If you're like most people, chances are you don't really know what a composting toilet is or how it works. If your initial reaction to the idea is one of disgust, then read on, because we're about to shed some light on the subject! Many people think of a composting toilet as something similar to a port-a-potty or an outhouse. Contrary to this unpleasant image, composting toilets are very clean and sanitary, and they make a great alternative to traditional fixtures. In this article, we'll explain how composting toilets work, and why they are a superior waste management solution that you just might want to consider for your home.
The biggest misconception surrounding composting toilets is that they smell. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth! If you purchase the right unit, it will be 100% odor free. Good composting toilets use a venting system to maintain odor free operation. A 2" or 4" vent stack must be installed to run vertically up from the toilet and out the roofline of your home. The vent stack is designed to draw air downward through the seat and then up and out the vent. This maintains a partial vacuum inside the unit and ensures that no odor can enter the bathroom. In some units, there is also a small fan assembly to assist with airflow.
There are many varieties of composting toilets to choose from, and contrary to popular belief, not all of them are waterless! There are many composting systems available that use water flushing toilets. These types of units are called central systems, and they are made up of a central composting unit (picture a big box) that sits in the basement or lower level. A separate, more traditional-looking toilet fixture is installed in the bathroom and connected to your water pipes to provide flushing liquid.
The finished product from a composting toilet is, of course, compost. While the uninitiated might have concerns about compost coming from human waste, there is no need to worry. Provided that you followed the manufacturer's instructions, the finished product from your composting unit will be clean and non-offensive. In fact, it will look and smell just like any other normal compost you might purchase from a nursery or garden center.
When shopping for a composting toilet, be sure to look into the product's certifications. Has it been tested to comply with national or international standards for waste management systems? Within North America, composting toilet systems are tested to NSF/ANSI Standard #41. To date, only two manufacturers of composting toilets have successfully had their systems tested and certified to comply with this standard.
The first is Clivus Multrum, a manufacturer of composting systems designed for use in parks and outdoor facilities. The second is Sun-Mar, a Canadian manufacturer of composting toilets designed and approved for residential use. It may be helpful to note that, for consumer's protection and safety, the NSF only certifies composting toilets that are odorless and that produce compost with fecal coliform that does not exceed 200 MPN per gram. In other words, if you use the unit correctly, the finished compost is sanitary and it will not make anyone sick. For more information, visit the NSF's website.
Traditional toilets use as much as 30% of the average household's water consumption. As we move through the 21st century, composting toilets will become an increasingly popular choice for those who need to conserve water, or who simply wish to save money on expensive water and sewer costs. Furthermore, composting toilets are no longer the ugly, awkward fixtures of the past. Modern systems are sleek and contemporary, and blend perfectly in a residential setting. If you're like other Americans looking for ways to save money or minimize your ecological impact, now may be a good time to consider a composting toilet system for your home.