Here’s a Concept: Alternative Toilets

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Since Thomas Crapper invented the water closet (yes, that’s where the word came from), many experts have come to view our sanitation system as the worst idea of all time. We use 3.5 gallons (per flush) of our best drinking water to dilute a few ounces of “excellent fertilizer and soil conditioner” to create an expensive, wasteful disposal problem.

The World Health Organization recently declared that waterborne sanitation is obsolete, and only waterless disposal of waste will allow enough water for drinking, cooking and washing in the world’s largest cities.

Waterless and low flow toilets could save the average household as much as $50 to $100 a year on water, adding up to $11.3 million everyday nationally. These are not the same low-flow toilets that gained a well-deserved bad reputation ten years ago. Technology has improved even the lowly Crapper so that most new toilets use only about 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf).

Sweden has popularized a dual-bowl toilet with separate compartments and separate ways of treating human waste. This system uses no water and results in a high quality fertilizer and composted human manure as byproducts. The separating toilets cost comparably to American toilets, but may take a while to catch on. Dual-flush toilets are becoming more popular here in the States, and offer users a choice of .8 gpf or 1.6gpf depending on the size of the job.

Composting toilets are completely waterless and can be self-contained or attached to a whole building system. If you have many bathrooms, a whole building system would be the most economical. It connects all the dry toilets to a single, large compost tank usually in the basement. There is no sewer hookup, so the plumbing ends in the compost tank.

A self-contained composting toilet is essentially a compost drum enclosed inside a toilet with a fold-out handle and tray. Some also contain fans and vents to eliminate odors. We have both a low flow toilet and a composting toilet in our home. We bought the composting toilet locally from Stoves Plus in Thompson Ridge. It is interesting to see who goes where, and we often categorized our guests by their level of queasiness with our plumbing.  Once you get over the initial shock of “no water in the bowl” it is easy to appreciate the simplicity of a composting toilet. Wood chips go in, tree food comes out.

Incinerating toilets are similar to composting toilets in that they are waterless. But they use electricity to incinerate human waste to a clean ash eliminating both pathogens (good) and soil nutrients (bad).

Many of these alternatives are costly and require a bit of plumbing know-how to install. If you want to reduce your water use today:

—– Try putting a brick in your toilet tank to save up to 5 gallons of water per day.

—– Install a $5 Frugal Flush Flapper valve in your existing toilet and conserve half your water with each flush.

—– Try a $1 Toilet Fill Cycle Diverter to save about ½ gallon per flush.

—– Pee on the trees if you live in a secluded area where no one will know.

—– Flush less often using the “yellow-mellow” rule

—– Check your toilet for leaks which could waste more than 100 gallons of water per day. Add a few drops of food coloring to the tank and see if any colored water leaks into the bowl after a few minutes.

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