One of the worst things about most big public events is the toilet – the plastic johnny-on-the-spot full of a chemical soup that is usually disgusting in very short order. It is a huge problem at multi-day events like the huge Glastonbury festival in the UK, where the happy participants go from fetid mud to fetid toilet.
This year, most of those have been replaced with composting sawdust toilets, designed by Australian company Natural Event. Their site is full of the usual potty humour (their slogan is "Changing the world from the bottom up") but there is a lot that is clever about them:
- They are flatpack, so you can get a lot more of them on a truck (150 compared to 26 portaloos).
- They are chemical free; just use it and then add a cup of sawdust to cover it up.
- They are urine separating, which keeps it dry and stops the smell.
Are there really no smells?
Yes! If users remember to tip in the sawdust after use. They are well-ventilated to maintain a flow of fresh air (unlike chemical loos which are almost sealed). Their solid-liquid separation system immediately diverts away the urine to a separate chamber for independent treatment. It is the presence of liquids that creates the bad odour of normal ‘wet’ toilets. The continual addition of sawdust by users provides a bio-filter; a physical barrier that also absorbs smells because it contains carbon (the same element used in cooker filters and trainer insoles to absorb odour).
We have shown sawdust toilets before; they are common in tiny houses. But the urine separation is a great improvement. The environmental benefits are many:
- No potable water used for flushing.
- No transport impacts of tanker trucking water for flushing. Drastically reduced transport impacts for sewage (you are not moving water used for flushing).
- No chemicals used – no bleaches or formaldehyde.
- Only environmentally sound cleaning products used.
- Final product is life-giving compost.
Jane Hardy, the sanitation manager for Glastonbury, tells the Guardian that they are a hit.
The old plastic Tardis style is gone. Toilets have always been a massive talking point, and no one ever talks about toilets in everyone’s day-to-day life, but as soon as they get to a festival that’s all they want to talk about….People comment on the change, how they don’t smell, how they don’t have that horrible toilet experience which is so connected to not just Glastonbury but most outdoor events.
I do hope that these come to North America soon.