I started this post months ago. Before I even had a sense of what I really thought about using a composting toilet. It all started with a NPR article I read about Trevor Noah, the then new host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central.
I had just traveled to Durban, South Africa, months earlier and saw poverty in the shanty towns outside of both Durban and Cape Town. And even more recently when I was in Lima, Peru I again witnessed how the lack of water and plumbing impacts millions in poverty. One of my co-workers who recently hiked the Incan Trail and camped out for days was quick to express her joy over the luxury of a ‘flushing toilet.’
In all of these instances I thought “huh, I don’t feel like my lack of a flushing toilet is any kind of detriment.” In fact, in some ways I have started to think of it as a luxury, that could be readily available to millions and would also save the incredible amounts of water that most literally flush down the toilet everyday.
Ok so let me back up and tell you that if you are a regular reader of this blog, we have in fact fixed our ‘pee pipe’ problem which is the only reason I can now tell you about our toilet and honestly say that I like it. And the solution turned out to be remarkably simple: we just had to remove the 5 lbs. of silicone we had on it, disconnect the pipe and then use PVC cement when reconnecting it- voila! No more pee on our floor.
I should also say we may consider our composting toilet a luxury because it’s Swedish! That’s right, Separett waterless toilets come for a Swedish company who has been in the biz for about 30 years. We paid just under $1400 for it, which may seem like a splurge with your average tank toilet costing between $130 and $400, but consider this: the installation of a septic tank costs anywhere from $1500-$4000 and is a necessity for tank toilet.
So yeah Swedish things are always better than most. But the real beauty is that not only could we go off grid with a composting toilet but it is saving a ton of water with every ‘non-flush.’ One person using a composting toilet can produce more than 80 lbs of compost (this is a good thing) and saves more than 6600 gallons a water a year. The average flush (depending on how old your toilet is) can use anywhere from 1.6 gallons to 7 gallons per flush- and just think of how often you flush everyday!!
So here’s the thing: most of you would probably agree that a composting toilet is good for the environment and maybe even economical, but you don’t want to ‘deal with’ your waste. It’s important to understand how the Separette works though to know that you aren’t often dealing with anything too gross.
The Separette is ergonomically designed so that all users must sit down (yes, guys this means you have to get over the idea that peeing standing up is in fact what makes you a man) so that the urine can head to the front of the unit and the solid waste goes to the back. Urine is sterile so it just travels into a pipe that you bury in the ground.
When you sit down, your weight opens up the ‘back door’ where the solid waste goes to a bucket that has a compost bag inside. There is also a fan inside the bucket area that removes the moisture from the solid waste to help it compost more quickly. Believe it or not it is moisture that really makes your waste smell. Jared and I both quickly came to realize that the worst of your ‘bathroom business meeting’ stink comes from the water in a regular toilet. It takes some pretty impressive work to get the business done in the Separette to make the bathroom smell. Although we can tell you from experience if you stand next to the vent from the composting toilet on the outside of the house, you can very much smell the smells that have been removed from the solid waste.
Our only regret with the composting toilet is that we have it and subsequently the vent from it on the front side of our house near the front door and where we plan to build our porch. Its only bad if the wind is blowing in juuuust the right direction but even so, in hindsight we would put it on the back side of the house. You live and you learn.
For so many people we share our tiny house journey with, their biggest reservation is hearing about a non-flushing toilet. And while normal plumbing or even an incinerating toilet are alternative options for a tiny house, we couldn’t be more please with our decision. From the money and water saved to the lack of times we’ve said “do not go in there (whooooo!)” we would highly recommend the Separette for tiny and large living and hope that the waterless toilet movement can help those living poverty as well as those living in California… ya know, cause they don’t have any water.