Way to go; Composting toilets offer eco-friendly alternative.
As Karen E. Difranza and her husband, Robin B. Langer, prepared for their son's wedding on the hill behind their home in Hubbardston, they realized the one flushable toilet in their house would not be enough to accommodate all the guests.
Thoughts turned to a composting toilet.
Environmentally, it seemed like a sound idea because it would not use precious water for flushing. Aesthetically, it would be less conspicuous than the rent-a-toilets used at construction sites and community fairs.
Composting toilets have long been used at camping sites and in seasonal cottages where municipal sewer systems and septic systems are unavailable. Their use remains rare in homes, although there are efforts by some environmentalists to offer them as an alternative to flush toilets.
Joseph A. Ducharme, general manager for Clivus Multrum Inc., a national composting toilet company based in Lawrence that has worked with the state to change laws to accommodate composting toilets, said that although education about water conservation is growing, the use of composting toilets in homes seems to be at a plateau, with fewer than 1,000 houses in this state using Clivus composting toilets. Clivus is one of several brands on the market.
Generally, composting toilets rely on a biological process to decompose human feces and urine. The waste remains in a composting unit connected to the toilet until it is removed, commonly after a year or two, and either stored or buried on-site in compliance with local health board regulations, or removed by a licensed sewage hauler.
Composting toilets are used at Leominster State Forest, the Doyle Conservation Center in Leominster, at the public beach on Wallum Lake in Douglas and at Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, to name a few places in this state.
When septic system problems threatened to close Rhode Island's popular Misquamicut State Beach in 1992, state and local officials turned to waterless composting toilets to keep the beach open. The composting toilets became permanent fixtures when the new bathing pavilion was built in 1999.
A McDonald's/Mobil convenience stop in Windham, N.H., has converted to flush composting toilets that use foam for flushing instead of water, a move Mr. Ducharme said saves 3 million gallons of water a year.
Since the wedding at the Difranza/Langer home 2-1/2 years ago, the family's waterless composting toilet has become as much a part of their lifestyle as the fruit trees, vegetable gardens and livestock they raise for food.
"We have your standard indoor toilet, but we also have an outdoor composting toilet. Well, not really. It's not one of those fancy ones you buy. We have a bucket toilet," Ms. Difranza said.
In fact, Ms. Difranza said she prefers the outdoor toilet to the indoor one except during extreme winter weather. And until her daughter went to college this year, she and her friends preferred the outdoor facility as well.
"The outhouse is beautiful. You don't see the bucket. It's under an oak seat."
Covered in blue- and white-striped fabric with a hint of red and green, the wooden outhouse has an oak toilet seat and frame. It is next to an oak washstand that has running water provided by a garden hose connected to a flexible spray faucet, like those used in showers. Wash water flows from the ceramic sink through a wide drain hose through an opening to the grass growing outside the outhouse.
A vase of flowers decorates the room brightened by light from a space between the walls and the roof. Magazines lie next to a bucket of sawdust, which is sprinkled into the bucket toilet after use.
Ms. Difranza said the room is always odorless, as it was on a recent sunny afternoon.
"When it's filled, you take it out and compost it," she said, adding that she empties the human excrement into a compost container used solely for fruit trees, separate from the family's vegetable garden compost pile. The biodegradable bathroom tissue decomposes along with the human waste.
She adds garden soil and high carbon materials such as straw to the human compost. Carbon balances the nitrogen in the "humanure" as Ms. Difranza calls it, taking a term from Joseph C. Jenkins, author of "The Humanure Handbook."
For the Shanley family and their many visitors at the Agape Community in Hardwick where they live, an indoor composting toilet has been the only way to go since 1999.
Agape is a Catholic lay community dedicated to nonviolence, prayer and environmentally sound living. The Shanleys see their composting toilet as an environmentally responsible alternative to using drinkable water to flush away excrement.
Their composting toilet has a traditional toilet seat on top of a unit. Sawdust is tossed into the toilet after each use to aid decomposition .The excrement drops into one of two chambers large enough to each hold five to seven years' worth of human compost. The chambers extend beneath the floor and are emptied by placing a ladder down into the chamber and shoveling the material into buckets that are emptied into compost fertilizer piles for fruit trees. There is also a flue that traps gas and directs it up and outside the house, said Brayton Shanley.
He said the urine leaches into a pipe that goes into a leach field and the solid product remains in the airtight, watertight chamber.
"I'm calling it a no-waste system," Mr. Shanley said.
While composting toilets, used in accordance with state law and local health regulations, are one choice for environmentally friendly toilets, incinerating toilets that reduce excrement to ash are also an option, as are more popular toilets that use minimal water for flushing.
Signs in the bathrooms at Blackstone Hall, the new 208-bed residence at Clark University in Worcester tell students to flush up for Number 1 and flush down for Number 2.
Flushing up uses less water than flushing down, explained Dean of Students Denise M. Darrigrand. The point is to conserve water by using as little as possible for flushing, thus also reducing the amount of water sent through the city sewer system for treatment at a wastewater treatment facility.
"Absolutely it's more expensive to do the environmentally conscientious thing," Ms. Darrigrand said, but added, "You save in the long run financially and in the pressure on the environment."
State laws have changed recently to accommodate composting toilets, according to Mr. Ducharme. Municipal heath agents or other municipal authorities are responsible for approving residential composting toilets in accordance with state law. The regulations say, in short, that composting toilets in homes should be designed to hold composted solids for at least two years, and that composting toilets are certified for use in new construction as long as they comply with the law as enforced by the local authority. When the system is emptied, the solids sometimes can be buried on-site if approved by the municipal authority or can be hauled away by a licensed septage hauler, as is done with septic systems.
Contact reporter Jean Laquidara Hill by e-mail at email@example.com.
The composting toilet allows human waste to break down into simple, stable compounds that have value as plant nutrients (fertilizer, for example).
1. The breakdown of waste is carried out by organisms - bacteria, fungi and invertebrates such as red worms - that thrive in the temperature range of 20 degree to 45 degrees Celsius.
2. Bulking material, typically pine shavings or shredded bark, is added to help maintain a porous texture that promotes aeration and good moisture content.
3. Especially important in the composting process are the nitrifying bacteria which turn the nitrogen in human waste into nitrites and nitrates - forms of nitrogen that plants need for growth.
4. Separated from the solid matter by the composter design, the compost liquid that results is fertilizer. Fecal matter is reduced by more than 90% and breaks down over time. When fully composted, this material looks and smells like topsoil and is an organically rich soil amendment.
Source: Clivus Multrum Inc.
ART: PHOTOS; ILLUSTRATION
CUTLINE: (1) Brayton Shanley stands in the bathroom that houses the family's composting toilet at the Agape Community in Hardwick, where they live. (2) Dual-flush toilets, which conserve water, are installed at Blackstone Hall, a new residence at Clark University in Worcester. (3) Brayton and Suzanne Shanley use a composting toilet at the Agape Community in Hardwick, where they live. (ILLUSTRATION) Composting toilet
PHOTOG: (1, 3) T&G Staff/CHRISTINE PETERSON (2) T&G Staff/BETTY JENEWIN (ILLUSTRATION) T&G Staff/DON LANDGREN JR.
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|Title Annotation:||LOCAL NEWS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Sep 24, 2007|
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