Composting Toilet Update

It’s been another month so here is an update on the composting toilet setup.

After much consideration, we recently moved the composting toilet and it’s several buckets into the laundry room.  This room isn’t at all beautiful but it is functional, with a concrete floor and decent overhead light.  Luckily for us, the toilet fits neatly across from the washer and dryer, still leaving easy access to both appliances.  That floor space had been in use as a catch all of all sorts and I love when a project forces me to be more organized.

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For privacy JB put up a curtain rod and I hung a fabric shower curtain on plastic rings for easy opening and closing.  Perhaps it’s a bit redneck but you have to remember that it’s just the two of us at the house 95% of the time, and during the day it’s just me alone.  We are both highly practical personalities for whom function trumps form, but I do like it when things also look presentable.  The cost of the rod and hardware was $3.50 on sale at Shopko.  I spent $0.50 for a set of white shower curtain rings at the thrift store, purchased a few days ago in anticipation of putting up the curtain.  The curtain itself was free, recycled and washed from a rental unit that I cleaned last summer.

JB obtained some finely powered hardwood sawdust from someone who does cabinet work but it doesn’t seem to hold down the odor in the collection buckets quite as well, partly because the sawdust easily washes away from the poop pile.  JB next tried pre-wetting the fine sawdust even more more than usual but that made the sawdust clump together into a paste and was difficult to sprinkle over the deposit.  The latest trial is a mixture of some coarse and some fine sawdust with a few wood shavings added in and that seems to be doing okay.  We have discovered that the more coarse sawdust holds down the odor completely but we do wonder how fast the bigger bits of wood will compost.  That question can only be answered in a couple of years.  The more fine sawdust should compost faster but we go through more of it and sometimes there is still a tiny bit of odor.  With the bathroom located in the cool basement, far away from our main living areas, the occasional minimal odor has been acceptable, even to me.

A second consideration has emerged – that of reducing sawdust consumption – since we have not yet found the perfect and steady supply of exactly what we want and are still seeing how quickly the compost pile reduces mass.  Because of this I suggested that we add a urinal to our system.  A urinal reduces the need for sawdust by keeping the majority of the urine out of the composting catch bucket so less cover material is required.   In turn this reduces the amount of wood bulk going into the compost bin itself, which should help the bin to compost faster.  Separating urine from feces has the added benefit of reducing odor, although if you have ever done a medical urine collection you know that a pee bucket can get smelling pretty bad.

Quite some time ago when we were investigating waterless toilet options we watched a video on emergency sanitation.  The recommendation was to create a urinal from a liquid laundry soap container, a hose, and a catch funnel.  In fact, the author of the video was promoting the use of urine catchment as a source of nitrogen fertilizer for plants.  JB liked the idea of trying this out and has mentioned from time to time how we should think about such a practice, so we researched female urine funnels.  These funnels are the type often used by women for hiking and camping.  After reading reviews we purchased a Freshette for around $25, which I tossed into the bathroom cupboard.  And here we are, more than a year later, planning to test drive this thing.

I was all geared up to go shopping for the perfect plastic liquid laundry soap container that would be stable for urine collection like the video showed.  It occurred to me that a 2.5 gallon plastic bucket with a snap lid might be a better choice of container, just like the ones we use in the composting toilet.  JB could drill a hole through the lid for the hose.  Better stability, bigger capacity, and best of all, it really should be pretty much odorless with no gaps around the hose for odor to escape.  And also free, because we have dozens of free buckets with lids around our house.

We took the Freshette funnel out to match up it up for size against our garden hoses.  Perhaps garden hose isn’t the best thing to use but this is a prototype.  We found an older hose that was stiff and fit snugly over the end of the Freshette funnel.   JB measured for the length of the hose from the top of the bucket to my crotch and added a couple of inches to that so that there would no need for squatting.  He found a plastic plumbing fitting, and I have no idea what it is, but the hose fit perfectly into the fitting.  He drilled a hole off center in the lid of the bucket and hooked it all together, with a hose clamp to keep the funnel firmly in place.  Total cost:  $1.25 for a hose clamp.  We plan to replace the length of hose occasionally.

Urinal use:  The Freshette funnel works perfectly.  I put the bucket in the shower the first time I used it, as I wasn’t certain if there was a learning curve to prevent leaking.  I was pleased that it was very simple and easy to use.  The funnel seems to be of a big enough capacity to handle the urine without any overflow, no matter how big my output is.

Issues of Sanitation:  My cloth wipes come in very handy for using the bucket urinal.  After use we spray the funnel liberally with a 20% vinegar/water solution to rinse out the hose and wipe the funnel inside and out with a cloth, which then goes into the wet cloth collection bin to be washed.  Yes, we both use the urinal and clean it after each use.

Composting the contents of the bucket urinal:  Our research suggests that the compost bin will work better if the sawdust is saturated with the nitrogen found in urine.   Since best practice for the composting bin is to add 3-4 buckets of poop at a time, the full collection buckets do need to be covered and stored for a few weeks and added to the bin all together.  This reduces the amount of cover material (we use straw) needed at the bin and keeps the ratio of browns to greens optimal.  We plan to add urine to the full poop buckets for that waiting time, with any extra necessary dumping being poured right onto the compost pile itself.

We have been adding some additional material into the bin itself.  All my kitchen scraps are added each day.  JB got a bucket of coffee grounds from a local bakery and puts in a bit each time he empties the poop buckets.   We recently added some very old navy beans, curious to see if they would break down in the environment of a hot compost pile.

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