If you’ve ever been out camping, hiking, or to a local state or national park, you might have used a composting toilet. These toilets, known for their sustainability and their cleanliness, are commonly found in natural places where restroom facilities might be needed. Why are composting toilets so expensive?
Composting toilets are incredibly expensive in the original investment, but require low amounts of maintenance and relatively little costs after installation. Anything that is able to convert something hazardous like human waste into a usable substance like compost will be expensive.
Composting toilets are incredibly sustainable in the fact that they reduce electricity and water use, and convert material into compost that can be used in the future. Read on to learn more about composting toilets, including what they are, what goes on inside the toilet, why they are expensive, and why they might be a worthy investment for you.
Composting Toilets Explained
While many of us have heard of composting toilets, and likely some of us have used them without knowing it, most people don’t quite know or understand what a composting toilet is. In most places in the US, the most common types of toilets are water-based, chemical-based, or septic pumped based. This means that the feces is handled either by flushing it away, decontaminated to an extent, or pumped into a sewage tank.
Composting toilets are different. Composting toilets use a chemical process to take your human feces and convert it into compost. Compost is a common term for organic matter that can easily decompose in the ground. Often, compost is made out of materials like old leaves, natural food scraps (banana peel, coffee grinds, etc), and water. When mixed together, these will eventually break down into compost.
To some extent, human feces is already biodegradable, but not to the same extent that compost is. Feces is water-soluble, meaning that, over time, the feces will break down in the water, but then you are left with a massive amount of wastewater. Additionally, if you were to just defecate on the ground, it would be highly unsanitary and smelly, and would take about 1 year to fully biodegrade.
Composting toilets, though normally taking about the same amount of time to break down the feces, are incredibly sanitary (far more sanitary than just defecating on the ground), and don’t typically smell. As long as the number of fluids kept in a composting toilet is relatively low, the toilet should never smell, and should take very little work in order for the natural process to take place.
The Science Behind Composting Toilets
Composting toilets, for those who don’t understand the science behind them, seem somewhat magical. At one point, a massive amount of human waste sits in one location, yet it doesn’t smell, is sanitary, and, eventually, seems to disappear. If this doesn’t sound like some sort of magic within nature, then I don’t know what does.
Fortunately, composting toilets don’t rely on the magic of the outdoors to work. They involve scientific processes that will reliably help break down your waste. When humans eat, the way our digestive systems work is that we separate all of the important nutrients we need in order to power our bodies and keep us healthy. After this is done, our bodies then separate any material we don’t need and push it out of our systems as waste. This is feces and urine.
Important, however, is that while we have taken all of the nutrients we need, there are still some nutrients in there that our bodies either are not equipped to handle or we just don’t need. When defecating into a composting toilet, this feces is then exposed to microorganisms like bacteria that harness these materials for themselves and break down the feces. Eventually, the amount of waste is broken down so it is smaller and more environmentally friendly.
This process, however, needs a few excess materials in order to function. These microorganisms can not survive unless they receive ample oxygen, so occasionally, the waste inside of a composting toilet is mixed to oxygenize the material. And, because feces does still smell and people want the composting to occur as quickly as possible, we add a carbon-heavy material such as sawdust to the mix to encourage a quicker composting process.
Expenses of a Composting Toilet
In order to understand why composting toilets are slightly expensive, we need a quick lesson in economics. Today, almost everything is made to be as cheap as possible. When producers use the materials needed to build an item, they try to use the cheapest material and cheapest labor possible while ensuring high quality. Whichever producer can sell a product for the cheapest is able to make the most money.
Unfortunately, however, for many years, this process has come at a cost to our environment. Companies have historically shown little regard for caring for nature, and have viewed the Earth more as a provider of natural resources than our home planet. Now, however, with more companies trying to aim for environmental sustainability, they are beginning to pay more for resources harvested in an eco-friendly way. As a result, eco-friendly goods’ prices go up.
This is partially why composting toilets are expensive. Another reason these toilets are so expensive is because of the technology you are paying for. You are paying for a toilet that can convert your human waste into an environmentally sustainable, biodegradable material. When you actually think about the task at hand, this is a huge advancement in technology. As a result, you are paying more money to help solve the issue.
The final reason that composting toilets are seen as expensive is because of the benefits they provide. We’ll go more into the benefits of owning a composting toilet later, but the biggest thing to note is that you are saving lots of money by using less electricity and water. By creating a way to break down waste without high amounts of these elements, the initial cost to build and install the system is high.
Benefits of a Composting Toilet
Though it is true that there can sometimes be high costs associated with installing a composting toilet, there are many benefits that come with it. One major benefit, for example, is the cost savings in the long run. Imagine just how much money you can save on water by installing a composting toilet. Composting toilets reduce a household’s water usage by about 60% and can have upwards of 6,000 gallons of water per year per person.
This translates to massive savings on the cost of water. Even if you don’t have a water bill and use a well, this means less work for your well’s pump and more water in your well. This can prevent issues in the future, resulting in savings. Additionally, by not using the energy to pump the water and flush the toilet, families can save a lot of money on the cost of electricity. Eventually, these savings add up, and within years you’ll have saved more than you spent.
An additional benefit that comes with a composting toilet is that, after the composting has been completed, you will have a strong, nutrient-rich organic compost you can use with your plants. Compost from a compost toilet is completely safe to use. While you don’t want to use it in your vegetable garden, it can still be used in your flower bed, on your trees, or on your lawn to encourage grass growth.
These benefits just scratch the surface of a composting toilet. There are far more!
When it comes to installing a composting toilet, it is true that the costs can be high, but these costs are worth it in the long run. When purchasing and installing a composting toilet, you are paying for the ability to convert human waste into usable compost. This, though perhaps not apparent, is advanced technology.
Over time, however, composting toilets can actually be less expensive than regular toilets because of the limited amounts of water and electricity they use, and the relatively low amount of maintenance. If you are considering installing a composting toilet, don’t let cost hold you back.
If you are considering placing a compost toilet on your property, this article could be an interesting read. I’ll specifically discuss why you can place compost toilets almost anywhere: Can You Put a Compost Toilet Anywhere?