Monday, June 3, 2013

Why I Built a Composting Toilet and Why You Should Too

I know that lots of you already think we're crazy around here.  For those of you who haven't yet made that judgment, let me just get this over with and move you over into the "Yep-They're-Crazy Camp" -- I built a composting toilet.  And we intend to use it.  Probably in the backyard.  Much like an outhouse.

Since I feel I may need to reel you in on this idea, let's devote today's post to WHY one should build a composting toilet and allow tomorrow's post to explain HOW to actually do it. 

Why Build a Composting Toilet:

(Okay.  I'm not going to get into the whole Humanure debate here.  We intend to use our toilet to catch urine only.  So, my arguments assume a #1-only potty.  If you're unfamiliar with the humanure debate and are bored, just Google it, and you'll have hours of entertaining reading.)

1.  You get to use power tools!  Don't let that scare you off, this thing came together in the span of about 15 hands-on minutes.  And, I guess, the fact that you get to use power tools is maybe not the most important reason to make a composting toilet, but it is the most exciting part of the process.

2.  Human urine is nitrogen rich.  If you grow a garden (or just pretty ornamentals), your soil needs regular fertilizer to keep plants productive and healthy.  Developing a compost pile is a must for the serious gardener.  But, studies show that the urine/compost combination is even that much more powerful.  So, why not just go pee on the plants?  Straight urine is too potent for plants and needs to be watered down.  Our plan is to empty our potty onto our active compost pile.  This will speed decomp and add nitrogen to our pile.  Rain will serve to dilute the urine as the pile develops over time.  Now, even if you do not have a compost pile, you can still use urine in your garden or flowerbeds.  Experts disagree on the urine-to-water ratio that is appropriate (suggestions I've read range from 1:3 to 1:10), but all advise that you apply your urine/water combo a few days ahead of a planned harvest.

3.  Who couldn't use an extra toilet?  We're thinking our toilet will live somewhere outside.  Especially this time of year, we spend large chunks of our day outdoors, so this could cut down on, say, the number of flies let into the house by Little Boy when he runs in for a quick pee before returing to his dirt pile outside.  Girl 1 refuses to use the new pot unless I enclose it in some way like a port-a-potty, though I was just thinking we'd hunt down a good, private spot that's not viewable from outside the yard.  We'll see. (For the record, Little Boy is pretty excited about the new potty and wanted to be very involved in in it's construction.  Girl 2 just shrugged her shoulders when I asked her how she felt about it, but she is thankful I've chosen not to include the photo I took of her trying it out.)

4.  Pee is free and abundant.  I guess you could go buy bags of nitrogen-rich fertilizer for your garden, but, if you have to stop for a pee while at the big-box store making your purchase, don't miss the irony.  Why not make use of what we already have?

5.  Our toilets use approximately 6 gallons of water per flush.  In our family of five, our flushing adds up to a lot of natural resources consumed in water usage, sewage treatment, etc. Generally speaking, less flushing is better. 
This may seem gross, but a lot of times (especially at night) we subscribe to the "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" philosophy.  This cuts down on flushing, but you can only let so much paper accumulate before a flush is necessary. 
Using the composting toilet regularly could greatly cut down on our environmental impact.  I mean, why would we want to expend valuable resources to dispose of something that, if harnessed, could actually be beneficial in growing our fruits and vegetables?

Instead of wondering why I should build a composting toilet, all of these reasons make me wonder why I haven't built one until now!

I realize, though, that this isn't for everyone.  And some of you may be thinking, "Remind me never again to accept the surplus vegetables Ashley offers me at church!"  :)  But, if you're at least a little intrigued, check back tomorrow to see how to build your own out of items you may already have lying around.

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