Switching to a composting toilet can significantly reduce your environmental impact and water usage. Composting toilets don’t require water to flush waste and instead use natural processes to break down human waste into usable compost. While installing a composting toilet requires some planning, with the right preparation it can be an easy and eco-friendly alternative to a conventional flush toilet.
Understanding How Composting Toilets Work
A composting toilet uses little-to-no water and breaks down waste through natural biological processes like those found in a compost bin. There are two main types of composting toilets:
Self-contained composting toilets have an enclosed tank where waste is stored and composted. These are completely odorless and ideal for boats, RVs, and cottages.
Central composting toilets connect to a separate composting unit stored elsewhere. The storage tank needs to be emptied periodically.
In both types, waste accumulates in the toilet and aerobic bacteria break it down into safe humus (organic matter). Liquids drain away while solids decompose. A ventilation system keeps the toilet odor-free by exhausting excess moisture and gases.
After the compost fully matures, it can be removed and used like any other compost. The resulting compost is pathogen-free and safe to handle.
Deciding if a Composting Toilet is Right for You
Before installing a composting toilet, consider your needs:
Water usage – Composting toilets can reduce household water consumption by up to 25,000 gallons per year. This is perfect for rural, off-grid living.
Eco-friendliness – They prevent disease-causing pathogens and nutrients like nitrogen from entering sewage systems. Great for environmentally conscious households.
Odor – Well maintained composting toilets don’t smell. Ensure the toilet has good airflow to prevent odor.
Maintenance – While low maintenance, the waste tank requires weekly stirring and occasional draining. Central units need more frequent draining.
Space – You need room to store or access the composting tank. Self-contained units need more space.
If you’re comfortable with periodic maintenance and have the space, a composting toilet can be ideal. They save thousands of gallons of water yearly!
Choosing the Right Composting Toilet
Consider these factors when selecting a composting toilet:
Type – Self-contained units are best for intermittent use. Central units suit full-time household use.
Capacity – Calculate capacity based on number of users and bowel movements per person. Units range from 60 to 80 uses before compost removal is needed.
Size – Measure space in your bathroom or dedicated toilet room. Standard units need around 6 square feet of floor space.
Ease of installation – Low-profile self-contained units install similarly to flush toilets. Central units require special ventilation and more complex plumbing.
Certifications – Look for units certified by NSF International or the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO).
I recommend Sun-Mar, Nature’s Head, and Separett brands for their quality, reliability, and certifications.
Installing and Setting Up Your Composting Toilet
Installation varies by toilet type but typically involves:
- Removing existing toilet
- Piping in ventilation system (central units)
- Mounting toilet directly on floor or raised platform
- Connecting to 12V fan for odor extraction (self-contained units)
- Linking lift-out tank to toilet (central units)
Ensure all plumbing meets local codes for venting, drainage, and occupancy separation requirements.
For optimal performance:
- Add compost starter or mature compost to activate the composting process
- Monitor interior temperature – ideal is 60-80°F
- Keep airflow unobstructed
- Turn/stir compost weekly
Follow manufacturer guidelines for any model-specific setup steps.
Using and Maintaining Your Composting Toilet
Using your composting toilet is very similar to a flush toilet. Just remember these tips:
- Before use, add a carbon cover material like coconut coir, peat moss, or sawdust to help balance waste ratio.
- Clean toilet surfaces with natural cleaning products to avoid residual chemicals.
- Turn compost weekly or as recommended to aerate waste.
- When nearing full capacity, drain excess liquid from tank.
- Remove mature compost through cleanout access door.
To keep your toilet odor-free:
- Check toilet venting and fan airflow.
- Use a carbon filter if needed.
- Balance waste ratio by adding cover material.
- Avoid extended periods of disuse.
Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance specific to your model. With routine care, a composting toilet can work maintenance-free for years!
Frequently Asked Questions About Composting Toilets
How much waste can a composting toilet handle before emptying?
It depends on tank size, but standard units process 60-80 uses before needing waste removal. Larger units may go 6 months before emptying.
What can I do with the compost?
Mature compost can be used like any finished compost to fertilize non-edible gardens, trees, lawns, and landscaping. It’s not suitable for food gardens.
Can composting toilets be used full-time?
Yes! Central composting toilets with large external composters are suitable for households’ full-time use. Just size your system appropriately.
Do composting toilets require electricity?
Self-contained units require 12V power for the exhaust fan. Central units require 110-120V power to run the ventilation system.
How much do composting toilets cost compared to flush toilets?
Composting toilets range from $960 – $2,500. They are more expensive than standard flush toilets ($100 – $700) but offer long-term water savings.
Why Switching to a Composting Toilet is an Eco-Friendly Choice
Installing a composting toilet provides significant environmental benefits:
Conserves water – Reduces indoor water use by up to 25,000 gallons per year
Saves energy – Avoids the energy required to treat wastewater from flush toilets
Reduces sewage – Prevents nutrients and chemicals from entering septic systems and leeching
Lowers CO2 emissions – Composting toilets have a net-zero carbon footprint unlike wastewater treatment
Generates compost – Produces usable compost rather than waste
For environmentally conscious households, switching to a composting toilet is one impactful way to reduce your carbon footprint and conserve precious resources. With the right preparation and maintenance, composting toilets offer a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to conventional flush toilets.