Technically, a "composting toilet" is a toilet in which composting takes place. Usually, the composting chamber is located under the toilet. Other toilets are simply collection devices in which humanure is deposited, then removed to a separate composting location away from the toilet area. These toilets are components of "composting toilet systems," rather than composting toilets, per se. They can also be called "compost toilets."
Humanure composting toilets and systems can generally be divided into two categories based on the composting temperatures they generate. Some toilet systems produce thermophilic (hot) compost; others produce low-temperature compost. Most commercial and homemade composting toilets are low-temperature composting toilets, sometimes called "mouldering toilets."
The most basic way to compost humanure is simply to collect it in a toilet receptacle and add it to a compost pile. The toilet acts only as a collection device, while the composting takes place at a separate location. Such a toilet requires little, if any, expense and can be constructed and operated by people of simple means in a wide range of cultures around the world. It is easy to create thermophilic (hot) compost with such a collection toilet. This type of toilet is discussed in detail in Chapter 8, "The Tao of Compost."
The toilets of the future will also be collection devices rather than waste disposal devices. The collected organic material will be hauled away from homes, like municipal garbage is today, and composted under the responsibility of municipal authorities, perhaps under contract with private sector composting facilities. Currently, other recyclable materials such as bottles and cans are collected from homes by municipalities; in some areas organic food materials are also collected and composted at centralized composting facilities. The day will come when the collected organic materials will include toilet materials.
In the meantime, homeowners who want to make compost rather than sewage must do so independently by either constructing a composting toilet of their own, buying a commercial composting toilet, or using a simple collection toilet with a separate composting bin. The option one chooses depends upon how much money one wants to spend, where one lives, and how much involvement one wants in the compost-making process.
A simple collection toilet with a separate compost bin is the least expensive, but tends to be limited to homes where an outdoor compost bin can be utilized. Such a toilet is only attractive to people who don't mind the regular job of emptying containers of compost onto a compost pile, and who are willing to responsibly manage the compost to prevent odor and to ensure appropriate composting conditions.
Homemade composting toilets, on the other hand, generally include a compost bin underneath the toilet and do not involve transporting humanure to a separate composting area. They may be less expensive than commercial composting toilets and they can be built to whatever size and capacity a household requires, allowing for some creativity in their design. They are usually permanent structures located under the dwelling in a crawl space or basement, but they can also be free-standing outdoor structures. The walls are typically made of a concrete material, and the toilets are most successful when properly managed. Such management includes the regular addition to the toilet contents of sufficient carbon-based bulking material, such as sawdust, peat moss, straw, hay or weeds. Homemade composting toilets generally do not require water or electricity.
Commercial composting toilets come in all shapes, types, sizes, and price ranges. They're usually made of fiberglass or plastic and consist of a composting chamber underneath the toilet seat. Some of them use water and some of them require electricity. Some require neither.
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