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What Is a Composting Toilet?

Anne is a Washington native, kayaker, hiker, and nature lover. She likes to write about ways to lessen our carbon footprint.


Define Composting Toilet

A composting toilet is a toilet that uses the process of decomposition to eliminate waste instead of flushing it away with water. It turns excrement into soil.

It works a lot like the composting process many people use in their gardens only instead of mixing leftover fruits, veggies, and yard waste into dirt to speed up decomposition the toilet uses your waste. It sounds super weird at first, but really all a composting toilet really does is speed up the process of decomposition instead of flushing it away to a treatment plant.

Soil from a composting toilet.

Soil from a composting toilet.

Benefits of Using a Composting Toilet

There are many reasons to use a composting toilet. Here are a few:

  • Lower your carbon footprint.
  • They are a good alternative to traditional methods when you are living off the grid.
  • They are less expensive.
  • They are a great way to make nutrient-dense soil for your garden.
  • A less expensive alternative to traditional R.V. toilets.
  • Some do not require water.
  • Some do not require approval or permits before you install them in your home.
  • Some do not require electricity.

Composting toilets have many benefits that make them an easy alternative especially for those who are living in less traditional homes such as R.V.s, Off-grid, or tiny house living.

3 Types of Composting Toilets

There are 3 different types of composting toilets:

  1. Central systems
  2. Self-contained units
  3. DIY composting toilet

They each work in the same way, but the setup is a little different. Both the self-containing and central units require a fan and ventilation. Some of these toilets have added features such as heating components to speed up the decomposition process and parts that allow you to add things like your left-over produce.

Sun Mar Composting toilet.

Sun Mar Composting toilet.

1. Self-Containing Compost Toilets

These toilets have the composting portion in the unit itself.

Self-Containing Compost Toilet Features

  • No plumbing or water hookup needed
  • You do not need a permit or approval to install them in your home
  • Easy to use and clean
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These are the simplest versions to use and maintain. They cost more than DIY versions, but the typical cost and installation is less expensive and quicker than central units.

2. Central Units

These toilets have the composting component set away from the toilet itself.

Central Unit Compost Toilet Features

  • Looks the most like a traditional toilet
  • A two-part system the toilet itself and the composting unit usually stored outside or in a basement
  • Comes with both a water/waterless option
  • May require approval before installing

These are the most complex types of composting toilets. This is probably because they are similar to traditional plumbing. Installation and the units themselves are the most expensive out of the three types of composting toilets. However, they also have the most options for additional features and can handle the most waste.

DIY Compost Toilet

I have mostly seen these in camping or off-grid situations. The methods and results vary. The cost is significantly lower than the other versions.

DIY Compost Toilet Features

  • Great for camping
  • Usually made from simple materials like 5-gallon buckets, wood chips and soil
  • Do not typically require water or electricity

Many people choose to install DIY composting toilets into their R.V.s and tiny homes. For people who plan to travel or live in places where it gets very cold or have limited access to water this is a great option.

DIY versions are also great if your need to make custom alterations or are just looking to save some cash. Installation or pre-built models can be expensive initially.

How a DIY Composting Toilet is Made

Things to Consider Before Switching to a Compost Toilet

Composting toilets have many benefits, but there are some things you should be aware of before you get one:

  • Proper ventilation is extremely important especially when it comes to eliminating odors.
  • Bugs can become a problem if you are not careful to keep your toilet sealed.
  • Proper maintenance is important to avoid things like bugs and unwanted smells.
  • Regular cleaning is necessary to keep everything in working order
  • Clogs are a common problem with center units

Just like any toilet, it is important to keep it clean and well maintained so it stays in good working order.

The Eco Advantage of Composting Toilets

A composting toilet is a great alternative to traditional plumbing. It is especially a great option for those who are looking for something eco-friendly, waterless, or something that does not require electricity (like tiny homes or off-grid living).

A composting toilet usually costs less than traditional plumbing options and requires less energy and water to operate. Ultimately a composting toilet is a toilet that uses the process of decomposition to eliminate waste. Much like alternative housing and lifestyles their popularity is on the rise.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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