Composting toilet

Composting toilets use biological processes to deal with the disposal and processing of human excrement into humanure. It is a system for removing feces away from humans and living areas to safely store and treat it, so that it can be reused safely for local agriculture. It comprises of a toilet, which is usually (but not always) a dry toilet or urine diversion dry toilet together with (almost always) some kind of storage system beneath, often called a latrine. This is in contrast to a pit latrine, where there is no barrier to the surrounding environment and material leaches out. This is a very important document that attempts to define clearly common terms used in the sector.

It is a very common WASH system aiming to give better health to communities than they have with open defecation and with less of the problems sometimes associated with a single pit latrine, which may leak exposing groundwater and drinking water to harmful microbes which cause illness.

Appropriate technology toilet systems can be high risk activities, see below regarding strategies to minimise risk of infection.

What is ecosan?[edit | edit source]

Demonstration center for ecological sanitation

Ecological sanitation, or EcoSan, is the term used in WASH circles to describe sanitation systems which are dispersed (rather than being based on sewers and large municipal wastewater treatment works) and which aim to encourage people to view their own waste as a potential resource rather than as a problem.[1] This has wide applicability in countries that have complex sewerage systems as the "flush and forget" mentality is found almost everywhere.

Ecosan and composting toilets are terms that are often used interchangably and can be poorly defined. It is probably best to consider composting toilets as part of Ecological Sanitation, which can and should contain a range of other processes.

How are they supposed to work?[edit | edit source]

A DIY compost toilet at Dial House, Essex, England, created at very low cost utilising an old school desk as the toilet unit [1].
The same compost toilet viewed from outside. This structure was built entirely from recycled materials [2].

Human feces is a major pathway for micobial pathogens which cause diarrhea and other diseases which are a major cause of death, particularly of infants. The pathogens are able to survive in the feces when it is kept near body temperature, but even in circumstances where the feces is dried out completely, they may still pose a danger.

The composting process aims to encourage a situation whereby the pathogens are destroyed by competition from other 'healthy' soil micobes. This environment is created by adding carbon-rich material, reducing moisture levels and increasing oxygen by aeration.

A composting toilet is therefore a low technology method to encourage the best possible conditions to destroy the pathogens and usually involves adding available carbon-rich materials after defecation - usually ash or sawdust. There are often modifications to standard pit latrines to make them smaller, more watertight and better aerated (see below). This means that a composting toilet is usually emptied more regularly than a pit latrine might have been.

In many, but not all, systems the urine is separated from the feces as the urine is much less likely to be a source of infection and can be used more easily as a direct form of fertiliser. The composting process is usually considered to be more efficient when the feces is drier and the risk of leakage is reduced.

Toilets and latrines may also be used for temporary storage and feces removed for local secondary treatment.

Advantages[edit | edit source]

Toilet systems that dispose (processed or raw) human feces directly into the soil (ie pit latrines and flush toilets hooked upto a septic tank connected to a drain field) can contaminate waterlogged and high water table areas. This puts people at risk of catching cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, jaundice, typhoid, polio and intestinal worms.

In waterlogged areas where there was previously no satisfactory sanitation system operating, the benefits that compost toilets provide are clear. They can prevent ground and surface water contamination and protect people's health in areas where open defecation on the ground or directly into water bodies has been the norm. The production of safe compost and effective use of the urine and wash water are also a significant benefit.

Composting toilets also protect surface and ground water from sewage pollution. Unlike flush toilets, composting toilets do not produce raw/untreated sewage should not smell. They save huge quantities of water.

The use of compost toilets means that cities and peri-urban areas do not need to extend capital intensive sewerage networks and sewage treatment plants. In addition, at least in theory, the lack of septic tanks should mean that emptying is a safer process. The recurring cost of maintaining additional infrastructure is also avoided. Both these factors represent a huge saving. Also, in areas where toilets would be flushed with municipal water there is an enormous saving in water requirements.

Cross contamination between water mains and sewers is (or should be) eradicated where compost toilets are well established as the standard sanitation technology. Soils are steadily improved by the regular addition of good quality compost.

The technology also lends itself extremely well to areas with hard rocky soils where excavation of pits is difficult, expensive or inappropriate. Again the compost is valuable and can help to provide a better chance of establishing plant cover on thin and fragile soils.

Additional advantages finally are that composting toilets can be and do not produce flies or smell if properly constructed. It also does not provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Septic tanks and pit latrines often have poorly fitting covers or the covers are not carefully replaced after emptying. These places then become prime breeding sites for mosquitoes which should, in theory, not exist in a composting toilet

Disadvantages[edit | edit source]

The main problem with a composting toilet is the odors and pathogens associated with it. In order to keep the odor under control, it is important to apply a covering of sawdust or other high-carbon material whenever the waterless toilet is used. This will help reduce the odor and also keep the waterless toilet and compost pile hygienic. Another method that should be used in conjunction with the high-carbon material is ventilation. This can be as simple as a gap between the wall and the roof or more complex like an electrical ventilation fan.

One major disadvantage is that compost still needs to be moved manually by the user to the agricultural field for deposit, which represents a major potential source of infection.

Efficient composting and sanitisation of feces requires consistent temperatures of over 30°C and ideally over 50°C for an extended period of time. The materials in a composting toilet may never reach that temperature or there may be limited consistency within the material so that there may be some that is not properly sanitised even where the majority is. This can be a potential problem as surviving microbes can reinoculate the remaining material.

The most efficient form of sanitation is in aerobic conditions, but in practice conditions in a given composting toilet system may be a mix of anaerobic and aerobic zones - or even largely anaerobic. This has important implications as to the effectiveness of the process as most microbial pathogens are anaerobic and are destroyed in aerobic conditions. Anaerobic digester systems have been shown to be effective at treating feces and outdoor co-composting of sludge is known to be effective, so a composting toilet may actually represent the worst of all options.

Hill and Baldwin[2] write, convincingly:

The limited body of literature on [composting toilets], especially field versus laboratory studies, generally does not prove them reliable for decomposition or sanitation of fecal matter. Adequate temperatures are seldom, if ever, attained eliminating this reliable mechanism of pathogen destruction. Storage alone is unlikely to be a reliable pathogen destruction mechanism.

In addition, most composting systems only have storage for material for 6-12 months. Poor management or unforeseen circumstances may mean that the toilets need to be emptied more regularly, which may have important consequences on the overall pathogen risk to users.

Are composting toilets safe?[edit | edit source]

Stenström et al[3] tried to assess the risk of microbial exposure from a range of WASH sanitation systems. They concluded that there were risks associated with both the operation and emptying of the facilities. If the toilet was kept clean, forms of dry toilet offered medium to low risk of infection for users and cleaners/workers. However, manually handling the material generated from these systems can be high risk.

Composting toilets are designed to destroy pathogens to produce a safe compost. However, studies have indicated that in different situations, pathogens are not necessarily destroyed. The general feces advice is that composts should not be handled for at least a year, and that they should not be necessarily considered to be fully sanitised even then. Ideally all composts from toilet pits should undergo additional treatment before being added to agricultural land.

For a fuller discussion of the academic literature on this subject, please see Infection risk from Ecosan.

In countries where the prevalence of infectious disease is very low and where there are extremely good healthcare is available, these risks may exist but the effects on individuals may be far lower. Good practice suggests, however, carefully considering the risks and pathways for infection wherever the technology is used.

Possible health risks and aesthetic issues[edit | edit source]

Human faeces can be hazardous to come in contact with when improperly or incompletely composted, because it can contain bacteria and other pathogens associated with human disease. For this reason, human waste should not be used as fertilizer without ensuring that it is composted thoroughly. The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales recommends that humanure should be allowed to break down for at least one year in a cool temperate climate such as that experienced in the UK, where true thermophilic decomposition cannot be guaranteed. They also advise that humanure should not be used as a fertiliser on crops that are directly handled and eaten, such as vegetables or salad leaves, but instead applied as a mulch around bush or tree fruits. Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook and proponent of humanure composting, recommends using composted humanure on any and all agricultural products.

Many in the 'developed world' find the idea of a composting toilet to be unappealing, perhaps due to the health and hygiene issues raised above. However, as long as basic safety rules and common sense are used, the real risks associated with a composting toilet system should be no more significant than any other situation where there may be some level of fecal contamination (eg, using a WC style toilet, changing babies nappies, taking a bath, etc). Educating people about the safe use of composting toilets is an important part of their gaining acceptance in the use of developed world. It may also be worth noting that water based toilets were originally viewed with the same type of suspicions when they replaced the chamber pot.

Many health departments will not approve composting toilets as an alternative to septic fields. A septic field may still be required for treatment of grey water even if a composting toilet is approved. Before making a significant investment, check with your local health department.

Properly designed and sized in relation to use, composting toilets neither need power for processing nor use water and will eventually reduce the solids to a final 1-2% of the added organic materials (faeces and toilet paper). True composting is a slow process and takes around 4-6 years and a variety of processes involving bacteria, fungi, worms and other micro and macro-organisms.

Ecologically, in the case of some of the more complex smaller systems it may be that the use of electricity should be weighed against the use of water within the context of a situation. In arid areas, water is probably more valuable than electricity while in wet areas, the opposite may be the case.

Creating community support[edit | edit source]

It is important to realise that any composting toilet programme also requires an education programme to ensure that the principals of use and maintenance are clearly understood and accepted by the user group.

Adequate awareness raising and training needs to be given to the users in the early stages of establishing the composting toilet. It is essential that the toilet is correctly designed and built and that there has been a very interactive and participative approach to its introduction. If these steps are taken, there is a far greater chance of the compost toilet being "owned, understood and accepted" by the community which is essential if it is to be successful.

The need for interactive training and awareness raising is to unravel and dispel the misunderstandings and confusion that often surrounds sanitation, health, hygiene, water and the environment. For example, in one project the main interest in the compost toilet was for the privacy it gave rather than because it was safer and more hygienic than open defecation. At the same time, the greatest fear of the users and neighbours was that it would smell. By knowing the fears and misconceptions, the hygiene awareness raising can be tailored to suit the needs of a specific community.

Training of the awareness team must also be done very carefully and interactively as they may have the same misconceptions as the community. It is often beneficial to build the team from amongst women and youths already active in development in the community and who are held in good regard locally. Some methods that have been effective in reaching the community are the performance of street dramas explaining the many faecal-oral routes that give rise to disease and relating them to every day events and habits. Illustrated leaflets can be distributed, games played and songs sung with children and adults, both in school and leisure time. House visits should be made to follow up the messages and discuss the dramas and leaflets. These visits can be particularly effective since people are generally more willing to express any doubts in private.

See also community-led total sanitation, which is an effort to stimulate demand for better sanitation from communities themselves.

Understanding[edit | edit source]

Composting toilets should be understood as whole systems, intended to produce safe compost which can be used as a soil amendment. So it can be helpful to consider parts of the system to include a collection vessel (toilet or urinal), a storage area (latrine, pit or storage tank) and treatment.

Sometimes composting toilets are described as small pit latrines, often with urine diversion dry toilets. Sometimes single VIP and double VIP latrines or variations are considered to be composting toilets because it is considered that useful sanitation of microbial pathogens will be occurring in the latrines.

Whilst these modifications may be helpful, particularly regarding odors and flies, the conditions in latrines are not ideal and the effect on pathogens is highly variable. All material generated by these systems should therefore be considered partially-treated at best, even if additional sawdust or ash has been added to the feces and it has been left for the recommended storage times.

The only two types of composting toilet systems that matter are therefore those which adequately destroy harmful pathogens and those that do not. Full treatment of feces within a toilet or latrine is unlikely to happen without some kind of mechanical stirring and forced aeration.

To reduce risk, material from composting toilets should never be put directly onto food crops. Storage for at least a year is highly advisable in a latrine, after which material should be removed (ideally with minimum handling) and taken for secondary treatment. The simplest secondary treatment systems are community scale co-composting or vermiculture, which have shown to be effective at sanitisation if managed properly.

During this treatment, workers may be at high risk of infection, so need to wear protective clothing. Even after treatment, feces compost should not be used on any food crop which will come into direct contact with humans - such as leaves or tubers. Ideally the compost should never be used on food crops at all.

Types[edit | edit source]

There are two basic types of compost toilet, those that complete the composting process 'in situ' and those that are emptied to a separate compost pile remote from the toilet itself. The latter arrangement is sometimes referred to colloquially as a 'bucket and chuck it' system, like a Humanure Bucket System. This means that faeces is deposited into a plastic container to which soak material such as straw, sawdust, dry grass, etc, is added in order to absorb excess liquid, cover human waste materials, exclude flies, reduce smells and balance Carbon:Nitrogen ratios. When full the bucket is removed and emptied onto a composting pile that is kept separate from other composting materials such as kitchen or garden waste.

Some composting toilets use electricity, while others do not. Some electrical systems use fans to exhaust air and increase microbial activity. Other systems require the user to rotate a composting drum or otherwise stir the composting humanure from time to time.

Some composting toilets are large with a significant space requirement in the room below the toilet. Others are not significantly larger than a traditional toilet. Those small systems generally do not claim to finish the composting on-site, but are preparing the human waste materials for secondary composting in another location (like a compost pile).

All composting toilets eventually need some end product removal. A full size composting toilet does not need to have solids removed for several decades if the active tank volume is at least three times the yearly addition. This is due to the dramatic reduction in volume over time -- after around 5 years only 1-2% of the original volume remains. It is then a mineralized soil which will not decompose any further See [3] Other smaller type systems need to remove solids several times a year.

Commercial systems[edit | edit source]

In recent years several commercial compost toilet systems have begun to compete with and replace conventional WCs in high use public facilities. There they have found a market because of their resilience and the environmental advantages of not discharging pollutants into the environment. Composting toilets reduce the volume of humanure and other organic materials on site over months or years through predominantly mesophilic composting and yield a fertilizer that is, after the legally required period of time, able to be utilized in horticultural or agricultural applications. Composting toilets are also becoming more common as an accepted alternative in homes, where the odor-free operation of a properly functioning unit appeals more to some houseowners than conventional toilets, with their consumption of large quantities of clean water.

Composting toilets have entered the mainstream plumbing realm by being tested and, if approved, labelled by the internationally acclaimed NSF - a testing facility for all types of water and sanitation products. Composting toilets have their own testing standard called Standard-41. Standard-41 can also be tested and awarded by other recognized testing laboratories such as CSA or UL.

Waterless, odorless composting toilets insure that houses can remain occupied in drought areas where water is shut off for periods of time. An example is southern Spain, where at least one composting toilet per house could provide acceptable sanitation for as long as the drought prevails and water is unavailable. Likewise it provides always-usable public toilet facilities under such circumstances. This is becoming a very important application for the technology in areas all over the world where there is only periodic availability of water.

'DIY' compost toilet systems[edit | edit source]

Far more simple and basic DIY systems can also be constructed that require very little cost or maintenance, provided that attention is paid to a number of important factors. The toilet must control odours. This is achieved by ensuring adequate ventilation (sometimes simply by leaving a small gap between the top of the wall and the roof, more sophisticated systems may incorporate some kind of low voltage extractor fan). Odours can also be controlled by either ensuring that urine and faeces are kept separate or by adding sufficient high carbon content 'soak' material (see below) to absorb excess liquid. The design of the composting toilet should allow the material to remain aerated to prevent the compost from becoming anaerobic, which can result in unpleasant odours. It must also either heat the faeces to the point that pathogens are destroyed (a thermophilic process), or else allow sufficient time (up to a year) for such pathogens to break down and disappear naturally (a mesophillic process). The upside however is that they do not use any significant amount of water and they may produce fertilizer safe for small scale agricultural use.

Another variant is the Tree bog- a type of compost toilet which never needs emptying. Nutrient hungry trees such as fast growing willows are planted around the Tree bog which take up the nutrients converting them to biomass which may then be harvested.

Dry toilet[edit | edit source]

Icon dry toilet.png

A Dry Toilet is a toilet that operates without water. The Dry Toilet may be a raised pedestal that the user can sit on, or a squat pan that the user squats over. In both cases, excreta (both urine and faeces) fall through a drop hole.

Here, a Dry Toilet refers specifically to the device that the user sits or squats over. In other literature, a Dry Toilet may refer to a variety of technologies, or combinations of technologies (especially pits).

The Dry Toilet is usually placed over a pit; if two pits are used, the pedestal or slab should be designed in such a way that it can be lifted and moved from one pit to another.

The slab or pedestal base should be well sized to the pit so that it is both safe for the user and prevents stormwater from infiltrating the pit (which may cause it to overflow).

Composting and fertilization are important steps to organic farming and gardens. In order to get the level of nitrogen needed, one may use a waterless toilet and add the product to their compost pile.

Advantages Disadvantages
- Does not require a constant source of water.
  • Can be built and repaired with locally available materials.
  • Low capital and operating costs.
  • Suitable for all types of users (sitters, squatters, washers, wipers)
- Odours are normally noticeable (even if the vault or pit used to collect excreta is equipped with a vent pipe).
  • The excreta pile is visible, except where a deep pit is used.

Composting process and products[edit | edit source]

The process of converting human excrement into safe and usable compost material can take between 3 months to a few years depending on factors such as climate, temperature and the particular system being employed; and in 4-6 years will become highly mineralized soil. Some composting toilet models are concomitantly turning urine into an odor-free, pathogen-free organic liquid fertilizer. Some countries, for example Sweden, allow this liquid to be used in agriculture after a storage period of 6 months. In the full size composting toilets, urine is going through a process called nitrification, resulting in an odor free and practically bacteria free liquid fertilizer.

Urine, rather than faeces, contains the major bulk of plant nutrients worth recovering for reuse, including 90% of the nitrogen and 70% of the phosphorous. One advantage of modern composting toilets over conventional outhouses is that the latter leached most nutrients into the groundwater, instead of saving them to be reused in agriculture or spread on the land.

Case studies and how-tos available on Appropedia[edit | edit source]

Ole Ersson's sawdust toilet how-to explains how to make a simple collection system and outside composting with sawdust.

The Pedregal Permaculture Demonstration Center how-to explains the form and function of their urine diversion double pit composting toilets.

The New Dawn composting toilet how-to explains how the Costa Rican herbalism school constructed and operate their single pit composting toilet.

The Noyemberyan composting toilet page does not have much information about the system installed by Peace Corps in Armenia, but there are some good photos which show a form of single ventilated improved pit design.

Cal Poly Humboldt's CCATBox is a form of single ventilated pit latrine but with forced air pumped through it and rotating drums to ensure mixing and sanitation of the compost.

The Duchamp de Loo is another student project from Humboldt State which created a mobile toilet for use on a barge. It comprises of a urine diversion and collection system for feces which are moved elsewhere for composting.

Alternatives to consider[edit | edit source]

Related projects[edit | edit source]

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. important document that attempts to define clearly common terms used in the sector
  2. Hill, G. B., & Baldwin, S. A. (2012). Vermicomposting toilets, an alternative to latrine style microbial composting toilets, prove far superior in mass reduction, pathogen destruction, compost quality, and operational cost. Waste Management.
  3. Stenström TA, Seidu R, Ekane N, and Zurbrügg C. Microbial Exposure and Health Assessments in Sanitation Technologies and Systems (2011). EcoSanRes

Further reading[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Discussion[View | Edit]

Ok, I think there needs to be some additional information added to this to be useful.

First, it needs to give much greater emphasis to the importance of carbon addition to produce good compost (and also to disinfect adequately the dangerous pathogens present in the sewage sludge). Generally speaking you need twice as much carbon-rich material as sludge, which can be difficult in a situation where carbon rich material is expensive.

Second, there is no mention of bioaerosols, which are a significant health hazard, particularly in confined spaces.

Third, it may need to be said about safety issues with the use of composted sludge - generally speaking it is not a good idea to spread onto crops you are actually going to eat (eg salad crops etc). Usually you'd be wanting to spread long before you're planning to sow, wherever possible.

I'd say that composting sewage is a viable option, but you really have to know what you are doing (particularly if the sludge gets wet at any time) otherwise you are just providing a fantastic incubator for the pathogens.

editing[edit source]

This page is pretty horrible as it stands. I am going to try to improve it soon. Joeturner 04:01, 16 January 2013 (PST)

Links[edit source]

These seem redundant, move to other articles or remove

KVDP 07:47, 3 October 2012 (PDT)

What do you mean by "seem redundant," here? Are these things better covered by other links?
I clicked through each - some are off topic, but a few are useful and I restored them. --Chriswaterguy 21:12, 23 February 2013 (PST)

check contacts[edit source]

tagged as needing contact details checked. plus detailed check of what is being said Joeturner 13:40, 7 February 2013 (PST)

Reorganisation of information[edit source]

I have decided to do the following: this page contains general information regarding the use of composting toilets; construction, maintenance and operational issues to be put on Composting_Latrines. I did consider merging the two pages together, but that would make one really long page. So intead I have moved temporarily some of the content from this page to A:Incubator/composting_toilets_extra_info with a view to trying to work out where it should be put. Joeturner 01:56, 12 February 2013 (PST)

reorganisation of page[edit source]

I have decided that I am going to try to reorganise this page so that it is easier to understand by someone coming to appropedia to find out about composting toilets and acts as a signpost to other useful information on appropedia. I have moved the original page to Appropedia:Incubator/composting_toilets. This process might also involve some kind of merge with Composting latrines as I don't think it helps to have a distinction that is not in common usage. Most people talking about a composting toilet are meaning the whole system rather than just the toilet part. I think that it should help to have the avkopedia pages I have been porting to link to in the text. Joeturner 01:29, 14 February 2013 (PST)

are VIP latrines the same as composting toilets and ecosan?[edit source]

Jim Dauster posted this on facebook

except that VIPs and pit latrines literally aren't composting toilets or ecological sanitation. they don't kill pathogens.

I think there is a legitimate argument to say that VIP latrines are not composting and are not ecosan. However, I can also see with convergence of these terms in academic literature and use within WASH circles. Personally, I'd be very happy to say that one should assume absolutely nothing is happening in a VIP latrine. Joeturner 04:27, 25 February 2013 (PST)

So, if the terms are used imprecisely within academic literature, should the Appropedia article aim to define the terms clearly, while noting that others might use the terms differently? (I think that's what we should do.)
I see you've done some more work on improving the choice of external links in the article - cool. I also changed a link (a site sponsored by Envirolet) to its quite good FAQ, which seems more useful than the rather vague and somewhat promotional front page of the site. You might want to just check the FAQ, as I haven't gone through in detail, and you've got the knowledge on this. --Chriswaterguy 02:03, 26 February 2013 (PST)
To clarify, I think there are reasons to use a VIP (eg fly control), so well constructed latrines may well bring health benefits. I cannot really edit pages on design, which is one of the reasons I ported pages from Akvo. But I do think we should point out that the sludge in the latrine may not be undergoing any significant sanitation, and that therefore additional treatment is highly advisable. As I have said on the Infection_risk_from_Ecosan page, one academic working in the field says that any material from a toilet should not be used for food production for 10 years. I think this is sound advice, and we should be very hesitant in suggesting that any ecosan or appropriate tech system is completely sanitising feces, because it probably is not. I think we should encourage multi-stage processes, ideally including some kind of community co-composting and encourage users not to use any materials from these processes on food.
I was in two minds about the website. On the one hand, it does seem like marketing. On the other hand, the idea is actually sound - providing moisture levels are maintained and there is sufficient aeration, it is not impossible to imagine a composting toilet system like that which actually works. But I'd say there is a mix of information on that page (and in general on the website), and the risks are not properly explained. So the FAQ can probably be said to be sound - but only as far as it goes. As a compromise, I'm reluctantly happy to let it stay, but not hold too much sway from it. Joeturner 02:21, 26 February 2013 (PST)
Just recording an interesting conversation I had yesterday with a guy who installs toilets in nature reserves and out-of-the-way places. In his view, urine can be considered to be a useful amendment, whereas sludge is a problem to be sanitised. I think this is a bit extreme, given that sludge contains organic matter and other nutrients, however it is a way of thinking I had not really appreciated before. If sludge is to be treated as a dangerous waste, then the priority must be to make it safe. In which case, maybe we need more destructive mechanisms in places where the standard methods are not consistent enough. For example, perhaps there is some way to make biochar with it in a rocket stove, and then bury. I'm not sure what to do with this idea, so just recording it here for discussion and future reference Joeturner 06:54, 27 February 2013 (PST)

Infection hazard banner[edit source]

Is this overdoing it? Joeturner 06:53, 26 February 2013 (PST)

I do think that banner is a little overboard, especially considering our general disclaimer and the general danger of many community/individual based projects addressing basic needs. --Lonny 16:36, 13 April 2013 (PDT)
fair enough. I was trying to illustrate that although the concept sounds simple, it carries with it significant infection risks, particularly in a AT context. Joeturner 23:58, 13 April 2013 (PDT)

Gallery[edit source]

Are any of the toilets in the gallery at Composting_toilets#Gallery actually tested? --Lonny 16:37, 13 April 2013 (PDT)

they seem to be overgeneralised schematics to me. Suspect unlikely to have been tested, prob wrong, need to be deleted. Sigh. Joeturner 00:05, 14 April 2013 (PDT)

A few extra sites with perhaps some information of interest.[edit source]

-- comment by User:KalleP

thanks. these are links to specific products, I'm not sure what they add, can you explain why you think these products in particular should be given weight on the page? The manual looks interesting, not sure about the others. Joeturner 08:32, 15 April 2013 (PDT)
The links are just for a bit of background. I agree they add little to the page but might give editors some idea of what are commercially available. The images if they were available might be better than some of the diagrams on the page in terms of practical working poducts. Some of the complexity alluded to on the page is not real. The 'composting toilets' are pretty much better all around than a legacy long-drop or bucket system so should be offered as an improvement on those and not a grudging ran-last on everything else. I left one link out because I mistook the use of the generic term (ECOSAN) used in the page as including information about it already, I have added it below. I like them better than a septic tank for any informal or less permanent site. I seem to remember the spiral one is being tested or used underground in mines here.
KalleP 07:56, 16 April 2013 (PDT)
I don't agree, the evidence suggests that in many situations a composting toilet is not much better than a bucket (in fact, sometimes no different as no composting is actually taking place). What evidence do you have to suggest that the complexity is not real?
Your last link is interesting, although I don't think that is in anyway representative of the widespread use of the term 'ecosan' in South Africa or anywhere else. I don't support adding commercial links to these pages - for one thing there is a good amount of information and evidence from non-commercial sources, second they tend to over-sell their own effectiveness, third they tend to confuse terms.
No evidence, just gut feel. I lived with a outdoor long-drop early during my high school time when we moved to a farm. We dug and fitted a septic tank system eventually. The main benefit in my personal gut feel would be having to clear it less often than a bucket system and having the option of an indoor toilet over a long drop. If I had to add toilet to a farm in future I would use 'composting/desiccating' over others unless there was reliable water for a septic tank flush installation. The benefit is not in making compost, it is in making less waste and requiring less maintenance in my personal view.

Fair enough. I've just been reading an academic report about the perception of UDDT compared to pit latrines in eThekwini, SA. Here is the abstract:

"The current environmental challenges that most middle- and low-income countries have been experiencing has led to new environmentally sustainable and economically viable sanitation solutions, such as waterless systems with source separation of human waste. We conducted a cross-sectional study in eThekwini municipality to explore the post-implementation challenges of urine diversion dehydration toilets (UDDTs) after a decade of installation and the adaptive processes necessary to increase the sustained use of the toilets. A structured questionnaire was administered to 17 499 households in 65 rural and per-urban areas of eThekwini using mobile phone technology. Results report low levels of satisfaction with the facilities as well as an association between perceived smell in the toilets and malfunctioning of the pedestal, and low use of UDDTs when a pit latrine is present in the dwelling perimeter. Conclusions relate to the importance of educational and promotional activities that stress the economic return derived from reusing urine and excreta in agricultural activities."

Personal perception is a big part of this. If people perceive composting toilets, UDDT, VIP latrines or other forms of ecosan as inferior, they probably will not value them and will not use them well. The reality might be that a flush toilet (or septic tank) is no better than a form of dry toilet, but users will often feel discriminated if they are offered it. And if dry toilets are not valued or used and maintained properly, they'll probably be even less safe. Joeturner 09:09, 16 April 2013 (PDT)

Heated composting toilet[edit source]

For the composting toilet to work perfectly (and make the safest compost), the composting needs to occur at a particular temperature. Exactly what is that temperature and do composting toilets exist with heater wires and a PCB with temperature sensor ? That way, the heater wire can be activated by the PCB when the temperature is too low, and switched off when it's at the correct temperature, or when it's too high. If it exists, mention in article KVDP 05:39, 19 April 2013 (PDT)

Most people suggest over 50 degrees C. I don't think I've seen anyone wire up a toilet with an external heater, but then I'm not sure if the heat is actually killing the pathogens or it is indicative of a temperature which inhibits the thermophyllic pathogens. I think it is unlikely that an external heat source would reliably kill all pathogens at these low temperatures because you'd have to ensure all of the sludge was heated together. Usually when people talk of compost temperature they're measuring the temperature of the natural processes in the compost, although this too can be misleading if the measurement is only a point measurement.
'Perfect' composting means that you've created conditions to inhibit the growth of pathogens, usually by encouraging the growth of non-pathogenic microbes which out-compete them. This requires optimal moisture, temperature, oxygen, aggitation etc. It is unlikely that you are therefore ever going to be sure that you have optimal conditions in an unmonitored enclosed container AT composting system. More likely in a co-composting site, but can be difficult to tell if you have optimal conditions even there,
If you are going to heat the sludge, you are better to use a system of pasteurisation, which would need to heat to over 70 degrees C, but this is obviously a monitored industrial process. Joeturner 05:51, 19 April 2013 (PDT)
You understood me incorrectly, I just meant the optimal temperature for composting, not for killing the pathogens (worm eggs). For anaerobic digestion this is atleast between 7°C and 35°C, so I assume there is a similar temperature range for composting ? Perhaps mention it at the composting page btw. Besides the heating itself, I assume there should also be some way to "stir" the pile so that the heat is distributed evenly

KVDP 06:54, 19 April 2013 (PDT)

Well it is essentially the same thing, the safe microbes which out-compete the pathogens are the ones which are breaking down the material into compost. And the pathogens are not just worm eggs, Helminths are commonly used as an indicator species as they are quite difficult to destroy and the assumption is that if you've killed the Ascaris Helminths you've very likely killed other pathogens which are hard to kill but more difficult to isolate. Joeturner 07:09, 19 April 2013 (PDT)
Regarding the kiling of pathogens: I'm still reading the Infection_risk_from_Ecosan page. Pasteurisation may be a suitable way to kill worm eggs, but then again that's rather energy intensive/expensive. Perhaps there's another way to deal with it ? How long do the worm eggs survive in nature btw, and do they need a host to feed themselves or can they collect nutrients from feces directly, ... ?
This is a good point, pasteurisation is impractical in many AT situations. The helminths are hard to destroy and have been measured many years after sludge application to soil. They're the ova of intestinal nematodes, so the issue is more about whether the eggs persist in the sludge and are still viable than whether they are infecting a host directly. Again, they're used as an indicator because they are so hard to destroy - although they are also pretty unpleasant themselves. You have to understand that this is a current area of study KVDP - scientists are currently trying to come up with the best ways to kill them off, until fairly recently E.coli was used as an indicator, but it was established that this did not model the hardier pathogens very well, so most studies switched to using Ascaris helminths as an indicator. There are no good ways to be sure you have destroyed pathogens, this is part of the problem. In a situation where you do not have access to a microbiological laboratory, you are guessing. I hold out some hope that biocharring sludge will be a reliable low-tech solution, but the studies are in very early stages. Joeturner 07:09, 19 April 2013 (PDT)
I haven't read any info I require in the Infection_risk_from_Ecosan page and so added searched and added the temperature range myself. I don't think btw we need to follow what the scientists and what the "research" concludes. We just need to work out an approach that works reliably and economically and which is legal in (all) countries.KVDP 06:16, 21 April 2013 (PDT)
I totally disown this approach. see below. Joeturner 08:54, 21 April 2013 (PDT)
As I indicated to you, the legality is a complex issue and it is totally not appropriate for Appropedia to suggest that it is the last word on the legality of composting toilets. For example, in the UK, the legality is entirely dependent on context. I have no idea of the regulations in the Netherlands, but suspect that whilst you may be able to 'get away' with a composting toilet, you may also get into some serious trouble, especially if something was to go wrong. Even in a country like Australia, there may be differences if you were to attempt this in a back garden in a town or in the outback. Many developing countries clearly have no regulations about sewage disposal at all. Joeturner 09:28, 21 April 2013 (PDT)
I'm not sure whether I would use a composting toilet in the Netherlands (if I were to live there) at all. In some countries, it is for example illegal for any (new) house to not connect to the sewerage system (whether or not you have a flush toilet). It's Kafkaesk but that's how it is. So clearly, legal issues do have practical effects for anyone that wishes to use ecosan-style waste disposal systems.
Anyway, can we include some more info on how to make the composting action as efficient/safe as possible, ie by detailing the amounts/types of "bulking agents" that need to be added (ie per kg of feces). Also, I was wondering whether a meter can be used to measure the C/N ratio; that way the person can add the perfect amount of bulking agent to the feces. Perhaps that use of de-worming herbs may also be used by the users. Finally, what is the maximum amount of time the worm eggs can survive (with a sufficiently long resting period, the feces can be made 100% safe I guess) ?
No, the N and C measurements are laboratory experiments. And they are of limited use anyway, because there are different pools of carbon, some of which are not accessible to soil microbes so do not break down in compost. The C:N ratio can only be a guide. You have no expertise on legality of sewerage and nor do I. And nor, I suspect, does anyone else in this community have the level to give the kind of legal advice you say you want.
I have answered your other points several times: many years (in an imperfect composting toilet as described) for the eggs, as much carbon rich material as possible. There is no perfect number. There isn't anything else to say, if you don't believe me, read the science. Joeturner 01:32, 22 April 2013 (PDT)

Page update[edit source]

I did some minor updates to the page, moving some info to more appropriate pages and improving these aswell (ie the ecosan page and WASH page) I also tried to remove some of the many typo's and weird vocabulary/sentences (sometimes it's not even really clear what the autor meant to say/information he wanted to give with certain sentences).

I noticed however that Joe deleted some important sections (although he also added much new and appreciated info). These sections are:

  • the construction section
  • the placement section
  • the operation and maintenance section (see [ my old page]) I am wondering why this information was deleted (the article seems very incomplete without these); the section are now at Appropedia:Incubator/composting toilets extra info but I wonder why this is ?

In addition, I saw that Joe also (almost completely) reinstated the old composting page before I started to partially redo the page he made (making an effort to make the page a suitable compromise for the both of us). Appearantly, working together on pages and accepting some minor adaptations proves a real challenge to him. So, I am wondering whether we could just agree to disagree, and make each a page for ourselves. Organizations allready have "Original:page name" pages, so perhaps this is possible for us aswell. That way, Joe can fiddle on his own -scientifically correct- page and I can work on my own page aswell, focused for practical use (I may have a project coming up where such pages may be essential). Any other articles (where the both of us do not have disagreements on) can just remain to be unaltered (no 2 versions). I think the approach can avoid a lot of annoyance. KVDP 06:10, 21 April 2013 (PDT)

I hope we can resolve this without attempts to make separate articles - which I don't think will solve the problem. If Joe thinks that certain statements are unsuitable for Appropedia, I want to take his concerns seriously, not make a separate page that he is supposed to ignore.
Could you please provide diffs for each edit that you take issue with, along with a link to any discussion that has taken place already? That makes it much easier to understand what's going on. (Anyone else can do the same if necessary.)
Without getting into the details of the disagreement, there is at least one area where I strongly agree with Joe - the need for clear sources when making claims, especially where it impacts on health or safety - that is part of A: Rigor as I see it. If you have such sources and Joe still disagrees, then we can discuss the sources together.
Joe and I may see things a bit differently in some ways, though I'm sure we can work it out. E.g. sometimes Joe might want to delete something, where I would prefer to keep it with suitable sources and disclaimers. We should not keep everything, though, and I'm happy if we discuss where we draw the line. --Chriswaterguy 07:11, 21 April 2013 (PDT)
Really, this drives me nuts. KVDP does not know what he is talking about on this issue, but insists on writing things that have no scientific basis and are not properly referenced. He insists on changing things that I have (at least attempted) to properly reference.
The crux of the issue is this: people are (we hope) going to find information here useful in an appropriate technology situation. So there is no space in idle speculation, unscientific claims, or individuals who think they are too important to justify what they are claiming.
Now, KVDP, you cannot possibly be any kind of expert on all the subjects you edit on Appropedia. I cannot clean up what you write on other pages because I don't have the knowledge or the time to do the research. I can tell you for a fact that you know very little about composting. Which is fine, that in itself is not a reason to avoid edits, but in that situation you have to at least show that you are engaging with the subject and provide good sources to your information. Things are not just the way they are because you say so or because you want them to be.
As Chris says, I am have not written these pages as the final word on the subject, but as a means for discussion. If you have better sources or reasons to believe that the sources I've provided are wrong, or my interpretations of them are wrong, or that other sources are better or anything else, let's hear them. If you KVDP just want to reflect your ignorance on the subject by recreating pages filled with wrong information, I will delete them. Because some of the things you appear to believe are actually dangerous and should not appear in an appropriate technology wiki.
In future, I want to see all claims made about composting with a proper reference. If they are wild, undiscussed and unsubstantiated, I will delete them. If you don't like that, KVDP, I suggest you discuss your approach on Village Pump and see whether the founders of Appropedia would rather see referenced or unreferenced material here. Joeturner 09:09, 21 April 2013 (PDT)
Joe, in many instances, I have not seen you add much "sources" as you say here. I often seen you making bold claims, and not providing any source at all. In other paragraphs, there are sources, but there are no bold claims made at that section and it is unclear to see what claim you wish to substantiate there.
In the last paragraph here finally, you make it sound as if I'm some sort of vandal, and wish to make pages filled with wrong/unverified information. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't see where I reincluded any mistakes, and if I have, you haven't clarified which mistakes these are, but rather just deleted entire sections of text. I know I'm not all that all-knowing on composting and I have no doubt I sometimes make mistakes or write things that are inaccurate. As such, I don't mind at all if you delete things of me that are wrong (actually I prefer it, I want a correct page too). I however have great annoyance with your unstructured style of writing, and the fact that things which I find essential to comprehend the issue thoroughly have been deleted.
I think that people get lost in your unstructured texts/phrases, and mistakes, scattered info. I find that for people new to the subject it works like a maze and struggle to or do not find the information they require at all and just give up in the end.
Next, the changes necessairy. For the composting toilets page, just reinclude the info from the "incubator" page, and then delete this incubator page (see above).
For the composting page, see the differences at this comparison. As stated above, I don't know where the mistakes are, to me it just seems that you want your own layout and links/confusing style of writing. The video's also appear indispensable to you. As it is thus rather hard to come to an understanding about such things, I opted to just make 2 seperate pages.KVDP 00:45, 22 April 2013 (PDT)
Correct, you are a vandal. The videos are replaced because they illustrate the text and you have provided no reasoning why they should not be on the page. Your recent edits do not improve the page (for example, I purposely added a section called 'alternatives' - because they are alternative technologies - ie not composting). Your incubator pages contain no sources other than wikipedia. Your other deleted material claims a level of expertise that you don't have, suggest that the process is prescriptive, when it isn't, show image that you have no knowledge of their efficacy, ignore the science and are wrong in basic details. There is no reason to suppose that you have any expertise in saying whether or not these things should appear on the page.
I am holding you to account for your poor composting knowledge. I am reverting your edits and I am locking this page. If you wish to enter an actual discussion on the facts, or on your approach, you can do so in Village Pump or some other page. You cannot continue to make changes on things that you have no knowledge. Stick to things you know something about or provide good references. If you can't do that, don't edit. 01:25, 22 April 2013 (PDT)

Okay, let's all cool down. KVDP's intentions are positive, so I would never call him a vandal. Even if we have to part ways on a certain issue, or restrict anyone's editing, we can do that in as friendly a way as possible. So if anyone is exasperated, breathe a while then let's continue...

KVDP, thanks for providing diffs. I don't see any big issues with Joe's editing here, though. You corrected some spelling and grammatical errors - thank you - and Joe removed a small amount of content (second diff). Perhaps the biggest issue for you is the deletion of the related pages... the removal of the red links to the deleted pages is natural enough. Re the deletions:

  • Deletion in MediaWiki can be undone - no need to stress.
  • I prefer moving to the A:Incubator instead of deletion, except for actual spam. This is especially true where a page has some good information among the bad, which I think was the case here. Even where a page seems unsalvageable, A:Userfication is an option. "Prove me wrong - turn it into a good page." (But when moving, I do deselect the option to create a redirect - if a page isn't suitable to be in mainspace, it's probably not suitable to be linked from mainspace, either.)

Now, is there a way we can (a) put this energy into editing Appropedia rather than arguing, (b) unlock the page without edit wars, and (c) feel good about what we're doing here?

KVDP, how about editing compost-related content outside mainspace only (e.g. in the incubator), and making suggestions on talk pages as needed? We don't have to agree with all Joe's edits (just like no one has to agree with all of mine) but he does have knowledge about soils and compost, and I'd be happy to see him do more in this area. --Chriswaterguy 14:45, 22 April 2013 (PDT)

I don't accept that wrong/dangerous information should be available anywhere on Appropedia. And the information I deleted from this subject was replicated from pages that I'd previously removed to the incubator anyway.
Regarding the format of this page, I think it is sound, namely:
    • Explanation of terms
    • Brief explanation of the science
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
    • Safety - explained with many references on another page
    • Other issues
    • Case studies on Appropedia
    • Other relevant technologies on Appropedia
    • Links to organizations with better information
I do not believe there is any space here for:
    • Untested designs - there is no need for this as there are many good tested resources from other organizations. I certainly accept that additional links to external resources would improve this page.
    • False precision about the process
    • Unreferenced numbers (weights, volumes, etc).
    • Poor diagrams
    • Information that is not generally accepted - for example, the vast majority of good sources suggest that sawdust or ash should be used in a composting toilet, I do not think we should suggest that particular tree species are appropriate. Or if there is a source that says that they are, it should be indicated.
I accept that this means that someone will not be able to look at this page and gain enough information to embark on a composting toilet, but it seems to me to be far more appropriate for us to a) say what we know, and only that b) provide case studies and c) signpost to better/more comprehensive resources than to make it sound like we have more expertise than we actually have (again, I believe this is unnecessary as there are lots of good resources out there). Technology that is untested, unclear or wrong in this area is actually dangerous.
I believe as this structure stands, someone can come here, get an overview of the subject and find further information. I think that is what Appropedia is for. Joeturner 00:37, 23 April 2013 (PDT)
The structure looks good to me. Also agreed re what doesn't go. A topic page isn't the place for detailed instructions - they can go on a how to and project / case study pages.
I've had the impression that some material has been removed that wasn't wrong, at the same time as dubious content being removed. But what I saw may have been moved to the incubator as part of a different page, as you said.
KVDP has respected clear editing limits when they've been set in the past (where it hasn't involved a question of judgment, e.g. not renaming pages), so how about we go with:
  1. requesting him not to editing the content of composting pages in mainspace until further notice, and
  2. unlocking the page?
KVDP has the right to raise this at A:VP, of course, but I'd request that he refrain from editing these pages in the meantime.
That leaves the question of seriously inaccurate pages outside mainspace, which we need to deal with separately. --Chriswaterguy 17:52, 23 April 2013 (PDT)
I am happy to engage with a discussion with KVDP - or anyone else - about a better structure, but as far as that goes (and from what KVDP has attempted to reinsert into various pages about composting), in my view that is part of a wider discussion currently in play on A:VP because it cuts to the core of what Appropredia is here for. Layout and text within the structure is a different story, providing it takes account of the points I made above about content that should not be here.
Also to be born in mind is that the images currently displayed here are not tested and should be removed. In light of the discussion about KVDP's images in A:VP, I have not been deleting his images (other than a couple of very specific instances tagged in VP) until this is resolved.
Minor changes, including language, links, titles, grammar and spelling is of course a different issue.
As far as I am concerned, KVDP should only edit pages in the mainspace in composting if he works within these parameters, preferably with supervision. And I don't really want to see pages in his namespace that flatly disagree with them either. Joeturner 00:08, 24 April 2013 (PDT)
I never did understood why the Appropedia board promotes users that only just arrived. In my view people shouldn't be promoted to admin untill they have atleast done some 3-4 years of editing at Appropedia, but then again that's just me. In any case I see you took (good?) use of your new (locking) privileges.
In regards to the composting page: although Chris states he doesn't see any big issues with Joe's editing apart from spelling and grammatical errors, I actually do discover huge differences. For example, the entire intro has been rephrased and honestly, I don't see the point in letting anyone new to the subject of reading that "construct" (other than confusing him). I feel that we need a practical and understandable page for this, and it's not enough to just point people to other pages/articles as suggested at this talk page. The point of Appropedia is to supply immediate, in-depth, practical info. Else, they shouldn't bother with this page at all, wikipedia has a page on this too.
In regards to the particular tree species; I never suggested these as alternatives to sawdust or ash. Rather, I mentioned them as they provide good (soft) leaves to clean the behind, after which they can be left in the feces chamber. As they're leaves, they should be better alternatives to toilet paper (not chemically processed, and much cheaper)
I would agree with a userfied article on both the Composting toilets and the Composting page. If needed, I can place the gallery images on that aswell. I can btw add the OSAT tags to those pages. I don't like the idea of the "A:Incubator" pages. I find it the "incubator" in the name btw annoying; an incubator is a device for controlling environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity and is also discussed on some pages at Appropedia allready (allready designed one of such devices myself, ie for fish eggs) So using that name for pages that are being worked on will almost certainly create confusion.

KVDP 04:57, 30 April 2013 (PDT)

Content from PermaWiki[edit source]

I've ported the composting toilets page from Permawiki here: Composting_toilets_(PermaWiki). It should probably be merged into this page, if possible. Given the past concerns about the content of this page by an expert in the field, I'd be careful about what information to bring in. Additionally, there is an article called Humanure for soil building project ([1]) which certainly needs some attention before it is "ready for prime time". Maybe I'll port that one directly into the incubator. --Ethan (talk) 18:21, 17 October 2015 (PDT)

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