Monday, October 8, 2012

Composting toilet

This post has been sitting blank for more than a year; it' the post that made me wonder if I really thought blogging was a thing I wanted to do. I fretted about actually talking about this, because my feelings run strong and I worried about offending people. And then I came back to blogging and this blank draft is sitting in my post list and I think I have to talk about this.

I live in a place that seems (at least to someone from Texas) to have an unlimited amount of water. There's water everywhere. It falls regularly from the skies; the rivers seem to never be dry. Our sandy soil stays saturated for weeks in the spring and the occasional week throughout the summer and fall. So, why would I worry about water?

First, water is limited. Really. It is. There is only so much, and only so much of it is potable. Being from Texas, I know that water does not always fall from the sky when you need it.

Second, we have a spring that we get water from. This means we can actually have NO water if we forget to turn off a garden hose. Truthfully, the spring recovers pretty fast- about 2 hours in high summer- so we have never been without water long. But if you have never experienced the thrill/horror of turning on the tap and no water coming out, then you'll have to believe me that it is a sobering experience. It helps me not take water so much for granted.

Because I was always on city water in Texas, it never really registered. If the water did not come out of the tap, it mean the city had a problem to fix. Can you imagine a robocall telling everyone in Fort Worth there would be no water for two hours?

Third, there's the whole potability thing. Probably everyone who reads this post shits in their drinking water.Then, that water gets "cleaned" and cycled back into the system so you can either drink it or shit in it again. I hope you're a little grossed out at this point.

Coming to this realization, coupled with trying to conserve our spring, led me to try something that seemed completely crazy- much crazier than cloth diapers. I now compost our waste, "humanure" as it's called. While I have you cringing already, you might check to see what your city does with the human waste cleaned from your city's water. Around here, the guy who empties septic tanks sprays that "manure" on hay fields. I'm not sure exactly what regulations apply regarding when that field can be used to feed animals, but I am sure that my compost is sitting much longer and most definitely turning into dirt before it's used agriculturally.

And really, what ARE they supposed to do with all this shit we're dumping down our pipes?

So, as I try to keep at least on foot off the soapbox, I'll say we've been doing this for an entire year as a family. We made it through last winter by building a box with a toilet seat that a five gallon bucket sits in. The bargain I made to get everyone in this house on board is that I switch out the buckets and clean them. It's not such a big deal, except maybe in January. Things I've learned: I need three compost piles to get a family of five through winter; the compost pile compacts faster if I put a little sprinkling of compost on the finished bucket; everyone must be very clear on which bins are aging and which compost bins are active. I had two bins that should have been ready this fall, but the kids added kitchen scraps and cat litter in the spring, so those will wait awhile longer. Pine shavings break down better that cedar.

For now, we still have a flush toilet with a humanure receptacle beside it. Jason insists that people will not visit us otherwise. I'm not convinced, but sometimes, the more squeamish person should set the bar.


  1. I would come see you and happily use your composting toilet :-) It is something I have thought about as a desirable alternative to using so much water. I often think about ways to use less water. A composting toilet has occurred to me.

    As I think though the realities of visiting, I can imagine feeling a little self-conscious. When I eat at someone's house, I always feel better if I help do the dishes or clean the kitchen.

    I think I might feel bad that you had to clean up my poop in a way similar to how I feel if my hosts clear my dishes. That is the only reservation I can imagine.

    I read about these Earth Ship Houses that use plants in the home to process the sewage. I thought that if I won the lottery, I would buy one of them to live in. That is a silly thing to say, but I did see it is something desirable and somewhat unachievable. Those kinds of things go in my day dream file :-)

    1. I love the idea of plants cleaning the water, and I investigated it. It's not that it COULDN'T work here; it's that it would have to be extremely engineered. The soil doesn't hold water, so whatever the system would be would have to be contained separately. Then there's the whole freezing in winter thing, which would require micro climate type things like a greenhouse. Tell you what- you come visit, and I'll "let" you deal with a bucket just to make it even. :)