Are you thinking of using a composting toilet?
How does a compost toilet work?
What is a compost toilet, anyway?
It’s important to understand composting toilets before installing one in your home. Whether you plan to use a composting toilet in your RV or vacation cabin or you want to install one for the whole family to use most of the time, education is the first crucial step.
First, understand that composting toilets are similar to regular toilets, but not the same. Here are a few differences between compost toilets and traditional toilets:
- Composting toilets don’t always need electricity to run. They do if they have fan attachments; however, the amount of electricity used for these fans is nominal.
- Composting toilets don’t use any water, unlike regular toilets, which use quite a lot.
- Composting toilets don’t flush. When you use the bathroom, the waste falls right into the tank and the decomposition process begins almost instantly.
- Finally, composting toilets are actually easier to keep clean and well-maintained in the long run than regular toilets. They don’t have parts that can break easily, and since you can simply dump out the compost and wipe them down, cleaning is not too complicated.
Now that you have this framework of information, you can dig a little deeper and learn more about how these toilets function. Take your time looking through the information below and your questions should be answered!
Read on to learn all about how composting toilets work.
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How Do Composting Toilets Work?
In this section, you’ll learn all about how composting toilets work and what makes them do what they do. Understanding this information can help you better understand your own composting toilet, if you choose to install one in your home or RV.
What is a composting toilet?
- A composting toilet is a type of toilet that allows human waste to turn into compost, rather than flushing it down the drain. These toilets function similarly to composting bins, except that they rely on the human waste and some absorbent materials to handle the decomposition process.
- There are two different types of composting toilet: self-contained or central/remote. Self-contained toilets do the entire composting process within the toilet and its tank. Central/remote toilets move the waste to a tank in a different location to process it into compost. These are not very common, and especially not for campsites or mobile homes.
But how does a composting toilet work?
- Composting toilets work by encouraging the natural process of decomposition. All human waste will decompose eventually, but ordinarily, it does so in landfills and sewage dump sites where it risks polluting both groundwater and surface-level water.
- In composting toilets, the waste breaks down completely before it is removed from the toilet. Then, it can be used to fertilize plants, or it can be disposed of in a cleaner and more environmentally-friendly way.
The first step is to place a layer of carbon-rich material at the base of the compost toilet’s main chamber.
- This material helps jumpstart the decomposition process and also helps absorb the liquids within the waste. Many people use sawdust for this.
Most composting toilets separate liquid and solid wastes.
- When you go to the bathroom, the wastes will be separated automatically.
- Some types, however—including DIY composting toilets—do not separate the two types of wastes. For these toilet styles, you’ll need to plan to empty them more frequently due to the lack of balance between liquid and solid waste.
When you need to use the toilet, you will do your business as normal.
- The toilet separates the wastes (in some cases) and the wastes then reach tanks where they are introduced to aerobic microorganisms as well as fungi and worms.
- These microorganisms get started right away, processing the waste and turning it into what will eventually become compost. They use the absorbent materials to help speed this process along.
Some composting toilets “flush” by pushing the materials down into a separate chamber.
- Many, however, do not. More often than not, the waste will simply fall into the correct tank after you go to the bathroom.
After using the toilet, you must add more absorbent material.
- Even if there’s already plenty inside the tank, you should always add a little more to help the decomposition process. This will also help keep the liquids from overflowing before the solids have a chance to balance out, in most instances.
The toilet must remain aerated.
- Aeration is an important factor in any composting situation, and that is true of composting toilets too. Be sure to install your composting toilet according to the directions to allow as much aeration as possible. If you are using a DIY composting toilet, install it in a place where it will be aerated frequently.
Some toilets must be turned.
- Many premade composting toilets include agitators that can be manually turned from the outside of the toilet to spin the compost inside. This helps to keep the compost aerated and encourages it to break down even more quickly.
- When you make your own DIY composting toilet or you use a less sophisticated model, you may need to plan to turn the compost yourself. This can be a little off-putting to some, but it’s crucial. Keep a shovel on hand specifically for this purpose only, and clean the shovel often (but not with chemicals!).
It’s important to keep the compost warm so it breaks down efficiently.
- Composting toilets kept at room temperature or in very warm outdoor locations probably don’t need assistance with this. However, some may require electric heating elements, so keep this in mind.
When the composting toilet is full, the liquids and solids can be disposed of separately.
- Disposing of your waste may be as easy as adding it to the garden (on non-edible plants), but you may also need to throw it away in your regular garbage. If possible, try disposing of it in the woods before you do this, however.
So how does composting toilet work for you and your needs? Brushing up on the information from the article above should help you get a better idea of what to expect when you use a composting toilet in your home.
However, there are always some risks and problems that can arise when using a composting toilet. Here are a few issues you may encounter:
- If the compost begins to smell, something has gone wrong. You should check on your materials, levels, and balance, as well as the function of the toilet itself.
- If the liquids and solids aren’t separated, the compost will risk being too wet to break down properly. You may need to add more absorbent material if this occurs.
- If the toilet needs to be cleaned, do not clean with chemicals. Cleaning with chemicals will kill off the good bacteria and destroy the compost, which will in turn make you have to start all over again.
When you keep an eye out for these problem areas, you’ll be better prepared to deal with them if you find yourself faced with any of them. Keep this in mind as you move forward with your composting toilet plans!