Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Nature’s Head Composting Toilet

Throughout our travels and from our website and blog, one of the most frequently asked questions is “How is your composting toilet working?” So by popular demand here is an update on the toilet!

It seems like the very thought of a composting toilet is both intriguing and intimidating to most people. All of us are used to the flush and go toilets (or is it go and flush?) we have used all of our lives and really don’t think that much about it. However with the increasing awareness that the availability of clean water (already an issue in many parts of the world), is going to become a global issue, and that the wisdom of using fresh clean drinking water to flush our waste seems doubtful, more and more people are becoming open to the idea of composting toilets.

For us and for all self-contained mobile travelers, there is also the issue of disposing of the nasty mixture that spews forth from the infamous “black tank”. As any one who has lived in RV or trailer will tell you, this is certainly one of the least enjoyable parts of the experience. While the Nature’s Head composting toilet is not without maintenance, it does a pretty nice job of separating the liquid and solid wastes, thereby making the job of maintenance and disposal much less disagreeable. Combined with the fact that you can feel good about conserving precious water resources, the upside of using a composting toilet far outweighs any discomfort you might have about dealing with your waste in a little more hands-on manner!

The first question most people ask is “does it smell?” The answer is definitely “No” Not only does it not smell (there is a slight but not unpleasant earthy odor when we add new peat moss), but there is a complete lack of the usual chemical odors associated with the conventional RV toilet much like you would find in an airplane toilet.

People also want to know we handle the waste. First of all, there are several different types of composting toilets. Some use heat to remove the liquid waste from the solid waste. This requires not only additional electrical energy, but also a larger tank as well as longer composting times. The Nature’s Head toilet cleverly separates the liquids from the solids, making the disposal of liquid waste as easy as emptying the tank, and the overall size of the toilet much more suitable for smaller living spaces like an RV or cabin. Both types of toilets have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the application. If you are considering a composting toilet for your home as opposed to an RV, boat, or cabin, I would look into some of the units designed for that application as the Nature’s Head is best suited to those other situations.

As for what we do with the waste, this depends on how much we are using it, and where we are. While traveling and using the toilet full time, the liquid waste needs to be emptied every three to four days. This is usually done in a pit toilet if we are at a campground. If we are boondocking, I do not have a problem with emptying the liquid waste directly into the woods. Just like the wildlife that lives there does, the liquid waste is natural and biodegradable. It is only when it is mixed with solid waste as in a conventional RV toilet that it becomes toxic. To insure that it is filtered by nature, we do not empty it near any bodies of water. If we are camped in the city, it goes down a conventional toilet, but this requires only one flush for three or four days of liquid waste giving the old adage “if it’s yellow let it mellow” a whole new time frame!

The solid waste is a little more complicated, but still way less annoying and toxic than having to empty the foul mixture that comes out of the conventional RV black tank. The Nature’s Head toilet works by composting the solid waste in a small tank containing peat moss. The peat moss acts as a medium to begin and maintain the composting action. There is a small handle that is used to stir the tank after each use. This stirring aerates the mixture, accelerates the composting and keeps it from becoming too dense. In addition there is a small fan that operates on the 12V system of the RV (ours is solar powered), and helps keep the mixture dry and odor free. When it is time to empty the toilet and renew the peat moss, it is a simple matter of removing the tank, dumping the compost, and adding new peat moss to start the process over again. As with the liquid waste if we are camping, the compost is easily disposed of down a pit toilet where it will rapidly finish decaying. In the woods, digging a small hole away from any water and covering it with dirt will do the job. And in the city, unless you are staying at a place where you can add it to someone’s non-vegetable compost pile, it usually ends up in the landfill where it will quickly and safely finish the process of decay.

As I said, becoming a little bit more involved with our waste is not something everyone may be comfortable with, but when you think about it, we should be! Just like everything else we do, from our electrical use, our water consumption, and our use of petrochemical products, all these things have an impact on our planet, and the more we understand, evaluate and reduce that impact, the better off we will all be.

For more info on the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet, visit their website at:
Nature's Head Composting Toilets


  1. So nice to come across your blog. We have recently begun our first journey in our airstream. We do have a compost toilet and it works great - I love the earthy smell after the peat moss has been put in. We are presently in NM heading for Colorado tomorrow for a few weeks then over to California.

    You can visit our adventure posts at www.earthboysblog.com

  2. Thanks for checking us out and I hope our readers will take a look at your cool blog as well!!

  3. Not to be gross, but we are seriously considering a composting toilet... What if you have diarrhea?

  4. Hi Lynda,

    Well it did happen to me once (bad shrimp!)and it just meant that I had to change the peat moss immediately after! It did handle it OK however.

  5. when you empty the solids, do you have to unbolt the whole bottom of the toilet from the ground and unplug the ventilation?

  6. Hi Brian!

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but while the Eco-Discovery Tour is no longer on the road, our hearts and minds are still with the systems we believe in! The Natures Head composting toilet is very east to use. When emptying the solid waste tank, there are two easy to use thumbscrews on the side of the toilet that release the solid waste tank from the floor mounts. The ventilation simply plugs into the side of the tank and is easily removed as well. After disposing of the solid waste, you simply drop the toilet base back into place, install the thumbscrews and reattach the vent hose and you are good to go!