CHEAP COMPOSTING TOILET….After many questions of how we handle our “Toileting” aboard DIANNE’S ROSE, our “Tiny” Houseboat, it is time to explain. We use a Composting Toilet. It is the best solution for us and it could be an option for many. Not just ideal in boats but also perfect for cabins, shops, barns, ice huts and just about anywhere the lack of plumbing makes a standard toilet impractical! As I also use ours as a second bathroom at home, I think fancier types would even be suitable as the main toilet in regular homes! California with its water shortages would a great place to start. BUT people need convincing! I’ll start by saying that I understand the public’s aversion to changing the usual process, which is considered advanced, sanitary and private. Let’s face it, it is simple to “Deposit into Our Account”, tip the lever, and forget about the whole thing. Awkwardness also could stem from our formative “Potty Training” years! To re-train now could raise the anxiety level for many. Worry not, I will be gentle and only ask you to consider the possibilities! No pressure! It must be said, there is also a “GROSS” factor that the masses need to overcome. We rarely think about the current system beyond our traditional toilet yet a closer look is needed, from the beginning to the end to truly understand it’s down sides. This may help us to acknowledge the upsides of Composting!
Long before the flush, Utilities go to great lengths to purify the water so we can drink it. With regular toilets large quantities of this end up just flushed away. What a waste! Now the soiled water is out of sight and we can forget about it. But when prompted, we all remember that this waste water is returned to the treatment plant. A heroic effort is again made to get the water separated from the waste so it can eventually return to our taps, an endless cycle!!! I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news but the truth is all that waste can’t be removed! It can only be reduced to “Acceptable Levels”! If we took time to think about the “GROSS” factor in this truth, people would be eagerly composting! Few do and composting toilets have yet to become main stream. Let’s take a moment to look closer still at the other by products we unknowingly mix into our drinking water! The New York Times, US Today and many other news sources have articles, based on studies, showing our drinking water has traces of medications. No wonder I feel less masculine and a bit sedated! Drinking that glass of “Acceptable Levels” of estrogens and anti-depressants could be affecting us all! While I’m still man enough to say it, separating water from waste seems like a very good idea to me!
Here is the email that prompted my musings. It’s from a gentleman concerned how to keep his bride comfortable aboard, should they build their own DIANNE’S ROSE. The key factor for him was keeping his wife happy and it came down to toileting and washing up. This is what he wrote…“As I review your plans and think about my use and needs, a lot comes down to one simple function that doesn’t get a lot of press: the toilet. If I expect to have my wife aboard for a week, the boat needs to have an elegant toilet, washing, showering arrangement. That is the pivotal element in the design. A holding tank might be necessary. But tell me a bit more on your experience with composting toilets”.
I’ll focus on just the toilet reply and save bathing for another write up. This was my response, slightly expanded but close enough……“You may know by now, I also have a Princes to attend to (my dear wife Dianne Roselee) so I’ve gone to great length to work out these details!
The Toilet……While there is room for a holding tank built into the hull of our shanty boat, I don’t think it’s needed. There is, however, a floorboard that levels off the head’s floor with empty space below for one should you wish. Dianne did not like the idea of a composting toilet at first, seeing it as “just a bucket”! She insisted we buy a good Porta Potty. It would take me a second season of boating before she came round! We purchased the Porta Potty and it worked but had many disadvantages. Some of these are… small seat/small bowl/low seat level/uses chemicals/needs water/needs to be dumped frequently/ sometimes it built up pressure and splashed up when flushing (this really grossed out Di) and it still had a smell!!! So I finally asked Dianne early this season to “Please” try the composting toilet for just one trip! Promising that if she didn’t like it I’d never ask again! She is now a fan! Dianne did buy a battery operated sent/fan thing that we use as you’re doing your “business”. We also open the port hole (window) for fresh air. At home a fan is turned on and scent sprayed, same idea! Our simple homemade toilet works well, is cheap to make and does not smell if managed correctly (once the initial fog has cleared)! There are good composting toilets on the market and I encourage you to consider purchasing one but if you’re on a budget, building one can give excellent results! I used a large painter’s pail (yes a bucket, don’t tell Di) with an added ply, box like attachment at the back, which a “Full Sized Seat” is fastened to. Choose any style of seat your bride likes to ensure her comfort. The Ply Box makes all the difference by adding stability to the pail and allowing a normal seat. It has two eye screws on each side, where a bungee cord can securely hold the bucket as one unit. I painted the bucket to look better, brown (go figure!). I appreciate the height of the toilet, 16”, as the porta potty was lower and hard on my bad hip. The composting toilet feels no different than our toilet at home. Instead of the “flush”, a mixture of saw dust and peat moss, 50/50, is placed in the bottom to start things off. With each deposit, cover with the same mix, that’s that! It soaks up the urine and viewing is Not Gross! Some toilets collect the urine in a separate container but our bucket system, with all in one, has not been a problem. It is simple and that’s the beauty of it, especially for small spaces! When viewing, it simply looks like damp garden soil. It is remarkable how well the mixture deals with the stink! Dianne, with her sensitive nose, would not tolerate anything less! We store the mix in a small pail that lasts us 3-4 days and bring extra for longer trips. An old toy sand shovel (beach combed) is used to dig with. Dianne doesn’t like dirt under her nails (I know…guy trips are easier!). I only need to empty the composting toilet half as often as I did with the Porta Potty. The bucket is also light to carry into the woods, where I dig a very shallow hole and dump. No Guilt, as this is how the planet has worked forever. It might be Crap to us but the earth actually likes this Stuff!
Cleaning the bucket, just grab a stick, throw in some leaves or what’s handy and dry scrub it. Wipe with toilet paper, once in a while disinfect with bleach, 1 in 5 works. Add new peat moss and saw dust to start things off and you’re good to go. Anyone who’s changed a diaper will find cleaning this toilet is much easier but I will admit it lacks the giggles! On shorter trips I wait to clean it until we get home and deposit the contents into our home composter. I experimented for a whole year, using this toilet regularly and dumping it there! Gross, right? Wrong!!! The composter never smelled! When I finally cleaned it out in the spring there was no sign of toilet paper or crap (we don’t bother to use compostable toilet paper)! It looked and smelled just like garden soil! I should also mention that a composting toilet can be used all winter without worrying about freezing. Important to us as we have used our boat until the water freezes solid and as mentioned at home with the boat in its unheated shed. Other water based systems must be winterized and then cannot be used!
Boating in public areas can present a challenge, how to dispose of a full toilet? Our main use here is through the night as during the day there are often facilities available. While we need to dump less frequently I can’t bury the contents in back yards or parks! We dispose of the contents then into a garbage bag (new, heavy duty) and drop it into the trash. It ends up in the land fill where it will again enrich the soil. Carrying extra pails with lids is another option, to be stored until our composter is at hand. This works but takes up space! I’m not sure what the authorities would have to say about the first option but I’d argue that large amounts of diapers are likewise disposed of! Not to mention the pet population’s droppings that we then drop off! Our system is very discreet so it has not been an issue!
A comment on what we’ve seen happen when people mishandle their waste! We’ve visited a couple of Wild Islands where frequent camping and stop overs from other boaters occur and no facilities exist. Toilet paper littered the ground everywhere. You could not walk anywhere safely! If the wind was in the wrong direction it smelled. Disgusting! This ruined our and I’m sure many other’s experience in what would otherwise have been a beautiful wild location (we arrived too late to move on, but did so early next morning!)”.
We are very happy with our system and find ourselves frequently preaching the gospel to others. When testing out a new (or very old) way of dealing with waste, I find it good to start experimenting on a small scale! With just a little effort the results come easily and may encourage a bigger commitment to Compost. Ours is a simple enough toilet that anyone who is handy can make. PDF plans are available explaining the construction with exact measurements for anyone who wants to be 100% confident of the end results. All you’ll need is the pail and the seat… Email me at email@example.com
No Shit, if you try it you’ll like it!