We all love a good poop post, especially in the Tiny House Community! Whenever there’s any discussion about poop, there’s always a lot of people joining in.
Common questions are always about composting toilets, and if they’re gross, which is the best one, and how to make your own. People offer reviews, advice, and a lot of them get horrified! EWWWW POOP!!
This post is a little different. It’s about the poop part of it. What are you gonna do with all that poop? How long is it going to last? Is it harmful? Am I gonna die if I don’t put it in the sewer??
Okay, disclaimer, I’m one of those poop fanatics that read everything I can on compost toilets. I join in all the discussions about poop, and my husband and I talk about various poop related things. I just bought a new poop scoop today to take hiking with me for crying out loud!
Okay, so there’s this overlap with backpacking and composting poop that I’m going to lay out right here, so that you’ll understand why poop matters to me so much. When I hike, I poop. When other hikers hike, they poop too. We realise that if we don’t take proper care of our poop, it is first, going to sit there and look gross, second, it can hurt the environment. So, we follow some rules that help with both counts.
First, we poop 200 meters away from the trail, the campsites and any waterways. The idea is first, to prevent too much poop from being where people might be, and second, to prevent any pathogens from getting into the water where other people might be wanting to get their drinking water from. Talk about gross! (Even if I filter it and treat it, I don’t want your poop anywhere near it!) It’s also becoming more and more common to pack out our toilet paper because it just takes so darn long to decompose.
How is this relevant to compost toilets? Let me tell you! First of all, we use toilet paper in a compost toilet too, and people are always asking what is the best kind, and how long do they take to compost. What’s compost if not decomposition? Second, people with compost toilets are always asking if it’s safe to dispose of the compost or if the compost is dangerous.
For the toilet paper, people often suggest using things like family cloth, and washing it yourself. Sure, why not, right? In a tiny house, with not a lot of space, you’ll have a bucket full of poop and beside it, what, another bucket full of poopy cloths? If it’s your thing, that’s great, but I don’t see it being my thing. I’ve done my share of washing poopy diapers, but as soon as my kid could learn to use tp and wipe his own bum, you can bet I swapped out. (the horrors, I know, I’m such a terrible person, feel free to judge me) I do use a Diva Cup rather than pads and tampons, so I’m not feeling any guilt here over it.
I always hear people saying to use the RV toilet paper, because it’s designed to dissolve quickly in water. That sounds great, it’s one of those things that because it’s the suggested choice in one area, it’s gotta be the best choice for all, right? Well, at a steeper cost per sheet than regular toilet paper, and a penchant for being less than comfortable on your bottom, does it really decompose faster than regular toilet paper?
Well, no, no it doesn’t. It might be your best option in a black tank where you need it to dissolve into the water, but out where it’s not submerged in complete wet, it performs poorly against regular 1 ply toilet paper. At around 80cents a roll for RV paper (scott brand at Walmart) compared to 60cents a roll for 1ply (scott brand at Walmart) and more weight per sheet for the regular 1ply, if your bottom doesn’t thank me, your wallet will. How bad is 2ply though?
You can see this performance on this backyard science page which shows regular 2ply will decompose rapidly, this direct download to a pdf from Biodegrade Facts says 2-5 months, and has other nifty figures for the curious. You can see reading these documents how 1ply degrades so much faster, especially when in contact with soil like material, like it would be in your compost! Even still, is 2ply totally a no go? 2-5 months later, I’m still composting the poop, so I don’t know about you, but I’m going to just keep my butt happy, and keep using whichever roll I like.
Okay, but what about that poop then, isn’t it going to kill us if we put it in our backyards? I mean 200m from anything is a long way away, that’s a half lap on a full track! Is the poop that dangerous? Turns out not really, that’s just erring on the safe side. There’s a study (another direct download pdf) that shows that 1m away is about how far away from poop anything could be detected as coming from it. What’s more, it shows that not burying the poop makes it decompose faster. While that’s not going to change any behaviour of backpackers (we really don’t want people pooping everywhere without hiding it) it is good news for people composting, where the compost is often laid above ground, and sometimes the poop isn’t really mixed under the compost medium.
I won’t bore you with recapping the Humanure Handbook (read free on their site with a direct download) but I will say that if you’re composting the way they suggest, pouring your pile of poop and compost medium on a regular compost pile, and following their directions so that it gets hot, then first, the heat from the pile is going to kill off any pathogens in the pile, and second, things aren’t going to migrate very far FROM the pile either. I highly recommend the book. It has lots of really cool tables showing how long it takes to kill everything that could be dangerous in your poop, if it were in your poop in the first place! Really engrossing reading! (pun intended)
Good points of composting the Humanure way: For one, it’s compost, you can grow things with it. You can safely use it on any kind of plant including vegetables. You’ll use less water if you’re not flushing, and you won’t need to have a septic system or a sewer line. You don’t have to worry about the toilet backing up, unless you get one of those crazy assed contraption compost toilets full of parts that are really expensive and it breaks on you!
Bad points? The ick factor. That I can’t help you with. You’ll have to get over it yourself. One I can help with? What to do with all that poop if you don’t have a compost pile.
So what can you do? Well, you can dispose of the compost in someone else’s compost pile for one. (just ask first) You can put the compost into a vault toilet, which you can find at a lot of campgrounds. (you can also empty portable chemical toilets into these, gross!) You can store the compost in a lidded bin for a year or two and let it compost that way. (there’s no way to know if some parasite eggs might still be viable in here, so if you have parasites please don’t use this on your garden vegetables, you could reinfect yourself. Oh, what? you don’t have parasites now? then your compost is probably fine, but the ick factor and the not knowing, might still make you want to put it on ornamental only plants) You can bag the compost up and throw it in a landfill. Not ideal yes, but given the alternative, it’s still less of a problem than using a sewer.
So there you have some talk about poop that maybe you haven’t seen on other posts. There’s a ton of great ones out there, here’s some link love to my faves:
Composting Toilet FAQ and Debunking Myths be sure to read the other articles on this site regarding compost toilets.
And a review of my favourite toilet: Composting Toilet Options