You know, in the past year I’ve copped a bit of flak for being ‘overly’ interested in toilets or for talking too much about all things related to them. Yes, I’m not ashamed to admit it – toilets, our waste, where it goes, where it comes from, what impact it has on the rest of the world – the whole lot seems pretty darn important (yes fine and also just super interesting) to me. But I’ve also discovered a sneaky secret. Despite your vehement protestations, your screwed up faces, your instinct to say ‘gross!’ and be done with it…you are all secretly fascinated by it too. And don’t say that isn’t exactly why you’re reading this post.
How do I know?
Since moving in to my tiny, I get asked lots of questions about how I live there. The basics, you know. ‘Is it like one of the ones on TV?’ ‘Where do you keep your stuff?’ ‘Do you have a fridge/TV/microwave/washing machine?’ The ones you’d expect. Things usually start to get interesting though right about when I mention the compost toilet. And this is where I’ve figured it out. Yes, I do talk a lot about my toilet – that’s true. But most of the reason I do that is because it’s also what you all ask me the most questions about!
Maybe the following should be the start of my compost toilet FAQ. These are actual questions I’ve been asked. There are plenty more. And I’ll happily answer any others you’ve got – try me!
Does it smell?
It really doesn’t. Funnily enough the liquids smell worse than any of the solids. When the urine bucket is full, I take it out and dilute it with water (1:8 is the prescribed ratio but that’s a bit hard without a giant bucket to fill up with water. Plus I’m only pouring mine on weedy places that can’t mind too much anyway). Then the whole lot gets spread around the garden in out of the way places. It’s not the funnest job ever, I’ll admit it. But it’s also over fairly quickly and only has to be done once a week-ish. Plus at 3-7 litres of water saved per wee, in my books the ickiness factor is definitely worth it.
Can you see the poo stewing away in the bucket?
No. Firstly there’s a little trap door that opens and closes that the poo drops into. Once it’s closed, no smell comes back out of the toilet and it seems to smell less in my opinion, than a normal toilet. The solids bucket has a mix of peat moss and bacteria and poo in there mixing and breaking down. There’s also a ventilation fan running 24/7 to keep it all dry enough to compost, and this seems to help with the smell too.
Do you put paper in there or do you use leaves?
Yes, to paper – I hadn’t thought about the leaves. That could work though! The toilet paper can go in the solids bin with the poo but it breaks down pretty slowly. So any yucky bits go in the toilet and any other bits go in a regular bin for just toilet paper. This I’ll dispose of separately so it doesn’t fill up the compost bucket so quickly.
What do you do once the poo bucket fills up?
Once the solids tank is full and needs emptying, you put it out to finish composting in a compost bin in the garden. It’s supposed to sit for another 12 months once it’s out there, to be sure all the harmful pathogens have been cooked off and broken down. Then you basically have dirt, ready to use in the garden! Genius. So simple. And no waste! So far mine is breaking down at a pretty good rate, I’ve been pooing in it (not full time, but still fairly regularly) since the end of Feb and no sign of filling up yet!
Where’s the story about the toilet overflowing?
Ah yes. Well that is one of the perils it seems, of having a toilet that can fill up. When you forget to empty it before you have visitors, and then you each have a glass of wine (or two), there’s few endings to choose from, isn’t there? Let’s just say it’s very small peep hole to check how full the bucket is and with no splash in the bowl telling you you’ve hit the mark, it’s an easy enough mistake to make.
It’s not always glitz and glamour, this living off grid business. Let’s get practical, folks. When it comes down to it, you are doing your business in a very expensive bucket. There’s just no way around it. In the case above, as someone who has been in a bathroom after small children (and some adult men) I’m not sure the results here were any worse.
So then. Now we know the truth – that you’re all as weirdly fascinated as I am. What else do you wanna know?