Toilets: Composting vs. Conventional

healthy handful of manure.    *image via curbly.com

healthy handful of manure. *image via curbly.com

Who thinks twice about using cow dung as natural fertilizer?  It IS poop, you know.  So what about using human feces as manure?  Sound a bit gross and unhygenic?  Consider the following…

Every time someone flushes a conventional toilet, the waste matter is sent down into sewage pipes, where it’s then led to a local wastewater treatment plant.  There, the harmless fecal matter gets mixed with run-off from streets, and sewage from hospitals, hotels, and hundreds of private homes.  This mixture is then treated with a cocktail of chemicals, in numerous stages, to essentially make the sewage “clean” so that it can be re-assimilated back into nature.  And it’s not cheap.  *The 2008 Wastewater Final Budget for a 450 square mile area surrounding and including San Diego in California was over $368 million.  That’s for ONE year of treatment, in a tiny corner of the US.

Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant, operated by the city of San Diego

Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant, operated by the city of San Diego

The above treatment plant is massive, covering **40 acres of California coastline.  Compare to the composting toilet system, which can be as small as ♣about 33 square inches.  Although this apparatus is for a single toilet, not a whole city’s worth, the benefits of the composting toilet are numerous. Maintenance is extremely low, cost is negligible compared to massive sewage treatment plants, and they utilize a foamy, biodegradable soap to flush, making water usage almost non-existant (consider the USA uses somewhere around ♦450 Billion gallons of fresh water PER DAY, 40% of which goes down with flushing toilets.)  Composting toilets also contribute to the environment by their very nature:  They are creating human manure, which can be used as organic fertilizer the same way as cow dung!

The process of turning that stinky poopoo into smell-good manure is absolutely fascinating, for great details check out Composting Toilet World and Clivus Multrum.  There are many different toilet designs, from a basic bucket with mulch added to it, to complex systems that do the work for you.  In the more complex setup, essentially what happens is the poo goes down into a composting bin, either a small one directly attached to the toilet or a larger version located below the ground floor.  It is aerated, liquid (pee) is removed, and organisms, typically worms, get to work on converting the bad germs into good ones.  After several months, or sometimes several years (depending on the exact composting process used), the waste will have metamorphosed into gloriously rich and vital fertilizer fit for the best of organic vegetable gardens!

Clivus Multrum Composting Toilet System

Clivus Multrum Composting Toilet System

So who’s actually using composting toilets?  In addition to eco-conscious individuals using them in their homes,  two examples of high-traffic public places which have them in their restrooms are  The Bronx Zoo in New York (not shown on the Bronx Zoo website, but featured on the show EcoTech, linked below under References) and the C.K. Choi Building at the University of British Columbia, which saves more than 1,000 liters of water per day.

Case in point?  Help save the world by composting your poo.


References:

Wikipedia

*San Diego’s Metropolitan Wastewater Final Budget ’08

** Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant

♣ SanCor Industries

♦ according to EcoTech:  Zero Waste,  and sourced from USGS.gov

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