Composting toilets do not produce compost - true or false? And is "composting toilet" a misnomer?

  • geoffbhill
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Re: Which composting toilet to choose - recommendations, please?

Hi Elisabeth

Thanks for your input and feedback. Glad I didn't violate any forum rules.

I do think we can change the term composting toilet to waterless toilet or dry toilet. And I think there are a number of really good reasons to change the name, all of them center around human health and preventing confusion around what is safe and what is not.

Lets first start by clarifying the definition of Compost (and thus Composting as a process to produce Compost). One of the most reputable sources on this comes from the USCC (US Compost Council). I've put the definition below starting with "Definition of Compost". In essence, composting (to make compost) requires a thermophilic step. This high temp step is the pathogen killing step. This is one of they critical aspects of composting that makes compost safe, especially when feedstocks are human waste from developing world where Ascaris ova are common and in high density in feces. Without the high temperature step, destruction of Ascaris and other pathogens is very slow (maybe years if a batch is isolated from the rest of the waste pile).

The average composting toilet has people pee and poo into a hole and add bulking after they 'go'. These are generally operated as a continuous system of one sort or another (top to bottom Phoenix, back to front Clivus etc). This mess of poorly mixed ingredients has never been documented, in the recorded English literature, to achieve thermophilic conditions. Even if 1x10^6 stars aligned and it hit 55C for a day, the system is continuous flow, so more raw waste is added to the top, and seeps down through the whole mass re-contaminating it. There are many biological and thermodynamic reasons why sporadic pee and poo and bulking agent tossed into a dark hole doesn't conspire to make the right mix and self-heat to >55C continuously (all of these are stated in my publications on this topic) 1) way too much available N and way too little biologically available carbon resulting in high ammonia levels (toxic to beneficial bacteria and all invertebrates) 2) too much water from pee (people pee more than they poo in a day) 3) rate of heat loss many times greater than rate of heat generation.

For urine diverting toilets, invertebrates are not able to destroy or make in-viable the eggs of hookworm. I did another paper on this topic. This low temperature invertebrate driven process results in highly degraded material, well stabilized and mature (high nitrate) but does not have a sanitization step that is reliable for human safety.

The wikipedia article about proper bulking agent, C/N, moisture, density, mixing, and all those things is important when making a batch mix of organic materials for composting (with a shovel or mixer and the various ingredients at hand), at a scale >1m^3 (and all the way up to 1000 m^3 batches), and if these aren't achieved, this batch probably won't self heat to thermophilic conditions either. The reality is that these conditions never occur, under a toilet hole, consistently enough to generate a product that can pass as compost.

SUMMARY
The term Composting and Compost imbues safety. Indeed, core to the definition of compost is a process which makes it safe. This process NEVER happens within a composting toilet. All my studies, reading, and experience show that this thermophilic process can ONLY happen after the waste is removed, is mixed properly, and thermophilic temperatures are achieved and monitored, and only with these, can we imagine making compost from toilet waste. --- For stabilized vermicompost, its possible to add urea and ash as a final sanitizaiton step... see work by Nordin.

Why would we keep the term "COMPOSTING" in front of "toilet" when they don't achieve the key principles within the definition of "COMPOST"? Doesn't this propagate confusion and elevate the risk that people will use the end-product from composting toilets as if it were already COMPOST?

Geoff









Definition of Compost: The term “Compost Product(s)” shall include EITHER of the following two numbered items: (summarized here in this publication: wasteadvantagemag.com/uscc-efforts-resul...by-regulators-group/ )

COMPOST

1) An item, material or finished article sold in commerce that meets ALL of the following criteria:

a. Is the product manufactured through the controlled aerobic, biological decomposition of biodegradable materials

b. Has undergone mesophilic and thermophilic temperatures, which significantly reduces the viability of pathogens and weed seeds, and stabilizes the carbon such that it is beneficial to plant growth

c. Is typically used as a soil amendment, but may also contribute plant nutrients

d. Bears little physical resemblance to the raw material from which it originated

e. Is an organic matter source that has the unique ability to improve the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of soils or growing media

f. The sanitization through the generation of thermophilic heat shall meet the standards of the Processes to Further Reduce Pathogens (PFRP), as defined by the Code of Federal Regulations Title 40, Part 503, Appendix B, Section B.

2) Vermicompost/worm castings (worm manure) for which all feedstocks have been composted prior to their being fed to the worms AND which meets PFRP (Processes to Further Reduce Pathogens).
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  • KaiMikkel
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Re: Which composting toilet to choose - recommendations, please?

Harry wrote:

Kai
Can you explain what you mean by "non - source - separating"?
Harry


Certainly. A source separating toilet segregates urine and feces at the source via a split bowl design that directs urine to the front (where it travels to its own area or storage container) and feces towards the back (where it drops straight down into its own chamber or storage container). A non-source-separating dry toilet is one in which urine and feces are deposited into the same container or chamber and thus allowed to mix. As far as I am concerned this represents a major flaw in non-source-separating dry toilet design, at least those mass-produced versions which are sold under the term "composing toilet".

Kai Mikkel Førlie

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
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Re: Which composting toilet to choose - recommendations, please?

Hi Elisabeth!

I'm with Geoff on this. The term "composting" when used to describe a non-source separating dry toilet is a real problem out there, both in the marketplace and the minds of many people. I know that when I was researching which dry toilet design to go with for our own home I was shocked when all I could find in terms of online user reviews of dry. non-separating container-based toilets was people describing really terrible experiences with these types of toilets. The vast majority of the problem was generated from the misnomer in the name that manufacturers and retailers were using to describe these toilets: "composting toilets". As Geoff and I have pointed out, attaching the word "composting" to these toilets is seriously problematic especially, as Geoff has argued, since none are actually able to achieve the process known as "composting". Instead, they lead to the production of a nasty slurry which, aside from the associated negative odors that occur when urine and feces are allowed to mix and then stew (often times made worse thanks to heat produced by a thermal electric element which is often part of the design of these toilets), causes all kinds of maintenance and other practical problems. As I said earlier, the damage to our sector that these toilets have done (at least in North America) is immeasurable and immense. In this regard, I absolutely think that SUSANA and others should make a major effort to banish the phrase "composting toilet" from the world's sanitation lexicon. How this phrase has been allowed to exist this long is beyond me. It's false advertising of the worst sort.

Kai Mikkel Førlie

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Re: Which composting toilet to choose - recommendations, please?

The commercial product "compost" should certainly undergo pfrp, but sanitisation of compost I produce at home and do not dig into my food garden is not necessary. Just like my non-thermophilic compost heap out the back of the garden, the dark toilet hole produces compost. It is not sanitised compost, my garden compost heap is full of weed seeds and the toilet compost is full of ascaris, but the US Compost Council can't tell me it isn't compost. They have standards for their producers who sell the stuff and the product itself, but not the equipment used for making it and not something I make myself for myself.

Certainly I should be aware that the compost from my composted mess of poorly mixed ingredients in my dark toilet hole is not safe to use in food production, but is it a vector of pathogens and unsafe if I put it around my fruit trees? Nope. Because I'm not selling the stuff it is still compost, I just need to be aware it is not sanitised compost. Of course, if my dark hole does not provide the necessary conditions for decomposition to take place, I am not making compost at all and my toilet is not "composting". 

Dean Satchell, M For. Sc.
Go-Eco Sustainable Solutions
www.go-eco.co.nz
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  • bowenarrow
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Re: Which composting toilet to choose - recommendations, please?

My view on this subject is that by all means create a new title but lets not forget that people out there who want to do their bit by having sustainability in mind do not want to go shopping for a toilet that has a lengthy, if academically correct, title. Basic marketing.
Also in my experience the only toilets I have ever come across in my 30 odd years of being around the Industry that have given problems are single bowl toilets where the urine is mixed and not handled separately, hence the slurry. Perhaps Urine Diverting Toilets should be the only type approved. I do not approve of the term UDDT as any Urine Diverting toilet uses water for cleaning and there is moisture from other directions as well.
I sell 2 different Pedestals for the Industry along with my own continuous system, and these Pedestals are sold as Waterless or Composting depending on the users plan. I have never had anything other positive comments about both, but I have not had any scientific examination just personal examination of the resultant "humus". No doubt if I put them to a laboratory test you would find something but nothing more than the by products of a conventional flushing sewer system.
Ross
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  • arno
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Re: Which composting toilet to choose - recommendations, please?

My take on this is that the term "composting toilet" is a misnomer from a technical/scientific point of view. Mixing urine and faeces and storing it in a container I agree makes for a primitive toilet creating major odour problems indoors and outdoors near the vent outlet. I think most people that have installed a "compost toilet" and have experienced the odour and maintenance problems, will sooner or later get rid of it never to buy a dry toilet again. But for some reason there are some stubborn manufacturers that insist their product to be superior to UDDTs. Ignorance among buyers has kept the "composting" toilets around even to this day.

I do, however, have good things to say about the Clivus multrum, especially when it comes to choosing an ecosan public toilet. This is really the only toilet that can produce its own compost - but this requires additions of carbon sources, soil bacteria and a large enough understory container such that a composting ecosystem can develop. The liquid it produces is an odourless mix of humic acid and nitrate. I find UDDTs as public toilets require continuous maintenance since most people don't know how to use them.

I recorded a testimony for the State of Vermont just on this question of composting toilets some years back.

Regards

Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
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Re: Composting toilets do not produce compost - true or false? And is "composting toilet" a misnomer?

Hi Geoff and all,

I've split this thread off and have given it a new title. I think the contributions above have shown that composting toilets produce stuff that might be "compost like" to varying degrees or might just be some sort of slurry. Would you agree that a Clivus Multrum is "allowed" to be called a composting toilet or are you arguing that not even a well designed and well functioning Clivus Multrum should be called that?

My experience with laypersons is that - strangely - when I say "I work on composting toilets" I get a friendly, understanding nod. But when I say "I work on dry toilets" or "on UDDTs" I get a confused look. For some reason the term "composting toilets" brings up positive emotions and an "I know what that is" feeling. That's probably why suppliers like to call it "composting toilet". (similar to words like eco, green, bio...)

I am not yet convinced that the term needs changing - but it may need to be specified better in the definition section. A toilet that aims to produce compost (in the toilet itself and then usually followed by a second step) could be OK to be called "composting toilet". It would be too lengthy to call it "attempting to produce compost like material toilet"...

If not, what would be a better term? I don't think "dry toilet" is suitable because that's an overarching term that includes all sorts of things. We tried to clarify that on Wikipedia here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_toilet

There are several types of toilets which are referred to as "dry toilets". All of them work without flush water and without a connection to a sewer system or septic tank:

- Composting toilet (in most cases without urine diversion but can also be with urine diversion)
- Urine-diverting dry toilet (UDDT) – with urine diversion, as the name implies
- Arborloo – which is similar to a pit latrine but has a much shallower pit and is designed for making compost in the pit
- Container-based toilet - where human excreta is collected in sealable, removable containers (also called cartridges) that are transported to treatment facilities (a sub-type are "packaging toilets" where feces from each defecation event is placed in its own package)
- Bucket toilet – a very basic type of dry toilet consisting only of a bucket which could be upgraded with urine diversion and the use of covering material
- Simple pit latrines: those pit latrines that do not have a water seal (pour flush pit latrines have a water seal and are therefore not dry toilets).
- Incinerating toilets, freezing toilets – these are toilets with more complicated technology and higher costs

Other types of dry toilets are under development at universities, for example since 2012 funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Such toilets are meant to operate off-the-grid without connections to water, sewer, or electrical lines.[2]


I think that if we want to change how terms are used in the sector then we should first get our definitions straight, and a great place to do so is Wikipedia!

Take a look at the terminology section in the Wikipedia article on composting toilets and tell me how it should be changed:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composting_toilet#Terminology

We actually need to add more references there; which good references can we cite that talk about the problems with the terminology?

Geoff, your PhD thesis is mentioned twice in the article:
- Composting toilets have also been called "sawdust toilets", which can be appropriate if the amount of aerobic composting taking place in the toilet's container is very limited.[5]
- Pathogen destruction rates in composting toilets are usually low, particularly helminth eggs, such as Ascaris eggs.[5]

Which other publication(s) from your PhD thesis would be suitable to cite?

And do you agree with the first few sentence in the Wikipedia article?:

A composting toilet is a type of dry toilet that treats human excreta by a biological process called composting. This process leads to the decomposition of organic matter and turns human excreta into compost-like material but does not destroy all pathogens.


Regards,
Elisabeth

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Re: Which composting toilet to choose - recommendations, please?

I would like to dovetail on Dr. Hill’s comment in a previous post, "What is missing in these forums are the voices of people & agencies actually operating these units.”

First. Yes, composting toilet is a misnomer, as per points thoroughly enumerated by Dr. Hill.

Second. I would like to be one of the voices that can testify about is an eco sanitary, thermophilic compost toilet system operating in Portland, OR, USA. A paper I co-authored titled, "The Kailash Ecovillage project converting human excreta into organic foodstuffs and sanitized compost using new international building codes for compost toilet and urine diversion systems” was submitted for final editorial review just yesterday for publication in the forthcoming, first edition of IWA’s Blue-Green Systems, Ref: BGS-EM192R1.

This experimental composting toilet system modeled after the Water Efficiency and Sanitation Standard (WE-Stand) set forth by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO); it has been operating since March 2014. We call the humanure excreta collection device the commode AKA Joe Jenkins’ Lovable Loo. Urine and human excreta are hot composted (thermophilic temperatures) in a dry-composting toilet processor system for eventual use on the community’s organic gardens. The system consists of urine collection vessels, multiple portable collection containers/commodes for excreta, toilet paper, cover material, and a compost processor. Logs returned sustained thermophilic compost temperatures. Compost and urine pathogen testing met American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and National Sanitation Foundation Standard 41 (NSF 41) requirements.

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Re: Composting toilets do not produce compost - true or false? And is "composting toilet" a misnomer?

Dear Geoff and all, Researchers.
Composting toilet viz. Clvs Mltrm and others offer consolidation and treatment of f s till a certain stage.
Just to recap of any treatment a series of process is followed:
Pre process, Primary, Secondary, Teriary then comes Finishing process.

The CM toilet boxes, offer treatment upto Tertiary and the last stage requires to be monitored and control-done.

In doing this till the last stage, the volumes are reduced to 50 to 30% level and remediation till 70-80% level.

The gaseous dischrgs are vented and if possible used for thermal heating.

The operator monitors the last stage discharges and taken up with co composting to realise final produce for drying out Etc..

Well wishes.
Prof Ajit Seshadri .

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Re: Composting toilets do not produce compost - true or false? And is "composting toilet" a misnomer?

De acuerdo a nuestra experiencia se debe hacer un tratamiento secundario de los residuos orgánicos de los Baños con separación de orina tanto para las heces mezcladas preferentemente con aserrín, como el tratamiento de estabilización de la orina y posteriormente el humus producido debe ser sometido a un proceso de pasteurización en LaDePa para garantizar la eliminación de patógenos, especialmente el ascaris.

Link a nuestra experiencia en La Paz Bolivia
drive.google.com/open?id=0B3yh1PD4XtuQeG...THU0R1RWUW9FRmVvZTBv

Raul D Silveti
Fundación Sumaj Huasi
BOLIVIA

++++++++++
Translation by Google Translate:

According to our experience, secondary treatment of the organic residues of the toilets with urine separation must be done for both the faeces mixed preferably with sawdust, as the treatment of stabilization of the urine and subsequently the humus produced must be submitted to a process of pasteurization in LaDePa to guarantee the elimination of pathogens, especially ascaris.
Link to our experience in La Paz Bolivia: drive.google.com/open?id=0B3yh1PD4XtuQeG...THU0R1RWUW9FRmVvZTBv

Raul D Silveti
Sumaj Huasi Foundation
BOLIVIA
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Re: Composting toilets do not produce compost - true or false? And is "composting toilet" a misnomer?

Dear Raul,
(I write in English but you can reply in Spanish, it's no problem)

I've added the English translation to your post from yesterday. Thanks for your contribution. I have two questions:
- Is the term "Composting toilet" in Spanish common in Bolovia? Do you agree with some of the others who have said it is a misnomer and should be phased out?
- You mentioned LaDePa in your post. What did you mean by that? Have you imported a LaDePa machine from Durban? (for others: LaDePa has a thread here on the forum: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/280-fa...-in-ethekwini-durban )

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Re: Composting toilets do not produce compost - true or false? And is "composting toilet" a misnomer?

(English translation below)

Hola Elizabeth

En realidad en Bolivia se usan varios nombres para referirse al los baños con separación de orina como: Baños ecologicos, baños secos, el Ministerio del Agua de Bolivia tiene una estrategia que se llama "Programa Plurinacional de Baños Secos Ecológicos 2014 -2025" si estoy de acurdo con todos los que opinan que no debería usarse el nombre de Baños composteros, por que en el mismo, no se concluye el proceso de compostaje, estos residuos deben ser tratados en forma secundaria en instalaciones especialmente diseñadas para la producción de composta o Humus si se tratan con lombrices. es por esta razón que nosotros hablamos de saneamiento ecológico descentralizado que incluye toda la cadena de valor, desde el baño con separación hasta el reuso del abono seguro en agricultura.

En relación a LaDePa., nosotros tenemos una maquina desarrollada en Bolivia, que produce pelets, evidentemente en base a la tecnología de Durban, utilizamos gas para producir una temperatura de 340 a 450 °C, que garantiza la pasteurizacion de los abonos orgánicos, especialmente en la eliminación de todos los patógenos y de los huevos y quistes de Ascaris te adjunto un link

photos.app.goo.gl/bitxHMBYms91zU3n7

photos.app.goo.gl/JDMGq3UBuhfVnnKR8

++++++++++
Translation provided by Google Translate:

Hello, Elizabeth Actually in Bolivia several names are used to refer to the toilets with separation of urine as: Ecological bathrooms, dry toilets, the Ministry of Water of Bolivia has a strategy called "Plurinational Program of Ecological Dry Baths 2014 -2025" if I am in agreement with all those who think that the name of composting toilets should not be used, because in it, the composting process is not concluded, these residues should be treated secondarily in facilities specially designed for the production of compost or humus if they are treated with worms. it is for this reason that we speak of decentralized ecological sanitation that includes the entire value chain, from the toilet with separation to the reuse of safe fertilizer in agriculture.

In relation to LaDePa., We have a machine developed in Bolivia, which produces pellets, evidently based on Durban technology, we use gas to produce a temperature of 340 to 450 ° C, which guarantees the pasteurization of organic fertilizers, especially in the elimination of all pathogens and eggs and cysts Ascaris. I attached a link

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