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Getting Our Poop In a Group, Part One: Our Composting Toilet

by Tara

Last year, Tyler and I read The Humanure Handbook, a fantastically eye-opening book about how to safely compost your own waste and return it to the soil as fertilizer. The simple system this book describes uses sawdust toilets (a receptacle with a toilet seat on top, plus ample sawdust to to cover and prevent odors), which are emptied into a compost bin and covered with plenty of straw. The pile is allowed to sit for at least a year, and is then a nutrient-rich, safe, and free fertilizer to use on orchards and gardens.

That's the oversimplified gist of it, anyway.

As a result of our reading, our thoughts about poop and where it should go have radically changed. In fact, it now seems downright weird that we've never actually dealt with our own shit. The most sobering realization we've come to, though, is the fact that every time we use a flush toilet, we are taking perfectly clean water and transforming it into toxic waste.

Third World Skeptic

The world is divided into two categories of people: those who shit in drinking water and those who don't. We in the western world are in the former class.

Joseph Jenkins, The Humanure Handbook

When we moved into our little camper this past January, we knew we'd get our compost system going with a sawdust toilet. Our trailer's plumbing would quickly freeze in the winter if we didn't keep the heat running 24/7, and even if we did, the result would be pretty unappealing: routinely traveling to the campsite down the road to empty a tank full of a shit-and-urine slurry into their dumping station. Yuck.

And so, where any normal person would take a shower in our camper, we have a five-gallon bucket with a luggable loo toilet seat cover, and a bucket of sawdust on the side. As long as ample sawdust is used, our toilet isn't smelly at all. And considering that our bathroom is about two feet away from everything else in our little temporary home, that's a good thing.

Eventually, we'll build a nicer setup like this wooden commode, but in the meantime, our bucket is working fine. Now, on to the compost bins!



Because I want to sound like a completely loon, I love composting toilets. I think about how to deal with human waste a lot more often than I should probably admit to, and I have ah-mah-zing plans about composting toilets, and urine separating toilets and outdoors citrus gardens upon which I will encourage my visitors to wee. But, alas, living inner urban do not allow me to live my human waste composting dreams. One day, oh yes. And until then, I will revel in your awesome plans!
Posted by Oanh on May 16th, 2013 at 2:46 AM
Hi you two, I know we already told you all about our Nature's Head composting toilet and why we think urine diverting toilets are the way to go. If you're interested in the same technology, check out the Privy Kit via Separett. Also, check out Logan's article ( on their handmade toilet and maybe check in with him on how their separation system is working (they may have used a cheaper kit than the Separett, just ask Logan and he'll be moret than happy to let you know the details). Good Luck & Keep up all the great work!
Posted by Sheila Poettgen on May 18th, 2013 at 5:18 PM
Hahaha! Tara and I busted a gut reading your comment a few days ago. We would be so happy to wee in your garden someday :)

I don't remember why you thought urine diverting toilets were the way to go? The main reasons we've read against combining are that it makes the buckets heavier, and perhaps uses more cover material? So far we haven't had any troubles in this department. Thanks for the link! We will be building a few commodes soon (we're thinking of using them for our workshop instead of port-o-potties--we'll see)--maybe we'll try both kinds.
Posted by Tyler on May 25th, 2013 at 12:50 AM
Hey you two, Kai talks a little bit about his research in to the diverting tiolets versus the combination tiolets. If you want to know more about what he learned, let me know & I'll have him email you directly. :-)
Posted by Sheila Poettgen on June 4th, 2013 at 2:40 PM
I'd love to hear anything he'd like to share. If you want to give him a poke to send me a message when he has time that'd be great.

I just read through that entry—we haven't had any smell issues thus far. We do have easy access to tons of cheap sawdust though (local sawmill), so we're not scrimping on cover material. Maybe that has something to do with it? Whatever the case, it's good to know there are some other ideas out there to try if we have trouble.
Posted by Tyler on June 5th, 2013 at 7:45 AM