The Scoop on Poop

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 7.20.11 AM.pngBy Kary Vannice

The average resident of North America uses an estimated 280 liters (74 gallons) of water per day for household daily chores and consumption. Roughly a third of that is flushed down the toilet. That’s 84 liters of water a day. Almost 12 liters each time you flush.

That may not seem like a startling number, or anything to be concerned about; but taking into consideration global droughts and even local water shortages, that insignificant little 84 liters a day becomes quite important.

Let me break it down for you…

Sure, 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, but (and this is a big but) less than 3% of that water is fresh water. And once you account for all of the ‘fresh water’ that is tied up in glaciers, really only about 1% of the water on our Planet is available for the survival of the human species.

It raises the question, should we really be flushing so much of that precious fresh water down the toilet? Can’t we do better?

To which I would respond… You bet your bum we can! (Yes, pun intended.)

The answer? Composting toilets.

Now, I am sure that when I say composing toilet you immediately think of a small wooden shack with a crescent moon on the door, leaning a little too much to the left to give you any confidence in what lay beyond. And probably, your nose is filled with the smell of long forgotten stop along a busy highway at a lonely pit-toilet.

But, nothing could be further from those images than the modern composting toilet.

Many modern composting toilets are barely distinguishable from the toilet you have in your bathroom and most of them use no water at all! Also, when properly installed, they give off no unpleasant odor.

Yes, outhouses have been around for centuries and are still utilized in many rural areas around the globe, including here in Mexico where modern plumbing is not common in rural households. As a matter of fact, 2.6 billion people worldwide have no proper toilet of any kind. That is nearly 40% of the world population!

But, I am not talking about outhouses here. Modern composting toilets are becoming increasingly popular in first world countries. A new apartment complex in Seattle, Washington recently used its composting toilets (along with many other green features) as a major selling point.

And why are they becoming so popular? Well, there are actually many personal and social benefits to composting toilets.

Aside from the 25,000 liters (6,600 gallons) of fresh water per year, per person a composting toilet can save, it also saves on electricity and other resources that are used to create the infrastructure for flush toilets and the treatment of the black water they produce.

Instead of sending human waste into the municipal water stream for treatment or a septic system that drains into the ground water, composting toilets conserve waste on-site. It is stored in a compartment to facilitate natural aerobic decomposition, which in time, turns into nutrient-rich compost.

This is where the personal benefits come in. If you are a gardener or even just have houseplants, you can use the organic fertilizer that is produced by your composting toilet to enrich your soil.

Just how does a composting toilet turn human waste into fertilizer?

Composting toilets utilize the natural processes of evaporation and decomposition. Human waste is over 90% water. Once the water is evaporated (using a ventilation system) anaerobic decomposition turns the small amount of remaining solid material into useful fertilizer. Human waste that is properly composted does not contain any pathogens or viruses. Bacteria destroy them during decomposition.

Installing a composting toilet can mean the conservation of 100,000 liters (26,400 gallons) of water a year for a family of four. They can take a major strain off local municipalities who are forced to provide the infrastructure for flush toilets and deal with the treatment of black water. They can prevent contamination of groundwater that improperly functioning septic systems can create. And they provide the user with safe, efficient and free organic fertilizer.

A composting toilet is a great thing to consider if you live in an area that experiences water shortages or if you just want to be on the cutting edge of conservation of the most valuable resource we have on the Planet…water!

Sanitation Statistics


Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under five in the world. Around 1.5 million deaths each year – nearly one in five – are caused by diarrhea. It kills more children than malaria, AIDS, and measles combined.

Sanitation and proper hygiene are crucial to diarrhea prevention. It is estimated that improved sanitation facilities can result in an average reduction in cases of diarrhea of more than one-third. Washing hands with soap has been found to reduce diarrhea by more than 40%.

Halving the proportion of those globally without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation by 2015 is estimated to result in 272 million more school attendance days a year. The value of deaths averted, based on discounted future earnings, would amount to US$ 3.6 billion a year.

Improved sanitation facilities are estimated to result in an average reduction in cases of diarrhea of more than 33%.

2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation; 1.1 billion still practice open defecation.

Of the 60 million people added to the world’s towns and cities every year, most move to informal settlements (i.e. slums) with no sanitation facilities.

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