Composting Toilets

This is a forum for ideas, suggestions, product reviews, news or anything else pertaining to composting toilets.  Select a category from the drop down menu on the right.

Separett Toilet

Modern composting toilets offer an environmentally friendly and odor-free method of dealing with human waste. There are many models available at different prices, each with advantages and disadvantages.

My first experience with composting toilets goes back about 20 years. After delaying it as long as possible, I had to make a trip to the dreaded outhouse in a Washington State park. However, I immediately noticed there was absolutely no odor. This was unlike every other “outhouse” I had used – where the smell is usually unbearable. A small plaque announced it was a composting toilet – producing natural fertilizer rather than toxic sewage. “Why didn’t someone think of this before?”, I asked myself.

Turns out they had. In Europe, composting toilets have been around for generations. Often called “waterless toilets”, they are installed in homes, offices and government buildings – wherever a toilet is needed. Contrary to a popular misconception, there is no unpleasant smell if installed properly. North Americans have been much slower to adopt this technology. However, fresh water is becoming a scarce resource in many areas. It seems wasteful to flush away gallons of pure drinking water every time we use a toilet. In 2005, Americans flushed away 123 billion gallons of water, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report.

Conventional sewage treatment is sometimes impractical or too expensive. Septic systems have many potential problems, not the least of which is disposal of the contents in an environmentally sound manner.

Composting toilets provide a viable solution in many instances.

A true composting toilet produces a safe, non-toxic final product that can be placed on ornamental plants. No expensive or energy intensive treatment is required, and no toxic sludge is produced. Best of all, once the unit is installed, it costs almost nothing to operate.

In a “urine separating toilet”, the liquid can be diverted to a small gravel pit (or “French drain), where it percolates safely away

The exact process varies depending on the composting toilet. Generally you have a traditional looking toilet seat and bowl, which sits above a storage tank. This tank may be built-in as part of the toilet, or it could be installed below the bathroom in a basement or crawlspace.

Some of the newer composting toilets separate urine from solids. This is a big step forward. The relative lack of fluids in the storage tank helps eliminate odor. Complete and rapid composting occurs easily. Further dehydration over time allows the solid material to shrink dramatically (just like a compost pile). A small self-contained composting toilet can hold a surprising number of “uses”, meaning you do not have to empty it frequently.

Most of the older designs hold the urine and solids in one tank. Water evaporates with the aid of electric heat, with the same odor free results – at least theoretically.  In practice, you must be very, very careful not to introduce more liquid than the unit can evaporate. Peat moss, coconut fiber, biological compost starter or other organic material is often added to the composting toilet to initiate and aid the composting process. In some toilets the solids are rotated, to speed up composting. With some simple home-made units you just cover fresh material with a layer of sawdust.

Ventilation is required with all composting toilets. Commercially available composting toilets use fans to dry out the contents and prevent odor. These fans are usually very quiet – 30 db to 40 db (which is between a whisper and a refrigerator in volume). They run all the time, 24/7. The fans pull air from the bathroom area, through the toilet and out a pipe to the outside. You never smell anything, even when sitting on the open toilet, because the fan is pulling air away from you. Any odor is exhausted, and it cannot waft up into the room.

When the solids bin fills up – and this can take between a few weeks and years depending on the unit and how many people use it – you empty the already well-composted material into a suitable bin or container so it can “mature”. There should be little or no odor at this stage, other than a slight “earthy” smell.

Nature’s Head – a compact design suitable for 2 people full time.

How long it must sit is a matter of some debate. It depends on the temperature. Below about 12 degrees Celcius or 55 degrees Farenheit composting will slow or stop. Many experts believe letting the compost sit for 12 weeks at room temperature should render pathogens harmless. Others recommend a more cautious 6 months. It is then safe to use the finished compost on flowers or other non-edible plants. If absolutely necessary, as a last resort, you can bag and seal the fully composted material and dispose in the trash.

Composting toilets require almost no maintenance and are impossible to plug. They are hygienic, inexpensive in the long run and environmentally benign. As fresh water becomes ever more scarce we are sure to see wide spread acceptance of this technology.

Please join in the discussion!

Separett Toilets USA

Separett Toilets Canada

Nature’s Head USA

Nature’s Head Canada

86 thoughts on “Composting Toilets

  1. Would you recommend using is in a RV ? Would it be too big to fit in? Would it drain the battery too fast? Could we simply have the urine fall directly in the black water tank and compost the solid to have an odor-free environment?

    • The Nature’s Head is installed in RVs all the time. You’ll need to measure to see if it’s too big. The dimensions are on my site, or you can email me personally. It draws 0.08 of an amp. So you need a small solar panel, if not generating electricity some other way. Yes, the urine could drain to the tank, as long as it’s below the drain.

  2. I see in one of the pics a little blue button in the front of toilet seat. why in some pic.s and not in others? what is it for? i.m looking for one that looks as close to a “reg” toilet as possible. thank you

    • There is a blue button under the Separett seat. This is a weight sensitive button that opens the solids hatch when you sit down.

  3. The Separett toilet is sold by Envirolet. Are they just marketing it in addition to their own toilets and/or do they own Separett also?
    From all the complaints about envirolet toilets in this post, why would I want to buy a Separatt toilet if it’s actually an Envirolet toilet? Are they trying to rebrand themselves under a different name because of complaints against them?

    http://www.envirolet.com/separettvilla.html

    • No, that web page is very old. They may be a dealer, but do not sell significant numbers of Separett toilets. They do not own Separett, and have nothing to do with the design or manufacture of Separett toilets.

  4. Hi. We just bought a fixer up cabin (500+sf) in Michigan which has no plumbing/septic systems, yet, which means we are able to research alternatives that are more environmentally friendly. I’ve been looking at many composting toilets and came across yours. The cabin will have only 1 bathroom, serving 2- 10 people in a week or weekend. Does putting in this toilet eliminate the need for a septic system? We are also looking into grey water systems. I am curious how you actually remove the bin to set aside for composting. Can this toilet be installed by us or do we need a plumber? Thanks for your help.

    • I’m not sure that 10 people would be able to share one toilet of any kind, anywhere! That is a lot of people for one toilet (and one bathroom).
      Generally, composting toilets eliminate the need for a septic system. But if you are doing this with a permit you have to check.
      The bin just slides out. You can put the lid on it, and let is sit outside. Many people prefer to empty it right away. They close the compostable bag that lines the bin and throw it into a composter. Two people will need to do this every 4-6 weeks.
      Any handy person can install these toilets. There is no water involved, and you don’t need or want a plumber. A carpenter or handyman is better.
      But again, 10 people is very heavy use for one self-contained toilet of any make or model. The toilet will fill up before the material has a chance to shrink or begin breaking down. You’d be emptying the toilet often.
      I think a better idea would be a larger system, where a huge amount of waste is stored underneath the dwelling. Is there a crawl space, or room underneath your cabin? These cost more to buy and install but with 10 people that will be your best option.

  5. I don’t seem to be able to find any information on routine cleaning on the composting toilets, except for your comment on the use of vinegar and water for the urine piping. I’ve cleaned plenty of typical toilets, and rely on flushing to remove all of the nastiness. Can you direct me to some reliable information on what this task requires in the various composting options?

    Thanks for all of your information!

    Kim

    • It’s pretty straightforward and easy, but does require more effort than a flush toilet. Most people spray water and maybe vinegar on the inside of the bowl with a small spray bottle. Then wipe it clean with a paper towel, and drop the paper towel into the bowl. You might have to do it twice if it’s very messy. I’ve seen some people keep a toilet brush in water and vinegar beside the toilet and use that first. The small amount of water that enters the toilet this way is not a problem. But you still might need a paper towel to make it perfectly clean. With the Nature’s Head you can also put a large coffee filter basket into the bowl prior to use. The basket contains the solids, and drops down when you open the trap door. With the Separett, the hole is actually very large, so little mess occurs. If it does, you just have to wipe it off.

  6. Do you know anything about C head’s Boon Jon? It looks like a similar setup to Separett and Nature’s Head but about half the cost. Composting toilets are new to me. Is it safe to dump urine if you live near a pond and if so, how many feet away from the pond?

    Thanks

    • The Boon Jon is a very basic toilet, without a fan, and much more cheaply made than either the Nature’s Head or the Separett. It uses standard plastic panels somehow attached together – that is not the proper way to make a toilet in my opinion. The Nature’s Head and Separett are one piece roto-molded units. That is the stronger, nicer, 100% leak proof now and forever (and vastly more expensive) way to make a toilet. The Boon Jon is held down with little rope ties, rather than stainless steel L brackets as with the other toilets. In a seaway, or driving down a bumpy country road, I would not want a toilet tied down with rope. A fan is essential to any composting toilet and the Boon Jon does not have a fan. No composting toilet is airtight, so the potential for odor is there, without a fan that takes air in from the toilet area and exhausts it outside. The material (poop) will not dry out rapidly and shrink without that fan. Drying the material is critical, because that reduces odor dramatically and increases capacity of the toilet. Finally, the Boon Jon has to be emptied once a week, as opposed to 4-6 weeks with other small composting toilets like the Nature’s Head and Airhead. In one week, there is no time for the material to break down or begin composting. I do not recommend the Boon Jon. It is definitely NOT a similar set up to the toilets you mentioned.

      I’d not dump the urine near a pond. It is high it nitrogen and could cause an algae bloom. In that case I’d put it in a tank, dilute it 10:1 and use it as fertilizer.

  7. Hello,

    I own a Separett system. Recently, the urine seems to back up (not drain properly – drains very slowly). I do use the blue discs to break down crystals, but might there be another reason for this particular problem?

    Thanks!

    Morris

    • The drain is plugged. It is doubtful that a build up of crystals caused this. I suspect debris. You’ll have to clean it out, or put in a new hose.

  8. I purchased a Envirolet waterless compost toilet nearly 2 years ago and it’s been hell. I knew that I would need to spend a lot of time to fine tune the mixtures and learning to use the Envirolet to it’s peak and am very willing, even now BUT still no results. The closest we’ve made it to was the front section is quite moist due to urine and the rear is like rock bundles. I know this because I still haven’t used the lower tray for extraction as its generally blocked or you need to continuously rake for an hour to get a minimal amount of waste extraction. I still have to hand empty the system.The 12 volt fans generally last six months and with constant badgering I might receive replacement warranty parts in 2 ½ months if I’m lucky. The rake system also fails and up to my second replacement. After sales service for warranty parts appear to be non existent, as per the constant email Badgering. I can understand why the Australian supplier appears to have pulled out from sales!

    • Sorry to hear this but you are not alone. The ‘all-in-one’ toilets that combine solids and liquids sound wonderful in theory. But unfortunately they often just don’t work, as you have found out. Envirolet is not the only brand with this problem. A two stage, urine diverting toilet is a far better option. There is nothing to go wrong. The downside is you have to sort out what to do with the urine, and this usually involves some kind of drain pit or barrel. And you have to have a bin (or two) outside to let the solid material removed from the toilet finish composting.

  9. Mr. Brunt

    I bought a Separett from you and I am very satisfied with it.

    Do you have any suggestions for controlling the fruit flys that are produced?

    Thanks

    Ray Low

    • Fruit flies are not usually a problem. Are you sure the screen is in place? If the fan is working then the toilet should be pulling air from the bathroom area into the toilet and out the exhaust. If there were flies in the toilet, it would be difficult for them to get into the bathroom. And I am not sure where fruit flies would come from because they are not usually attracted to human waste.

      Give me a call please. 1 888 361 0014.

  10. I JUST FINISHED READING ALL THE COMMENTS. IT SEEMS ONLY ONE MENTIONED TOILET PAPER, AND NOT WHERE IT GOES, ALTHOUGH I THOUGHT I DETECTED AN IDEA THAT THERE WAS A SEPARATE PLACE FOR IT? I WOULD ASSUME IT GOES DOWN INTO THE TANK WITH THE FECES AND IS COMPOSTED. IS A CERTAIN KIND OF PAPER A NECESSITY?

    • The toilet paper just goes into the bowl with the poop. There is no separate place for it. It breaks down and is composted. Special paper is not required.

  11. Do composting toilets work in a Condo, do you know ? I’m on the second of three floors. Do you know of any regulations if they do work in such a complex ( 24 units) ?

    I sure would like to get one if they do.
    Louise,
    Seattle, WA.

    • Yes, they can work in a condo, but you need a place for the waste when it is removed from the toilet. The building manager would have to be on side.

  12. Have an Envirolet ‘low water’ toilet. It is grizzly, to say the least. Works really great when everything is working, which can add up to a week or two straight. I am now a master of all things Envirolet VF. Have had it for six years now. It’s installed in our B&B. Maybe if installed in a normal home where folks are aware of how different it is, might not be so bad. Gives new meaning to the term ‘brown out’.

    We’ve had baby wipes (lots) and cigarette butts flushed down the Envirolet.

    I should probably call. Might wanna buy two to four Separettes. Long story. Converting a 30X30 space for performances. Might run that to septic and put our homes on Separettes. Septic is currently at max capacity and then some.

    Reading this blog has helped. I’m a little gun shy now of composting toilets but Separette sounds good. I have a lot of questions but I’ll look around a bit before asking. I guess a first question is, what is the daily maintenance? Second would be, can a guy stand up and pee? I mean, is it sort of like target practice?
    You can of course not post this and answer me in private if you want.
    Thanks
    Richard

    • Daily maintenance is basically zero. You can stand, but it may splatter a little if your aim is bad. Separetts are very different from Envirolets, and I think the Separett is clearly a far better choice. Google Envirolet reviews – there are so many problems with those.

  13. I’m interested in the seperatt, but using a solar vent. I have no power at all at my place, is there a solar vent you can recommend? Are you aware of anyone successfully using it?
    thanks

    • There are a wide variety of solar vents on the market, and many people use them. However they are expensive. First, try using a deep cycle 12 volt battery hooked up to an inexpensive solar panel to trickle charge it. Also, some people use non-electric metal vents that rotate in the wind. Farmers needed to ventilate their barns for generations before they had power. It still works.

  14. I have had a Biolet composting head for 4 years now in a remote island cottage in Maine. It is a purchase that I would not do again, because it does not separate the urine, and requires a warm (65 degrees F) environment to compost properly. Now older and wiser I am considering the replacement of the head on our floating home (sailboat). In the cabin I have been able to meet the temperature requirement by venting our propane refrigerator into the tiolet space. I do not have such an option on the boat and so am concerned about how well a Natures head would work in Northern Climes? The other issue I am concerned with is how effectively the urine separating system works if the the boat is healing (as in ocean passages). The head has to be installed athwortship (right angles to the center line) and will only be level when at anchor. Will the urine go where it is intended with the bowl leaning forward or back, depending which tack we are sailing on?

    • Cold weather will suspend the composting. It will resume when warmer weather returns. However, the Nature’s Head can still be used in cold climates. They have even gone to Antarctica! Secondary composting has to take place anyway, in another container. The cold weather will just mean you have to compost it in the secondary container a bit longer. No problems.

      The Head works while sailing, even when heeled. This is because the urine drain is a straight, vertical drop. You’d have to be heeled pretty far for it not to drain. Now, in very rough conditions you may get a bit of urine not going down the drain, but that is not critical. Just as long as most of it goes down the drain.

  15. Hi Richard
    We’re thinking about buying the Separett for a small house in the Yukon that’s lived in full-time by 2 people. We have Alaska weather conditions, i.e. extremely cold winters, and summers that are 3 months long if lucky. I hear that temperature is not a problem for operation? We’ll come up with a creative solution for the solids. Composting bags will never compost here.
    We’ll check with local code and see what’s allowed. I’m concerned it may not allow urine in ground, nor urine in urine tank or grey water tank. Can you give us the Separett dimensions? Pricing and shipping are as advertised? Can you also give us a timeline, and any advice you can offer for our particular situation?

    • Temperature does not affect the use of a composting toilet, but it will affect the length of time it takes for the material to break down.

      Compost in a pile will naturally heat up if done properly. Our pile is warm inside and steaming even when below freezing. At your extreme temperatures however, I’m not sure. Composting in nature MUST occur, or the detritus from past years would be visible everywhere. So it probably is possible. Perhaps a large bin or pile, with leaves and other matter would get things going. Check with people in your area who are into gardening. They would be able to give you tips on composting.

      Call me for dimensions etc., and to chat about your situation. 1 888 361 0014.

  16. My wife and I are in the process of planning a cabin in an area that makes a septic system unworkable. Composting toilets, sold by Sears, were some of the products that I repaired during my career. The units I serviced has some sort of issue or I would not have been asked to look at them.
    Based on past experience I have been reluctant to consider installing a composting toilet. Newer models seem more reliable. Do you have any suggestions for a reliable, trouble free brand?
    Jerry

    • Older designs, like the Sun-mar and Envirolet are, in my opinion, prone to problems. Just do a Google search and you will see what I mean. I am very impressed with the Separett and Nature’s Head composting toilets. Plus the people at those companies are good to deal with.

      • I have an envirolet remote waterless….Envirolet technical support doesn’t know or care to help with my probem..rake bar to empty into compost tray is jammed shut….I’ve tried to empty the toilet, poke the mass with stick etc ..no luck..any ideas?

        • Your problem with Envirolet is not uncommon. Their customer service leaves something to be desired. The only thing I could suggest is getting it perfectly clean, and taking it to a machine shop. These guys are usually very good at fixing things. They’ll figure out the problem and suggest a solution.

          Now you see why a much more simple, less expensive urine separating toilet is a better choice.

  17. Our Natures head works well but I notice when turning the crank it sounds like there are hard clumps inside. Sometimes the crank is very hard to turn. Is this a sign more moisture is needed?

  18. Hi we are looking for an alternative to a porta pottie to be used outside a small country gift store that has no facilites …we are located in central Alberta Canada and have extremely cold winters…we are able to run power out there but have no access to water and would require a toilet that utilizes absolutely no water and that would function in extreme weather conditions -both hot and very cold weather…it would probably not get heavy usage…i like the concept of environmentally friendly toilet that are not to expensive ….would you recommend these toilets under these circumstanes

    • Yes, a composting toilet would be perfect in your situation. Cold weather is no problem. Composting will be suspended when it gets cold, but will resume in warmer weather. With light usage you can use the Nature’s Head. For more capacity, the Separett would be good.

  19. We have been using a Sunmar model for 3 years now (approx 80 days a year, once a month visits). I call it my ‘science project’ and it’s worked out to be a steep learning curve.
    It seems that the prevailing wisdom at the moment is to separate urine from the solids, so we are going to give this a try. My only concern is that Sunmar recommends keeping the mixture moist, otherwise it will attract flies (don’t get me started on that topic). Obviously water is more pure than urine, so we’ll try watering the mixture – what do you think?
    Having read through the other entries, I agree that a vent and fan are essential. Also, despite what Sunmar says you DO need a heater even in an off-grid situation. Your comments on the finishing tray are right on – I’ve been emptying the contents into an outdoor metal bin that gets locked up for 2 years after it gets filled.
    Thanks for all the great information, by the way!

    • The material should be slightly damp for composting. This is easy to achieve since human waste is already something like 80% water by volume. The challenge is almost always too much moisture, not too little. You definitely should not water the mixture in a Nature’s Head or Separett, unless it gets very dry, which would be unusual.

      Sun-mars are completely different, since they combine the urine with the solids. They rely on heaters and evaporation. As I think you may have found out, this makes the whole thing much trickier. You absolutely do not need a heater with a urine separating toilet, since there is nothing really that needs evaporating. Vents and fans are important, although I have seen successful installations with passive, rotating vents instead of a fan.

  20. Hi, and thanks for all the great information.
    I’m very interested in exploring the possibilities of composting toilets. However I do have one delicate concern. One of the members of my family suffers from IBS. This often leads to very wet poops. I’ve been reading about the importance of keeping urine and water out of the dry bin of Separett toilets.(the brand I’m considering).
    Would the Separett be able to handle a user with frequent wet bowel movements?

    • There is no easy answerr there. If it’s too wet, it won’t work. Possibly in your case a non-urine separating design would be better. There are several good models out there.

  21. My husband and I have a cabin with a compost toilet. It is an older model…pretty much a seat with a holding bin. No fan, no fluid separation. I was hesitant to use it but finally said why not. We don’t go to the cabin very often so the contents will sit for about two weeks to a month. I put the composting material that came with the toilet on the “contents”. Do you think the next time we go to our cabin we will have the “mess” that has been referred to? There is fluid in there…couldn’t help it. Any information is greatly appreciated. The unit simply requires the seat be pulled off and the entire bin can be carried outside. I am hoping for a good result. :-)

    • I don’t know what toilet you are using, so it’s hard to say. A “sawdust” toilet is just a big bin, that you poop and pee into. The trick is to cover everything carefully in a heavy layer of sawdust. People say it can work. It sounds like your system is like that. With infrequent use, you might be fine, especially if the holding bin is large, and you use lots of sawdust.

      • Thank you so much. I feel better. I used more sawdust than the bag instructions stated but not too much more. The bin is actually rather large too. Apparently, a family of three lived there for about two years before we purchased the place so I am hopeful this thing will work out fine. I really appreciate your input!

        • Good luck. If it starts to smell, you might try a urine diverting seat, that sends the urine to an outside tank or drain pit. Seperating urine from the solids gets rid of most odor problems.

          • Well, we are back at the cabin after about two weeks…maybe three…and the compost toilet appears to be working out just fine! No smell at all. Of all the things in this cabin that scared me the most, it turns out to be the only thing that has worked without incident. I am sold on the compost toilet. Of course I haven’t emptied it yet. :-) Thanks again for your input!

  22. Hi Richard,
    So I like the idea of the higher capacity and less frequent dumping of the Separett but am really trying to avoid a battery system. If I ran the vent straight up through the roof with no corners would the solar vent option available on the Natures Head work on the Separett? Also, we live in Port Alberni, BC, Canada, could you give me final price with shipping and taxes all in?
    Thanks Doug

  23. Hello,
    We are researching a composting toilet for our float cabin. No running water and no power not even 12 volt so we would need the solar vent adaptor. The Natures Head has caught our eye but we have a few questions before we decide. Our usage would be 2 people almost every weekend year round and almost full time in the summer with occasional weekends with a guest couple. Would the Natures Head have enough capacity for this? What would be the aproximate freqency of required dumps. Also, does the entire unit need to be unbolted from the floor and inverted to be emptied? This seems awkward. One more question is about the height of the seat. At 20″ it seems a bit high to comfortably use without a step. Any advise you can give would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank You Doug Moore

    • You should be fine with the capacity of the Nature’s Head, as it is designed for up to 2 people full time. Occasional guests are no problem. I suggest emptying it at the beginning of summer. The guideline is 60-80 solid uses between emptying. This means two people using the toilet full time empty it about every 6-8 weeks. Now depending on your guests, you might need to shorten that just slightly.

      The entire unit does not need to be unbolted. The top comes off easily – it’s on slip hinges. The base is attached to the floor on two brackets, and you just turn the knobs by hand to release the base from the bracket. The whole thing is a 30 second operation, and is pretty easy. Then yes – you do need to invert the base, to dump the contents into a green plastic garbage bag (or some other kind of container). The plastic garbage bag is used to carry the material outside for finishing the composting process. As mentioned in the blog, many people use a 5 gallon plastic pail with a lid. They put the opened bag inside the bucket. Punch a few holes in the lid for ventilation and let it sit for 12 weeks or so before putting it on ornamental plants.

      You don’t need a step. It’s only slightly higher than a regular toilet(which is 14-17 inches).

      Doug, let me know if you have any further questions. I am very enthusiastic about the Nature’s Head, because it works exactly as promised and I never have any customer complaints. I’ve been in business selling things for a long time and it’s never been like this before. These are great toilets, made in the USA under fair wage conditions, and backed by a 5 year warranty. Warranty repairs are extremely rare but we have replaced a couple of fans.

      With the solar vent, you can forget about the fan. The Nicro vent is a very nice option. Eventually the rechargeable batteries in the solar vent lose efficiency, but they are cheap at Radio Shack.

  24. Does the agitator in the Nature’s Head make that much of a difference in the reduction of solids when compared to the Separett? It seems like things would break down better in the Nature’s Head.

    • The initial composting takes place in the lower chamber of the Nature’s Head. Turning the handle speeds up the composting. The Separett is technically a dry toilet – the solids are drying out and shrinking dramatically inside the unit, but the real composting takes place in the removable composting bins, after removal from the toilet.

  25. Hi,

    After finishing doing your business, you`ve mentioned to throw in some natural material such as peat moss or saw dust into the toilet to speed up the composing process. In your opinion, would ash from wood or charcoal work just as well?

    • This has not been tested, so I am reluctant to recommend it. People are experimenting with activated carbon. You want a lot of carbon down there and charcoal would certainly accomplish that. Plus it has the advantage of taking up little space. However, the peat moss or coconut fiber are “fluffy” and that helps keep things aerated, which is also important. Sawdust can work, but it should be sawdust from a wood that readily rots, and the rotting process should have already begun, ideally (not fresh sawdust).
      Why don’t you experiment and let us know?

  26. one more question….
    We have an outhouse on the yard, but don’t use it. what could I do to change it to a sawdust toilet or something more palatable for guests? (in addition to the indoor compost toilet)

  27. Sorry, I forgot to mention that I need to get or bring this toilet to the Halifax area in NS, Canada. It will be used for one person and ocasional friends and family. I’m willing to pay for a good quality one as long as there is a garanty that works and DOESN’T SMELL (except when being used of course)
    Cheers,

    Carlos

  28. Hi,
    Never heard about composting toilets until I decided to accept the offer of a good friend to use a piece of his land by the sea to set a travel trailer….the problem, “No sewage system” and no possibility of digging one as the lot is solid granite bed rock. So he advice me to buy a composting toilet. Here are the questions; can I replace the toilet of the travel trailer for a composting one? Which model do you recommend? Does it require too much modification (tear appart) the existing small washroom? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks
    Carlos

    • You need to look at the measurements of the composting toilet you are interested in, and carefully check to see if it would fit in your travel trailer. I suggest the Nature’s Head, because it is the smallest. You screw it to the floor, and run a hose or pipe to a vent on the roof. That’s about it. Measure carefully!

  29. Thanks for your response. I do have a few more questions but perhaps they will be answered on your blog. If not, I’ll be back.

  30. I have been trying to interest my husband in composting toilets for years but it looks like the cost of a new septic system for our cottage has finally done the trick. He is, of course, most concerned about the job of disposal. I’ve promised to do this but (having known me for 55 years) he suspects he may get stuck with this chore. Can you reassure him about the process?

    Also, we wonder what happens if you (or your Swedish suppliers) go out of business. Is there a substitute for the plastic bags, and any other necessities, you provide? Of course, as seniors, we probably won’t last nearly as long as you do but we are planning to pass the cottage on to our son so he’s also interested.

    Finally, my husband is able (but not all that willing) to build a composting toilet and you do mention there are good plans online. Please tell us why we should buy your product since that’s what we would really prefer to do.

    Thanks.

    • The disposal is pretty easy. Remove the inner bin, put a shovel full of dirt on it, put the lid on and let it sit. 6 months later put it on plants. This is in sharp contrast to dealing with the waste in the older style, non-urine seperating brands. If something goes wrong with those older types (and that is common) you have an unbelivable mess to deal with. Your husband is rightfully afraid of dealing with those older styles. There can really be no problems with the Separett. The poop dries out, and dried poop does not stink. The toilet can’t leak (no water in there), and there can never be a mechanical failure, a system break down or any sewage to clean up. About the only thing you might need to replace years down the road is the fan, and that is cheap and easy. Many standard fans could be made to work. You could even use a fan built into a solar attic vent, and never worry about electricity again.

      Separett is a well-establised company, but you can use any compostable plastic bags. There are no other real nessesities. Good old water and vinegar shoild keep the urine tubes clear.

      Very nice composting toilets can be built by skilled carpenters. They look fine in woodsy cabins, but might seem out of place in some homes. The Separett however looks more like a toilet (guests are not alarmed) and it has a view screen so you don’t need to gaze down at the solids. It’s gasketed and sealed, so there is less chance of odor escaping. There is a high quality fan built in. If you do build one, you need to set up a urine separating system, or you could have a sewage tank rather than a composting toilet. That’s a lot to sort out on your own but it can be done.

    • We are in the same situation. (Not quite) seniors, but looking at the cost of a line to the septic system over the cost of a compost-able toilet. We like the composting idea much better not only for cost but for the environment. And while it may seem yucky to certain city types, a cottage (guesthouse) with an environmentally friendly toilet, rainwater plumbing and solar heat has an appeal to many people. We want it ready to rent out by next summer!

  31. Hi,

    The statement “In 2005, Americans flushed away 123 billion gallons of water, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report,” cannot be right.

    Considering there are about 311 million Americans, that’s just about 1 gallon per person per day. The actual amount is about 15 times greater. Either the USGS report erred or someone misinterpreted the data while deriving the “fact.”

    Research has shown that the average person uses the toilet 8 times per day. Five uses are at home and the other three at the workplace, stores, restaurants, etc. Assuming an average flush volume of 2 gallons (for simplicity), that’s 16 gallons per person per day, or about 5 billion gallons flushed every day.

    The actual amount of water used to flush toilets in the U.S. is probably closer to 1.8 trillion gallons per year!

    Doug Bennett
    Conservation Manager
    Southern Nevada Water Authority

  32. We live in NZ and bought a Separett to install in our new house in 2000 and it was working well when we sold in 2009. There were two adults using it full-time. We are planning on purchasing another unit for our next project as we found it excellent. For some men it was a real issue having to sit down to urinate! But the toilet did need emptying fortnightly and toilet paper uses quite a bit of space in the bin. We bought compostable bags made with plant material and lined the bin with these and when it needed emptying it was simply a matter of taking these outside. As we lived on a ten acre block we simply buried our bags and then planted a tree on top. By the time we sold we had a small forest growing – great compost! I could not with all honesty say that our bags didn’t smell when it came time to change them though. In our next venture we intend putting some underfloor heating under the toilet area using solar water heating to help with the ‘drying’ process of the faeces. I think this will lower the smell factor.

    • I am not sure why you would think men have to sit down to urinate. They most certainly do not. Are you sure it is a Separett? If you have recently used the toilet, there will clearly be odor when changing the bag, for a few moments. We haven’t figured out a way to make poop not stink yet! (LOL). No heater should be required. The fan should dry out the small amount of moisture in the solids tank quickly.

  33. Just a quick question with regards to the composting. Why do you need peat moss or some sort of material to break down the waste for other environmental toilet systems but it is not required for this system. What breaks the waste down into compost with this system?

    • Adding organic material such as peat moss helps things stay aerated and it speeds up the composting. Just like a compost bin at home, mixing types of materials is always good. The peat moss is carbon rich, and ideal for the purpose. Rotting sawdust is good, and some use activated charcoal (almost pure carbon).

      However, with the Separett most of the composting takes place outside of the unit, after the bin is removed. The solids still dry out, and break down inside the toilet. When you remove the solids bin you will see most of the solids are well broken down. But the real composting is yet to come. Once the bin is removed, you put a shovel full of soil or other carbon rich organic material on top, then replace the lid. This now sits for 6 months, composting fully.

      There are “all in one” toilets, where the composting is supposed to take place inside the unit. After a specified time you open a drawer and just deal with fully composted material. It’s a nice theory, and if ever perfected this will be wonderful. But right now these all in one systems suffer from a multitude of problems. They are complex mechanical systems, sometimes with motors, heaters and powerful fans. Break downs occur. Repairing a toilet full of half composted material is not pleasant. Some customers complain that material gets caught in the corners. But the real issue is that most of the all in one toilets rely on heaters to evaporate the urine. This simply fails to work in some cases. Then you have big, stinky problems.
      Google composting toilet reviews and you will see what I mean. Also, look up the brand name at Amazon.com and read what customers have to say. You want a simple, strongly made, proven system.

    • It’s really a dry toilet – the material dries out and shrinks. It is breaking down, but much of the true composting takes place after the inner bin has been removed. Add a shovel full of dirt, put the lid on, and let nature take over. Experience has shown that by separating liquids and solids, break down is rapid and no peat moss is required.

  34. I’ve been surfing the net looking for toilet options for an outbuilding on our yard that we want to turn into a guesthouse. It has electricity, but no water and no septic. We have looked into having it hooked up to our house septic system, but I think it might be rather expensive to do that. We need to have something that is “nice” enough to rent out as a summer vacation rental. I’m impressed with the Separett, but wonder where I could purchase it. We live in British Columbia, Canada. Our nearest big city is Kamloops. Do any big chains carry these toilets? I’m afraid if we have to order online, the shipping is going to do a real number on the price tag….. Thanks for any advice you can give us.

    • These toilets are sold direct, to keep the cost down. If they were sold through a big retailer, they’s be at least $500 more. Shipping of the Separett is only $60 in Canada. So it woul be $1359, all in, plus tax.

  35. I have been looking at the Nature’s Head toilet. Do you have any comments regarding Nature’s Way (loaderup.com) toilet? It is approximately 50% of the price for the Nature’s Head.

    • Nature’s Way is basically a box with a toilet seat. Calling it a composting toilet is a stretch. That is not really comparable to any of the profesionally designed composting toilets, such as the Nature’s Head.

  36. Richard, we are looking for a solution for an established homeless camp here in Portland, OR… We have a clean water hook-up and electricity but unfortunately no sewer connection. Other than the obvious issues of transporting away the compost and the urine, do you think two Separett toilets (we are also working with limited space) could service 60-70 camp inhabitants as any kind of long-term solution (one we might even be able to sell to City Hall?) Thanks!

    • 2 toilets of any kind will probably not be enough for 70 people, especially in the morning. You’d need 4-5 toilets. This is not because of capacity, but rather convenience of the user.
      There are plans online for home made composting toilets that cost very little to make, especially if you could get a volunteer carpenter to build them. You could combine a homemade toilet with a urine diverting seat (available for about $100) for a very nice, odor free solution.
      You can dilute the urine and use on plants. But the solids would likely have to be hauled away, in your situation. This would be much less often (and therefore less expensive) than having traditional portable toilets serviced and emptied. Plus a urine diverting composting toilet would not stink, and I think that is a drastic improvement in people’s quality of life.

  37. I am looking for a composting toilet for a small cabin. The cabin is in the woods no electricty, with solar and a generator back-up. I hope to rent as a vaction rental. My biggest issue w/ composting toilets that are designed to sit on a slab is that the waste is right there for all to see. Is there a toilet that when you use it, you don’t see the last person’s waste? mike

    • You must have seen a home made composting toilet. All modern professionally made composting toilets seal the waste in a chamber. There is never any waste visible.

  38. I am interested in buying one for my new camp in stead of the typical outhouse. I have been looking at the sunmar however recently I have found the natures head at half the cost. specs state it is virtually indestructable adn made with stainless hardware and fluid seperator. Soooo Whats the catch why is it half the cost. In theory it seems that is the “same” as Sunmar but I would like to feel secure that I am not waisting my money by not doing it right the first time. Do you have a recomendation?

    • There is no catch. Sun-mars are a bit expensive, in my view. They are more complex technology as well. The Nature’s Head will suffice up to 2 people only. The Separett has a bigger capacity, like the Sun-mar. Call me if you want to discuss – 1-888-361-1104.

      • I purchased the natures head last year and I am not happy. Twice now the urine part has become clogged with tissue and urine has overflowed in the solids container. Which is nasty to dump! You have to remove the whole unit! The separett looks to be a better model , wish I had seen this last year when first researching. Just spent 900$ not sure I can justify another purchase that I am not 100 percent sure of! Can you convince me , my husband thinks we should go to a propane incinerating toilet . We have a floating cabin , no power or running water . The urine separating sounded good , our friends have a sunmar and also have issues with it , it is also large and they use a porta potti for urine. I find the natures head is too small and needs to be emptied way too often not much better than porta potties. Help

        • Hi Cindy,

          Thank you for your comments. I think it is clear that you are running into problems because the drain is blocking. That’s good news, because we can solve that easily.

          First, remember that all composting toilets require a bit more involvement from the user than a regular toilet, and you have to be sure you are doing everything correctly. It’s simple, but it requires a bit of care.

          Keeping the drain open is absolutely vital. This cannot be stressed too much.

          We have to think…how is it getting blocked? Sounds like it’s getting blocked with wet toilet paper. Dry toilet paper would not fit down that tube, so it must be getting wet. Here is your main problem, I think. It is very important to try to get most of the urine forward, and not get the tp wet. This should happen naturally with women and men, but anatomy varies and some people have to aim a bit. The toilet paper in the bowl should be almost completely dry if you are using the toilet correctly.

          So your clogged tube problem should be an easy fix. Make sure that the tp is placed carefully in the main bowl, with the solids. Then all of the tp will fall down into the solids bin when you open it.

          You need to stay on top of it and make sure the urine is always diverting. Looking at the urine bottle should tell you what is happening. Based on your problems with a clogged urine tube, I suggest taking a look every time you use it, to make sure urine is flowing. It needs to be dumped every day or two. If it is not filling up, then you have a problem. It is vital that urine does not enter the main chamber. If urine enters the chamber, big problems result. No urine, no problems.

          If the urine is being separated properly, then two of you should not have to empty the toilet more than every 6 weeks or so. It holds 60-80 solid uses.

          Almost all problems with composting toilets relate to too much urine mixing in with the solids. The drains in all brands of toilets have to be clear and operating correctly. This is basic maintenance. If you do this, I am confident your problems will be solved.

          I don’t like incinerator toilets. They are costly to operate, and make you dependant on fossil fuels. If you run out of propane – no toilet. They have a significant carbon footprint and would not be considered an environmentally friendly choice.

          Thousands of people are using the Nature’s Head successfully, and I’m sure you will be happy if you keep the urine drain clear.

  39. We purchased a sun mar mobile composting toilet in 2006 when we were building a house moved it in as we didn’t have a septic tank in yet. Good & bad News It seemed to work well when we purchased their expensive peat moss & deodorisers, we could never urinate in it as there was to much liquid & the overflow did not work, so we bought a port a potty for that. The rotating drum for emptying took to long to empty, it was easier to put on long rubber gloves & dive in the top to empty it (yuck). New problem the other day It’s leaking again & don’ know where it is coming from in the market for a better toilet.

    • I would call Sun-mar. They are a good company and stand behind their products. Of all the self contained, all in one toilets available Sun-mar is probably the best. They definitely work when installed and used as directed.
      The clue to your problem may be your comment “the overflow did not work”. This overflow absolutely MUST work. Don’t use the toilet without resolving that problem. The Sun-mar overflow drains usually work fine.
      Bottom line – you probably don’t need a new toilet. (If you had one of the many other brands besides Sun-mar I might not say that).
      Also, I would buy peat moss at Home Depot (or rotting sawdust for free – better!). Forget the expensive stuff. If it is working correctly there is no need for a deodorizer.

      Please let me know the outcome.

  40. Also, which model would you suggest and what do you think of the Bio-let? That brand has more positive reviews than the Sun-mar it seems. Thanks again!

  41. I strongly believe that urine separating designs are superior to the Bio-let. The Bio-let combines liquids and solids, and that causes problems in my experience. I think that the Separett and Nature’s Head toilets are the best on the market. I do sell them, and therefore am biased, however – I also sold two other major brands of composting toilets that did not separate liquids from solids. They caused my customers and I many problems.

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