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Living With a Compost Toilet

and a review of SunMar Exel NE Non-Electric Self-Contained Compost Toilet

⚠️Warning: If you don't like potty talk, I advise you to skip this post completely.

As I say in the video above (also available in audio if you don't want to look at a toilet for 7 minutes), sometimes being an environmentalist is messy and weird and it's not cool. That kind of sums up the compost toilet.

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Some people think it's cool because they haven't tried it. Some people think it's weird. And it is weird because it's an unusual lifestyle choice, especially in the developed world. Some people think it's gross and it certainly is if you think about it too much. But the fact that it is good for the environment, especially in the desert, far outweighs the gross factor.

There's nothing gross happening in the sensory realm, only in the mental realm. There is no sight or smell that makes it gross to use (maybe sometimes to clean, but that's true for any toilet). It is gross to think about composting human fecal waste in your home. Then again, all toilets are kind of gross if you think about it too much. Like when I go to a public bathroom, I often think, though I try not to, that some stranger’s butt was on this seat, pooping. It's the inevitable hazard of using a bathroom, which we do multiple times a day.

Do you have a compost toilet? Are you considering getting one?

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This is the toilet we have. It appears to currently retail for about $1800. So, it was an investment up front, but we’ve already had it for 4 years and will continue to use it indefinitely. Here are the products we use for our toilet. Here is the book I reference, Humanure Handbook, and a great resource for DIY compost toilets.

This the post I reference in the video where I wrote about our compost, Dealing With Our Own Crap. (I talk about it briefly in Growing Our Greywater System.) Since writing that piece, Eric has taken over toilet cleaning. He had a clear method on how he wanted to do it and maintain it and I did not argue with him. Please, no, let me clean out the compost toilet every week!

Because we are such introverted homebodies, AKA hermits, we don't have people over often. The occasional overnight guest stays in our camper and uses the outhouse. We have never heard a complaint from guests about the toilet, so I assume people are fine with it.

Have you ever used a compost toilet? What did you think? Was it a commercial brand or DIY?

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When I lived in Alaska, I used an outhouse all winter long and it was lovely to go outside to eliminate, to take in the views and the fresh air. Some outhouses didn't bother with doors. It made sense to me then to have the toilet separate from the house. Not convenient but more civilized somehow. Even a dog knows not to poop where you sleep.

Another option I wanted to mention is incinerating toilets. This would not be great for small solar power systems like ours because they require a lot of energy. But we used one when staying in a yurt on the Big Island in Hawaii. The yurt was on lava rocks and on the electrical grid. It also had plumbing but because of the lava rocks, they could not have a septic tank. The incinerator toilet reminded me a lot of our SunMar except without the compost. Basically, after you poop, instead of flushing, you incinerate and it all turns to ash and goes in a drawer like the one we have to empty later. This seems a lot more pleasant than compost though it can’t be used for soil because all of the nutrients are burned out of it. The process does produce greenhouse gases so it’s not as eco-friendly as a compost toilet.

Another cool option is a bio-toilet, which converts human waste into cooking gas. You can read more about it at Acorn Labs. This is not a viable choice for us becuase it requires year round warm temperatures, which we do not have, nor do we have the space to contain the full biogas converter in a heated room.

Hope this info helps if you are considering alternatives to flush toilets for any reason.

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Dialogues digging deeper into life off-grid.