Why we decided to get a composting toilet

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"

When we decided to move into an RV, this clip kept rolling in the back of my mind. There were moments when I thought to myself, “Dumping our human waste can’t be that bad, right?” My confidence was shaken by horror stories from both rookie and veteran and RVers who were all certain of one thing—one day we would have a black tank horror story of our own.

The black tank on an RV collects waste from only the toilet. The gray water tank collects water waste from the shower and sinks.

Not us. Neither of us was interested in the idea of driving down the road with all of that sloshing around in the black tank—not to mention the disgusting sewer hose, which is never really sanitized no matter how many times you flush it out. But what other choice did we have?

What about a composting toilet?

When Ben first mentioned the idea of a composting toilet, I was convinced that it would be more complicated than a regular RV toilet. We had never composted anything before, and I didn’t think we should start with our human waste. After hours of researching and listening to testimonials from both men and women, we found that the pros outweighed the cons and we decided that it was at least worth trying.

Nature's Head Composting Toilet

How does it work?

Our Nature’s Head composting toilet is a waterless, self-contained toilet. It diverts liquids into a removable, front facing tank, and solids are diverted into a separate tank containing composting material such as sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir. The solids tank is closed off with a hatch, keeping things out of sight. There is an exhaust hose and small electric fan at the back of the unit which keeps air flowing, thus creating a healthy environment for composting. There is a crank on the side that is turned daily so the waste is properly aerated.

Nature's Head Composting Toilet
Liquid is diverted to the front two holes and the rear hatch opens to accept solids

Liquid is diverted to the front two holes and the rear hatch opens to accept solids

Does it smell?

Not like you think it would. When your liquids and solids are separated, they don’t create a sewage odor like they would if they were combined. If the bowl is kept sanitized and everything is composting properly, there should be no smell. However, when we disconnect and dump the liquids container there is a strong odor. It’s temporary and it can be neutralized by adding vinegar or sugar.

Spraying the bowl with a vinegar & water mixture after each use keeps it fresh and odor free. You want to keep cleaning chemicals away from your composting mixture, as they will kill your compost.

How we made it work

We removed the existing toilet - We didn’t want to permanently alter the toilet hookups. We didn’t know if we’d like our new toilet, and any future owner of Bigfoot may want a traditional toilet. This meant installing a cover over the existing plumbing platform and installing the composting toilet on top of it. Because the composting toilet is considerably taller than a traditional RV toilet, we needed to add a small folding stool so we can be comfortably seated.

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The “stool stool” conveniently folds away after each use.

The “stool stool” conveniently folds away after each use.

We painted the front liquids tank - I’ll never understand why they made this tank clear. Who wants to look at that? Before painting, Ben taped off a small strip on the blind side of the tank so we can keep an eye on the capacity.

We purchased a tiny trash receptacle - You can put RV grade toilet paper (1-ply) in the solids tank, but between the two of us that would amount to quite a bit of paper. To ease up on the amount of paper we’re mixing in with the compost, we purchased a simplehuman countertop trash can (we keep it under the sink, not on the countertop). I line it with a composting bag, which keeps it clean and odor-free.

Our $15 simplehuman trash can - 7.4” x 5” diameter

Our $15 simplehuman trash can - 7.4” x 5” diameter

How do we like it?

We can’t imagine having it any other way. It decreases our dependency on water. If it freezes outside or we’ve run out of water, we can still use our toilet. It works as designed, and other than the seat being somewhat uncomfortable, there isn’t much we would change.

Dumping is fairly painless. To be fair, only one of us has experienced dumping it (guess who). The dumping schedule depends on our usage, but it hasn’t been inconvenient. Since we are not parked on our own property, we choose to put our solids the trash, just as you would a diaper or dog waste bag, and liquids get flushed down a traditional toilet. It’s legal and sanitary, and let’s be honest—it’s much more environmentally friendly.

No picnic tables were harmed or contaminated during the filming.

No picnic tables were harmed or contaminated during the filming.

If you’re considering a composting toilet, we encourage you to go for it!