Compost Toilet
Camco Portable compost toilet isn’t a dry toilet, but it uses small amounts of water per flush and has a portable cistern with a capacity of 2.5 gallons (11.36 liters). It has a simple design, and it’s easy to set up. The detachable waste tank connects with the pedestal through a waterproof and scent-proof sliding gate valve.
The system has a small capacity, making it a top choice for only mobile homes and tiny spaces. Due to the small size, you’ll probably have to empty the tank often—even daily. Also, to accelerate the decomposition process, you’ll need an additional biodegradable product called Camco TST.
3. Sun-Mar GTG Composting Toilet
Sun-Mar GTG composting toilet is an elegant model with separate chambers for liquid and solid waste. However, this is a borderline model because none of the two tanks can create an environment where bacteria can break down the matter and turn it into compost, so you’ll also need an extra tank where the decomposition process can occur.
This fiberglass toilet is comfortable and easy to install. It doesn’t require water to function and comes with a small fan that can help eliminate odors. It’s not a mobile device, so it’s most suitable for off-grid houses with plenty of space for an additional septic tank or digester.
4. Nature’s Head Self Contained Composting Toilet
Nature’s Head self-contained composting toilet consists of a stainless steel system that is easy to clean and resistant against corrosion or rust. It has a liquid and solid waste separator and a fan to control odors. The disadvantage is that users must manually change the liquid/solid waste valve before usage, which you can easily forget about.
This composting toilet uses sawdust and natural peat to create air pockets and accelerate decomposition. Without these additional products, the system might not function properly.
One of the model’s main advantages is that you can use it as a central or split system, making it suitable for multiple types of houses. If you opt for this model, pay attention to the fact that the manufacturer advises against using the compost resulting from the decomposition process for fertilizing edible plants.
5. Pikkuvihrea Composting Dry Toilet
Pikkuvihrea composting dry toilet wins the price battle if you pick the basic version. However, a series of features that more expensive competitors have are available if you’re willing to pay extra.
The basic version doesn’t need water or electricity to function. Still, you’ll need power if you integrate the ventilation system to speed up the decomposition process and help with odor management.
This composting toilet is mobile, being a smart choice for RVs, boats, and motorhomes. You can also adapt it for an off-grid house.
Compost toilet vs. septic tank
Composting toilets and septic tanks play the same role: they create a specific environment where you can store and manage human waste when you can’t connect to the centralized system. However, not all septic tanks also enable bacteria to decompose the waste; you want a bio septic tank specially built for this purpose.
Compost toilets are more eco-friendly than septic tanks. In some cases, you can enable a process that results in sustainable energy and environment-friendly fertilizer—which is harder to obtain with a regular septic tank. Moreover, compost toilets use less water and save you money in the long run.
However, most composting toilets require daily, weekly, or biweekly maintenance, while septic tanks must be emptied after more extended periods, depending on their capacity.
Can you pee & poop in a composting toilet?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: yes, you can, but depending on the type of compost toilet you choose, liquid and solid waste will be managed differently. Some systems have separate tanks, while others will simply divert the liquid out of the tank.
If you pick a toilet with an exhaust fan system, the liquid will evaporate to reduce the moisture inside the composting toilet and facilitate the decomposition process.
Do composting toilets smell?
All compost toilets are designed to enable aerobic or anaerobic decomposition, depending on your chosen model. Either way, they’re supposed to ensure a healthy environment with no unpleasant odors.
However, to reach this, you need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions of usage and regularly clean the toilet—not just the pedestal but also the detachable tanks if you opt for a central system.
Last but not least, most composting toilets come with a cool system consisting of a fan that will also help keep odors under control.
Composting toilets are adequate, sustainable tools for storing and managing human waste in areas where connecting to the centralized system isn’t feasible. These toilets use anaerobic or aerobic decomposers to break down the liquid and solid waste and turn it into compost (fertilizer).
They’re an eco-friendly alternative to traditional toilets and help save flush water and massive amounts of energy that would otherwise be necessary to clean and treat wastewater.
Composting toilets come in many sizes and meet different needs, depending on the household they’re designed for. As most models are complex systems, they don’t come cheap, so you want to research and identify the best products for your type of house before acquiring one.
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