This post here is essentially for eco-freaks only.
Okay, eco freaks... most of you are already aware of the massive waste stream that Americans produce and how it's a problem. You're also no doubt aware of our dwindling fresh water supplies. While Michigan may have the Great Lakes, only 2% of that water gets replenished each year, meaning we can only remove so much before it becomes too much. Another problem we're also facing is the nutrient depletion (and consequent poisoning due to fertilizers) of our soils. This project aims to address all three of these issues.
Bear in mind, this is not my idea. This has been used by peeps in rural India for untold centuries, but has been most recently publicized by a guy who wrote "The Humanure Handbook." Basically, it's a simple composting toilet. Instead of flushing everything away, it collects in a local reservoir which is then emptied onto a compost pile about once a week. After each use, sawdust is added to provide carbonaceous material for the composting process (people provide the nitrogen) and to eliminate odors. The typical first response from people seeing it is "oh, a litterbox for people."
The book outlines how to make it safe, how to ensure disease is eliminated, and how to keep it odor-free. People are so grossed out by this, though, that in no way do I expect them to become mainstream. I DO see them as a great substitute for outhouses or temporary toilets, though! But enough about that. The main problem I saw with the designs I looked up was that they were essentially boxes with a hole cut in the top for a bucket. It didn't look like a toilet, it had no appeal, and I could only imagine having the backs of your knees scraped up by the corners. Not finding anything I liked, I decided to build this puppy:
Basically, I needed something that was ROUND. Nobody wants to sit on a square toilet. I had some plywood sitting around (the rest is made from 1x3 whiteboard from Lowe's) so I cut it to be about the size of the seat (yes, I bought the seat. I didn't make that part. I wanted it to be easily exchanged with manufactured varieties.) Everything else worked from there.
Here we can see the lid and seat up. It's designed to fit over a regular 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot or Lowe's or wherever. That'll last two people about a week before it gets too full of sawdust. The top of the bucket just barely fits through that top hole - that's to make sure nothing misses the bucket. You can also see here where I had to turn the little footies on the bottom of the seat about 90 degrees to allow for the bucket. Any replacement seat will have to be modified, too, but it's easy and necessary.
Here the whole top is removed to allow access to the bucket. I used regular drywall screws to put it together because they're cheap and I had them on hand. You can also see that I cut the hole by hand with a jigsaw - not exactly straight near the handle. The two big holes in the back allow room for the seat bolts to slide completely through. No hardware needs to be adjusted to remove the top - it just lifts off. There's also a little ledge where the handle to the bucket rests so that you don't need to reach down in there, either.
And here the bucket's removed altogether. This was the first project I've ever stained and sealed. Not having any plans (just an idea in my head) meant that I didn't know if it was going to work until I was done. Once I got to that point, I didn't want to take it apart again, so I stained and sealed it all as one piece, which involved a lot of brush contortions to get into grooves and stuff. Next time I'll stain each piece as I go.
Here you can make out little rubber footies on the bottom. I didn't countersink the drywall screws the first time I put them in (I've since gone back and done that) so I was afraid that the heads would scratch any surface they were on. I bought about 5 little rubber stoppers and drilled holes into them, then screwed them into the bottom for feet. Ideally I'd have gotten pre-made feet, but oddly I couldn't find any that would work.
These show better detail on the "tank," which was added later. I first just made the seat, but then thought that it didn't look "toilet" enough without the tank. A place for storing sawdust before use is needed, anyway, so I built the little tank for the back. I put it together with drywall screws, too, with the exception of the front few. There's a little handhold groove cut into the front of the lid so that when the lid is closed, the screw heads are visible. I replaced those with brass so it'd look nicer. I HATE working with brass, though! It's too soft!
You can tell from the last picture that the tank was an afterthought because of how the legs for the tank don't match in size. I just used some pieces of lumber that I had on hand. Ideally, though, this thing would be up against a wall, so you won't see those, anyway. I did go back and put brass screws in those, though, for aesthetic reasons, so I suppose I could go back and make the legs right, as well.
Overall, this project required a LOT of labor but very little money. A lot of it I built from stuff I had on hand, and the whiteboard is dirt cheap. If I was going to build another one (which my sister says I should do and then sell it online) I would consider building it all as one unit. Right now the front part has to pull away from the tank to allow for changing the bucket, which really shouldn't be necessary. I'd also use my math more when cutting holes so they'd look prettier. Some people say it looks great as it is, but I'll always be able to see the flaws where I hacked things together.
I'm considering whether or not I want to use this in my house. It's one thing to built it, but another thing altogether to USE it, you know? I'm still divided on the issue. It would fit with my ideal, definitely, but... it might be hard to convince chicks to stay over for any length of time. Some people just can't get past the bucket.
- Camp Toilet