A composting toilet forms a surprisingly symbolic, complex, emotional and educational phenomenon. The wide use of water closets (WC’s) in cities and rural areas in more industrial countries is one of the biggest interrupters of natural cycles. They use and pollute enormous amounts of water that must be pumped long distances to wastewater treatment plants; or if not cleaned, they pollute local soil, waterways and groundwater.
Some composting toilets also separate urine and faeces. Usually dry, organic materials are mixed with human waste to help it compost faster. In compost toilets, where no water is used, if urine and faeces are separated, the composting process is even easier and cleaner. Separated urine is a great source of nitrogen and can be used as a plant fertilizer. Composted faeces can nourish plants and build soil fertility. Using a composting toilet is an ecological practice which touches on other layers as well.
Impact on the individual
Individual and group growth occurs while building and maintaining the compost toilet. However quite some people have had negative experiences – smell, discomfort, etc – or no experience at all. Therefore, bringing up the idea of building and using composting toilets can trigger many emotions, also related to status and wealth, that can be explored and worked with in a fun and inspiring way. Composting toilets can act as a kind of indicator, when a group wants to start a community in the countryside or suburbs, for whether the group is really ready to address ecological issues. Of course, as with everything, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Still, this topic demonstrates whether people are literally ready ‘to own and work with their shit’. Composting toilets can be helpful with the shift from being consumers to finding more sustainable solutions in our lives. They can help us to understand our impact on nature, and in a very individual way to reevaluate our own principles.
Intention that informs practice
Building a compost toilet forms a design challenge, and at the same time is an opportunity for limitless creativity, compared to bigger, more ’serious’ buildings. Last but not least, a well-designed and well-functioning composting toilet is ultimately one of the most ecological and elegant solutions for treating water with care, fertilizing local soil, and lowering expenses, all at the same time. As such, designing and building a composting toilet together is a very efficient, fun and deep learning experience for community groups. Creating healthier lifestyles with solutions like compost toilets demonstrates alternative, efficient and sustainable solutions.
Important questions to answer include: who will do it, how the whole system will be taken care of, what is comfortable, where to place it, should it be beautiful, what does it cost etc. The building phase is about making a dream and design into reality. It involves doing something very real and tangible together – obtaining and preparing materials, laying the foundation, building the framework, thrones, roof, walls, and making it beautiful, unleashing creativity. After building is completed, then it’s time for celebration, feedback and learning
If looked upon from this angle, a composting toilet is a perfect exercise in the ’Dragon Dreaming’ project cycle – dreaming, planning, doing and celebrating. So if you want to grow as a group and get something done while growing – design and build a compost toilet!