I was never thrilled about composting toilets when considering tiny houses. I didn’t like the idea of human waste sitting around and having to empty the bucket. It seemed like a hassle with opportunities for ickiness.
When people ask about the tiny house, this is always one of the first things they want to know: What about the bathroom? Somehow saying that we were going to have a bucket for a toilet, de-legitimized the entire house and our lifestyle.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind Composting Toilet System
And it’s not like I was a stranger to composting toilets. I attended an environmentally-focused college, which hosted composting toilets in a couple of its dorm apartments. My partner, Henry, was even in charge of managing the composting system. But that was different. That was a central system–one where all the waste dropped into the basement, where it stayed until it was nuetralized, and was the consistency and smell of earth. It was a system that was easy to manage and had the air of being “out of sight, out of mind.”
But it is not a system fit for a tiny house–for obvious reasons. Space is not one of our strong points.
Low-Flush RV Toilets for Tiny Homes
So, as we researched our options, we looked into low-flush toilets first. This is what I was banking on. Some tiny houses have these, choosing to operate as RVs do. But like RVs, we’d also have to have a holding tank and find some place to dump it when it was full. Seeking out dump stations would be inconvenient and I’ve been camping enough times in the vicinity of RVs to know this is quite the smelly, unpleasant process.
Plus, it is dependent on our current system for human waste removal, which is wasteful at best.
What Happens When You Flush
When we flush the toilet, the contents are piped to a waste water treatment plant, where the water is strained, cleaned, chlorinated and then sent back into our rivers. And, according to the EPA, the “biosolids” (processed sludge) that are left are given to farms as fertilizer, buried in landfills or incinerated. In the end, flushing the toilet is just exporting the process of “dealing with it” to someone else, with the added benefit of adding new chemicals (and our medications) into our fresh water supply.
Incinerating Toilets for Tiny Houses?
We are looking to build a house that has a low environmental impact. What we do with our waste is an important part of that.
So, we researched incinerating toilets next, which some people like because they are waterless and don’t need as much attention as composting. But these were quickly crossed off our list. They are expensive, use too much energy to be powered by solar, and to top it off, they’ve been known to be smelly. There are models that run mostly from propane, but we didn’t like the idea adding more energy needs to our set-up.
Fancy Composting Toilets
Then we looked into the fancy composting toilets, the ones that supposedly work faster, with less smell. But again, the cost tripped us up.
DIY Composting Toilets
With so many Tiny House people happy and content with their simple (and cheap) bucket and sawdust approach, this started to seem like the best option for us. With an effective vent in the bathroom, a two-bin rotating system and a small door behind (so that it can be emptied from the outside), it seemed very do-able after all. (Check out this 101 on DYI composting toilets.)
It just took me a while to come around.
Final Thoughts on Composting Toilets and Tiny Houses
And I realized I have to reframe how I talk about the composting toilet, even try to be an advocate for the lifestyle. Most people don’t even know that they are contaminating thousands of gallons of water each year just by flushing. We have the opportunity to take responsibility and create a healthy, closed-loop environmentally sound system for managing our waste. It should be something to be proud of, not something that discounts the tiny house experience.
What system have you decided to use in your tiny house? What do you tell people about using your composting toilet?
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