By Daniel Flahiff
After a breathtaking hike along the Nisqually River in Mount Rainier National Park this summer, I stumbled upon this fantastic biotoilet at Cougar Rock Campground. Activated last June, the toilet is the only one of its kind in the United States. According to Bianics Toilet, developers of the technology, the biotoilets have been in use on Mt. Fuji for years and will soon be installed in the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia.
Bianics biotoilets use micro-organisms in cedar chips to break down toilet waste into water and carbon dioxide. "The water is then re-circulated into the toilet tank, and thus never leaves the system." said Bianics, who donated the Cougar Rock unit to the Park in cooperation with the international environmental group Groundwork Mishima.
There is no wastewater, no sludge and no need to empty or clean the system. Each flush-style toilet is fully self-contained, self-cleaning, odorless, needs only occasional water [though the Cougar Rock biotoilet uses a rainwater catchment system] and uses about as much power as a typical microwave. The biotoilets even have heated seats!
Too good to be true? Maybe. Each biotoilet costs around $70,000 USD. At that price, don't expect to see these in use in residential construction any time soon. A typical residential septic or sewer system can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 USD plus fittings and fixtures. Bianics biotoilets just don't make economic sense for residential construction projects.
There is good news though. Prices for public restroom projects can range from $400,000 - $500,000 USD (approximately $50,000 per seat) plus regular maintenance. At that price-point, the maintenance-free Bianics biotoilet suddenly seems like a terrific solution.
With economic stimulus dollars in play, the time is right for public institutions to make the move to more environmentally-friendly solutions such as the Bianics biotoilet. We're looking forward to stumbling upon more of these in U.S. parks and public spaces very soon.
Daniel Flahiff is a writer, designer and filmmaker based in Seattle. He is a co-founder of Big Fig Design Group, a multi-disciplinary group of artists, designers and roustabouts who like to make all sorts of things. Daniel’s film and video work has been screened at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the Los Angeles Times Media Center, and at the 2000 Telluride International Experimental Cinema Exposition. His essays, interviews and criticism has appeared in Inhabitat and (incli)NATION.
Photo credit: Daniel Flahiff, © 2009, All rights reserved.
While I was in Belize I went to The Trek Stop. http://www.thetrekstop.com/facilities.htm . The owner had built composting toilets. They were pit toilets, which had toilet paper, and a large bowl of wood shavings. You did your business, used the paper, and then finished up by throwing a couple fistfulls of wood shavings down the hole.
The owner planned to clean out the toilets annually, and allow the contents to compost for a year before using the compost on the local trees.
Where did the wood shavings come from? Trimmings from the local trees!
It was clean, didn't have much smell, and needed no water.
This would only work in wilderness areas, but probably cost less than $5000 for facilities for 3, which was enough for 12 cabins.
They did have to be regularly maintained-- cleaned, TP replaced, and wood shavings refilled. But all toilets need that.
Which is better 14 composting toilets, or 1 biotoilet?
Is the carbon dioxide trapped? If not, how much carbon dioxide is released? I understand that it's just a few toilets now, but if the technology were to proliferate, might it not contribute to global warming?
Not really, because the CO2 from the waste and cedar chips would ultimately be coming from the food that you ate and the tree that grew the wood that it was chipped from. Normal toilets link to sewage plants that do much the same thing, the waste is broken down to CO2, methane, etc, and then much of it is just buried in landfills.
In activist camps in the uk we have been using 'compost toilets'. A normal team of around six people can construct one in a matter of hours. Local organic farms benefit from what is 'produced' over the week or so that the activist camps are used. There are films about them at www.climatecamp.org.uk .The first time I saw them was at the Stirling Camp during the G8 demonstrations in Scotland in 2005. They are not as funky as the expensive ones in the article but they can be constructed and taken down very quickly and cost next to nothing. We also use bales of hay or straw to collect our pee, also an excellent and easy system. Check the Climate Camp movement for morer details and also if you are not familiar with Climate Camp, which is becoming a global movement with a very specific ethos towards activism and change making.