Guest Column - July/August 2005
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Compost Happens

Outdoor Restrooms

By Alex Linkow

Who should have a composting toilet system?

OK, you think, these things are more versatile than I thought, but how do I know if it's the right thing for me?

Well, let's take a look at some of the reasons park and recreation facility personnel have chosen composting toilet systems over other human-waste disposal options. Maybe water conservation is a primary concern of yours. Whether you're an environmentalist or just a pragmatist, water conservation is likely on your radar, and flushless composting toilet systems use virtually no water. Composting toilets are also a good fit in areas with limited space, remote and environmentally sensitive locations, areas with poor soils that make septic systems difficult, and when regulations call for large septic mounds that you want to avoid creating.

Dr. Randall Van Dragt—biology professor and preserve director at the Bunker Interpretive Center within Calvin College's 100-acre Ecosystem Preserve in Grand Rapids, which has composting toilets in its classroom building—articulates another good reason to use composting toilet systems.

"We wanted to get people thinking more deliberately about how they interface with natural systems," he says. And of course, composted end products make great fertilizer and soil amendments, although regulations for end-product dispersal vary. The composting process can reduce solid waste more than 90 percent, but the small amount that remains either can be used on-site or hauled away. Liquid end product is stored and then used as fertilizer or transported off-site.

Costs and savings

The cost of composting toilet systems varies from case to case. Depending on the situation, they can be less expensive than conventional systems. One major advantage of waterless composting toilet systems is that plumbing costs are minimized because you never have to call the plumber to fix a clogged or leaky toilet. And, of course, there is no overflowing. You also save on water and sewer bills, and although the money saved may not be significant, the water savings certainly are. Even a low-flow flush toilet uses about 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Compare that to a flushless composting toilet system that uses only a miniscule amount to keep the compost pile moist, and you can see the difference.

Composting toilets are here to stay. Parks, golf courses, camps, ski areas, schools and others have made the decision to go with these systems for all the right reasons. Flush toilets, portable toilets, vaults, sewers and septic systems all create waste and add to water pollution, and in this age of water shortages and degraded water supplies, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye. Composting toilet systems can prevent waste and water pollution and offer a simple, sustainable alternative. So don't confound the problem; be part of the solution.

Alex Linkow is marketing manager for Clivus Multrum, Inc. in Lawrence, Mass. For more information, visit