Poop, kaka, number two, the black banana, the bondi cigar, colon cobras, doo-doo, the monkey's tail, mud bunnies, mr ploppy, or the simple turd… no matter what you call it (and trust us we’ve heard all the names!) we all do it. But not all of us have gotten over our ‘poo-a-phobia’ to realise this is actually a resource that can be utilised, and utilised effectively.
To help you overcome your social conditioning of looking at poop as a waste product (LOL - it’s even labeled as a waste product) we’ve put together an article all about the science of a composting toilet and what actually happens to your poop once it heads down that chute and into the dark recesses of a composting toilet!
We’ve all seen our grandparents’ composting bin out in the back garden. You might even have one yourself. They come in many different shapes, sizes and styles from a bin to a barrel through to a simple mound on the ground. We’ve all seen them and know that we get beautiful, dark and nutrient rich soil at the end of it but what actually happens in that pile to make kitchen scraps go from peelings and cores to dirt?
Well, there are four things you need for composting to work:-
The good thing about your garden variety composting heap is that a composting toilet works pretty much the same way. Humans tend to make a lot more liquid than kitchen scraps and that needs to be taken into account when manufacturers design a composting toilet, but other than that the concept is the same.
The technical term for what happens in a compost heap is aerobic respiration, which you can read all about here but basically the process goes like this.
There’s a lot of debate over what can and can’t go into a composting toilet and we have some general guidelines for you to follow so if you’ve asked yourself “what can you put in a composting toilet?” here’s a guide:-
Ok, here’s where the biology lesson starts to kick in a little. There’s a few main microorganisms that can be found in a composting toilet and they are:-
These are by far the most abundant critters that you will find in a composting pile be it your average garden compost bin or a composting toilet. The types of microorganisms you will find are usually mesophilic or thermophilic bacteria.
Mesophilic organisms like a moderate temperature between 20 and 45°C and are the same organisms you will find in cheese, yogurt and are also used in beer and wine making (we even have them on our skin, in our mucus and gastrointestinal tracts).
Thermophilic bacteria or thermophiles are very similar to mesophilic bacteria except they thrive in higher temperatures than their mild weather loving cousins ( between 41 and 122°C).
They can be found in some of the more extreme environments on earth (like hot springs and deep sea hydrothermal vents) and are thought to be some of the earliest organisms to appear on earth.
Both these types of bacteria help break down the organic matter in your compost and will raise the temperature. So it’s usually the Mesophilic bacteria that kick things off, then when things start to heat up, the Thermophiles take over!
These little guys help with the process of decomposition of organic matter and help to regulate the overall health of your compost pile. It’s no wonder that they’re also used in the creation of antibiotics.
They are particularly helpful in breaking down the tough cellulose and lignin elements found in wood and paper, so if you’re adding garden matter and shredded paper to your composting toilet, you’ll want some of these little guys in your pile!
Fungi and Moulds
Fungus and moulds in your compost pile take things to the next level. They’re great at helping break down larger and more complex organic molecules like fats, carbs and proteins and break them down to their simplest parts. They’re like the mushroomy Hulk of the compost pile – smashing everything down to it’s simplest form except they’re not as angry or as green.
When you first install a composting toilet usually your system will come with some ready made humus and a microbe mix that will kick-start your composting process. When you start adding organic matter like human waste, toilet paper, sawdust, etc this creates an environment where the Mesophilic organisms will start doing their work.
When the heap heats up (thanks to the Mesophilic organisms) the Thermophiles start taking over and breaking down the organic matter. As you add other elements into the pile (newspaper, garden waste, leaves, etc) this will introduce other organisms into the composting process. All up there can be millions of different organisms ranging from the tiny (Mesophilic, Thermophilic organisms and Actinobacteria) through to your helpful fungi, moulds and even macroorganisms that have been introduced through garden waste like some insects and bugs.
Making sure you have a regulated temperature to increase the ability of all these microorganisms to do their thing is essential. This is where the Clivus system in particular is great as you have a series of fans, chambers and vents to ensure the correct airflow, water distribution and temperature is achieved to get you wonderfully rich and useful humus for your garden in the shortest amount of time.
In all there are four major stages that your organic matter goes through when it passes through a composting toilet:-
Stage 1 - The Mesophilic Phase
We know from before that our friendly little Mesophiles are organisms that like moderate temperatures. As the pile is going through this phase it combines carbon with oxygen to create energy that in turn creates heat and food for the Mesophiles to start reproduction. As more and more of them proliferate in your compost heap the temperature rises even more which takes us to...
Stage 2 - The Thermophilic Phase
This is where things really start to heat up. As we have learnt, Thermophiles like things a little hotter. In this phase much of the human organic material will break down but the larger more complex elements that come from garden waste or newspaper, etc will not have broken down as much. This happens in the next phase.
Stage 3 - The Cooling Phase
This is where all the little critters that were chased away by the high temperatures and Thermophiles start making their way back to the pile to make a start decomposing the larger, more complex elements in the pile. This is where your Actinobacteria (remember the Hulks of the compost pile) and perhaps fungus and moulds come into play to break everything down further.
Stage 4 - The Curing Phase
This is what we like to call the ‘good wine’ or ‘good cheese’ phase. This is where you sit back and let the compost mature and kill off any of the nasties that can be found in the organic material that you’re adding into it.
The curing phase reduces the risk of substances like phytotoxins appearing in your compost. These toxins can be harmful to both plants and animals (remember humans are animals!) so it’s imperative that you use a composting toilet safely and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully and allow your compost to reach full maturity before use.
So that’s it – our article all about the science of a composting toilet and what actually happens to your poop once it heads down that chute and into the dark recesses of a composting toilet!
Now that the mystique and unknown has been washed away, it doesn’t seem so icky anymore, does it?
At one time or another, we’ve all considered what we can do to help the planet. Sure there’s the usual waste less, recycle more, plant a tree, grow a few herbs, etc. If you’re considering doing something that will make a big impact on your life and the planet, consider installing a composting toilet.
With that in mind, here’s our top ten list of reasons why you should consider a composting toilet system.
1. Despite what you think they don’t smell
Many people are put off the idea of having a composting toilet as they’re afraid that it’s going to smell. Composting toilets use an aerated micro-environment to ensure the complete decomposition of waste which mean no smell and continuous composting process. Baffles and air channels in the tank control air flow and this accelerates the composting process so you won’t have to worry about ‘overfilling’ the system if used correctly.
2. Great for drought-prone areas or where water is scarce
If you live in a rural area or an area that’s prone to drought conditions, a composting toilet uses no water for the composting process. This is a real boon to dry landscapes and areas with low rainfall or no access to water as the bathroom accounts for around half of all water used inside the home. We’ve installed composting toilets in some pretty remote places like Cradle Mountain, Ben Lomond National Park in Tasmania, Green Mountains and Springbrook National Parks in Queensland, Pajingo Mines in Queensland and Neurum Creek Bush Retreat and Happy Apple camping grounds in Queensland.
Not only that, they’re installed in thousands of homes across Australia. Talk to us today about getting one in your home!
3. Yes, there’s maintenance, but there’s also benefit!
Many people can look at the maintenance needed on a composting toilet as a negative, but if you think about the benefits you get from this type of toilet system, there is a cost-benefit crossover. Yes you will need to maintain your composting toilet (usually adding humus material, turning handles if you have a mechanical version and making sure the compost isn’t too dry or too moist) but other than that, they’re pretty simple to keep and you use them just like any other toilet. So the next time you’re enjoying your lawn or in your garden, eating a meal or walking on a clean floor, just remember that maintenance is a part of our lives, just like mowing, watering, washing up or vacuuming.
4. They’re sustainable and environmentally friendly
With water becoming a more precious resource, it makes sense to save as much water as we can to help our families, our communities and the future of the earth. Composting toilets use little to no water which means that you save money as your water bills are greatly reduced and you’re not using more of our precious resources than you have to.
This also reduces the load on our community as you’re effectively treating waste on-site rather than building and maintaining a vast sewage system that uses vast amounts of water to send waste to a plant that uses fossil fuels to process waste products.
Every time you’re ‘doing your business’ you make the earth that little bit happier :-)
5. They’re NOT drop dunnies
Everyone remembers the ‘drop dunnies’ of old. It may have been a packed campground with more people than toilet capacity, or the outhouse on Uncle Roger’s property 300kms from the middle of nowhere (usually with a thunderbox, a newspaper to wipe with and a colony of spiders) that you needed to use a torch or oil lantern to get to in the middle of the night. Wherever you experienced one. we’ve all got a story about a bad experience with a drop toilet and we all remember that scene from the movie Kenny!
Fortunately, the technology of composting toilets has come a long way from the drop toilets of old.
6. No more septic tanks
I remember as a kid we had a septic tank out the side of our house. The concrete lid was pretty large, about 2m x 2m and it had a round manhole type thing at the top of it. We used it as the safe spot when we were playing Tiggy or Brandy. We also used to throw kangaroo mince on top of it for the magpies – I still remember the smell of the mince if the birds didn’t get it and it had been out in the sun for a few hours, BUT this was nothing on the smell of the septic tank when it overflowed or when the big truck came to pump out all the nasty stuff that was in it.
If you’ve lived in a house that’s had a septic tank, you know what I mean. Avoid all this and get yourself a composting toilet!
7. Low power consumption
Along with your heavily reduced water consumption, you can be happy in the knowledge that composting toilet systems use very little power. Even better if you’re living in a sustainable home with solar power or have set up your home to be ‘living off the grid’, then your environmental brownie points just went through the roof.
8. Enhance the growth of non-edible plants
The use of ‘humanure’ on your non-edible plants can greatly increase their growth potential. Humans have long realised the potential of composting and mulching plants to create better gardens and using the compost from a composting toilet is no exception. By using a composting toilet system and using the compost to bury it around tree roots, shrubs and garden beds (non-edible plants) it keeps organic material recycling in the environment.
When you think about it, human waste is the epitome example of a renewable resource. There are 6 billion people on the planet and much of the waste material that’s produced by us as a species is wasted. In fact, we even call it waste! I think the fact we’re not harnessing this resource to better our planet is a waste.
9. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years, why stop now?
Asian people have recycled humanure for thousands of years. The Chinese have used humanure agriculturally since the Shang Dynasty, 3,000-4,000 years ago. Why haven’t we westerners? The Asian cultures, namely Chinese, Korean, Japanese and others, 72 The Humanure Handbook — Chapter Four: Deep Shit evolved to understand human excrement as a natural resource rather than a waste material. Where we had human waste, they had night soil. We produced waste and pollution; they produced soil nutrients and food. It’s clear that Asians have been more advanced than the western world in this regard. And they should be, since they’ve been working on developing sustainable agriculture for four thousand years on the same land. For four thousand years these people have worked the same land with little or no chemical fertilizers and, in many cases, have produced greater crop yields than western farmers, who are quickly destroying the soils of their own countries through depletion and erosion.’
10. It can change your attitude and your whole perspective on life
From the moment we’re born we sustain and feed ourselves from the waters and food the earth provides. Like all the animals, plants and organisms on this planet, we’re intertwined into the very fabric of the elements of nature. The earth is our provider and enables us to grow and think and live.
With a materialistic approach that, as humans, we seem hell-bent on pursuing and promoting, it seems our equilibrium with nature and the planet is thrown more and more out of balance. When we remove our ego and stop creating a symbiotic relationship with the earth we will realise that we are part of the earth and the earth is part of us.
Even though you might think ‘it’s only a composting toilet, how’s that going to change my life?’ chances are it’s only going to have a minor impact on your life, but it will have a major impact on the way you think.
Our absolute dependence on the ecosystems of the earth is the key to the survival of our species and when we balance our lives to live again in harmony with the planet, we will realise the great potential of the world around us and the people that are in it. And it all starts with you.
Something to think about the next time you’re sitting on the toilet!
When thinking about commercial toilet systems there’s a couple of things companies are always looking for:-
When you combine these factors with environmental impact and water usage, it makes perfect sense to look at composting toilets as a commercial toilet option.