Composting toilets have undergone many changes in the last ten years and they are becoming increasingly easier to use and maintain. Toilet waste composting is also a technology that helps manage the ongoing problem of dealing with human waste in a productive, environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. But as with any technology, there are both advantages and disadvantages of using composting toilets.
The composting toilet is a non-water-use system that is well suited to remote areas where water is scarce, or areas with high water tables, shallow soil, rough terrain, or when connecting to the existing wastewater system is cost prohibitive or near impossible without pumping - Composting toilet systems are not flush-and-forget technology. They require a consciousness of what’s put into the toilet, some maintenance and well-thought-out siting and installation. They will also typically require electricity for operating fans and heaters.
A composting toilet is a well-ventilated container that provides the optimum environment for unsaturated, but moist, human excrement for biological and physical decomposition under sanitary, controlled aerobic conditions. Many compost systems have heated compost chambers to provide and maintain optimum temperature requirements for year-round usage. Warm temperatures enable a variety of micro-organisms to thrive and breakdown the matter. Composting microorganisms need air, and aeration can be improved by mixing the material or by adding wood shavings (to create air spaces).
As with all wastewater treatment systems, management is critical to the efficiency of the system. The level and consistency of the material in the pile must be monitored periodically. The compost should be removed periodically, anywhere from every one to three months for a single person system to every two years for a large central system. Finished humus has the consistency of composted leaves and should smell earthy but not offensive. The humus should be buried under at least 250 mm of soil, preferably within the root zones of non-edible plants that can use the nutrients. Composting toilet systems often must be used in conjunction with a greywater system. A greywater system deals with the wastewater from the bathrooms and laundry, and sometimes kitchen, and many of these also require maintenance.
The primary disadvantage is that the maintenance of composting toilets requires the learning of new practices and habits, and ultimately requires more responsibility by users and owners then conventional flush toilet systems. Improper maintenance can make the cleaning of some models unpleasant, may lead to odor problems and can create health hazards. If the composting toilet system is not adequately maintained, removing the end-product can be an especially unpleasant task. There may be aesthetic issues because excrement in some systems may be in sight and too much liquid in the composter can disrupt the process if it is not drained and properly managed. Smaller units may have limited capacity for accepting peak loads, while many dry composing systems require a power source.
One of the primary advantages of using a composting toilet is that by composting human waste and then using the end-product as a soil amendment for trees and non-edible plants, you will be contributing positively to the environment. In this system, human waste becomes a resource instead of a problem to be disposed of or treated. Composting toilets also benefit the environment by preserving another valuable natural resource: water. Composting systems both reduce or eliminate the need of water for flushing and thus dramatically reduces water consumption and waste. Many composting toilet systems can also accept kitchen wastes, and thus further help with reducing household waste and help simplify the composting process (especially for apartment dwellers who may not have an easy way of composting vegetable matter). By eliminating the need for transporting human waste to facilities for treatment and disposal, composting toilets reduce the pressure on large infrastructure facilities that deal with human waste and the need for new treatment facilities to be built. By considering both the advantages and disadvantages of a composting toilet, you should be able to fully appreciate both the benefits and responsibilities of these systems.
There are literally dozens of compost toilet manufacturers offering a variety of different types and features on composting toilets to choose from. However, there are two basic different types of composting toilets that you must choose between: self-contained or split (also known as “remote”).
Self-contained compost toilets are ideal for small homes and spaces. They are quite easy to install and are often ready to go right out of the box. There are both electric and non-electric versions that you can purchase. Electric versions usually have a fan that helps maintain the correct moisture density within the composting chamber. They also tend to be cheaper than the split composting toilet models. Some of the down-sides of self-contained models include the small number of individuals they can adequately serve – most models cannot handle more than two people, and some may only be suitable for one individual to use on a daily basis. They may also appear a bit bulky, and many models are quite tall and require a foot stool for use. Some consumers find them more difficult to maintain as well, since the smaller size requires more frequent monitoring to make sure the compost stays in balance.
Split, or remote, composting toilets are the best choice if you will be having multiple individuals using the toilet on a daily basis. With a spit model, the composting chamber will be located in a different part of the house (usually directly beneath the toilet in a basement area) and many models look very similar to a regular flush toilet. Split compost toilets generally are more expensive than self-contained models and require additional installation and plumbing costs. You also need adequate space and an appropriate space to install these units in your house. However, when you factor in the savings you will have in water costs and sewage or septic system maintenance costs, these units should still be a good economical choice.
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