My very first composting toilet was simply a worm farm. You know the black plastic trays? Well that’s where my poo went. The worms ate it, and it worked well but I thought it was kinda gross, as every now and then I had to rotate the trays, and it was a pretty foul job.
I decided, once I had a bit more money, to upgrade. I got the Nature Loo black bucket system. If I thought my original toilet was a bit off to maintain, this one was absolutely hideous, as it didn’t compost our poo at all. We ended up with 5 bins of uncomposted poo. This was a terrible thing to have to deal with, I tell you.
We had an argument with the shop we’d bought it from, and eventually they agreed to take back the Nature Loo and give us a Sun Mar Excel instead. This had a few compromises for me, as it has a heating plate and I wasn’t into using that much electricity. But I was pretty desperate for a nice easy-to-maintain toilet. It has a lovely neat tray where the poo lands, gets composted and then you simply empty the tray. It didn’t work like that though. The poo got cooked onto the tray, and every now and then something terrible happened and it ended up all over the bathroom floor and we had to empty the entire toilet of uncomposted poo. It was foul. As you can see, I’m not recommending the Sun Mar Excel. When the toilet decided to blow our fuses (literally as well as figuratively), I took it apart and discovered that the heating plate and thermostat weren’t properly attached, and hence it was seriously overheating, leading to cooked poo. I fixed that, but I think the overheating had damaged the plastic casing because it started cracking really badly. Then it crunched and broke when I sat on the seat. Ouch.
Time for toilet number four. Paula and I were ready to simply do a pit toilet and dig some serious holes in the ground. Then I found a copy of the Humanure Handbook online and had a big read. I don’t like that book much, by the way – it goes on and on, and the small amount of practical information you need is deeply buried and embedded in a couple of later chapters. I have extracted what I think I need to know and written it into a simple 2 page document, for those who would like to try it out.
I also managed to meet someone who actually has a humanure toilet – Kat, who is quickly becoming a friend. Paula and I visited her and were very impressed. Finally I got us sorted. I built a compost pile for the poo, prepared a bucket of leaves ready to use as “cover materials”, grabbed a bucket from the shed, and topped it with a piece of wood with a hole cut out of it as a seat. It’s pretty rough and ugly right now, but we are almost ready to upgrade to a pretty box that conceals the bucket, with a real toilet seat on it. Jesse has declared he really likes it – it’s kid-sized and he thinks it should be just for him. I’m not sure where he thinks we’ll poo!
I am particularly excited to finally have a really big proper compost pile – the kind that gets hot (I hope – I’m not sure how to tell if it’s getting hot so far or not). Finally we can compost the paper we usually put in the recycling bin, and pretty much everything that was once alive. And then I’ll be generating, hopefully, enough compost to keep my garden happy too. When it’s ready, I hope we’ll be able to have a closed-system, nutrient-wise, for our garden.
The best thing is that when I empty the toilet bucket, I empty the compost bucket from the kitchen at the same time, and the compost bucket really stinks, while the toilet bucket is reasonably inoffensive by comparison. I don’t mind emptying it and I can’t foresee any nasty disasters involving the bathroom floor. Perhaps I speak too soon… But I’m feeling very optimistic!
Edited later to add: you might like to see our finished humanure toilet and a guide for how to create one yourself here.