Humans have been composting their waste since time immemorial. However, when peoples are starting to use this, the history is a little murky. There are several competing claims, and the history of composting toilets is likely to be revised over time.
There is a rumor that Sweden was first developing a commercially useable composting toilet in the 1930s or 1940s. Apparently, what prompted this development in Sweden was the highly rocky soil conditions in the Swedish countryside that prevented sewage pipes or septic systems. Composting toilets emerged as a solution to this problem.
However, recent research at Envirolet has shown that there were much earlier models of composting toilets available. For example, in 1881, there was an advertisement in “the Ironmongers’ Catalogue” for a “Self-Acting Earth Closet,” which according to the ad is “A substitute for the Water Closet, securing healthy homes, inoffensive drains, and garden fertility.” And an even earlier example is found in 1860 for the “Earth Commode” by the English vicar Reverend Henry Moule. Moule was trying to develop a composting toilet to combat cholera in London, which threatened many of his parishioners’ lives. There is, however, no doubt that in the mid-19th century, there was experimentation with several different composting toilet models.
However, regardless of these early commercial composting toilet examples, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that composting toilets began to gain in popularity and use worldwide. The design of modern composting toilet systems originated in Scandinavia during the 1960s. During the 1970s, these designs started to be transported to Canada, Australia, and the United States, when many modern composting toilet manufacturers got their start.
Some of the models developed during the 1960s and 1970s had issues with odor and ease of maintenance. And during the last decade or two, there have been quite a few advances in the composting toilet industry. Composting toilets manufactured today are practically odorless, easy to use, and several models are now certified as completely safe and sanitary for home usage by health sanitation agencies. (Although a model has not received a formal certification does not mean unsafe or unsanitary either).
There have been many changes in composting toilet designs over the past 150 years or so. Modern composting toilets are clean, easy to use, and appear to be here to stay. Suppose you are interested in learning more about the advantages and disadvantages of composting toilets. How composting toilets benefit the environment or answers to commonly asked questions about toilet composting systems, please leave a comment below.
What Are Composting Toilet?
Composting toilets are a form of toilets that use technologies other than large quantities of water to dispose of human waste. Toilet composting manages human waste through composting and dehydration, and the compost that is the end product of the process is a valuable soil additive.
Composting toilets are a valuable alternative to building large sewage treatment plants or underground septic systems. The finished product they produce is beneficial to the environment instead of harmful or polluting. Since composting toilets use little or no water, they also help preserve this quickly vanishing resource instead of, literally, flushing it away. One of the best things you can do for the environment is either purchase a build a composting toilet for your home.
Increasingly public facilities at national parks and elsewhere are turning to composting toilets to help manage waste and demonstrate beneficial green technology. Composting toilets are very different from outhouses or pit latrines. Most composting toilets have very little (if any) smell associated with them, and many closely resemble a flush toilet in terms of design (although they operate very differently).
Toilet composting generally involves one of two different composting toilet systems: Batch Systems and Continual Process Systems.
Batch Composting Toilet Systems rely on a series of containers in which the toilet composting process will take place once it is filled and sealed. Some toilets will depend on a single box which is manually replacing once filled with waste. At the same time, other systems may have a carousel-type system where four containers are placed on a rotation system, and if a container is complete, it will rotate with the empty one. l. By the time all the containers are full, the first container on the carousel will have been fully composted and ready to be emptied.
Continual Process Composting Toilet Systems are systems that are continually composting toilet waste instead of using containers. Most of these systems have large underground composting chambers in which human waste will slowly move downwards. After six months to a year, the compost at the bottom of the chamber will be ready to be harvested and used as a soil amendment. How human waste is composted in these systems varies, but many rely on managed aerobic decomposition using microorganisms, and in some cases, micro-organisms such as earthworms.
With both composting toilet systems, you will generally add a small amount of absorbent “brown” matter to help with the toilet composting process (sawdust and peat moss are some examples). Creating compost in the garden, the key to healthy and odorless toilet composting is a good mix of both green and brown organic matter.
Although toilet composting may seem strange at first to those accustomed to flush toilet systems, once you have adjusted to the technology, you will find that they are no more difficult to use or unpleasant to have in your home than a flush toilet. For even more information about composting toilets, please visit the Toilet Composting Home Page to read more articles and reviews of popular composting toilets.
How Composting toilet works
Composting toilets rely on the same form of decomposition found in forests and other natural environments.
Toilet composting systems differ from flush toilet systems in some very fundamental and important ways—one of the most significant differences in how the waste matter is decomposed in these systems.
Composting toilet systems generally operate using a managed form of aerobic decomposition. This is the form of decomposition most commonly found in nature. It takes place, for example, on forest floors, where tree leaves and animal droppings are slowly converted into stable humus.
In aerobic decomposition, organic matter is decomposed in the presence of oxygen. There will be few odors in this process, which is an essential benefit of the aerobic decomposition process when applied to toilet composting systems. During aerobic decomposition, living organisms (both microorganisms and macro-organisms such as earthworms) feed on decomposed organic matter. Aerobic bacteria and fungi will break down the waste. Large piles of materials composting using aerobic decomposition will generate quite a bit of heat (such as garden compost heaps), which further helps speed up the aerobic decomposition process.
Toilet composting takes this natural, usually odorless form of natural composting as its guide. Toilet composting systems are built to maximize aerobic decomposition’s benefits and speed while producing few if any odors. Many toilet composting systems can break down human waste between 10 and 30 percent of its original volume and create a stable soil-like material called humus, a valuable soil additive. This hummus is generally used on non-edible plants and trees in the United States. However, it is widely considered safe for edible plants and occasionally used to fertilize edible plants in other countries.
Flush toilets, on the other hand, rely on anaerobic decomposition. Anaerobic decomposition occurs in the absence of oxygen. Septic systems are an example of an anaerobic decomposition process at work. During anaerobic decomposition, organic matter is reduced via putrefactive breakdown, and this process usually involves solid and unpleasant odors. Anaerobic decomposition also takes place in nature, although much less common than aerobic decomposition. An example of a place where you might find anaerobic decomposition is in the muds at the bottom of marshes, where oxygen does not have access. Strong sulfuric odors often accompany anaerobic decomposition in nature. Similarly, septic and sewage systems also are quite unpleasant in terms of odor (often even more so than what is found in nature).
With aerobic-based toilet composting systems, the end product (the compost) is a valuable soil additive. This mimics nature’s process, where decomposing vegetable matter on the floor of forests provides nutrients to the plants currently growing. When those plants die, they will then decompose and contribute nutrients to new plants, and so forth. Toilet composting allows human waste to enter into this cycle in a similar, productive manner which benefits the environment instead of being a waste that needs to be buried or chemically treated.