I have a composting toilet.
Is that like an outhouse? People ask.
Mine happens to be in a separate building—which is unusual, I know—but other than that it’s not at all like an outhouse. If I had more room in my little house I’d keep it there. More convenient. It never stinks like an outhouse. At most it stinks like a regular bathroom, the aroma hanging in the air until the source is dealt with. Whether by flushing or a good coating of sawdust, the stuff is soon out of sight and smell. But with a composting toilet there’s a special touch: the sawdust adds a natural piney fragrance, much better to sniff than some wannabe flower from a spray can.
But there are other advantages. Composting toilets don’t clog, sending you into the most disgusting battle ever with that awful cup-on-a-stick you’ve never washed. Composting toilets also never overflow with sewage water all over your nice bathroom. They don’t have handles that malfunction or cheap parts that break fairly often, requiring you to wait, a bit crippled, until the plumber arrives—and then you have to pay for the plumber and the mechanism. If the ceramic cracks, you’ll need a whole new toilet—not cheap to buy or easy to install. My composting toilet has never, will never, have these problems or expenses. It also won’t steal the tap water I’ve paid to be purified, suitable for drinking and cooking, and mix it with sewage.
What do you think so far? Is a composting toilet an improvement on all this? I’m not done. Consider the whole aspect of installation.
With a composting toilet there’s no water supply needed. If you need water for handwashing, consider filling a water dispenser every couple of months and throwing your bowlfuls on a plant. No sewer connection is needed, either. I love the freedom of this. It expands my territory—how and where I’m able to live.
But the best part? At least for me, personally? The Big Miracle. You’ve heard of the Virgin Mary appearing in Lourdes? Or on a piece of toast? You know about wafers becoming the body of Christ, or his water-to-wine triumph?
This is bigger.
Input, the stuff you feed the miracle with: Shit, pee, toilet paper. And sawdust or leaves or dead flowers that have been stewing in the foul, reeking mix for weeks.
Output, the stuff you get back after doing absolutely nothing: rich, dark soil (something the pink dirt of this desert rarely sees) that smells like the sweet loam of a forest floor. A happy-making context for plants, for the diversity that feeds you. It will feed your chickens, too—they’ll peck and scratch (an evolutionary joy beyond feeders) and maybe find a couple of those delicious scarab grubs they can just barely swallow. It’s right here in your compost bin, no need to fight traffic for big plastic bags of commercial soil, or to pay for them.
I said this miracle was the best part, personally. But—I know this is hard to believe—there are actually even more benefits to composting toilets. Global ones. I wrote about them some years ago, and they’re published at Counterpunch.org. So if you want to know the rest of the story, or more about the practice, please read “The Politics of the Toilet.”