Could Composting Toilets Save Cities Millions in Waste Water Treatment?


Image credit: Biolet

From the humanure approach of pooping in a bucket to the rough-and-ready "tree bog" composting toilet, I've posted plenty of low tech DIY options for dealing with human waste. But my fellow TreeHugger writers, to their credit, have often had more ambitious, mainstream plans for saner sanitation. From large office buildings going "off pipe" with composting toilets to the notion that high-tech composting toilets may be coming to our cities, these are tantalizing hints that our bodily waste may finally be seen for the valuable resource they are. I've just come across an important editorial that suggests public opinion may be catching up on the subject, arguing for a serious look at community-wide composting toilets instead of building a new waste water treatment plant. Addressing plans for a new waste water treatment plant for Oak Harbor, Washington, that is projected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the editorial in the SeattlePI suggests that it is high-time that city planners considered composting toilets as a viable alternative. With modern, high-tech composting toilets costing approximately $2000, the editorial argues that only 5000 would be needed to cover the community of 20,000. (Whether or not that likelihood stacks up given the dominance of multi-toilet households is hard to say...). Either way, says the editorial, considerable savings are to be had, and not just monetarily:

The composting toilets require routine maintenance which the homeowner could do himself or pay an extra fee for the city to do. That would provide more jobs but still no doubt be far cheaper than operating a major centralized sewer plant.

The additional bonus is the huge savings in water consumption. Millions of missing flushes annually would save an inestimable amount of precious fresh water on an island that is a sole source aquifer, except for the single pipe that brings water to Oak Harbor.

What do we think—common sense solution to a tricky fiscal and engineering challenge, or nothing more than a pipe dream? And if it proves to be viable, how do we encourage adoption elsewhere?

As Lloyd argues in his excellent post about putting a price on pee and poop, it's time to stop flushing nutrients down the toilet. We have plenty of options available to us, not we just have to figure out which ones work where.

More on Composting Toilets
The History and Design of the Bathroom: Putting a Price on Pee and Poop
Composting Toilets are on the Rise: Are They Coming to a City Near You?
vancouver Office Building Goes 100% "Off Pipe" With Composting Toilets
DIY Composting Toilets: Humanure
How to Build a "Tree Bog" Composting Toilet

Tags: Composting | Composting Toilets | Conservation | Economics | United States

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