Pete Seeger has one. So do Abby Rockefeller, the Bronx Zoo and Glacier National Park. As of last year, so do I. Mine is a Sun-Mar nonelectric composting toilet.
I didn’t want anything to do with it at first. The idea of human waste sitting in one spot — right next to you — for months at a time is difficult to stomach, but I had little choice. Our solar-powered summer cabin has limited running water and soils that are too shallow for a septic system.
The Sun-Mar promised no smells and easy installation. Vented by a pipe out the roof, it doesn’t smell at all. And the concept couldn’t be simpler: in goes human waste plus a few wood chips; out comes dry fertilizer. I wish I could tell you I have handled the harmless mulch that’s produced, but we haven’t even had to empty it yet.
For homeowners interested in going green, the lowly water closet turns out to be a big player. Americans flush away 4.8 billion gallons of water every day — nearly 40 percent of our total indoor water consumption. Cleaning the sewage stream requires vast amounts of energy and chemicals and is often flawed. So manufacturers are finally making some great-looking, highly efficient privies.
Consumers can choose from a wide spectrum of effective flushiness, starting with low flush (the federally mandated maximum of 1.6 gallons per use), superlow flush (1.28 gallons and under), dual flush — with separate buttons and flow rates for solid and liquid wastes — and most recently, no flush at all.
Enter the waterless urinal. These manly devices are most likely being installed in an airport, stadium or university near you as you read. In such settings, each urinal can save 40,000 gallons of water a year, filling three swimming pools. The units require replaceable cartridges or biodegradable liquid barriers sitting just below the drain to trap odors. (It’s still hooked up to a plumbing drain; it just doesn’t flush.) Nearly 100,000 are already in use, and sales have grown by nearly 50 percent a year for the last three years. The Steward (pictured at right), a sleek, cartridge-free model from Kohler, is so attractive that it is being installed in private homes.
Admittedly, not everyone is ready for the no-flush revolution. Say you are the sort of person who wants a spalike toilet with a heated seat, a gentle aerated and vibrating bidet with adjustable controls, a catalytic deodorizer and an electronic seat-and-lid lowering mechanism. Even this device is available with the relatively eco-friendly Washlet series from Toto. It not only saves toilet paper, but as W. Hodding Carter, a Washlet owner and the author of “Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization,” told me, “The thing about waking up and sitting on a warm toilet seat, well, it just affects your whole disposition.”
by Florence Williams