Cities across America will soon be saying goodbye to water wastage and getting used to the ins and outs of composting toilets instead. Composting toilets use no water and, over time, produce fertilizer that can be used in the garden. With many cities facing major water shortages, finding a way to deal with sewage that doesn’t use water can go a long way toward meeting conservation goals.
The New York Times’ Green Inc. reports that a string of cities including Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio, are adding composting toilets to public buildings and parks, and many more are considering the idea.
Jim Weaver, operations manager of BioLet, a composting toilet manufacturer, says sales rose 80 percent last year but dropped off sharply because of the recession. In the past several weeks, however, business has picked back up.
Composting toilets rely on bacteria to break down human waste. Users toss a handful of sawdust or other absorbent organic material into the toilet instead of flushing. When operated correctly, they don’t smell at all, but many people still can’t get beyond the ‘ick’ factor of emptying and dumping the bin once it’s full.
Not all cities are crazy about the idea of composting toilets becoming more common – even the ones that are leading the way in implementing them in public spaces. Austin officials said the composting toilet is "not something we're endorsing or even recommend” because of the challenges of granting permits and approval for each one. Before installation, building owners must get approval from their local health department.
But, it’s likely that as water concerns grow, the popularity of composting toilets will as well.
“Composting toilets are no crazier than a lifestyle based on living somewhere in suburbia and commuting 15 miles for a downtown job,” says Lauren Ross, an Austin civil engineer. “That's also not for everyone, but it gets planned for and is accepted as a normal, ordinary way of life."