Composting toilet systems work differently than a traditional toilet in the home. The waste is broken down by aerobic bacteria in a way that is similar to outdoor composting. Carbonized resources are added to the toilet, such as leaves or mulch, and this helps to break down the waste into a product that is similar to traditional fertilizer.
The primary advantage of a composting toilet is that it can be installed almost anywhere. It provides a similar user experience as a standard toilet, but doesn’t require a water source. That means the toilet can be installed in a treehouse, a barn, or some other type of outbuilding.
The primary disadvantage of a composting toilet is that there will be an increase in maintenance costs. Some jurisdictions allow for the end product to be spread on soils that do not produce food for human consumption, most do not. You would be required to hire a licensed septic transportation company to remove the compost from the toilet.
Here are some additional pros and cons of composting toilets to think about and discuss.
List of Pros for Composting Toilets
1. It is cheaper and faster to install than a traditional system.
The cost of a septic installation for a single toilet could run anywhere between $1,500 to more than $5,000, depending upon the location of the home and the configuration of the property. Then add another $300-$500, if not more, for the cost of the actual toilet. A residential composting toilet is often priced for less than $1,000 and there are fewer installation requirements which must be followed.
2. There is a minimal impact to the property.
Although the compost from these toilets should not be used on garden soils because that practice could spread disease, this technology has a minimal impact on the property where it is located. The compost can aid in the growth of other plants on the property, be dispersed or transported away, and reduce water consumption. The average person flushes about 20 gallons of water per day through a traditional toilet. That means a composting toilet can save over 7,000 gallons of water, per person, per year.
3. They can be a space-saver.
Because composting toilets do not require a water connection, they can be installed almost anywhere. That is a tremendous benefit for homes that are off the grid or located in a place where a well connection isn’t possible or feasible. There can be some sizing and spacing issues, but since this type of toilet can even be installed outside, any concerns can usually be resolved with a little ingenuity.
4. It requires minimal maintenance.
Unlike other forms of composting, you don’t need to worry about keeping the compost wet. Human waste maintains the proper moisture levels within the basin that stores the compost. Some models may require you to turn the compost to mix it every now and then. Look for toilets that meet or exceed current standards from the American National Standards Institute or a similar international organization for the best long-term results.
5. Many offer lifetime warranties.
There are several composting toilet manufacturers that offer a lifetime warranty on their product. When combined with the cost-savings that is experienced by saving 30,000 gallons of water per year for a family of 4, many of these toilets pay for themselves very quickly.
6. It can relieve burdens from the existing system.
Composting toilets can reduce the burden of the current plumbing systems. This can be an important addition for homes that have high septic demands or low water PSI. By installing the toilet, the water and waste removal resources can be redistributed to other components of the home, facilitating the recycling of waste in a way that won’t overwhelm anyone or anything.
List of Cons for Composting Toilets
1. Not every composting toilet contains the odor well.
Centralized composting toilet systems can be particularly challenging when it comes to odor control. That is why a compartmentalized system is often recommended when considering the pros and cons of a composting toilet. There are toilet-friendly products that can be added to the compost to reduce odors as well. When push comes to shove, however, a composting toilet will generally smell more than a traditional toilet.
2. It may be difficult to use.
Composting toilets have a bowl that sits at a similar height as the average toilet. For most people, that makes the user experience very similar to that of a traditional toilet. Some individuals have mobility challenges that require them to use a taller toilet and finding a model that is above 17 inches in height can be extremely difficult. Individuals who are tall (above 6’ 3”) may have problems using certain models as well.
3. They don’t always save space.
Composting toilets are often installed in smaller homes and cabins, but that isn’t because of their size. It is because they don’t require a plumbing installation. Most composting toilet models are often larger than their traditional counterparts. They also require components to be installed that help to manage the waste so it can be properly composted. Some homes may not have the spacing to accommodate this technology.
4. People will talk about it.
Once folks realize you have a composting toilet, you’ll be badgered with questions. “Is it safe to use?” is a common question asked. Some guests may be reluctant to use the toilet because it is “different.” There may be comments about the smell coming from it. Most people get used to the experience after a time or two, but there will always be a select few that will complain about the decision to install this technology.
5. Single units may require extra compost maintenance.
Composting toilets always have some wet and some dry waste in the basin. This is especially true for single unit systems. Fresh waste is added to dry waste, creating different levels of composition. This inconsistency can make it difficult to distribute the compost, almost forcing homeowners to use a septic hauling service.
6. A special permit may be required to install it.
Although composting toilets are generally permitted under international building codes, local code restrictions may prevent their installation in some community. Before purchasing a composting toilet, check with your local city administrators and code enforcement agency about the codes and regulations that need to be followed.
These composting toilet pros and cons show us that this technology can be beneficial, but it may not be right for every person or home. Evaluate all your options, including traditional toilet installations, to ensure that you install the best possible toilet for your upcoming project.