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What Is a Composting Toilet, and How Do They Actually Work?

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Finding eco-friendly solutions in this modern world is no simple feat. Several facets of our daily lives rely on modern technology, and much of it has become so commonplace and elementary, that we hardly think about their effect on the planet Think about your living space's toilet, for example. 

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If the average person flushes the toilet five times a day for 365 days, they're flushing 1,825 times a year, give or take a flush. Each flush utilizes two gallons of water, which means every year, 3,650 gallons of water is wasted. There aren't many easy solutions to this, but there's an old-fashioned technique to minimize your environmental impact in the bathroom, called a compostable toilet.

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What exactly is a composting toilet?

Ok, so not that old-fashioned. A composting toilet is not an outhouse nor a port-o-potty. A composting toilet is a device that turns solid waste into compost. It creates an oxygen-rich environment enabling aerobic bacteria to break down waste, however, there are several factors to consider in order to facilitate this natural process. 

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What does a composting toilet look like?

Composting toilets come in two different designs. One of them, the self-contained design, houses the entire composting system, usually beneath the bowl itself. These types of toilets are usually found in RVs, boats, or tiny homes, though some are placed in cabins or similar country homes for temporary use. These toilets usually have to be emptied by hand, whereas the other type does not. 

The other type of composting toilet is the central or remote toilet. These toilets direct solid and sometimes liquid waste to a remote composter located somewhere else on the property. Think of a sort of compost pile or septic tank. Larger systems can connect multiple toilets, making them ideal for large homes or compounds. 

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How does a composting toilet work?

Whether a composting toilet uses a self-contained or central system, it still needs to establish the right environment for the aerobic bacteria to break down the waste. Doing this requires the right moisture level, carbon-nitrogen balance, and temperature. If these conditions are not met, then you might be greeted with an unpleasant surprise when you go to empty or inspect your compost. 

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Too much moisture in the composting toilet can drown oxygen-breathing bacteria, so the trick is to keep the toilet moist, but not wet. As such, many composting toilets have a separate urine container for liquid waste that has to be emptied once it fills. Other options for this, at least in terms of self-contained models, include a drain pit. Some models even include ways to evaporate the liquid. 

Disposing of urine properly also helps remove excess nitrogen buildup in the compost pile, however, adding carbon-rich materials such as peat and coconut fiber to the pile will ensure the right nitrogen-carbon balance. Finally, aerobic bacteria thrive at a temperature of between 60 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some manufacturers include thermostats, sensors, automatic mixers, or additional contrivances to maintain temperature, chemical balance, or moisture control. 

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Why is a composting toilet better than a septic tank?

Septic tanks used to be the go-to waste solution for many rural communities, but unfortunately, septic options have many problems attached to them. They are expensive, highly-regulated, and difficult to maintain if something goes amiss, which could be truly catastrophic. If something goes wrong with your compostable toilet, on the other hand, it will simply be a smelly mess.

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How much does a composting toilet cost?

The average price for a self-contained composting toilet starts around $600. An example of one such toilet is the BoonJon, a fine, if very basic model. More advanced central systems will run you more in the thousands of dollars. The fact is, a composting toilet will cost exponentially more than a conventional model, in some areas, anyway. Anyone who has ever had to call a plumber can tell you about, particular expense. 

Still, composting toilets are difficult to set up in their own right, and frankly, not every household is equipped for one. It takes preparation and dedication to an environmentally-conscious attitude. However, if you're passionate about sustainability and you have the money, then it’s a great way to start.

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