Beyond the Outhouse; A Modern Guide to Composting Toilets

Beyond the Outhouse; A Modern Guide to Composting Toilets

A composting toilet is the best-kept secret of eco-friendly plumbing. It is usually associated with camping and living in the woods. They are not usually seen in residential homes. However, composting toilets could be the future of plumbing as they offer an eco-friendly and low-energy alternative to the modern flush toilet. 

We live in a world where water shortages and droughts are increasingly common. We are chasing down technology to preserve whatever water we can. What if there was an easier way? 

Curious about water usage in the USA? Here are some stats from the EPA

  • The average American family uses up to 300 gallons of water each day (including indoor and outdoor)
  • The toilet accounts for up to 30% of all indoor water use
  • 1.6 Gallons- the average amount of water used in every toilet flush
  • 5-7 Gallons- the average amount of water flushed for toilets made before 1982

Is a Composting Toilet Eco-Friendly?

Composting toilets use little to no water and do not create sewage. This has historically made them ideal for many types of alternative homes and camping. You can find them in cabins, RVs, Van Living, and campsites. 

There are also a wide variety of composting toilets. They range from holes in the ground to solutions that look like a standard flush toilet. There are even toilets that incinerate waste and create fine ash.

The technology for the modern composting toilet is not new though. It has been tested and perfected over the last few decades. Modern composting toilets are odorless and very sanitary when used correctly. Today, there are many models and solutions on the market for every type of customer and end-use.

    How does a composting toilet work?

    Composting toilets do not require water or a septic system. As a result, most models can be installed anywhere in the home. Unlike a flush toilet, the waste stays in the unit and becomes a usable fertilizer over time. Although this sounds gross, the process uses simple science.

    After using the toilet, bulking materials with a high carbon content such as sawdust are added. The carbon bulking material combined with heat and aerobic decomposition kicks off the composting process. Waste is exposed to both air and high temperatures in the toilet chamber and gets broken down over time.

    The final result of the composting process is called humus. Humus is a dark organic material that has an earthy smell. It can take months or up to a year to create humus in a composting chamber. The time needed is dependent on the make, model, and capacity of your composting toilet. Humus can be used to fertilize your lawn and non-edible plants. 

    One difference between a flush toilet and composting toilet is the type of maintenance. A composting toilet needs attention to keep it running safely and efficiently. The composting chamber also needs to be emptied periodically. The frequency will vary depending on the manufacturer and capacity of the toilet.

    How Safe is a composting toilet?

    A high-quality composting toilet is very safe and sanitary when used correctly. The danger of any toilet system (even flush models) is coming directly into contact with untreated human waste. If a composting toilet is not maintained, the outcome can be both unpleasant and dangerous. Foul odors, insects, and potential exposure to pathogens and bacteria are all possible. There is more of a risk of exposure to pathogens with a composting toilet due to the need for maintenance. It requires a higher level of responsibility and education than a flush toilet.

    Does a composting toilet smell?

    When used properly and maintained composting toilets can have less odor than a regular flush toilet. However, because they do require more education to use correctly there is always more risk of human error. A composting toilet that has not been properly maintained can smell terrible. 


    Why it is worth investing in a high-quality Composting toilet

    There are many options available for composting toilets. This includes DIY solutions found online. If you do a quick search the choices can seem endless. You can begin with a bucket and bag of sawdust for less than $100. However, the best reason to invest in a high-quality composting toilet is for health and safety. It’s a large investment upfront ($1,000+) for a quality product that has met rigorous testing and safety standards. It also prevents you from coming into contact with unprocessed human waste and harmful bacteria or pathogens.

    Benefits of Composting Toilets

    • No water or septic system is needed for installation
    • Environmentally friendly (Save up to 1.6 gallons of water per flush!)
    • No smell or odors when used correctly
    • Eco-friendly humus is made from composting process. Humus can be used to fertilize your lawn and non-edible plants
    • Variations and options are available so that you can find a model that works for you
    • Some models can be installed anywhere with few restrictions
    • Some models do not require electricity
    • Some models can be used safely in freezing temperatures
    • Composting toilets do not create pollution or harm the environment

    Drawbacks of a Composting Toilet:

    • Requires regular maintenance and accessories to keep it running
    • Education is needed to use versus a flush toilet
    • The higher initial cost to install a quality model
    • Tough to shop and choose an option as there are many prices and variables
    • Composting chamber needs to be emptied
    • There could be restrictions on residential use depending on the brand/model you choose

    Popular Uses for Composting Toilets Today

    • Cabins
    • Tiny Houses
    • RV’s
    • Campsites
    • Vans

    What are the most reliable Composting Toilet Brands?

    At Moveable Home we offer Sun-Mar products to our clients. They are the only brand certified by the National Sanitation Foundation to NSF/ANSI standard #41 for residential use. You can have one in your home safely and it meets most building standards. Sun-Mar offers a premier product known for being high quality and long-lasting. Other popular and reputable brands include Nature's Head, Separett,  and Laveo by Dry-Flush.

    Type of Composting Toilets



    Self-Contained Toilet

    A self-contained composting toilet is an all-in-one solution where the toilet and composting chamber are one piece. 

    Urine Diverting Toilet

    A urine-diverting toilet separates the liquid and solid waste within the composting unit

    Central Composting Toilet System

    A composting system that is designed to be used with a separate toilet. Usually a low flush toilet. Sun-Mar's Centrex models are a composting system designed to be used with a 1-pint flush toilet. This model uses water. 

    Off-Grid Toilet

    Does not need electricity or water to run


    Some Questions to Make Your Shopping Experience Seamless:

    • Where will you install the toilet?
    • Will it be used for residential or recreational use?
    • How many people will be using the toilet? Are they adults or children?
    • How frequently will you use the toilet? Is it a recreational home or residential?
    • Do you have access to electricity?
    • Do you need an off-grid solution?
    • Will you have multiple toilets or one toilet?
    • Are you comfortable with the maintenance required to own a composting toilet?
    • What is your budget? A high-quality toilet is an investment and will cost between $1,000-$3,000 based on the make and model.

    Other Eco-Friendly Plumbing Options

    A composting toilet is a specialized solution and requires maintenance. Not everyone will want one. Here are some additional eco-friendly plumbing solutions:

    • Toilets with a WaterSense Label from the EPA-An easy option to make an impact. No lifestyle change is needed. These toilets use 1.28 gallons for every flush and require strict third-party certification and testing. Using this type of toilet alone can reduce the amount of water used for toilets from 20-60% 
    • Incinerating toilets-An exciting option. This toilet will burn human waste and create sterile ash. It requires electricity, but some models can be used with solar power
    • Waterless Urinals-These do not use water, are odorless, but require a drain. 

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