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Save The Environment With a Compost Toilet

Water Conservation

The largest contribution to saving the planet that a toilet has to offer is the amount of water that it saves.  Since every composting toilet is replacing a conventional flush toilet, the amount of water saved is staggering. 

Why is water conservation important?  Water may seem to be an abundant resource on the surface of things.  The best way to really understand it on a personal level is to ask someone living in Arizona, New Mexico, or other areas where drought is common.  I’ve talked to numerous people in these areas who have said that the best thing about owning a composter is being able to use the bathroom normally when your neighbors are flushing their toilets sparingly with buckets of water. 

On a global level, fresh water is not a renewable resource.  As more pollution enters lakes and rivers via septic tanks and agricultural runoff, our previously fresh water becomes polluted and costly to clean for use as drinking and bathing water.  There are very few remaining places in the US and Canada that can claim a fresh source of water which isn’t processed through a water treatment plant.  Polluting and cleaning water isn’t the solution; conserving water to begin with is. 

Why does a composting toilet conserve water?  Most of the models on the market use no water at all.  Central extra low flush systems are less common because of the additional installation needed in terms of the plumbing and the overflow drain.  The models that are out there of this type use far less water than a conventional toilet; you only use enough water to get the waste out of the bowl, there is no pre-measured amount.  If a kid held their foot down on the pedal on one of these toilets, it would take approximately 30 seconds to a minute to even get close to the amount of water used in a conventional flush toilet.

Estimating Sales Figures For Statistics


I’m going to do something here that will be controversial.  The composting toilet industry, despite what you may think, is a very competitive and secretive niche market.  Up until now it was hard to get an accurate estimation of how many composting toilets are in operation in the world because of a tendency of some (not all – I used to work with some very honest people) to pump up sales figures, particularly in European markets.  I can offer a decent estimate of how many units are in operation in North America based on my industry experience.  It is necessary to finally let the cat out of the bag in order to give a reasonable picture of the major environmental impact that composting toilets have on water conservation efforts.

Most companies selling composting toilets have been in business for 20-30 years, and sales average roughly 500-2000 units a year within North America alone, depending on the company.  There are three major companies that do business in North America.  Many more are sold in Europe, but I can’t give an accurate guess as to the numbers being unfamiliar with that market, except to say that those I have heard over the years sound wildly inflated.  Add to that a lifetime expectancy of 10 years for most of these products (although I’ve known some that have been in operation since the late 1980’s, including my landlord’s unit), and you are left with an average of 37,500 units that are in operation today.

Statistics on Water Conservation


Percentage of Household Water Use from Flush Toilet:  26.5%

Average Use in US of Gallons Per Person Per Day:  151

Average Use in US of Gallons for Flushing Per Person Per Day:  40 gallons

Average Size of Household Family – 4

Average Water Used per Household per day for flushing – 160 gallons

37,500 toilets replacing these toilets save:  6 million gallons a day

Septics Are a Problem

Septic tanks routinely leak bacteria and harmful minerals such as phosphorus into lakes and waterways.  Phosphorus causes algal blooms that choke off waterways, and human sewage contaminates swimming and drinking water.  When did we move to having to look at E. Coli levels before going for a swim on a public beach?  This happened because we weren’t careful in ensuring that our septics didn’t leak and agricultural runoff from animal sewage didn’t enter lakes and waterways.  It is possible to turn the clock back on this, albeit with some careful stewardship. 

Ground water contamination from improperly installed and maintained septic tanks is responsible for contamination of wells and drinking water supplies all over the world.  By installing a composting toilet, you not only remove a significant portion of the load from your septic, but you remove the part that is most responsible for bacterial contamination.

Statistics


Septic Tanks contaminate 1% of the US’s usable fresh water supply. 

28% of samples of groundwater in Ireland are contaminated with E. Coli, a direct result of sewage contamination.

Re-Use Nutrients To Make a Beautiful Garden

The same nutrients that cause problems in waterways (nitrogen, phosphorus) make your garden beautiful.  While one of the features of a composting toilet is the fact that you don’t get a lot of waste out of it, what you do get is much better than any fertilizer that you can buy at your local hardware store; and much better for the environment.

References

  • GoBlue.org
  • http://www.goblue.org/en/learn_more/learn_more.html
  • Swivel Data
Submitted by angelawest on Jul 31, 2008