Saturday, March 1, 2008

Compost Toilet Update/Harangue

Well the Party Pooper System is working out pretty okay as an interim solution.  The Minnesada snow ramp consolidated after only a day and it wasn't hard to drag the bin up it.  The wood pellet horse bedding worked great for absorbency.  Most of it came out dry even though the bin was 2/3 full from the housewarming party and the day after.  (2/3 full is probably the practical limit for convenience of emptying.)  I had put in a whole 30-lb sack of pellets which filled the bin about 5 inches deep on the bottom, up to the wheel wells.  And I didn't have any more.  So at 6 pm Sunday, after emptying the bin, I called up The Skipper...

M.E.:  "Hey Skipper, can I have some of your sawdust?"
S.: "...What, like, now?"
M.E.: "Uh, yeah, now would be good."
S.: "...Um, doesn't HUG have some huge amount of it?"
M.E.:  "I don't like their sawdust, it's coarse and damp.  Yours is dry."
S.: "Well, okay, but it's self-serve, check the garage."
M.E.: "Thanks much!"

Fortunately his hound dogs remembered me and didn't try to eat me, much.  Well the bag I grabbed turned out to be more in the nature of fine shavings than dust, but it was dry.  I put a few inches in the bottom to start with and mixed the rest in with the damp stuff I had.  When I emptied the bin again after a week, the bottom layer was more damp but there was no excess liquid.  This third time I've started with half a bag of the wood pellets.

N.B.: Its pretty important that the top of the bin comes up very close under the platform - about as far as a toilet seat is above the rim of a regular toilet and for the same reason.   This requires some adjustment yet; I'm still shimming with planks which is yet another nuisance.

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Thanks to commentator Laura for the link.  It looks like the urine diverter would work for men & women?

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I've chatted with Pigpen, Miss Twiggy, The Skipper, and Mr. Universe, trying to explain why I think the bucket system is dumb even if you can make it mostly not-gross.  Let me try and lay this out:

Firstly, like I said before, clearly the reason people resort to buckets when taking up composting toiletry is that almost no existing bathrooms were built to accommodate the large bin necessary for in-place composting - thus the resort to collection and relocation.  Where I'm coming out on this is, using the toilet is something you do routinely, every day, twice a day.  This should be an efficient, low-overhead operation.  There's no excuse for the chronic disorganization of routine operations.  Now, if you want to be studiously and self-consciously Ascetic or Eastern about life, you know, "chop wood, pour water," that's fine, knock yourself out, but I'm saying I'm a Western Permaculturalist and I've got better things to do.  I don't need another firewood-stacking job, especially when it's hucking out buckets of poodust.  See what I'm saying?  

So, I argue the bucket system with manual relocation is too inefficient for such a routine operation, and relocation outside is particularly silly and irritating in midwinter Minnesota.  It's really just one step up from squatting outside in the snowbank.  (Hi Bear, hi Blue, 'tsup guys?) That said, I would also argue against going the other way to some kind of space-age extreme.  Right now I don't see the need for digital micro-controllers and internet monitoring for this kind of thing.  My sense is that some kind of hand-crank is about the right level of technology for this task.  

Pigpen is my favorite friend this week - he got clearance to order a real composting toilet for evaluation, brought a big bin of sawdust into the greenhouse, and fixed my leaky sink.  Strong work, bud.

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