Chemical toilets: portable, around in the living memory of everyone reading this essay and probably the most frequently used option in vans, campervans and motorhomes.
But, there is an alternative. Even if you aren’t that bothered with the environment, even if you have a delicate nature when it comes to dealing with the waste we all produce, and even if you are a composting loo virgin, they are a much better option.
In a recent visit to the lovely British made Kildwick composting toilets we put our heads (ahem) together to address the myths we’ve heard around using a composting loo in a campervan, motorhome, or other small space.
By the way, at time of writing I’m not sponsored or affiliated with any particular brand, although I have been thrilled with the way my own Kildwick composting toilet has worked.
7. Composting toilets are too big to put in a campervan
This myth perhaps originates because fully portable or cassette chemical toilets come as a small cube, and off the shelf composting loos can appear bigger. But, dear myth, consider yourself well and truly busted. Modern compact, complete composting toilet units are now available, like the Kildwick Koodle Mini or Nature’s Head.
Even better, once you purchase the toilet bowl section (not so euphemistically known as a ‘urine separator’) the rest can be built to fit in an awkward space. My first self-build compositing toilet is oriented in an irregularly shaped corner behind the wheel where no standard chemical toilet would fit. With a bit of clever design, you can even put them on a slide out section to hide away.
6. They aren’t attractive
Some rather ‘rustic’ finish composting loos may have given this impression. While those toilets may have been perfectly functional for the situation, it in no way represents the full spectrum of aesthetic options. Complete units like the ‘Nature’s Head’ have a smooth smooth finish, while Kildwick or Little House loos can be custom finished, or purchased unfinished, allowing exact colour matching in a way a chemical toilet cannot. Paint, stain, wallpaper, cover in music stickers and shellac – a composting loo can be a feature. I’m personally partial to the silver and pink glitter mix of my own Kildwick urine separator – lift the lid and life becomes disco fabulous!
5. They are difficult to manage
Like any toilet, a composting system does require a management for the best outcome but they are far easier to manage than chemical options. No more chemicals to buy, no unpleasant (UK English for nauseatingly disgusting) heavy cassettes or ‘black tank’ to empty. A friend who lives on a houseboat recently said she was able to leave her teenagers on the boat for the weekend because she knew they could reliably manage the composting loo much better than the chemical one.An article is forthcoming to look at toilet management in depth, but essentially it is:
- Be generous with the right sort of cover material for the solids
- Use a moderately sized urine container and empty it daily (into a flushable loo or grey water system – not directly into a waterway) rinse, wash on occasion
- Either dispose of the bucket with cover material and solid waste in a home composting system, or use a green compostable bag to ‘bag and bin’ it. DO NOT USE BLACK BIN BAGS FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD. Shame will reign upon you, and the workers who open black bin bags for recyclables will have every right to curse a pox upon you.
4. They are expensive
One of the main advantages for me was that a composting loo allowed me to build a toilet in the van for under £100 including all materials (and aforementioned swish glitter upgrade). Once you have the urine separator, scrap materials can be used for most of the rest.There are complete units which cost a little more than chemical toilets; however, composting loos from reputable companies are designed to last for years with retrofittable parts because most of these companies are build with sustainability as a core value.
Composting toilets tend to have a straightforward design with less parts to break in the first place and if there are breakages, parts are available. One of the main reasons the founder of Kildwick started exploring making his own composting toilet was the frustration of having to buy expensive chemical cassettes after they broke every year.After initial purchase you can get cover material either for roughly the same cost as chemicals, or even free in some cases if you know a good saw mill.
3. There isn’t much of difference using a composting loo environmentally
Every animal that has ever lived has had to get rid of waste material, something our environment is designed to manage. If you are able to put your waste into a home composting system you are actually contributing to the environment with a resource that helps plant life to grow. The most affordable chemical toilet solutions contain up to 24% formaldehyde, a toxic biocide designed to stop the very bacteria that help break down waste.
There are now formaldehyde-free, biodegradable toilet chemical brews, but chemical toilet sewage using biodegradable solutions still has to be processed and the dumping points available. This generally means it is mixed with the formaldehyde solutions, negating much of the benefit. If we all used compostable toilets camping sites would be incentivised to provide disposal points which could integrate into a composting system on site.
2. Purchasing a chemical loo is better for the economy than a composting one.
The companies that build composting loos overwhelmingly have a commitment to environmental sustainability and ethical working practices. For example, Kildwick support seven other British businesses in what they do. Even if you go the low cost DIY route to composting loo happiness, this frees up the money to support other businesses, such as a number of boulangeries in the south of France.
The biggest myth of all. Let’s be honest, chemical toilets smell awful most of the time. They are the reason some caravans, motorhomes and frequently the airport coach inspire a certain note of ‘je ne sais quois’ queasiness. Even the least harmful and more tolerable chemicals ‘tend to lose their effectiveness after about three days’ according to a UK organisation who supports chemical toilet use.If a composting loo is managed reasonably, the worst case is sort of a damp earth freshly-dug potatoes smell after the initial visit of ‘doing business’ on a toilet. This can be further reduced with use of a fan or composting toilet which mixes the cover material and waste to expedite the composting process.
For me, the smell alone is reason to make the composting toilet leap.
Thanks for reading. Have you used a composting loo in your van, motorhome or narrowboat? If so, let us know how it went in the comments.