More and more people are interested in sustainable and eco-friendly off-grid living solutions these days. When it comes to taking care of bodily functions without access to public utilities, two popular options are composting toilets and incinerating toilets.
Both allow you to get rid of human waste without using water or sewer connections. However, there are some key differences between these Composting vs Incinerating Toilet types that are worth understanding before making a purchase.
How Composting Toilets Work
First, let’s take a look at how composting toilets function. In essence, composting toilets facilitate the natural decomposition of human waste into usable compost.
This is achieved by providing the ideal environment inside the toilet for aerobic bacteria and other microorganisms to break down the waste.
A composting toilet consists of a regular toilet seat situated over a large composting chamber. After use, a bulking agent such as sawdust, coconut coir, or peat moss is added to help absorb moisture and provide increased surface area for decomposition. A sloped floor in the chamber allows liquids to drain off into an evaporation tank while solids fall down into the compost.
Ventilation slots facilitate air flow so oxygen can penetrate the waste pile. The constant aeration accelerates the composting process while reducing odors. Fans may be used to enhance ventilation. Within the chamber, temperatures can reach up to 130-140°F as decomposition occurs, killing off pathogens.
Over time, the waste matter in a composting toilet breaks down into a safe, nutrient-rich humus, which must be emptied periodically. The resulting compost can be used as fertilizer for non-edible plants.
How Incinerating Toilets Work
In contrast to composting toilets, incinerating toilets do not facilitate decomposition. Instead, they use heat to evaporate urine and ashes waste solids. The key component in an incinerating toilet is an electric heating element that maintains temperatures of around 1,200°F inside the incineration chamber.
When an incinerating toilet is used, the waste falls through a hole in the porcelain bowl onto the steel incineration chamber below. The high temperatures inside the chamber cause the waste to rapidly dehydrate and burn up. Urine also evaporates on contact.
What remains after incineration are sterile ash remnants, which must be emptied from the chamber when the ash level reaches the overflow. Incinerating toilets require only minimal power consumption to operate the heating element and a vent fan. The process produces almost no odors when used properly.
Comparing Composting and Incinerating Toilet Benefits
Now that you understand the basic operation of composting and incinerating toilets, let’s compare some of the key benefits and drawbacks of each system.
Benefits of composting toilets
- Produce usable compost product
- Lower energy use than incinerating toilets
- Less expensive purchase cost
- Can handle more solid waste in one use
Benefits of incinerating toilets
- Faster processing of waste with no pile up
- More complete odor elimination
- Sterilize waste instead of just decomposing
- Smaller storage footprint than compost chamber
- Reduce waste volume more than composting
As you can see, both types of systems have their perks. Composting toilets require less energy and have the benefit of creating fertilizer. Incinerating toilets thoroughly sanitize waste without the pile up and odor potential of composting units.
Composting Toilet Usage Considerations
There are some key usage factors to keep in mind if you choose a composting toilet. First, proper maintenance is essential for efficient operation.
The compost chamber must be aerated and mixed periodically to maintain ideal conditions. If conditions become anaerobic, odor can become an issue.
Composting toilets also require the regular addition of bulking material after each use. If bulking agents are not added regularly, waste will compact and slow the composting process. You’ll need a steady supply of sawdust, coir, or other bulking agent stored nearby.
The capacity of the compost chamber is another consideration. Composting toilets require more storage volume since the waste takes time to break down. Larger units or more frequent emptying of compost may be needed for frequent use.
Finally, composting toilets cannot handle excess liquid. For optimal function, users must urinate in a separate container to avoid overly wet conditions in the compost pile.
Incinerating Toilet Usage Considerations
Incinerating toilets also come with some specific usage factors to keep in mind. First, they require an electrical power source. Units typically run on a 12-volt system. For off-grid use, you’ll need a battery bank and potentially solar panels or a generator to maintain power.
Unlike composting toilets, incinerating units can handle both liquid and solid waste. However, anything other than human waste is not recommended. Even toilet paper can slow the incineration process if too much is used at once.
Incinerating toilets produce some ash residue that must be emptied when levels get too high. If not emptied periodically, ash buildup could potentially affect the incineration process. The sterilized ash must be disposed of properly.
For optimal performance, the heating element and ventilation system should be cleaned periodically. Proper maintenance is key to ensuring waste evaporates and incinerates consistently.
Ideal Usage Scenarios for Each Toilet Type
When deciding between composting vs incinerating toilets, it also helps to consider the ideal usage scenarios where each toilet excels.
Composting toilets work best when
- Fertilizer end product is desired
- Ample bulking agent is available
- Sufficient venting is provided
- There is space for a large composting chamber
- Power is limited or unreliable
Incinerating toilets excel in these situations
- Odor elimination is a top priority
- Liquid and solid waste disposal is needed
- Electrical power source is available
- Fast processing is required
- Small footprint is needed
As you can see, incinerating toilets may be preferred for boats, tiny homes, and off-grid cabins where space is very limited. For larger homes with more room and venting, composting toilets offer a more eco-friendly waste solution.
Key Factors When Choosing Between Toilet Types
If you’re still unsure whether a composting or incinerating toilet is the right choice, consider these key factors:
- Available space – Composting toilets require more room for the composting chamber.
- Energy source – Incinerating toilets require an electrical hookup while composting toilets do not.
- Waste volume – Incinerating toilets work best for 1-2 people. Composting toilets can handle more solid waste.
- Odor tolerance – Incinerating toilets produce less odor when maintained properly.
- End product – Do you want usable compost or simply sterile ash remnants?
- Climate conditions – Composting toilets perform better in warmer, drier conditions.
Take time to weigh all these factors to determine whether a composting or incinerating toilet best fits your off-grid toilet needs. With a little research, you’re sure to find the right waste solution for your home or project. Both toilet types can provide eco-friendly convenience without the need for water or sewer hookups.
Q1: What is the main difference between composting and incinerating toilets?
A: The key difference is that composting toilets break down waste into compost over time, while incinerating toilets burn waste to evaporate urine and reduce solids to ash.
Q2: Which type of toilet is better for the environment?
A: Composting toilets are considered more eco-friendly since they recycle waste into usable compost rather than just burning it. However, incinerating toilets produce no methane and use less water than traditional flush toilets.
Q3: Do composting toilets smell bad?
A: Composting toilets can develop odors if not properly maintained. Proper ventilation, bulking material, and aeration is required to facilitate rapid composting and reduce potential odors.
Q4: How much power do incinerating toilets use?
A: Incinerating toilets typically run on 12V electricity. Power consumption depends on the model but is generally around 100-250 watts during active use.
Q5: Can compost from a composting toilet be used in a vegetable garden?
A: It is not recommended to use human waste compost in edible gardens. The compost can be safely used for ornamental plants and flowers. Sterilization is required for edible plant use.