One Family's Unconventional Solution to Save Water
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We have lived with this green regime for the past 30 years. Happily.
Does it look funny? Not at all, those oak pedestals are far handsomer than porcelain toilets. For the first few years we joked that we would put in a cassette of flushing noise for people who felt the experience felt unfinished without sound effects. Now we enjoy the silence.
Does it require a lot of maintenance? No. My husband tosses the biomass from time to time with a clam-rake. Occasionally we pour in a bucket of water, because the mass tends to get dry.
The peaty-colored odorless liquid that sinks to the bottom of the tank we do put on the flower beds right there at the lake. Only a cupful of compost settles after many years and we never take it back to Newton. It's really true that the mass dissipates as harmless gases. (We never call it "waste.") Our flowers thrive. Excuse the expression, but ours doesn't stink.
There are cheaper ways to build a composting toilet. Six years ago, my husband David built one for a school in our Sister City in Nicaragua: It has two rooms above, like ours at the pond. And twin-bins for the biomass below. The bins are inside cinder-block enclosures, set on a cement platform. Each has an air-intake to assure aerobic decomposition, a vent pipe to carry off the water vapor and methane, a "hammock" made of nylon fishing net to hold the biomass (leaves, sawdust, palm fronds, and of course human waste) up in the air. The bins are sealed below with roofing tar to assure no contaminants enter the ground. In the rooms above, the cement toilet seats are provided with wooden lids.
The walls are thick clay and wattle, covered with a cement-based stucco. The rafters are of bamboo, and the roof of zinc. It's cool and pleasant inside the cement-floored toilet rooms. Elsewhere in our Sister City, the water table is dropping; farmers are unable to irrigate; women and children are still carrying water long distances. Here, the move from latrines to eco-latrines has been a smooth glide uninterrupted by the high demands of the flush toilet.
Back in the developed world, people still shy away from the "in-house outhouse." But saving the planet's water by using self-composting toilets begins to make a lot of sense, in a century in which water is already a cause of national uprisings and covert wars.
Copyright 2012 Margaret Morganroth Gullette
Margaret Morganroth Gullette is the author of four books, including "Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America" and "Declining to Decline." She is a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center. She has published on water problems in Nicaragua's daily, El Nuevo Diario.