Composting toilets

Famous Composting Toilets

The most popular question asked about our eco-friendliness is on the subject of the composting toilets (and somehow the topic always becomes dinner conversation).  The toilets work wonderfully.  Composting toilets may seem common in ecotourism, while the developed world thinks it normal to defecate in a toilet bowl filled with clean water.  In order to bridge the gap between two very distinct norms, we built composting-toilets that are attractive, educational and productive.  All toilets take advantage of a spectacular view across the canyon.  Inside the rooms are beneficial flower/vegetable gardens fertilized with finished compost from the toilet.

Composting Toilets with an Andean View!

The most popular question asked about our eco-friendliness is on the subject of the composting toilets (and somehow the topic always becomes dinner conversation).  The toilets work wonderfully.  Composting toilets may seem common in ecotourism, while the developed world thinks it normal to defecate in a toilet bowl filled with clean water.  In order to bridge the gap between two very distinct norms, we built composting-toilets that are attractive, educational and productive.  All toilets take advantage of a spectacular view across the canyon.  Inside the rooms are beneficial flower/vegetable gardens fertilized with finished compost from the toilet.

Ecological Alternatives to Illogical Practices

Flush toilets are common around the world.  Most people accept it as normal to deposit human fecal matter (i.e. poop) in clean water.  Why would you ever take a glass of clean drinking water and poop in it??  The accepted norm is CRAZY!  Not only is it a disgusting idea to poop in drinking water, but it is a waste of two resources: clean water and potential fertilizer.

It does not make sense to contaminate clean water with poop.  We learn this when we go camping and we are taught to dig a hole at least 50 meters away from any water source.  We are also taught from a very young age that it is unhealthy to mix fecal matter with food or drink.  We wash our hands after going to the bathroom.  Clean drinking water is becoming a precious resource worldwide.

Composting toilets provide an alternative to flushing away wastes.  A flush toilet that has no water is unappealing after just one use.  If it is used two or three times without flushing it is disgusting, and if used four times or more with no water, nobody wants to go near it.  The “FLUSH” for a composting toilet is the “dry stuff” made up of sawdust, dry chopped leaves or any other dry organic matter.  Human feces consist of approximately 65% water and 5-10% nitrogen.  Urine has 10-15% nitrogen.  In order to compost human waste, a ratio of 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen is needed.  That means a lot of dry stuff!!  The dry stuff is the necessary “flush” and helps keep insects and odor at a minimum.

Finished compost has no smell, it does not resemble feces in any way and it’s a great fertilizer for gardens and trees.  Imagine turning ‘poop’ into sweet smelling roses!

Why do people take photographs inside our composting toilets?

From an early age we are accustomed to relieving ourselves in the privacy of small cubicles.  Public toilets are usually small stalls and the only view is occasional writing on the wall.  Household bathrooms provide more comforts, but rarely have windows with a view nor flower gardens.

When camping the act of ‘pooping in the woods’ is not the most comfortable experience.  The view may be great, but you still have to dig a hole, squat and bury your waste.  The composting toilets at the Black Sheep Inn bridge this gap, providing an excellent view, making you feel at one with nature, while offering privacy and comfort.

Multi-Function is Important

The roofs of our composting toilets are made of a transparent material providing natural light for bathroom and gardens. Roofs also funnel rainwater to small tanks used for hand washing.  Using biodegradable hand soap, wastewater from the sink irrigates interior flower gardens which are fertilized with finished compost.  The book, The Toilet Papers by Sim Van der Ryn explains the design and process of the composting toilet.

Why did we choose composting toilets?

We first experienced composting toilets at Ecuador’s pioneer eco-lodge: Hostería Alandaluz in 1992.  We were impressed at how well they worked and how they saved water.  When starting to build the Black Sheep Inn in 1995 our very first project was to build a composting toilet.  By studying the out-of-print book, The Toilet Papers by Sim Van der Ryn, we were able to come up with our own creative design.  Guests have enjoyed scenic pooping ever since!

Since then we have used The Humanure Handbook, a guide to composting human manure by J.C. Jenkins 1994, and The Composting Toilet System Book, a practical guide to choosing, planning and maintaining composting toilet systems, an alternative to sewer and septic systems by David Del Porto and Carol Steinfeld 1998.  We have now built 11 composting toilets.

There are still millions of practical things that can be learned from books!