My wife and I live in a new house that we built two-and-a-half years ago. We tried to design it with permaculture principles in mind, and a lot of effort went into every little detail. We're quite satisfied with the result, but every now and then we reevaluate things and discuss what we could have done differently. The toilet is one of the topics that we discussed lately.
Originally, it seemed a natural decision for us to install a composting toilet. We liked the idea of a bucket toilet - a dry toilet that uses some organic absorbent litter like sawdust, wood chips, straw, etc., with the contents going straight onto the compost heap. Simple and straightforward. We had experimented with such a toilet in a tiny log cabin over a couple of years and it had worked well, so we thought we could adopt it for the new house. We envisioned a neat look like illustrated in these images:
But as we went through various iterations of the house design, and after many sessions of brainstorming, we gradually moved away from the idea of composting toilet, and settled for a conventional flushing toilet. The reasons behind our choice were two:
- we were concerned about difficulties in handling social situations with visitors who had never seen / used such a toilet (I believe no-one in our circle of acquaintances ever has), and who, in addition to being potentially uncomfortable using it, would also need fairly detailed instructions for how to use. Compare this with the conventional flushing toilet, which nowadays is considered normal (sadly!), as everyone knows how to use it / is at ease using it, without the need for any instructions - you just point the guest the bathroom door, and they take it from there.
- the second reason wasn't a key consideration at the time, but it is now the main factor for which we would still opt for a flushing toilet if we had to design & build another house: namely, the option of being able to wash with a hand-held bidet sprayer after using the toilet ! See images:
For me, the bidet has become an indispensable item for personal hygiene, hence it was - and is - a must-have. But the sprayer would have been incompatible and potentially messy when combined with the dry toilet. On the other hand, having a dry toilet AND a separate bidet basin would have taken up too much space in the bathroom; besides, with the current flushing toilet set-up, we have separate plumbing for black and grey water, whereas with a dry toilet - bidet basin combination, the water from the bidet basin would not count as grey water and hence we would have needed a septic tank or some other septic solution anyway.
So these were the trade-offs we had to make. In hindsight, I still cannot see a solution that could have satisfied both needs - ability to use the waste products as fertiliser, AND convenience for personal hygiene.
In my area the result of removing black water out weighs everything else.
So for me I am working on designing my home with dry toilets, and grey water. With no black water life on top of a mountain is a lot easier.
"Where will you drive your own picket stake? Where will you choose to make your stand? Give me a threshold, a specific point at which you will finally stop running, at which you will finally fight back." (Derrick Jensen)