I mentioned briefly this summer via Facebook about my renewed appreciation for my toilet and while my statement was in earnest, I wasn’t surprised to see my gratitude struck many as comical. I can only imagine this is because most of you have never gone an appreciable amount of time without the convenience of a flushing toilet and I’m sure even fewer of you have had the chance to encounter a composting toilet. While I can appreciate the fleeting discomfort of using a squat toilet, a reeking pit toilet, or god forbid having to poop in the woods- all these unusual bathroom experiences are still fundamentally incomparable to the horror of the composting toilet. Although primitive, the aforementioned sanitary methods still symbolically take the waste away where it can be quickly forgotten- fulfilling our innate desire to be as far away from it as possible. It is this violation of this most primal urge that sets the composting toilet apart, and what makes it a horrible bathroom experience in a category all its own.
A composting toilet is quiet simple: it is a giant plastic tub with a seat on it and a chimney vented to the outdoors. Inside there is a rotating drum into which the waste falls and is collected. This inner drum has a handle and must be rotated once a week to jumble it’s content’s together and facilitate even exposure to the aerobic microbes (re: poo eating bacteria) living inside.
As my own aside I would also like to point out that this tumbling feature is good to utilize as soon as the contents become too disturbing to look at. It is here inside this drum that your excrement sits day by day undergoing it’s repugnant metamorphosis until it has broken down enough to be dumped into the ” finishing tray” located at the bottom of the unit. Once it has sat for a month “finishing” it is finally ready to be emptied out and placed in the garden as fertilizer. That’s right, this toilet allows you to use your own poop in your garden, home grown humanure.
Now, even if you can get past the repulsive idea of collecting and cultivating your own waste to use as garden fertilizer, the composting toilet is far from user friendly. Firstly the seat stands a remarkable three feet off the ground making it awkward to mount, especially in case of emergency. And while the company provides a stool attached to the unit, it requires an extreme amount of grace and dexterity to ascend the stool with your pants down and than pivot successfully onto the seat. Once mounted, it is very hard to relax and take care of business because it feels as though you are quite literally seated upon a thrown, high above the room, high enough that the idea of falling actually seems life threatening . Once you manage to successful complete a “movement” (here’s hoping you remembered to take the paper up there with you) and safely dismount, the real trouble begins. As part of the composting toilet process one must add “bulker” to the drum to add carbon and expedite break down. The toilet’s directions vaguely implore you to add “two or three scoops of peat after each movement”. Brimming scoops? Conservative ones? Scoops infiltrated with hair? Does the coffee mug provided really qualify as a scoop? I DON’T KNOW! The only thing I do know is that no matter what I choose I will immediately decide it was the wrong choice and have to spend the next 20 minutes taking corrective action. The composting toilet, more importantly what happens inside of it, becomes an obsession.
I have never spent so much time researching the breakdown of my own feces on vacation as I did while using the composting toilet this summer. I visited the Sun Mar website’s trouble shooting link 42 times. And in my defense the stakes are high-I mean, I don’t want some hippie ingesting a contaminated carrot, especially if it’s my E-Coli that it’s been violated with. Nobody needs that on their conscience.
In closing I want everyone to know I can appreciate, now more than ever, the need for green, sustainable systems which tread lightly on our planet’s resources. I am personally committed to making lifestyle decisions which mitigate my negative impact on the environment: I recycle, I dabbled in vermiculture, and sometimes I even buy local meat and discuss how you can really “taste the freedom”. Cultivating my poo, however, is where I have to draw the line. Sure, I want my children and their children’s children to live in a world where there are still polar bears and fresh drinking water, but if it’s not too much to ask, also a world where you can flush the toilet and simply wave good bye.