For a couple of years, we had a chemical porta potti in the van and the emptying experience was far from pleasant. I hated it, chemicals are expensive and finding places to empty it responsibly was often difficult when we were off grid. So when we built Baloo, we fitted the onboard bathroom with a composting toilet. We’ve lived full time in the camper van for 3 months now so it’s about time for a composting toilet review.
Which composting toilet did we choose?
After many hours researching and pondering over the choices available, we settled on a Natures Head composting toilet. Now a composting toilet is a major investment, unless you go for the DIY option. It’s at least 7 times the price of than the most expensive chemical porta potti. A friend of ours recently imported an all singing and dancing electronic Japanese toilet for his house. It has an Apollo 7 sized control panel with multiple body cleaning functions, a heated seat, perfumed atomising spray and a symphony of musical tunes to cover one’s excretion exertions. Including UK import tax, it was a lot cheaper than a Natures Head composting toilet!
The composting toilet is little more a moulded plastic throne, a receptacle for collecting poo, another for pee and a small 12v computer fan. It’s also quite a large contraption and needs more space than a chemical porta potti. If you’re considering buying one, make sure you allow enough space for opening the lid and the emptying process or you’ll need to remove the entire toilet each time it needs emptying.
How does a composting toilet work?
Well, a composting toilet works pretty much like your garden composter, using the natural process of evaporation and decomposition. Most of the deposits into the toilet consist of little more than water, regardless of how it looks! A composting toilet works by evaporating most of the liquid and the rest decomposes with the help of a little fertilising substance like soil or coco coir.
How do you use a composting toilet?
It’s not as silly a question as it sounds. In a chemical porta potti, all deposits drop into one collection pot and steep in the necessary chemicals. It’s different in a composting toilet. Nasty smells occur when the liquids don’t evaporate quickly enough so everything starts to fester. Yep – disgusting. To avoid this, the Natures Head composting toilet provides 2 receptacles. One is the pee pot, the other we call the dump pot.
Pee is directed into the front of the toilet bowl where is trickles into the pee pot. Easy for girls, boys need to sit. So the vast majority of liquids never reach the dump pot.
For pooping, a flap at the bottom of the bowl is opened by a lever on the side of the throne. The gravity fed deposits drop in the dump pot, where the waiting fertilising coco coir is ready to do its business. When the job is done, simply close the flap and using another handle on the side of the throne, give the contents a stir. The Natures Head composting toilet is fitted with a small 12v fan and it runs 24/7, evaporating any liquids via an air vent fitted to the side of the van.
Girls be warned, practice not to pooping and peeing at the same time or you’ll need to empty your composting toilet more often. The 12v fan won’t cope with pee and poop in the dump pot.
Because the composting toilet relies on decomposition, we don’t throw any toilet paper into it. We could but it won’t break down as quickly as the other deposits and we’d need to empty it more often. Instead, we use lightly scented nappy sacks to collect the paper.
How to empty a composting toilet
The pee pot
It’s so easy to empty the composting loo. The pee pot gets emptied quite often. With 2 adults using it full time, we empty it every 3, maybe 4 days. Releasing a couple of catches at the side of the throne gives enough wiggle room to lift the pee pot from its cradle. It then gets poured into any toilet. Now this is the worst part of the whole process because it stinks. As soon as the pot is removed from the toilet, there’s a strong stench of ammonia. After a quick swill with clean water it pops back into the cradle, ready for the next golden shower. Easy.
The dump pot
The dump pot is another story, but still easy and a far more pleasant experience than the pee pot. Poop won’t all become powdery fertiliser overnight so when the time comes to empty the dump pot, try not to use it for a day or two. To empty it, the whole toilet needs to be removed. It comes away in 3 parts so it’s an easy task. Clad in rubber gloves empty the dump pot into a bin liner. The dryer the box, the easier the contents will pour out so another reason to try not to use it for a day or so before doing this.
After giving the dump pot a good wipe out, break up a block of coco coir and pour enough water onto it to give it a fine peat like texture. Reassemble the toilet and replace it. Done! Compare that to emptying a chemical loo!
Our composting toilet has been in situ for almost 9 months now. We’ve used it on several weekend and week long trips before our South America expedition got underway and full-time for 3 months. In that time, we’ve emptied the dump pot once. Once!
Things to consider before buying a composting toilet
- Make sure you check the space needed to install a composting toilet and not just its footprint. Your bathroom needs to be big enough to lift the lid, sit on it and the door needs to be wide enough to remove it without too much drama.
- We use 1lb block of coco coir each time we empty the dump pot. Although we don’t empty it often, we do have a 10lb supply with us.
- If you can’t find coco coir while you’re travelling, any organic sphagnum peat moss will do the job.
- The composting toilet needs a 12v supply and a vent hole to the outside of the van.
Having used both a chemical porta potti and composting toilet, we’d never go back to the chemicals. We’ve never any bad smells and the emptying process is easy and considerably less unpleasant. We love ours. The only downside, is the high upfront costs. £700+ seem a little high for what is effectively a couple of buckets and a 12v computer fan, even if it is quite comfy.
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