Sawdust Toilet vs. Composting Toilet: What Is the Difference and Which Is Better?

Apr 22


Ellen Bell

Ellen Bell

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Have you heard of composting toilets and/or sawdust toilets, but aren't really sure what the difference is? In this article, we'll explain the pros and cons of each type of wastewater system, so you can determine which would best meet your needs.

Anyone who's done a little research on the topic of composting toilets has undoubtedly stumbled across information about sawdust toilets,Sawdust Toilet vs. Composting Toilet: What Is the Difference and Which Is Better? Articles sometimes also referred to as homemade composting toilets.  In this article, we'll make some important differentiations between the two, as well as address some basic pros and cons of each system.

First and foremost, it's important to understand that a true compost toilet is a system where active composting is actually taking place inside the toilet itself.  Sawdust toilets cannot be accurately called compost toilets because no composting takes place inside them.  Rather, they are simply a holding chamber for waste, until it can be transported to another location and dealt with.

Now we'll discuss the pros and cons of each system, beginning with the sawdust toilet.  By far, the biggest pro for a sawdust system is the cost.  They are incredibly cheap and easy to start up and begin using.  Very little is required in the way of materials: a five gallon bucket, a toilet seat that will fit on top of the bucket, and plenty of sawdust or peat moss.

The primary disadvantages of the sawdust toilet system are the amount of work required and the feasibility of long-term use.  First, sawdust toilets must be emptied, which means that someone must manually carry heavy buckets of waste to some outdoor location where they'll be dumped.  Then there is the obviously unpleasant job of emptying the buckets and rinsing them out for reuse.  It's quite possible for a family of four to fill as many as three to four buckets per week, which is a lot of carrying and transporting for the members of the family.

Furthermore, to make the use of a sawdust toilet feasible, you must live in a location where you have enough outdoor space to deal with the waste.  Typically, you would set up two or three very large piles, which could range in size from four to eight feet in diameter.  The piles would be caged in with chicken wire or a similar material to keep animals and pests out.  When one pile becomes full, it must be left to sit, undisturbed, for at least one to two years before the composting process is complete and the finished compost can be safely used.  For a family living on a farm or acreage, the land requirement would not be a problem.  But for an urban or suburban family, such a use of outdoor space would be totally impossible.

True composting toilets, on the other hand, are commercially manufactured systems designed to hold and actively compost all waste inside the unit itself.  No carrying or transporting of waste is required, and in most modern systems, the homeowner never even has to come into contact with waste, which is a real boon to the acceptance of such systems.  The fact that all waste is dealt with right there inside the toilet makes these systems much more feasible for homeowners in urban areas and for those persons who are unable or unwilling to transport and empty buckets of waste.

The downside to a composting toilet system is the cost.  A professional system that has been tested and certified to operate cleanly and without odor will probably cost around $1,200 to $1,500.  For many families, such an outlay of money is not feasible.  However, when compared to the expense of replacing an old septic system or installing a new one, it's easy to see that the cost isn't really that high, especially when you consider that the average expected life of a composting toilet is around 20 years.

In short, there are several main differences between compost and sawdust toilet systems.  The one that's right for a given application depends on the situation, location, and the users' needs and abilities.  With some basic knowledge about both types of systems, it should be easy to choose the type of toilet that makes sense for you.