The composting toilet revolution

DATE:
October 17, 2019
CATEGORY:
AUTHOR:

In this era of taking individual responsibility for our planet, we have all become increasingly familiar with, recycling, carbon footprint, ethical waste disposal, water management and renewable energy, and so on. Therefore does this mean that composting toilets should become a necessity too?

Until recently, in the developed world, we have got used to merely flushing away our ablutions without a moments thought. A national sewage system then takes away all our waste-water. One flush, and it's all gone from our mind. However, unless you have been living under a rock, you will be aware that an ecological revolution is going on. That revolution is turning all our perceptions, behaviours and responsibilities upside-down. This includes our toilets too.

Furthermore, this revolution has also influenced the emergence of the growing new holiday trend - glamping. Glamping is derived from the concept of glamorous camping.  A popular aspect of glamping is providing an often off-grid, homely experience directly in the great outdoors. Every summer, more and more glamping sites are springing up in our magnificent countryside.

One of the most significant issues facing new glamping ventures is how to get rid of whiffy (effluent) waste.  Our own market research at Glampsan has helped us understand that the trend of composting toilets is on the rise in the glamping sector. So much so, we have now introduced these to our own range of waste sanitation solutions as well.

Composting toilets, do, however, take a bit of effort to get your head around these devices.  This is because they require a degree of intervention and certainly re-education to take responsibility for the composting process. But, before we get to all that...

What exactly is a composting toilet?

This is what the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) has to say about them...
"A composting toilet treats sewage onsite, recycling nutrients into fertiliser that you can then use on the garden [for example]." During summer heat builds up in the composting chamber that aids the composting process. The product we are supplying is double insulated to further accelerate that process. CAT goes on to say that there are many types of composting toilet, from expensive proprietary systems to simple self-build designs. Keeping urine separate is usually the key to successful composting, or, it can become 'pongy'.

CAT also states, that a composting toilet is a good option where there's a limited water supply because it needs no water for flushing. On a completely water-free site, you could use alcohol gel for hand cleansing, or a hand-washing facility [such as gravity-fed potable water].

For a lot of people, (particularly end-customers) they may find composting toilets a step too far and might, therefore, prefer other more familiar solutions. And we also agree with this caveat too - composting toilets are definitely not a solution that will sit well with everyone. But, nevertheless, they are a viable solution. So, you do need to know what you are getting into though.

Composting toilet considerations

Here is how composting toilets work and a few considerations as a starting point:

Firstly, you can only sit on these toilets (yes, that means gentlemen, no standing)! Some blokes might not 'stand' for that - pun intended!

Here is the inside view of one of our composting toilets - clearly showing the urine separator at the front. At the bottom is a perforated tray to separate out any seepage.

Once you're all done, you need to add some bulking compost material manually. That means looking at what you've done. For sites that cater for large amounts of families or small children (like an outdoors pre-school for example), then, those in charge may find that they need to intervene more and they may not want to!

You need to know what can and can't be disposed of into a composting toilet (no baby-wipes, sanitary towels or tampons, for instance).

As already mentioned, the design of the toilet intentionally separates (most of the) urine from solid material. In this first stage of composting separating solids and liquids avoids toilet smells and flys etc. So, urine is gravity dispersed to an external removable (and often buried) collection tank. This needs emptying regularly and tipped onto a secondary matured (last year's toilet waste) composting area or chamber for a second stage of composting (explained below). In this second stage, adding urine is essential to the natural composting process.
Urine is sterile, so it can be also mixed on a 1:5 ratio with potable water and used to feed the soil around garden plants.
Another solution is to pipe the urine to a soak-away outside the glamping unit. A typical soak-away could be 4 meters long, 500mm wide, 500mm deep and filled with rubble or large (40-50mm) stone. Latest sewage water regulations may apply.

As stated above (with our units) first stage composting starts in the toilet chamber itself. Waste here builds up layer by layer along with the added composting bulking material. And the following summer it needs to be emptied into another separate composting chamber or area. The composting toilets we supply come with a run and standby chamber. So the full chamber is simply swapped out with an empty chamber. The full chamber is sealed, moved (they have wheels) and then left to allow the process of natural decomposition to complete. This is an annual procedure. Our composting toilets are made from recyclable plastic and are completely weatherproof - so they can be left outside. Waste urine is then added periodically to the full chamber (or second stage composting area) to assist the process. After a further year (that's two years in total), the waste has been completely broken down, and the compost is safe to use.

Here you can see the composting toilet unit for first (right) and second stage (left) composting. Note the wheels for easy swap-out and move-ability

Natural ventilation of the toilet area is essential for active composting and to prevent smells. A vent (see hole for insertion on rear of right unit) is used to draw air across the top of the chamber, to promote the composting process. It should also draw air from inside the toilet cubicle, down the toilet pedestal.

Toilet area construction

As you might have picked up from the header photo, our toilets are quite high (or deep). This is so they can accommodate a large volume over the length of the season (or year) without requiring emptying. During that time the first stage of odourless natural composting occurs. We recommend that a wooden toilet enclosure is constructed around the composting toilet in mind. For our units, this will include a raised floor and a rear wall designed to allow the toilet to be wheeled away easily when full. Of course there are other designs too, but we believe our models are the least intrusive, most effective and easiest to maintain.

Planning, Building Regulations and so forth

Planning permission for composting toilets is essential too. For example, their installation needs to comply with Building Regulations. The conditions given there say that they're fine when suitable arrangements can be made for the disposal of the waste either on or off the site. Also, waste removal shouldn't get carried through any living space or food preparation areas (including a kitchen).

CAT also states that composting toilets should not connect to an energy source other than for purposes of ventilation or sustaining the composting process. Beyond that, supplementary things will apply, such as having handwashing facilities and other sensible hygienic procedures.

CAT goes on to mention, composting toilets need to siting as far as possible away from water supplies to avoid contamination. Exact distances necessary depend upon the type of soil. Fissures in the bedrock can allow effluent to travel a long way. Therefore, sewage and water should be at least 15 metres apart. If the soil is sandy, this could be reduced to 7.5m. Where possible toilets should be downhill of wells or boreholes. The bottom of the latrine chamber should be 1.5 metres above the water table. Your local planning agency will help you here.

Another consideration perhaps is, that if you can't make use of compost on your site, eg for fertilising plants, vegetables or garden areas for example, then composting might not be the best solution for you. I know sites in remote parts of the UK, where the ground is unsuitable for growing plants. On the other hand, where this is possible, then planning for gardens or vegetable plots on your glamping site etc may be an added bonus and attraction too.

Public health is vital, and planning authorities are right to be concerned about any toilet systems – it's part of their job.

In conclusion

We think that the benefits of using composting toilets on a glamping site are that they overcome cumbersome waste effluent collection tanks, buried soak-aways, or expensive and onerous sewage treatment plants. They are especially useful in completely off-grid situations and where water is hard to source. They are an ecological solution, albeit require additional maintenance. Also, by not using collection tanks, you get rid of the additional expense of waste tanker collection.

In conclusion, are composting toilets a necessity? No! They are certainly not for everyone or every glamping business either, there are other solutions too. But composting toilets are viable consideration and an eco-friendly one at that too.

For example, if you have a smallholding with a few shepherds huts, then building an adjacent simple composting toilet facility for each hut may be a viable and attractive solution. You can include attractive planted garden flower areas too to dispose of your compost. Furthermore, you avoid the use of regular collection tankers to pump away waste.

If this blog has intrigued you, or you'd life to know more, pease call us on the number given below - we'd be delighted to speak with you. Also, look out for our accompanying vlog that we are about to shoot to complement this blog.

Go to this year's glamping show

Trade shows are a great source of information too. For example, if you're thinking about starting up a glamping business, you should seriously consider coming along to the Farming Business Innovation show, at the Birmingham NEC, on 6 and 7th November 2019. We have a Glampsan stand there too, so come and say hello.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Here's the link - http://www.farmbusinessshow.co.uk

And one more thing, we’re big on Social Media too

One of our passions is that we love using social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in quirky and fun ways to appeal to you rather than trawl through endless emails. And we have lots of fun with video too, to get our messages across to you.

So please look out for our posts and join in with our world-wide-rave and like and follow us back. Also, we'd love you to tell us, in the comments, what you think too people.

If you didn't know, we make (probably) the most awesome plastic sewage waste Flat Tanks in the universe? But, perhaps we’re biased! So if composting toilets are not your thing, then you might find that our effluent collection tanks are a viable solution instead.

END

[1,400 words]

If you've got a spare moment, why not check out these blogs we wrote about glamping business startups.

Own some land and want to get into glamping

10 Top tips for setting up a glamping venue

Sincerely,

JT,

The Flat Tank Guy

0800 999 6010‍

https://www.glampsan.com (Part of Plastic Solutions based in Aldridge)

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