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Composting Toilets for Highly Seasonal Use

Warning: if you are not an extreme tree hugger and/or really don’t need a toilet without a septic system, you should skip this post.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the last two years researching composting toilet systems. I’ve discussed them with friends and have done some experiments at my cabin in Vermont. I’ve also had almost 10 years of experience with a commercial system (Envirolet) at my Vermont cabin.

Commercial composting systems are really set up for steady demand by a few people. Our use pattern is very different. We hit the system very hard for about four weeks a year and then it sits idle for the other 48 weeks.

Furthermore, most commercially available composting systems benefit substantially from electric heaters built into them. These use a fair bit of energy. My system in Vermont is not powered and it does not work very well, by which I mean the waste takes at least a year to decompose. I’ve concluded that we wouldn’t be happy with the performance of a conventional composting system at the Montana sleeping pavilion.

Instead, I’ve installed a “Lovable Loo” which I’m using in an unusual way…anaerobic composting instead of aerobic composting.

The Lovable Loo is basically a housing for a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a toilet seat on it. After each use, the user scoops a generous amount of saw dust or peat moss over the waste in the bucket. (We use peat moss because it’s easy to buy at the home center.) This essentially eliminates odors and provides a more attractive appearance than the alternative. When the bucket is full, the lid to the box is lifted, and the bucket lifted out and replaced with a new one. There are thousands of these systems in use and they are apparently used very successfully even in conditioned indoor spaces.

Nearly all Lovable Loo users adopt an aerobic composting system. Basically they have a wire/wood bin on their lot somewhere and they empty the bins of waste into the bin to compost. If the mix of organic material, water, and air is maintained appropriately, these compost piles are efficient and fast at decomposing the waste. Aerobic composting does not smell, as the product of decomposition is largely C02, an odorless gas. The temperatures of composting are high enough that dangerous microbes are killed. However, this would not work on our site. First, I’m not wild about disturbing the landscape with a sizable composting bin. Second, I am also worried about maintaining the right conditions for composting when unattended.

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