The compost toilet can be as complicated, expensive, cheap or basic as you like. As far as indoor compost toilets are concerned none are more simple to create, use and understand than the sawdust toilet.
We have a sawdust toilet and I really cannot recommend it enough. Even if you have no intention of ever foregoing your luxurious plumbed in conventional toilet, you should at least know about sawdust toilets. Then, the next time the water supply is disrupted or you are remodelling the bathroom you can use this simple composting toilet system until your preferred poo receptacle is functioning again. During home renovations these really are lifesavers!
Mr DB has already compiled a guide to Compost Toilet DIY but with summer coming and water shortages a serious threat for the future I would like to remind you all just how great a sawdust toilet composting system is.
Practical Sawdust Toilet Composting
The system is extremely simple. One bucket inside a wooden frame covered with a toilet seat. Each time a person ‘visits’ the compost loo they just cover it with a sprinkling of sawdust. When the bucket is full it is emptied onto a compost heap and left to rot before being used on the garden.
Sawdust & Alternative Coverings
Sawdust doesn’t actually need to be the medium used to cover the waste, anything of an organic nature and made of small particles is fine. But sawdust is cheap and easy to get hold of and store for use in the toilet. Of course you don’t really want to be adding chemical insecticides or pesticides to your compost heap so check your sawdust is not coming from pressure treated timber.
Pine needles add a touch of pine-fresh scent to the whole affair and are a firm favorite here when we’re in the mood for collecting them.
Grass clippings are good too but best used once left to dry out or they do add an odour of silage to the bathroom.
Shredded paper and straw can be used at a pinch. But their larger size and rigidity mean you need an awful lot to cover your waste so the bin tends to fill very quickly and you need to keep collecting more straw and paper.
Anything you would put on your compost heap could be used to cover your poo. But, the most suitable things are made of fine particles which will form a complete layer over the contents of the toilet.
It is this organic covering which keeps odours in and flies out so using anything too rough in texture (such as weedy clippings) just won’t provide a good enough seal. And don’t forget if you use prickly weeds the chances are you will prickle yourself when covering your addition to the ‘facilities’.
Visiting the Sawdust Toilet
Okay, when you feel like ‘visiting’ the sawdust toilet it shouldn’t be too different from a visit to a plumbed in version. Lift the lid, do your business, throw your toilet paper in but then just add a layer of sawdust rather than flushing. Then put the lid down. The lid does not act to keep out flies or keep smell in so it is not necessary to try and build a toilet with a hermetically sealed lid. The sawdust does all this work for you BUT leaving the lid up will make your compost toilet look a tad uninviting for the next visitor.
If you’re a bloke and its sunny outside, don’t bother visiting the sawdust toilet though, cut out the middle man and head straight for the compost heap. That way the toilet bucket is a little less heavy when it comes to emptying time.
Toilet paper should be ‘basic’, none of that pre-moistoned stuff containing who knows what. Remember anything going into this bucket will end up in your compost heap so it must be 100% compostable.
The only real ‘problem’ with the sawdust toilet is that you need to monitor more than the supply of loo-roll. There should always be plenty of room in the toilet bin, and plenty of sawdust supplied next to it. The quickest way to put new users off the whole idea is to bring them face to face with a full one, or nothing with which to cover their own addition!
Emptying the Sawdust Toilet
This should be done regularly, obviously, but spare buckets are a fabulous idea so if you’re not in the mood to wander the yard with your bucket of poo you can leave the job for another day. Just make sure all your toilet bins have lids that fit well.
When you do empty a full compost toilet bin make sure you put it into the centre of your compost pile. Remove a little of the top compost material to form an indentation you can empty the ‘humanure’ into. Then cover it back over with more organic waste. The toilet bucket should be rinsed out with soap and water (nothing harsher) which is put onto the compost heap too.
Sprinkle some sawdust into the bottom of the bucket and you’re ready to go again.
Though I have to be honest, this is not my favorite job it defintely isn’t the worst either. I am particularly happy with not having to remove limescale which is a problem with the plumbed in version we have for squeamish guests. It all sounds much worse than it actually is.
Great Veggies from Toilet Composting!
Adding so much regular manure to your compost heap means it will break down very quickly. Within three to six months ours looks like plain old crumbly brown hummus, smelling of woodland. If it smelt remotely of anything nasty we would know it hadn’t broken down properly and so would leave it longer.
The compost containing humanure is incorporated into the vegetable plots just as it would be if it didn’t. There is no difference, so long as manure is composted it is completely safe. All pathogens are destroyed by the heat and microbial activity in the compost heap. And, while fresh manure is hazardous, composted manures are completely inert. Humanure just like all animal manures contains just about everything a plant needs to be healthy. Without keeping large quantities of livestock, utilising your own poo for manure is a good way towards self sufficient gardening.
Of course throughout, there is a lot of hand-washing going on!
Enjoying bountiful harvests of healthy vegetables more than compensates for the weekly job of emptying the compost toilet. Of course all the Eco friendly concerns about reducing water usage and re-cycling waste are great incentives towards toilet composting. But most of all its good to have more healthy food to eat!
For a more self sufficient future
I have never used a compost toilet but have been hearing more and more about them as of late. Eventually I will have to break down and get one.
Sawdust is an excellent medium for composting toilets. MAKE SURE that it has had proper time to cure before using it on any food crop.
What about toilet paper? Where do you put the toilet paper? And what happens when you need to urinate?
No thanks, regular toilet for me.
Toilet paper goes in it as does pee. Then it all turns in to compost on the compost heap. Once it is composted it is just as safe as regular compost. Job done, literally 😉
The way I have my Sawdust Toilet set up is:
I have The well made wooden box and wooded toilet seat
(the nicer that looks the better) next to that I have a well stocked
supply of sawdust and organic mix’ins (it is fun to stalk out cool stuff)
Now what I have done which i feel is a step above the whole process
discribed here, is I have added another toilet seat that is over a washing basin (those over sized sinks you see in washing machine rooms) I have this washing basin boxed up like my 5 gallon sawdust
bucket is (to look real nice) and I have suppled a warm water bidet hose…this way I keep a roll of T Paper hanging for anyone that wants
it…but it is totally not needed…everything (pee & washing up water)
goes down a drain to a simply dry well that is out of site…
the whole system is “out of sight” if you ask me!
Sounds great, the basics are simple for a sawdust toilet but then it is easy to make them more refined!
Oh I forgot to ADD that I keep a stack of cotton wipes that are used to dry off and toss in a basket for the washer
too bad there is not “a service set up” for leaving, let’s say “3 filled five gallon buckets” out on your curb, and they are removed, and 3 clean buckets are left in their place…This would be way cool for people
that do not have an easy way to empty their full buckets….
Thank you for all the insight! My family wont give me the chance to create my sustainable lifestyle, but Im making a self sufficient zone in the basement. Love it!!!
I just started my composting toilet today, I built it myself. works without any smell at all. thanks to mr Jenkins who wrote humanure handbook. I have tried this before with limited success. and now its perfect due to my understanding. read, learn and grow
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I do avoid any social meetings that involve anything other than Bermuda shorts and a T shirt. I’m in a hot climate and wearing traditional clothing just sucks. As far as a big tip for saving money simply try to avoid any place that has a cash register. It is shocking how much money you can save if your activities have nothing to do with stores of any kind. Instead of going to the mall walk to a lake and cast a lure or use worms from your garden. If you get bored do some work.
We are trying a very basic sawdust composting toilet . So far so good no smell. We shall see how it goes.
So if you don’t have a compost pile or any place to garden, what would you do about emptying buckets? I seriously don’t think I would be wanting to transport them to someone else’s compost pile. A sawdust toilet comes with a tiny house I am looking at and want to know if this just won’t work for me.
You need somewhere to compost for sure.
We have a compost bin where we put food scraps. We have a lot of worms, but I don’t think it gets very hot. It’s not turntable. Will this work for human waste?
Well I am not a composting toilet person but my toilet is out of action due to the UK March 2018 freeze up. I have been using a bucket and putting the manure/ urine in a plastic compost bin filled with grass cuttings etc
Good for you. Better than just complaining about the pipes freezing Brian!