| How To Compost
Interested in the various aspects of composting? Well, you've come to the right place. On our site you will find articles and hundreds of links covering all aspects of composting.

What Is a Composting Toilet?
Angela West - Sun-Mar

A composting toilet breaks down waste into an inoffensive soil using aerobic bacteria. Aerobic bacteria break down waste quickly and only give off carbon dioxide, water, and beneficial enzymes in this process. However, to give them a good environment in which to do their work, you need to provide them with the following:

1. Plenty of Oxygen

This is in fact why they are called “aerobic” bacteria. Without lots of oxygen, aerobic bacteria just go dormant and don’t do a thing, and anaerobic bacteria then take over. Anaerobic bacteria produce the foul-smelling gasses that we think of when we generally think of human waste, and their breakdown process is much slower. This is why the breakdown process itself has no odor – there is none when aerobic bacteria are employed.

Oxygen can be provided to the compost using a number of means, including porous bulking material and various mechanical devices.

2. Moisture

Without moisture, there is no vehicle by which the bacteria can be transported through the compost pile. If it is too dry, a number of other things will start to happen as well. Toilet paper won’t break down quickly and easily, and the compost will start to harden. Generally you don’t want to use the contents of your composter as construction material, so it definitely needs water to work.

Moisture is generally added to the compost naturally through urination. In systems that have low flush toilets, moisture level is rarely a problem. In others, water may need to be added from time to time to ensure that moisture levels are between 40% and 60%.

3. Correct Bulking Material

This actually covers not just one item that you need, but several. A good bulking mix will be porous, which means that lots of oxygen will be provided to the pile just by virtue of a loose matrix in the bulk itself. Many composting toilet manufacturers use wood shavings in order to ensure porosity. Another often necessary ingredient is peat moss, because it holds water (necessary in dry toilet systems) and provides a very rich source of carbon. A good carbon/nitrogen ratio is essential to maintain in a composting toilet, because without the carbon that you add through the bulking material, the pile will generally be too nitrogen-rich and the composting action will slow drastically.

A properly functioning composting system is a mini-ecosystem with all of the proper elements above working in conjunction with each other to produce an excellent bio-reactor for breaking down human waste.

Generally when you look into a composting toilet, you will see what looks like soil. It really isn’t offensive at all, and it doesn’t smell either. I remember when I first saw a composting toilet – it was about 10 years ago when I first started working here. I was very curious as to exactly how well the things worked that I was involved with, so I snuck into the men’s bathroom where the fully functional model was located. I very gingerly crept up to the “throne”, and lifted the seat. I was shocked. I was looking at soil. I had worked myself up to looking at something extremely different.

I couldn’t smell anything either. I even put my nose up to the seat level and couldn’t smell anything. I have seen many more since then, in the field and out, and am always astounded at how composting toilets manage to make human waste smell like a forest floor. I also feel very lucky to not only be with a company that not only makes products that do exactly what they say they are going to do, but a company that is actively interested in protecting the environment through promoting the use of composting toilets.

This article refers mostly to my experience with composting toilets, but I have tried to make it as generic as possible. If you have any comments on it, please feel free to post them in the forum.