Composting Toilets at Dial House

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Here is an interesting article on the building of composting toilets at Dial House back in 2001. This article originally appeared in Permaculture Magazine. It shows some more good pics of the place and has some additional info.

"The summer of 2001 saw a gathering at Dial House that was at once a celebration of victory over the suits, and a visioning event for the future of this space. Dial House has been described as ‘paradise’- certainly it’s an asylum from the madness that is early 21st century fossil fuel and war driven ‘civilisation’. Once past it’s rickety little wooden gate it’s easy to get lost for a while wandering amongst the vegetable plots, native tree plantings, fruit bushes and flower beds teeming with humming bees and birdsong, and the multitude of hidden shelters and sitting places adorned with sculptures and carvings. Turning each corner is a surprise- you never quite know what you will find. Then there’s the building itself, a crooked house maze of artist’s studios, rehearsal rooms, libraries and social spaces. The possibilities for the house are endless and many ideas were exchanged- art venue, healing workshops, jazz festivals, permaculture convergences, poet’s retreat, fireworks parties, willow sculpture courses… But one problem always brought any discussions (literally) back down to earth… Anybody who’s ever experienced a backflow of Dial House’s 16th century plumbed WC will know that clearing it is the least appealing aesthetic feature of the entire set-up. More seriously, this tendency to block and overflow at the most modest amount of over-use puts a very real limiting factor on using the house as a venue for gatherings of any sort of size or duration. In other words, the bog can’t take the strain…"

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Alacrates's picture

For my local Transition Network group, I put together a presentation on composting toilets and on the use of humanure.

It was based primarily on Joe Jenkin's classic appropriate technology book "The Humanure Handbook", as well as Dan Chiras' "The Scoop on Poop" and Gene Logsdon's "Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind".

I could tell some people in the audience were thinking, "Why would we take up composting toilets when we have a functioning sewer system?"

I felt my perspective was slightly different to this. I saw composting toilet systems as something which could deal with human wastes in the absence of a municipal sewer system. If we had no ability to run a city-wide sewer system, how could we deal with the pathogens related to human wastes? The heat generated by a thermophilic compost pile becomes a solution to a public health problem, in addition to a method to produce fertilizers to add to food producing soil...

I think composting toilets will be useful to temporary settlements (like they were in the Standing Rock protests) and to dealing with the wastes of disaster camps...

The main consideration I see in setting up these toilets is bringing to the site enough "cover material" - things like shredded leaves or Jenkins' "rotted sawdust" to cover over deposits to the composting toilets. I wonder if biochar produced from various pyrolytic stoves could be added to these cover materials... this way we could add recalcitrant carbon to the manures that we would incorporate back into the soil...