The Center for Creative Ecology’s Composting Toilets
Turn your poop into ‘brown gold’ and save water!
Toilets that don’t use water to flush our poop to a far off place to be taken care of. Instead our poop or “Humanure” is dealt with safely on site or close by.
The compost toilets on Lotan look very similar to the traditional toilet, but use no water. Notice the bucket of chopped straw.
You poop into a closed container. Instead of flushing water you add a cup full of fine dry carbon rich material like sawdust, chopped straw or crushed leaves.
You need to maintain the contents of the container by keeping it a little moist and not too dry and your poop will over the span of a year decompose into a rich dark soil called compost.
When looking at, smelling, feeling the humanure after less than a year of decomposing, there will not be any clue of poop, toilet paper or cardboard tube. All that will remain will be a fine dark brown soil, sweet smelling like the forest floor that can be used as fertilizer for our trees and plants.
The Gulu Pulu is a composting toilet built to service handicapped women in Gulu, Uganda. The facility was commissioned to test if this ‘appropriate technology’ would be adopted by the local community and confidently provide excellent sanitation.
This feasibility test is for The Third Hope, a project being developed by our dear friends Rose-Mary McIntyre and David Salmon. Their vision is “to build a brand new rehabilitation centre, just south of Gulu, that will be run by a team of local Ugandans passionate to see the abducted children soldiers fully restored and to provide a lasting hope for the whole war-weary region. We will do everything in our power to be ready for when this evil war ends and these innocent children are released”.
Steven Bishop, a Green Apprenticeship Permaculture Graduate and intern of the Kibbutz Lotan Center for Creative Ecology designed and constructed the The Gulu Pulu composting toilet [PDF]. It is beautiful and we’re very proud!
Introduction of composting toilet systems in Africa, based on information that I have received from field workers and reports from international agencies and NGO’s, has proved to be challenging. Open field defecation is the norm. Pit latrines are abandoned when the pit is full, and if it is emptied the sludge is often released without treatment. Therefore we are following the maintenance of Gulu Pulu. Here are some of my inquiries and David’s responses.
Alex: What connects between the seat and the container?
David: We devised a removable chute from a bucket with the bottom cut off which works really well.
Alex: How is it functioning? Flies? Smells? Do the users use it correctly?
David: We are thrilled. It is working better than anyone believed possible. The Gulu Pulu is a total revelation to the people using it here in Gulu. There is no smell as you enter the loo at all! There are also no flies. We do have a couple of resident ghekos, but we have those everywhere so don’t mind them – they also help by eating any insects that might otherwise enjoy the space. The main beneficiaries of the toilet are our neighbours who are both disabled. Beforehand they had to crawl onto the dirty concrete floor of the long-drop so it has utterly transformed their toiletry experience.
Alex: How is the humanure pile working? How often is the collection container emptied?
David: We empty the bucket once a week. I do all the management of it when I am there and one of their team takes over when I’m absent. I have regularly taken the temperature of the pile and get a pretty consistent reading of over 55 degrees Celcius in the upper section of the pile. All our kitchen waste goes in as well and I use grass cuttings and dries straw (which I gather from around the farm) as extra material to keep the system aerated.
Alex: The move from filling Bin 1 to Bin 2 is not necessarily “One Year”. It could be less if the bins are filled quicker. I think that as long as the climate allows for thermophilic composting, then no more than a year IN TOTAL is needed. Six months may also be sufficient to break down the whole mix into humus.
David: That is really helpful information. I have been becoming quite strict with timings but I am starting to understand that it is more of an organic process, which makes sense. We have just finished one full calendar year though, so will be starting into the second bin on our return in January.
Alex: Because I do NOT know about the health of the residents of the area, and albeit testing that shows that bacterial pathogens are denatured by a week of hot composting, the remaining health concern after 1 month of composting are eggs of parasitic worms that pass their eggs in feces, including hookworms, roundworms (Ascaris) and whipworms. Are the resident’s stools tested for worms? If there are worms, and their eggs, then it will be important to Mix the compost each month in order to make sure that all the edges have also reached the thermophilic temperatures (above 45C).
David: This is the important bit. No, none of us are tested for worms. Their health system is not advanced enough for that, so we are probably safer to be more cautious than otherwise one might need to be. I have been finding small egg-like things stuck to the inside of the bucket when I empty it so they might be the eggs you are referring to. I have not been mixing it to date, although I do push last weeks stuff towards the edges and fill all new stuff into the middle so there is a bit of movement. It is the middle that I test and that is where it gets the hottest – as I said, consistently over 50 degrees.
An Excellent example of Urban Compost Toilets is https://www.oursoil.org in Haiti which provides a full system use ecological sanitation (EcoSan), a process by which human wastes are converted into valuable compost. The organization provides composting toilets and dry material (sugar cane fiber), picks up the waste twice a week, composts it, and sells the safe, nutrient full product for use in agriculture.