Manufactured composting toilets are wonderful in many ways: they save water, produce a valuable end product that benefits the environment, lessen pollution and can even save on money (despite their initial costs). When installed and used properly they should be completely odorless and produce rich, fully composted humus that is easy to remove from the toilet and use in your flower gardens (or elsewhere).
However, many users of manufactured composting toilets by Sun-Mar, Envirolet, BioLet and other composting toilet models have had less than ideal experiences with their composting toilets. As with the problems with homemade composting toilets that I have discussed in my personal account of using a humanure homemade composting toilet, the problems with manufactured composting toilets are frequently due more to user error than due to a problem with the toilet composting system itself. Still, these problems are common enough to suggest that there needs to be made more effort on the part of manufacturers to properly educate consumers about common problems with these systems and how to avoid them.
Here are some of the common problems users report with different manufactured composting models – as well as some ways these problems may be remedied or avoided altogether.
1. Problems with liquid build up in the composting toilet.
This is by far the most common complaint I have common across in my research of manufactured composting toilets complaints (it also was a problem I experienced with homemade composting toilet buckets, but due to their small size and frequency of being emptied not as significant of a problem, I think). This fluid is generally a result of people urinating in the toilet. The composting process will simply not work properly in most composting toilet systems if there is too much fluid in the system.
Some users, and even some manufacturers, recommend not using composting toilets to urinate in, but this does not seem like an adequate solution to me (and many other users). Particularly for females, it is a hassle to have to urinate in a separate container or outdoors (not to mention that this may be illegal in some areas). Excess liquid can be controlled, however, by adding adequate amounts of dry material to balance the composting matter and using electric fans and heaters to help evaporate and dispel excess moisture (so for those purchasing non-electric models, extra care will have to be taken to keep the system in order). In addition, there are now models being manufactured that divert urine away from the “dry” composting area (for fecal matter). For an example of this system, check out the Nature’s Head composting toilets.
2. Problems with Odor.
A well functioning composting toilet (whether homemade or manufactured) should be odorless. Odor problems are a sign that there is a serious problem with the system. Frequently this is due to the liquid issues discussed above.
Composting toilets rely on aerobic decomposition, but with excess liquid, the process will instead convert to anaerobic decomposition (for a discussion of these two processes, read “How Toilet Composting Works“). Both of these decomposition processes are found in nature, but anaerobic decomposition is the the smelly one, and if your toilet has gotten out of balance, the smell can be quite bad indeed.
To remedy this problem, you need to get your compost back in balance by adding dry matter to it. Unfortunately, if it is really bad, you may have to remove some of the liquid matter first – a quite unpleasant task – so it is best to try to keep this problem from developing in the first place!
3. Problems with removing the finished compost from the toilet.
There are two significant problems users may encounter when it is time to remove the compost. First, we return again to the issue of excess liquid – if the mixture is too wet, it will be difficult and smelly removal process (and you may well decide to remove the toilet along with the compost!).
A second issue some users report is a result of overloading the system. For most composting toilets, you need to make sure the finished compost is removed promptly. You may also be able to make the process of removal easier by using very lightweight organic brown matter for your dry matter in the composting toilet. Peat moss may be an ideal medium for most composting toilets (although there may be concerns about using it due to environmental issues).
Switching to any toilet composting system – be it homemade or manufactured – requires a significant change in practice and much education. Anticipating what are very common problems by users, and providing full disclosure of these issues are and how to resolve them, would be a great benefit many users of these toilet composting systems. Furthermore, it would also help promote composting toilet usage instead of leaving some composting toilet users frustrated, angry and often abandoning and discouraging others from using a valuable green technology.
For more information about composting toilets and reviews of different composting toilet systems, please return to the Toilet Composting Home Page.