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

  • AjitSeshadri
  • AjitSeshadri's Avatar
  • Marine Chief Engineer by profession (1971- present) and at present Senior Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, Chennai, India. Also proficient in giving Environmental solutions, Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Environment Consultant located at Chennai, India
  • Posts: 113
  • Likes received: 16

Re: [SuSanA Forum] Composting toilets do not produce compost - true or false? And is "composting toilet" a misnomer? (Composting toilets, Arborloos)

Dear Dean and others.
We are appreciative of the efforts made by varied team Members .
An important objective still needs to be done, is to how to ascertain that faecal sludge is safe, well secure to be used in application on land ie at agri farms.
Just for eg we have Scientists carry out 'bio assay' tests to test out safe waters by use of 'sacrificial fish'
I may be wrong to suggest, could we have some tests which can easily be done by practicing communities to ascertain this 'parameter'. Etc.
Well wishes for extending efforts.

Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Senior Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, and
Environment Consultant (Water shed Mngmnt, WWT, WASH, others) Chennai, India
You need to login to reply
  • AndyWarren
  • AndyWarren's Avatar
  • I'm the Managing Director of NatSol Ltd, Composting and Remote Toilet Specialists. We operate almost exclusively in the UK and design and manufacture our own products. These are supplied to sites such as allotments, rural churches, public parks and campsites.
  • Posts: 4
  • Likes received: 1

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

As sometimes happens I wonder if this discussion is getting bogged down (excuse the pun) in semantics.

I have just looked up the word compost in an online dictionary and it says: "decayed organic material used as a fertilizer for growing plants".
As a gardener that seems to me a reasonable definition and it is one with which most people would be familiar.

At an earlier stage in this thread I notice that Dr Geoff Hill defines compost more technically: "The definition of compost is a material that has been thermophilically and mesophilically treated to reduce pathogens by 4 logs."

Obviously the risk is that the dictionary definition could lead CT owners or managers to think that CTs produce compost which is safe for growing food plants.

My company advises against the use of compost from toilets on food crops. Our assumption is that although harmful bacteria and viruses are likely to have gone as a result of one year's composting there is a risk of parasites surviving.
You need to login to reply
  • geoffbhill
  • geoffbhill's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Dr. Hill Waterless human waste researcher Toilet Tech director Engineered Compost Systems director
  • Posts: 33
  • Karma: 3
  • Likes received: 36

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

Again, one key question that nobody has addressed:

Is Susana (and the forum) a popular public access forum for people to share their opinions, or does it have purpose / a mandate to protect public health and guide development with this as a guiding principle.

If the first (public open forum) this forum is well populated with full spectrum of opinions, people can read and make their own mind up.

If the second (with mandate to protect human health), someone needs to step in and help draw conclusions and make statements.

If the second, Susana needs to define what compost means to them, with regards to their mission and mandate. Is it the rotting of organic waste in a pile to make soil conditioner? Or is it an engineered process with controls and critical check points to be sure to minimize risk and provide high confidence to low-skill, minimal PPE wearing operators, and un-informed end-user (subsistence farmers).

In the USA (and other countries) there is a an agency called the EPA which protects public health. Composting sludge is defined and regulated within. To minimize infectious disease transference, biosolids (even those treated anaerobically through industrial facility) need to be thermophilically composted to reduce risk to the point at which substance can be sold or used without restrictions.

www3.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/chapt_02.pdf
nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=200046QX.TXT

Is it in Susana's interest to define compost and composting to protect public health, or not?
The following user(s) like this post: Carol McCreary
You need to login to reply
  • geoffbhill
  • geoffbhill's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Dr. Hill Waterless human waste researcher Toilet Tech director Engineered Compost Systems director
  • Posts: 33
  • Karma: 3
  • Likes received: 36

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

NB: there are a few alternatives to composting to kill pathogens in sludge ... to be accurate with my posts:

I've attached an extensive document which gives lots of details on various methods. None are time based alone. The regimes are:

A) proven methods, time and temperature monitoring with record keeping, and indicator organism checking (for assurance, like E.coli). Ample science to support the assured process of time / temperature destruction of pathogens.

B ) non proven methods (low temperature), meet basic parameters (like VS reduction to show that something is actually happenings) followed by full pathogen testing (E.coli, Salmonella, virus, and helminth ova). Virus testing and helminth ova testing are very expensive tests and few labs in North America even do this. Full pathogen testing is done because non proven methods all have influence by site conditions and no assurance of process. The costs of testing full pathogens make this nearly impossible at remote and decentralized individual or community toilets. This is why Jenkins is all about batch thermophilic process... because heating and mixing a few times is many many times safer than leaving shit in a pile for years.

This message has an attachment file.
Please log in or register to see it.

The following user(s) like this post: Carol McCreary, kimgerly
You need to login to reply
  • joeturner
  • joeturner's Avatar
  • Posts: 690
  • Karma: 22
  • Likes received: 163

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

I suppose what concerns me most (and why I have been away from this forum for a long time) is this.

If we know that systems do not kill pathogens and we then are telling people that the material is safe to handle and spread on vegetables, then I think we are adding to the problem of disease, not helping reduce it.

And if we can't be sure of systems because we can't afford the microbiological testing - then we need to stop encouraging the use of them.
The following user(s) like this post: Carol McCreary
You need to login to reply
  • Ronniedeb
  • Ronniedeb's Avatar
  • Alternative sanitation designer and consultant, landscape architect
  • Posts: 14
  • Likes received: 1

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

Hi Joe,

I think, if we are very technical, All dry toilet systems, of which there are many, facilitate composting to some degree. This does not always result in a beautiful, fully stabilised, sanitised "compost" except in the case of the very sophisticated BioR21 type, which carries-out 100% aerobic composting, but then also uses quite a lot of electricity.
I am personally involved in the sale, installation and maintenance of dry and composting toilets here in the west and I am in regular conversations with wastewater engineers and legislators on the merits of dry sanitation from an environmental, financial and health point of view, and in my opinion, the point is to compare like with like (regardless of composting performance):
1. Volume - keeping it dry reduces the volumes of waste by 100's of multiples

2. Introduction of air/oxygen - whether the composting is happening fast or slow, most human enteric pathogens come from an anaerobic environment in the body and tend to thrive in nutrient-rich water(I know...there are limitations to that statement) but are more likely to be deemed inactive once in an aerobic environment (once such an environment is maintained).

3. Solid waste and separated leachate/urine (whatever the system may be) are considerably less likely to transport pathogens and enrichment to any distance from the facility, E.G to ground water, surface water and the catchments connected to them.

When I design and build composting toilets I always incorporate a secondary treatment for both the solids and the liquids(which should always be separate) before land application. This could be a wood-chip composter for the liquids and a wormery for the solids or a serviceable transfer to a composting facility. In some cases, like in forestry or scrubland, it is possible to percolate leachate and Nitrified urine to the ground via the surface once good dispersal is observed, anyway you are talking relatively small quantities, even in busy public toilets.

To sum it up, I personally distance myself from the term "composting toilets" and rather use "dry toilets" or even "waterless toilets" but that is due to the bad reputation that poorly designed "composting toilet"systems had gotten over the years. The truth is that one way or the other, composting does take place and so the term is fair in my opinion.

See attachment below - pictures of BioR21 which we use and install, and is a true composting machine (you can hold the compost in your hands the next day)

Attachments:
You need to login to reply
  • joeturner
  • joeturner's Avatar
  • Posts: 690
  • Karma: 22
  • Likes received: 163

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

I'm not sure why you think I'm disagreeing with any of that.

If faeces composting does not consistently reach 55 degrees, secondary treatment is necessary.

Dry vaults below toilets might well have various advantages. But the one thing we can be sure about is that in places where pathogens are endemic (especially where healthcare is difficult), low temperature "composting" is not sufficient to kill pathogens.

Again, that might not matter if other barriers are in place - healthcare, education, regulations, inspections, secondary treatment, gloves, specialist skills etc.

But in the majority of places where "composting toilets" are being marketed, the barriers don't exist.
The following user(s) like this post: Carol McCreary
You need to login to reply
  • muench
  • muench's Avatar
  • Moderator of this Forum; Freelance consultant and Wikipedian (former roles: program manager, lecturer, process engineer for wastewater treatment plants)
  • Posts: 2838
  • Karma: 53
  • Likes received: 757

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

Hi all,

It's been an interesting discussion so far. I am still keen to work on the definition issue a bit further and the best place to do that is on Wikipedia, I think. There is a separate thread for that here: forum.susana.org/discussions-about-speci...e-on-wikipedia#27525 . So anyone who wants to help spread useful, objective, verifiable information about composting toilets via Wikipedia please head over to that thread.

I also wanted to react to Geoff's statement:

Again, one key question that nobody has addressed:

Is Susana (and the forum) a popular public access forum for people to share their opinions, or does it have purpose / a mandate to protect public health and guide development with this as a guiding principle.

If the first (public open forum) this forum is well populated with full spectrum of opinions, people can read and make their own mind up.

If the second (with mandate to protect human health), someone needs to step in and help draw conclusions and make statements.

If the second, Susana needs to define what compost means to them, with regards to their mission and mandate. Is it the rotting of organic waste in a pile to make soil conditioner? Or is it an engineered process with controls and critical check points to be sure to minimize risk and provide high confidence to low-skill, minimal PPE wearing operators, and un-informed end-user (subsistence farmers).


Here I think we should distinguish between the SuSanA discussion forum and SuSanA as a network/platform/alliance.
The SuSanA discussion forum certainly fulfills the role that you have described in your first point. The purpose of the forum is:
"The Forum enables us to freely share knowledge and ideas about sustainable sanitation within the network and beyond.” If someone was spreading blatantly wrong misinformation or off-topic stuff then I'd step in as a moderator and it would most likely be deleted. But if people have different interpretations of the same data sets, different assessment of what is a high risk and what not, then we need to allow the discussion to take place and readers can draw their own conclusions.

Regarding your second point: SuSanA as a network/alliance/platform does not have a mandate to "endorse" or not endorse particular technologies. You will see in all of SuSanA's publications that we do not go down to that level of detail. The SuSanA publications remain rather higher level. See all SuSanA publications here in the library: www.susana.org/en/knowledge-hub/resource...5&vbl_2%5B%5D=&test= The publications talk about sustainable (and safe) sanitation as the aim, meeting SDG 6 but do not try to mandate which technology to use or not use. Yes, there has been a bit of an emphasis on safe reuse activities in the past as they can lead to a more sustainable system overall but if it's not safe then don't do it. And yes, UDDTs do feature in a lot of publications of our SuSanA partners as they have some advantages, particularly if water is scarce. But again, there is no SuSanA publication that would stipulate that UDDTs are the preferred technology choice in all circumstances.

Also, no SuSanA publication says that you should compromise on safety with regards to spreading something (treated human excreta) on vegetables that are to be eaten raw if it is not safe to do so.

I think Dean made a good point in his post from 16 July:

There also needs to be some context around what is "safe". Safe to be handled and spread around? Safe to put around food crops that will be eaten raw? Safe to sell as a product? These are all different, I'd be happy to spread compost full of helminths around some trees, I'd just wear gloves and maybe a dust mask to be safe. What I'm most interested in is a product safe to spread around in crops, but even this safety level varies according to whether the crop is to be cooked or eaten raw.


Regards,
Elisabeth

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum
(Funded via GIZ short term consultancy contract)

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Brisbane, Australia
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @EvMuench
Sanitation Wikipedia project leader: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation
My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile
The following user(s) like this post: Carol McCreary
You need to login to reply
  • geoffbhill
  • geoffbhill's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Dr. Hill Waterless human waste researcher Toilet Tech director Engineered Compost Systems director
  • Posts: 33
  • Karma: 3
  • Likes received: 36

Re: [SuSanA Forum] Composting toilets do not produce compost - true or false? And is "composting toilet" a misnomer? (Composting toilets, Arborloos)

Thanks, good comments.

However the question is not about "technogies" or "products" per se. Composting is a process that has key parts and biochemistry, and minus any of these, I am professing it not be called composting.

If a water treatment system advertised that it treated the water to make it safe, but in fact it just shone a green LED at the water as it passed through, would we allow it? Accept it? Would we allow it to be called "treatment" if we knew many many people were going to use it and even love it?

We are arguing about a word, a definition, similar to "treatment" for water, but for solid pathogen rich human waste. Composting does not happen under a toilet hole. We should not proliferate the term composting toilet.

Geoff Hill
Toilet Tech 206-966-6009
The following user(s) like this post: Carol McCreary, kimgerly
You need to login to reply
  • kimgerly
  • kimgerly's Avatar
  • To be a transformative leader and change agent for rebranding waste as a resource, and developing and implementing innovative and agile eco-sanitation service options for application in the built/urban environment.
  • Posts: 16
  • Likes received: 2

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


out thinking the box | poo guru | hope & trimethylxanthine addict | solving spherical cow problems | fluid mechanics | heat transfer | communicating complex technical topics in basic terms that anyone can understand
You need to login to reply
  • muench
  • muench's Avatar
  • Moderator of this Forum; Freelance consultant and Wikipedian (former roles: program manager, lecturer, process engineer for wastewater treatment plants)
  • Posts: 2838
  • Karma: 53
  • Likes received: 757

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

I have done a bit of tidying up on this thread by moving some posts into two sub-threads.
- The posts about Kimberley's system in Portland, Oregon are now here: forum.susana.org/98-resource-recovery-fr...-portland-oregon-usa
- The posts about use of urine in allotment gardens in the UK are now here: forum.susana.org/175-urine-reuse-or-infi...-the-uk-use-of-urine
(are there any other posts that should be moved into sub-threads? I wasn't sure about the discussion between Joe and Dean)

I'd like to see if we can get some form of "conclusion" for this thread. Is anyone game to do up a short summary of the discussion to date?
And should we look into whether SuSanA could put out a statement of sorts to highlight this issue of composting toilets to the sector? Perhaps even agree on no longer using the term "composting toilets" in any of SuSanA's future publications? Something like that should perhaps be brought up through one of the working groups, such as Working Group 4 on sanitation systems.

As an interim step or a parallel activity, I would still like to collectively work on the Wikipedia article on composting toilets ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composting_toilet ). It gets about 700 views per day - this is not insignificant! We cannot for now, change the article's title (because "composting toilets" is what they are called at present). But we can add information into the article about the controversial nature of this name - provided we have reliable sources to quote. Quoting this forum discussion is not good enough for a Wikipedia article. Which other publication is out there that explicitly questions using the term "composting toilet"? Have you published anything on this, Geoff? Even a newspaper article could work as a source for such a statement (but is not ideal).

Joe wrote on 14 July:

There have been a lot of studies published in the literature in the last 18 months looking at pathogen survival in composting toilet systems. Enough that I think we may need to conduct a widespread review of the Wikipedia page to take account of them - some including risk (using Monte Carlo systems) DALYs of handling and using the materials etc.

To that I would say "Yes, please".

(when you say "composting toilet systems" would that include those systems that don't do the composting in the toilet itself but in a secondary treatment step? Is there a distinction to be made between "composting toilet" and "composting toilet system", are they two different things?)

Elisabeth

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum
(Funded via GIZ short term consultancy contract)

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Brisbane, Australia
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @EvMuench
Sanitation Wikipedia project leader: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation
My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile
You need to login to reply
  • joeturner
  • joeturner's Avatar
  • Posts: 690
  • Karma: 22
  • Likes received: 163

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

I do not think the Wikipedia page "composting toilet" includes secondary composting systems, does it?

But no, I thought the discussion here was mostly about the kinds of system where there is no secondary treatment. In my experience this tends to be what most people think they mean when they talk about "composting toilets".

If one is collecting materials beneath a toilet, with irregular and basically random additions of carbon, the evidence is that pathogens are not reliably destroyed even with long storage times.

If one is collecting that material for secondary treatment - particularly where that's at a properly monitored site, that's a different thing.

The latter may well be sufficient to sanitise material of the pathogens. The former, in places where the pathogens are endemic (and specifically where other barriers do not exist) is not.

It seems quite straightforward to me - the matter is only confused when people insist that composting is occuring in places where there is a) insufficient carbon b) insufficient oxygen and c) no monitoring. That cannot be true.
You need to login to reply
Share this thread:
Recently active users. Who else has been active?
Time to create page: 1.540 seconds