Toilet-love in the time of drought

(who got the movie reference?)

Cape Town is in the worst drought ever, and asides from all the panic this is generating some lovely publicity for the dry toilet. I’m getting a lot of emails.

Here’s the short version of my replies:

  1. Pee in the garden (toilets should have urine diversion)
  2. Foam flush is probably the closest dry toilet experience to the flush toilet
  3. The challenge is what to do with your product.

The longer answer:

This compendium of dry toilets that is not just aimed at ‘giving poor people toilets’ is a nice recent find:

A no regret measure is to have urine diversion, it saves volume and keeps the matter drier (less potential for stinky). Pee in the garden!

My experiences with my toilet is written up here.

The big challenge is processing the faecal product. If you have a garden, or space to store it for 6 months or so, then you can put it in a closed container (I use a 20L bucket with lid, R50 at plastics shops – takes a month or two to fill up with one person) and forget about it for 6 months, then bury it under a tree or simply dig it in for non-food compost (because it has not been purposefully processed, I am not happy to suggest growing food on it eventhough it may be fine).

With the drought, a friend, Carlos, and I are working on proper processing our matter in Muizenberg to compost and then maybe linking up with someone like GreenPop to use it for planting trees and marketing this as a way to cope with the drought. The nice thing with compost, including humanure, is it acts more as a soil conditioner and helps to retain moisture, more than providing a complete nutrient source.

Carlos has been working with me to develop a prototype dry toilet for Day Zero (or to extend not getting to Day Zero). He is much more astute about the user interface. To me, a bucket composting toilet works just fine. Dyllon Randall, a colleague at UCT is working on urine beneficiation and we are thinking about faecal stuff next.

According to Richard Holden, dry toilet practitioner, and Chris Buckley, the shit expert, who is doing the best research on this in South Africa, the Separett is the creme de la creme of dry toilets, as the incineration means you just never have to think about it again. They are about 3 000 EUR though and need to be imported.

I’m currently contemplating foam-flush toilets – the foam lubricates the matter just enough to slide out of sight as opposed to straight down, while keeping the liquid down to a minimum.

Where to buy these? Carlos is making some, and hiking shops like Outdoor warehouse has some basic ones.

Then there’s the bigger ones, for example my first dry toilet was the ecosan.
While they look tempting because you don’t have to think about emptying them for a while, they didn’t quite work as planned, and got blocked occasionally (an experience others had too), and once full it was a mission to maintain them. I prefer to keep the collection containers small and easy to move around – hands free of handling the actual matter, of course.

For interest, my recent presentation about why we should all go dry is here, and generally these presentations are listed on the resources page.

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