Everyone Poops: Off-grid Toilets
Nov 8th, 2010 | By Carmen | Category: Misc | Print This Article
In our civilized society we use many names for a bathroom, don’t we? All these euphemisms to describe the place everyone on earth uses several times a day and quite honestly, the room we are unable to live without. It’s the one room in the house that we go to great lengths to beautify, ensure it smells pleasant (of course in an effort to mask odors of things we are too embarrassed to discuss) and everything runs properly.
Discussing what we do in this room is rarely up for discussion, at least after we reach a certain age – and that magic age appears to be somewhere around 10 if you are a girl and 12 if you are a boy. After all, boys still find the whole thing uproariously funny far longer than do girls. To further underscore these points, among the many synonyms we use to describe this place or this object are:
- Water Closet (W.C.)
- Toilette (French)
- Powder room
- Gents’ Room
- Ladies’ Room
- Chamber pot
- Get ready room
- Public convenience room
- My favorite place
- The Library
- Little girls’ or little boys’ room
- If you are under the age of 10 for a girl and 12 for a boy, room to do your poopy
It’s this last one that, despite our civilities, can bring a smile to the face of most grown-ups. For a room we don’t like to discuss much, that’s a long list of synonyms. Now that we have this all out of the way, let’s discuss the bathroom in depth, shall we?
Not all of us live within the city limits and this means we either have to use a septic tank or be creative when it comes to eliminating our waste. Neither do we want to touch it nor do we want to impact the environment any more than it already is. Septic tanks work fine if you aren’t in the city’s sewer system, but depending on the restrictions of your health department, you might have lagoons or sprinklers or chlorinators all tied up in this “simple” system – and it’s suddenly not so simple anymore.
This got us thinking about the various types of chamber pots available and thought we’d offer our readers a couple of alternatives.
As the name implies, composting toilets take waste, both fecal and liquid and turn them into compost. How it works is actually rather interesting, if this sort of thing fascinates you. First it separates the solid from the urine – solid stuff falls into a composting chamber and the urine is sent to tank called a gray water system. Earthworms, microorganisms, air and heat all work together to start decomposing the solid matter. Meanwhile, the urine (as you may remember from your biology and chemistry classes) is comprised mostly of nitrogen. If you were to look at the ingredients of most fertilizers, you will notice that they contain lots of nitrogen. When you are ready to add your new batch of compost, having stored your urine, sprinkle it all over your plants and watch them drink it up.
Now all the rage in England, parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, one might assume this is a new concept; however, a rather crude version dates back to the late 1800s. The notion of using excrement as a form of compositing is controversial. Many countries allow this, and even in the USA there are areas where “sludge” (human waste) is sold to farmers for fertilizing crops, but is that really healthy? The Chinese have devised a system for using human waste, but part of that system involves high heat for about a month to kill off deadly bacteria and organisms. There are too many diseases that can be transmitted via human waste if the composting is not done right. If you choose to go this route, make sure you’re composting properly and applying it to your crops in the prescribed manner.
The nice thing about composting toilets is that they use almost no water to operate.
Who Sells These?
Available in both electric and gas powered, these are toilets that burn excrement rather than flushing it. These are seemingly ideal in remote areas, for people who live off the grid and/or have unreliable plumbing. They are available in various sizes and can run on electricity, diesel, propane or natural gas. The diesel versions boast the ability to burn between 1 and 7 gallons of waste an hour. The model you purchase will determine how many gallons can be incinerated. Another of their advantages is that unlike a septic, enzymes are not required to kill bacteria – another euphemism for human waste.
The logistical difference between the gas and electric version is that every so often you will need to empty out the ashes that are burned – the level accumulated that requires emptying varies by manufacturer.
A few manufacturers make these incinerating toilets in gas powered:
Scanlet (It will be helpful if you speak Danish when ordering from them)
And for the electric powered ones – I recommend you consider an alternate source of power (such as wind or solar) if you are going go this route, as your utility bill will likely increase and not decrease:
Other Alternatives to Traditional Flush Toilets
After a careful review of the other alternatives available, they really didn’t turn out to be viable alternatives after all. Perhaps easier to install, they appear to be damaging on the environment, non-hygienic or wholly inconvenient.
Perhaps if you live in an RV park or on a boat, the portable toilet, a.k.a. the port-a-potty, might be a solution for you. Enzymes are required to control odor and more importantly kill bacteria that could be harmful. Once the tank is full, somebody has to come and haul your waste away.
Digester tanks work by breaking down waste to be used as fuel and/or make humus. Nearly as I could discern, great as they look, they seem to work best in highly industrialized areas (due mostly to their size). They can hold up to 1000 gallons of waste. Most of us don’t have the land to house something that large.
We hope this article was helpful to you. If you own one of these systems, we’d love to hear your feedback. It’s okay, as the story goes, everyone poops…
We may as well talk about it.
Other articles in this issue:
©2013 Off The Grid News