Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What to do about human urges

Our garden colony is not electrified, and not connected to city water and sewage. In the middle of the colony there's a building housing a restaurant/beer garden, the association offices, and restrooms that gardeners can use, but the building is frequently not open, and it's a long trek from my garden.

The cottage on our garden lot has a separate small room with it's own outside door where our predecessors had a chemical camping toilet. But that is a hassle, since it has to be emptied into a dumping station, for example at a campground, or taken home and emptied into the toilet. And you have to put toxic chemicals in it if you want to use it more than once. Some of the gardens have flush toilets with illegal cesspools, but I definitely didn't want to go that route either. Outhouses are absolutely taboo in this water protection area. Who would want one anyway?

So I started searching the internet for ideas, and lo and behold, there's a whole community out there discussing composting toilets, aka dry toilets. There's even an entire online book on the subject, The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, which I found so convincing and informative that I decided to go that route. Thank you, Joseph Jenkins, for your great book!

There are two basic kinds of composting toilet: simple ones that consist of a collecting receptacle that you then have to frequently empty onto your compost heap, and more complicated ones for heavier duty use that compost the waste in a compartment under the toilet. In our case the first kind seemed like the practical thing to do, seeing as we have more than enough room for nearby compost heaps. After browsing several forums I decided to buy a "MiniLoo", and following several weeks of use it's turned out to be exactly the right choice. Here's a picture.

Under the seat there's a bucket, which you line with a biodegradable bag and fill with a few inches of tree bark mulch before using. After each use, enough tree bark is sprinkled on top to cover the waste. Experience has shown that after about 6-8 uses (urine only), it's ready to be emptied.

The receptacle can be lifted out and fitted with a lid to carry to the compost heap. After depositing the bag and all there, possibly in an indentation, you pile enough fresh composting material (cut grass, branches, leaves, etc.) on top to cover it up. After about a year it is completely composted, faster if using a thermo composter.

And amazingly: just as the proponents claim, it does *not* stink at all, neither in the toilet room nor in the receptacle, nor in or near the compost heap. No flies either. The only thing that is recommended is not to use the compost on vegetables, just in case any bacteria might have survived. For that reason we have three compost heaps: one out of wooden slats as daily collecting receptacle for green waste, one lidded thermal composter for the vegetable beds, and one lidded thermal composter for the composting toilet and the flower beds.

So I'm sold! Highly recommended for light occasional use with easy access to plenty of compostable material and compost heap.


  1. Awesome idea. I had no idea that there was a portable composting toilet. If just used for urine, it would make a great addition to our water-saving efforts here in southern California.

    I just read all of your blog posts today and love your blog. As soon as I figure out how to make it a favorite, I'll do so. --Lou Murray (

  2. Thanks for your comment - I would be delighted if your would "fave" me. Figuring out the toilet problem and finding the compost solution has made life in my garden much nicer. It makes me wonder why anyone *ever* had outhouses.

  3. Hi Barbara,

    My you've certainly put a lot of work into your garden. Great job! I also noticed that you are wearing your "Bass Lake University" sweatshirt that you purchased during our family reunion at Bass Lake in Knox, Indiana, U.S.A. during summer 2009!


    Your cousin Mary

  4. Babara, this portable composing toilet is really a good idea. You have done your homework well and I'm glad that you have shared this very valuable and practical information with us.