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How did you give up using flush toilets?

 
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Those of you who have transitioned to something other than a water flush toilet, how did you transition?

Please share your transition stories.

What form of 'toilet' do you utilize on a regular basis?

What are your reasons for choosing this form?

Have you used other forms of composting toilets? if so, which ones?

Thank you in advance.

 
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Thank you for asking, I love talking about me. A friend mentioned a sawdust toilet and then told us about Joe Jenkins " Humanure Handbook " saying if we were interested to get a copy. I had never heard about anything similar so I bought a copy of the book and got hooked on it being a good thing that I would like to try. Built a lovable loo clone very much like Joe's original design except all in 3/4 inch plywood that I had scrounged about 10 yrs ago. Finally a use for it. Brought it in to show my wife and it sat in the kitchen for about two weeks. She is a very patient woman but finally said "where are you going to put that?" I replied that I thought I would put it downstairs as a convenient second bathroom but I would prefer to put it in the existing bathroom on the second floor where we live but there is no room. She replies " would there be room if you took out the flush toilet?" We had never seen one before I built ours, we had never used one and only had Joe's word that it was odourless and relatively easy but that day I removed the flush toilet and capped the flange. Within two weeks I removed the flange and the water connection to make re-flooring the bathroom easy and we haven't regretted it even a little bit. It has shifted some chore time solidly to me, about 45 minutes per week and has shifted some bathroom chore time away from her so she is happy. Neither of us has used any alternative systems other than an outhouse and this is light years ahead of that. I do plan to build a prettier loo, this one is a first try and quite utilitarian but we now find it odd to think of having anything else in the house. I would list the advantages as we see them but I have already droned on enough. Again, thanks for asking. Wyatt
 
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I had heard of the sawdust toilet via prepper forums and when we decided to move out west a bit and find some property, I knew we were going to be off grid while looking and possibly the property we found would be without services so I downloaded the free version of the humanure handbook. The numbers/statistics kind of blew me away. Well the property we found was undeveloped so we're still using the sawdust bucket and considering that an "approved" septic system around here would cost $5-7000, I don't think I'll ever have one put in. (and it has to be approved unless you diy) Someday I want to go with a different system because I'm 49 yo and I can't see me lugging buckets in 20-30 years. Maybe something like they use in the earthships. I guess I should put some thought into it soon since we're getting ready to start building our permanent home this spring. LOL
 
Alex Freedman
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Thank you both for replying. And Wyatt feel free to drone on about the advantages you have experienced.
That's why we're here. to learn from one another.

ONE THING I will ask folks is to please type in small, short paragraphs (maybe three sentences or so)
and double space between them. You can still write about as much as you wish!

FOr folks who have some types of cognitive issues, when we view long paragraphs, everything merges
together and it becomes unreadable to us. (we can miss out on lots of interesting topics due to this processing issue.)

THANK YOU for your considerations.

blessings.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Thank you Gail, I wanted to go back and edit my long post with your format request but the edit function doesn't seem to be on it, not sure why. Will check tomorrow.
 
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I've taken my first step by only peeing in a bucket with leaves, planer shavings and charcoal in it. That's been going very well for several weeks and I like the awareness of one's water usage that it triggers.

We've used a compost toilet on a boat for extended periods before and we're planning to incorporate that or another version into our future home. So far, I really enjoy casually mentioning in conversation that I pee in buckets. Poop is gonna be a real conversation grenade.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Talking to most people on a hypothetical basis starts interesting conversations but when real life experience gets thrown in you look crazy. If I had adopted this system in a unserviced cabin or in an emergency situation I would be innovative but since I removed a perfectly good flush toilet going to an almost new septic system everyone thinks I am crazy. I am ok with that, I got the same reaction for decades for saying that smoking needed to be banned in public buildings. The range of reaction you get is actually quite entertaining.
 
Michael Helmersson
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Sometimes, a well-placed grenade can jolt people out of their bubbles and allow them to rationally comprehend something that would otherwise seem outlandish.

If you start out with a bombshell like pooping in buckets, you can then slip in the concept of having no utilities without it even being noticed.
 
Wyatt Barnes
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Just did a repair for an older fellow who told me he lived in his house for 4 yrs in the eighties without hydro or sewer. Pail privy inside and outhouse outside, all water hauled in. So I told him about my newish septic and my sawdust toilet and he looked at me with that polite " you are nuts " look. I called him on it but said I was used to it.
 
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Currently have a bucket privy, save pee for fertilizer and have recently gotten a bio gas generator but haven't set it up so can't sing its praises yet...yes, the bucket system requires a little extra work, a little space and a little timebut the final product makes the best soil amendments EVER! We transitioned by moving to unimproved property
 
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I used some composting toilets while camping in NE Washington a while back and was startled at how nice (or awful) they could be.

I use a 5-gallon bucket in a removable wooden frame I built (from found wood, of course!).  (Like a shallow box on legs, with the top board sticking out beyond the sides (for handles), a hole cut into the top, with the seat attached.)  Put that over the bucket, close the seat/lid.

Shredded junk mail and envelopes for filler material, plus yard prunings, leaves.

I urinate into a funnel in an old vinegar jug (standing up--the handle makes it easy), then put that into compost or poured to plants, or onto the humanure bin sometimes.  At night, however, I sit and urinate in the bucket.  (I'm female, by the way.)

The urine is what causes the odor, plus it makes the bucket very heavy, so I prefer to keep urine and feces separate as much as I can.

If I had to do it again, I'd build the frame bigger, to hold a urine "tank," plus add a diversion funnel/urine separation thingie.  Also make it so I just open the lid, not lift off the entire thing, to access and empty the bucket.  More like a closed box, with handles, and a wooden lid, to enclose the entire thing (hopefully to reduce roaches and bugs--I get some kind of flying little bug when it's too wet.)

I dump it into one of two compost bins (which I alternate every 6 mos) --that also makes black soldier fly larvae, which the chickens love.  I keep the bin covered until I dump the buckets, about once a week or so.  That's enough to destroy the pathogenic microorganisms but not necessarily the material.

In the meantime, if the black soldier flies get to it, their larvae will grow big within 2 weeks, so if I find a spot with them, I call the chickens over (they're usually waiting).  And when there are no larvae...the chooks squawk at me!

(I haven't had much success maintaining a black soldier fly colony to feed the chickens, so this is a good compromise, even if it's sporadic.)

I sure do not miss the plumbing maintenance/bills!  

Tips:  Make sure to have at least one extra bucket and lid, in case you cannot dump the bucket because of health, travel, weather, etc.  And watch for leaks, and have another vessel ready as a replacement at all times.

Also, have running water, soap, brush, cover materials (I use shredded newspaper or woodchips) for the compost bins themselves.  The more fine, the less air space, and thus the less odor and volume.  I also keep a dedicated fork there, to be used just for humanure.

This video helped me a lot:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuKyhUVbKwM

I use diluted Dr Bronner's liquid soap and water, with a brush, to scrub out the buckets (not just rinse, as he does).

After 6 months, I move the contents from the curing bin to hot compost piles, along with normal compostable materials, to be extra sure everything harmful has been destroyed.  I let the bin I was filling sit for 6 months.  And I begin filling the 2nd bin (which I just moved to hot composting), using this as my new main bin.  I do this instead of 1 year curing, as recommended in The Humanure Handbook.

I'd say start with something.  Don't get too complicated, and you can alter as you see what works for you...you know, like permaculture...start with something small, observe, and make changes!  
 
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We have friends who use a plastic container with a rim that allows it to sit on the toilet edge. They put shavings from a wood-turner friend in it and use it, covering as they go with shavings kept in a container next to the toilet. It fills in about a day and they then place it in the compost, again covering it, but usually with leaves or coffee grounds. This works well for them and keeps things "normal" for most guests, though with guests like us, they'll leave it in.
 
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Michael Helmersson wrote: Poop is gonna be a real conversation grenade.



This may be my favourite comment ever.
 
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I've been using a Humanure toilet (which I constructed from the online instructions) for about 10 months now.  There's definitely a learning curve in terms of keeping odour down, but since I found the right sawdust, all has been well.  I built several compost piles out of chicken wire and t-posts and always have hay and straw on hand, because I have horses.  Only one guest has used the toilet so far, but said it was basically like using a normal toilet, if you didn't look down.  

Many people have stared at me askance when I tell them of the Humanure toilet; they ask why I would ever choose to use one.  My usual response is that, to an environmentally conscious person like myself, flush toilets are an abomination.  That usually shuts them up, although their looks of amazement tend to deepen.

For a while, I was diverting urine using a very simple system (a bowl which fit into the toilet seat, and a large container with a funnel).  I keep telling myself that I should put in a proper urine diverter, with a small collection container, which would force me to empty it more often (as there is a bit of a smell from the large container).  But I read The Humanure Handbook again recently, and Joe Jenkins says to just do everything in the bucket.  (This was an early version of the book ... if anyone has any comments, I'd be interested in hearing them.)

I'm still many months away from using the contents of the first compost container on my garden.

I guess the only other thing I'd say is that it's amazing to me how funny people are about discussing everyday bodily functions which are common to most mammals.  I wrote a blog post in which I promised to give readers 'the poop on poop' and my sister-in-law said she almost split a gut laughing.  Still ... nice to know I'm filling an entertaining purpose here on earth.  

 
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We've been using this system since we moved to the house we built, in rural WV, 13 years ago. Well, the pisseria came later...okay, first of all you can download the Humanure Handbook free, and it has all the info you need on how to built a good system. We have an outhouse with five five-gallon plastic buckets with lids. At any given time one is plugged into the wooden box and the other four are stacked on the side. When one fills, I or my husband exchange it for an empty one. When all four are full, I take them to the poo bins, farther from the house, and dump them; I also bring a bucket with about three inches of water, and there is a toilet brush left at the poo bins, which are a pair of  concrete block bins, a cubic yard apiece, sharing one wall. There is a factory in my town that makes 'rubber' mats (engineered foam) including some that are two inches thick and heavy--those work for lids. in the spring, i empty the one that has been just sitting for a year while i fill the other, and use the humanure mostly in my or chard but some in my flowerbed. Then I switch to dumping in the empty side. After emptying and scrubbing the buckets I line the bottoms with leaves and they go back in the outhouse.
most of the nitrogen and phosphorus humans excrete is in the urine, which in the US is also reliably sterile. So is most of the smell. We keep a bucket of sawdust in the outhouse which works to keep it pretty much smell-free. The pisseria in the house is not smell-free but the lid keeps the smell in except when in use. this is the same kind of box as the one in the outhouse. Every few days  take the pee bucket and dump it on a compost pile, of which I have eight to ten, ringing my clearing; a pair of similar block bins above the main garden, one in each of my other gardens, and several piles of rotten logs and branches in the woods. They take their turn getting the nitrogen bath that speeds decomposition.
As far as we're concerned this system works fine but we note that many visitors shrink in horror from the thought of a non-flush toilet arrangement--including my kids, who grew up with a conventional outhouse. Now THOSE are disgusting. Our system is not--although in late summer we do get times when the seat fills with condensation and we get some kind of flies on the outhouse window and larvae in the buckets (which the chickens do like to peck off the bucket lids). This is only a problem from about the end of July to the first cool snap in September. Wood ashes help some, so i save a couple gallons of them for this.
 
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LOL When I consider what I like best about our “modern” society, the first on the list is indoor plumbing. Next is heating, but I’d be fine and happy with a wood stove having lived in Berlin a few decades ago with a coal stove. That aside, I had my first daily compost toilet experience was on my first WWOOFer gig last Fall. The first time I had to empty it it was so heavy I could barely lift it let alone carry it. I’m sure the previous person hadn’t emptied it as I’d only been there one day and well certainly for sure didn’t go THAT much. Emptying all the mixed up poo and piss was the most repulsive experience of my life sorry to say. I quickly realized that the pee makes it heavy and more gross all together making a diarrhea like stew in sawdust. Add that I tend to be a frequent pee-er, often needing two during the night. I had no problem with pooping in the bucket. If you eat a whole foods diet the odor is more “earthy”. And eating dark chocolate makes for a more solid consistency too. 😆 But the peeing was an issue. I opted to pee outside in a small area out back between the cabin back and a neighbor’s fence that had mostly tree debris. I had a small shovel to dig a small hole, not wanting to stink up the area, and water for cleanliness. As an avid hiker I often need to pee outside, and prefer that than some of the restrooms when there is one.
All that said, I do retain an aversion to long term compost toilet use. I may prefer a traditional outhouse even to it. Although after resolving the pee issue, I had no problem with the compost toilet afterwards. There’s always the Breatharian option.
 
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I used a simple bucket system with hemp litter a few times temporarily. The first time was because I wanted to try it out. The second time because of renovation of the bathroom.

I live in a rented apartment, so I can not remove the flush toilet.

But maybe in the future ... There are plans for a tiny-house project close-by. When I heard about it I immediately said I want to be part of it. One of the things I really want to have in my tiny house is a composting toilet (the simple kind).

My first reason for wanting to use a composting toilet is: all products from the garden will be re-used, even after I have eaten them!

 
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I've been using the Humanure system since 2014- that's 8 years now- and absolutely love it.  

They only thing you really need is sawdust (not wood shavings, and not from pressure treated wood) and another bulkier cover material. Luckily I have a free supply of great sawdust from a mill nearby. I keep it in 5 gallon buckets...i love the job of refilling- love the smell of sawdust and it is so light and fun to use. Half a coconut shell is perfect for a scoop. I fill about 8 buckets at a time and it lasts for 6 months or more. I do buy the hay which i use for the bulky cover material and i just let spoil alongside the compost bin, but certainly I have enough weeds that I could use them instead; i like the hay for convenience.

I love innovations, and have been looking all these years for any tweaks that could make Jenkin's system even better, but...its just a great system.
His book is funny and informative and clear. https://humanurehandbook.com/ and has all the info you need to know.

I would like eventually to switch to metal 5 gallon buckets but haven't found them yet, so for now I use plastic. The buckets last for at least 5 years...then you should get new ones, as the plastic does degrade and split on the bottom, and that is no fun.

I highly recommend this system. I live alone, and fill 1 bucket per week approx.  It takes me 15 minutes every 2 weeks (this is nothing!!!) to carry 2 buckets, empty, rinse, soap, rinse. I put my kitchen scraps (from a separate container) in the pile first and cover with loo material- no bears in my compost which is a plus. I use 1 gallon of water for the 2 buckets, designated brush, bit of biodegradable soap. Then 2 years later use it on my fruit trees and other trees.

It is so, so, so much better than a pit latrine. With the bucket method you can easily cover your deposit. No smell, no flies.

And what is it like emptying the bucket? Its really not bad. Most of it is sawdust. Sometimes there is an ammonia smell, but it only takes a couple of minutes to add to compost pile and cover with bulky cover material.

Pee, paper, poo, it all goes in. That being said, if i just need to pee, I do not go to the loo. I pee right on the ground or use a small container and then toss it around the yard, hopefully to deter deer from the plants.

I feel so much better about my waste and my life with this system. Every time I make my deposit and cover it, and every time I empty the buckets and cover the material, and every time I use the resulting compost, I get a deep sense of well being. I love water, and i hate to see it wasted.

To me it seems easy. I have timed it- 15 minutes every 2 weeks to empty buckets clean and prepare them.

Restocking sawdust doesn't take long, though I haven't timed it, probably 20 minutes- and I go only 2 times a year.

When I have a big more conventional house, I will still use this system. I LOVE IT













 
Dian Hong
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Karen Rickers wrote:since I found the right sawdust, all has been well.




What kinds of sawdust work best?
 
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Dian Hong wrote:What kinds of sawdust work best?



Fine sawdust of almost any type.

Even the allelopathic  juglone in walnut sawdust should decompose adequately in the composting process, so it won't harm the growth of plants that the compost is used on. So use any wood's sawdust. The finer the better.

Where I am it's hard to get sawdust and I usually can only get something coarser, like shavings, or small shavings. Based on what I read in The Humanure Handbook (Yay!!! 10/10 definitely recommend!), I've been trying to keep the coarse sawdust damp for as long as possible before using it. That seems to help it break down. I'm in an extremely dry climate so excess moisture is not a problem here.

Recently, I've been collecting coffee grounds from the cafes in the nearby touristy town. I was dumping them in the worm bin (which is separate from my composting toilet). Then I decided to mix some in with the coarse sawdust that had been sitting moist for many months and not changing color or evidently breaking down. It was maybe 2 or 3 kg (5-7 lbs) of dry espresso grounds mixed into about 50 liters of damp coarse sawdust/shavings. Just one day after mixing the coffee grounds in, the damp material was palpably warm to my hands. Yay! I hope I've finally found a way to break down the shavings a bit before using them as cover material in the toilet.

My toilet is not a bucket system. The region where i live in the Himalayas, composting toilets are traditional (though Jenkins would call them mouldering toilets). So when I built my house I designed it with a double-chamber composting toilet at the back. The ground floor, which is the two manure chambers built of stone with mud mortar, is separated from the wall of the house by a two foot gap (where I store the sacks of sawdust or autumn leaves). The upstairs, where the user goes, is attached to the upstairs of the house. I've put an exhaust fan pulling air out of the manure chambers, so smell doesn't come up into the user's room or the house. We used the first chamber for 2.5 years and then switched over to the second chamber. Another year later, I emptied the first chamber. There was a lot of dried out toilet paper on top, and a lot of intact wood shavings throughout, though no recognizable poop or poopy smell anywhere. So after that I have been trying to cap the manure pile in the closed-off chamber by dumping down on top: a large sack of crumbled leaves, a bucket of water once in a while, and used coffee grounds collected from town. And for cover material for the currently used chamber, I'm trying to get finer sawdust, and since that's difficult, I'm trying to break down the coarse sawdust/shavings before use by keeping them damp and now maybe by mixing in coffee grounds.


2021-10-30-compost-toilet.jpg
Emptied first chamber of double-chamber toilet. Too much intact wood shavings.
Emptied first chamber of double-chamber toilet. Too much intact wood shavings.
 
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When we bought our extended family ranch, we sold our townhome and moved to the shop at my in-laws while we prepared to build.  My family of 8 started by using a barrell toilet since it was the closest DIY design to NSA certification we could find, but we didn't do the urine diversion because we had no where to put it.  The resulting compost was good enough to spread in our orchard, especially with the help of the manual compost crank, but it was hard to keep pee from pooling in the bottom of the barrel and having a separate pee-only bucket with younger kids was frequently not as successful at excluding poo or containing pee as one would hope.

We eventually switched to using a stand alone 5 gallon bucket with no cover material to be sure we would not run into any compliance issues given the circumstance.  We just dumped the buckets into the toilet at the house.  Unpleasant smell, messy to unload, the seat was not nearly as comfortable as a barrel toilet, our younger kids had a hard time getting up on the bucket without feeling like it might slide or tip over, and the distance between you and your deposits afforded by a barrel toilet was missed.

When asked to lead a youth conference with 75+ people on our ranch, we made 5 non-urine diverting barrel toilets for girls and 4 for boys, since I didn't want to be hauling 5 gallon buckets all day every day.  While a few refused to come when they heard we were using compost toilets, the many reports we received from those who did was that it was really nice!  Daily maintenance using the manual hand crank, adding more cover material to barrels where needed, and restocking cover material was easy.  At the end of camp, I did have to remove some pads with plastic lining despite having a trash bucket available in each closed stall, but overall it worked great!

When we finally moved to our family ranch, we tried the barrel toilet design with urine diversion plus a separate urinal but found the urine diversion regularly clogged with sawdust and minerals, even after enlarging the diversion plumbing.  I don't like the concentration of urine dumped underground in one spot per the website design, so we collected the urine in 5 gallon UN/DOT rated containers that were later aged for a few months (under a tarp in the sun) according to recommendations for community use, and eventually just poured in a line at a distance around the campsite in hopes that it might help keep rattlesnakes away.  I acquired a venturi siphon to aid in diluted spray dispersal but never got around to using it.

When the house was built enough to move in, we switched to using 5 gallon buckets indoors with cover material and compostable liners and no added material in the outdoor composting, just trying the compost crank or air tubes.  Still wanting to improve the breakdown quality and speed, we switched to the full Joe Jenkins method.  I've really enjoyed his approach, but we did end up needing to add barn manures and a windbreak to help it stay hot in our winter.

So far, my favorite is the Joe Jenkins method.  I like that it composts hot, with no turning of the entire pile, and my wife loves that it can readily accommodate barn mortalities and scraps that we can't feed the chickens or worms, but it does take strength to lift the buckets, fortitude and skill, especially when it's snowing at <0F temp and >30mph wind.  I've started adding worms and fungi when the pile cools enough, and we're working towards cover material we can produce onsite.

My extended family is not yet up to composting toilets in their houses when they move to the ranch, so I've been researching wastewater gardens, vermicomposting, vermifilter, and Tiger Biofilter (see also here) flush toilets, along with septic and leach field options to reduce the risk of contaminating the land and our well water.  I'll be trying a vermifilter on our greywater later this year, and if it works well I will explore adapting the design to handle our winter climate.
 
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