When Going Green Made People Feel Green: The Eco Dry Toilets That Stunk.

Waterless Eco-Toilet from SEI (http://www.flickr.com/photos/gtzecosan/)Jubbling has had a little eco-reflux lately. That’s why stories like the one about the Daxing Ecological Community stand out. It was built in the mid-2000’s and one of the featured ideas implemented in this drought plagued community was a waterless eco-toilet designed by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

The way the eco-toilet worked was targeted weewee would go down one drain and the solid stuff would be caught, saw-dusted and flipped down another drain into a holding tank in the basement. The tank would be emptied 2 or 3 times per month and the collected poo-business could be turned into fertilizer. In theory, the waterless eco-toilet sounded like a great idea.

But the problems with the toilets were almost immediate. Residents were overwhelmed with an ammonia smell that their bathroom fans couldn’t expel fast enough. And the smell from the unsealed poo-poo holding tanks in the basement raised the stink level to a point that some refused to eat in their apartments – they ate meals on their balcony. 15% of the households also reported gynecological problems stemming from the dispersal of sawdust.

SEI sent in experts who called the builders “irresponsible” and sealed the holding tanks and made improvements to the fans. But these were temporary fixes and the residents were still not happy until flushing toilets were installed in 2009.

Rarely would I be asked or able to offer my expert opinion on any topic but I could’ve helped the Daxing Ecological Community on this one. In 1976, my family stayed at an eco mini-community in the countryside of Japan. It was designed around sustainability and one of its flagship ideas was waterless toilets that used natural gas to incinerate solids. The smell of fried dookie wafted through our cabin and it’s an odor you smell once and never forget. For us kids, crap-cooking was at first kind of neat. But by day three, the novelty had worn off and we were all anxious to get out of there.

So idea people, please don’t mess with the toilet much. There are so many other ways to reduce water use – eco’ing up the toilet should probably be last on the list. [Guardian]



  1. GreenEngineer says

    A big reason to do water conservation at the toilet is not to save fresh water but to reduce the sewage processing impact and recover nutrients. We humans dump enough nitrogen every year to largely replace the N2 fertilizers used in agriculture, so this is not a small resource stream.

    Note that toilet’s are the biggest indoor water use, so they are a prime target for conservation. On the other hand, domestic water use is a small fraction of total water use – the vast majority of it goes to agriculture. So the total water savings available is relatively small compared, but does this mean we should simply abandon efforts at domestic water conservation? Or are you simply saying we should avoid efforts that inconvenience people and force them to deal with the fact that their sh!t stinks?

  2. Thanks for the legitimate reply. We normally just get the spam.

    If you read through the site, you’ll see that Jubbling is all about being inconvenienced. We think it’s the root of every solution. But in this case, the waterless toilet created more problems than it solved and it just ended up being replaced with the standard flushing toilet. Double consumption.

    Domestic water conservation is important and we can all cut back on the flushing, bathing, watering the lawn and letting the tap run. I just don’t think going extreme with a waterless toilet is a good move. Given a choice – would you put one of these waterless toilets in your house or would you cut back on bathing to keep a flushable toilet?

    For future replies, go ahead and spell the word “shit.” We’re ok with swearing.

  3. GreenEngineer says

    If I’m building new or making modifications to the level of swapping out my flushable toilet for a dry one, I would first divert my shower and lav sink water to greywater, and I would install a competent dry toilet – they do exist, even if this example failed. At that point, if I was on a well, I’d be nearly closed-loop (dishwater aside, which is near-blackwater and not appropriate greywater system)

    Water conservation is usually treated with the same mindset used for energy conservation, which is to say reduce, reduce. That’s not necessarily appropriate for water which, unlike energy, is a regenerable resource. Dealing with water sensibly is really about ecological management of the resource.

    Note that I’m not opposed to flush toilets in theory. A urban sensible water management infrastructure would first of all separate blackwater and greywater, and treat them differently. Most likely greywater would be treated/disposed on a neighborhood scale, while blackwater (which requires far more infrastructure to deal with) would be handled on a regional basis (more like current water treatment plants) ideally at a location that allowed the recovered nutrients to be salvaged. In this context, water conveyance of the waste is probably a good option. The dry toilet is largely an individual response to a completely insane system for handling waste water.

  4. Thanks B. Not sure about grey water toilets yet but I do like the idea of using rain barrel water for flushing. Hope it becomes easier and more economical.

    Great story on sightline blog.


  5. Fried dookie. Now that was funny