I came across a wonderful blog site when I googled “Boondocking across America,” called “Roads Less Traveled.” It is a well written, in depth blog site filled with just about everything you could want to know if you are currently boondocking or planning on going boondocking. On this page they link to my website and to a separate blog of theirs that addresses the practicality of using a composting toilet for the purpose of boondocking. The writers confess that they haven’t used a composting toilet and they make their case for using a conventional system, which they have used successfully for many years. I plan on mining their blog site for information in the near future when I get underway on my trip around the states. I went to their article on using composting toilets for boondocking and read it with interest. Here are my observations on their observations and I hope I can correct a lot of misinformation about compact composting toilets, in general, and the show the boondocking benefits of a well designed compact, composting toilet, specifically the C-Head.
First, let me make a few distinctions. In raising their objections and drawing their conclusions, they rely heavily on information drawn from the Nature’s Head website, and from Nature’s Head owners and online Nature’s Head promoters and reviews. The marketing for this product has been intense and the price reflects it. Their toilet is virtually at every pertinent trade show, in every pertinent magazine, website or catalog, and on multiple You Tube promotion reviews, so basically everywhere, all the time and everybody knows about it. It has been the “go to” composting toilet for the compost toilet shopping public for years. Good on them and God bless capitalism and America! It eclipsed it parent, the Airhead, long ago although fundamentally and functionally, they are distinct in name only. Airhead was the progenitor of the compact, composting toilet, yet with no large determinable difference between it and the Nature’s head, it doesn’t even rate an “honorable mention” by the authors of this blog. Too bad. That says a lot about marketing and don’t get me wrong, Nature’s Head is a fine product with many happy owners, but I would argue that it is not the best and the success of Natures Head’s marketing has removed any need to significantly improve on their design. Some of the shortcomings are noted in his blog article and unfortunately applied to all compact composting toilets and therein lies the problem. That and the fact that the authors draw many of their conclusions from pure speculation about boondocking with a composting toilet and not from experience. The C-Head is significantly different from its competitors and much more suited for use in boondocking than any of its competitors including holding tank systems. Here’s why, and let’s address the general objections first.
The first challenge that is made to using any composting toilet is this: Since composting takes time, what do you do with the semi-composted waste when the toilet gets full and you must empty the toilet? If you can’t let the toilet sit for months (so that the waste composts), what do you do in the meantime? That is a fair question and one that anybody would ask. The Nature’s Head website FAQ page in trying to address the question outlines a shortcoming of their design. Quote per the article:
“It is best to allow the solids to decompose before emptying your toilet. The longer you wait before emptying your toilet, the nicer the job will be. Many boaters will leave the solid wastes in the toilet over the winter and empty it in the spring.”
This answer is as vague as it is impractical and it would seem to limit using a composting toilet to short term use. So basically you have to allow the toilet to go unused for an extended period of time so that the waste can compost into a “nicer” state. Or opt to purchase a second, expensive, space consuming, bottom unit to switch out for storage. First, compact composting toilets are not designed to compost waste to a safe and completely composted condition inside the toilet. No manufacturer of compact composting toilets advocated handling the contents of the toilet with bare hands at any stage. Compact composting toilets are designed to efficiently store waste using urine diversion for odor control and to initiate composting of the solid waste until it can be moved to an outside location for further composting or else discarded in a responsible manner. That is what they all have in common.
To that end, the C-Head toilet diverts the pee from the poo, covers the poo with an absorbing medium using a convenient top mounted crank handle and stores the poo in a bucket inside the toilet housing. rolling and covering the waste instead of mashing it into the medium (as do both the Nature’s Head and the Airhead). Simply covering the waste lets everything tumble smoothly and easily out of the container when pouring it out. The bucket is designed so that the waste can be poured into a separate, inexpensive, common 5-gal bucket that can be lined with a plastic bag and done so easily without any spillage. Then it can be covered and stored until it can be further composted or discarded. A 5-gal bucket will easily hold over three weeks solid waste from two people using the C-Head toilet on a daily basis. None of this takes up much space and all of it is an easy, lightweight and relatively clean operation compared to all the other toilets.
In addition, with the C-Head, there is an accessory item available for purchase that allows the urine to be directly diverted into the existing holding tank through the existing toilet flange for storage, bypassing any need to remove or empty a urine container. This alone pretty much eliminates any of the objections the author comes up with regarding disposing of the urine, while adding several benefits that a standard holding tanks system lacks. Because the diverted urine is in a concentrated state and not mixed with poo, it takes up much less space in the holding tank, requires a smaller diameter hose to empty and extends the use of the black tank which significantly reduces the need to break camp and find a dump station. Water from a spray bottle is all that may be needed to to rinse out the urine diverter after each use and that is usually optional and not necessary.
The blog goes through a complicated scenario of how difficult it is to get rid of the solid waste which isn’t really the case. The assumption is that there are many people using composting toilets who will leave bags of solid waste laying around in pristine boondocking areas, not knowing what else to do with it or being too lazy to bury it or take it home to compost or dispose of it. Read this article on why dumping it on the ground is the best safest and fastest way to get rid of it. Whether that is the case or not, bags are much easier to remove if left behind by an irresponsible person, as opposed to a dumping the sewage content of a holding tank on the ground. And people who are liable to leave their bags of poop behind are just as liable to dump their tanks, especially if they are out in the middle of nowhere. I can attest to smelling dumped sewage even in a crowded state campsite. Now that stunk. With a holding tank, unlike with a composting toilet, when the tank is full you have to stop using the toilet so the incentive is huge to dump if you have to. This is not the case with a composting toilet. And contrary to what was said about a bag of composting poo stinking up a dumpster, it simply isn’t true. Poo that is separated from urine and then covered with an absorbing medium, has only a slight musty, earthy smell and does not smell like sewage. You can continuously fill a 5-gallon bucket with the solid waste that comes from a C-Head and it never smells like poop or sewage unless the user is getting pee mixed in with the poo.
The blog also mentions that a conventional dump station only takes 10 minutes of your time. Hmmmm! Seems a little optimistic to me. That doesn’t count driving to the dump sight and presupposes that there is no one in line and that the person ahead of you didn’t leave a mess and that you don’t have any malfunctions or problems rinsing things off afterword. When we used a holding tank toilet system with our Minnie Winnie before we converted it, I can remember a few quick side steps a couple of times in an effort to dodge a loose cannon and gloves are a must and it does smell. As many times as I have emptied my C-Head . . . well there is no comparison when it comes to ease, cleanliness and simplicity.
If more composting toilets were in use, it would be much easier to simply have a dedicated dumpster at dump station locations where people could leave their semi-composted waste for transport to a commercial composting station at the local landfill or waste management facility. Nothing to go wrong. The only moving parts of a dumpster is the lid. It would save the park services a ton of money.
If, when using a composting toilet, you collect the urine in a portable container or containers, then yes they must be emptied more by hand and more often. With a C-Head, you can simply cap off the water jug and replace it with another water jug. But if you are boondocking, you can simply walk out away from camp and dig a small cat hole and pour it in there and then cover it up. No remaining smell at all. Or you can transfer it to a 5 gallon Jerry jug and yes you can empty 5 gallons of urine in a cat hole in 10 minutes after a 5 minute walk. Now that is quick and easy. If you want to get fancy, buy a folding hand cart, a plastic Jerry can and a folding entrenching tool. You can use the hand truck double duty to carry water from a source to the RV, just don’t get your Jerry cans mixed up.
The blog makes this statement. “But they are not designed for people who live in and use their boats and RVs full-time.” This statement is categorically incorrect. In fact the opposite is true. Nothing about the C-Head is more complicated than a holding tank system. They save water, are easier to manage and in eliminating any need to dump illegally, you could make an argument that they should be required. The C-Head is in fact ideally suited for boondocking and living aboard full time. There are several other arguments that the blog makes, such as the utility of water conservation, that he admits are real but insignificant to him specifically. Others with less carrying capacity may not feel this way. He also states that since you are flushing the urine down a toilet you really aren’t saving water. Seriously?! This statement highlights a bias. Of course you are saving water if you use one flush to flush down ten plus uses. Some criticisms go beyond boondocking, and those misconceptions will be addressed in another blog. I hope this article sheds some light on how valuable a C-Head can be for boondocking. I would argue that it is especially suited for boondocking and in fact the majority of our RV customers will purchase one specifically for boondocking.
All that notwithstanding, the article is worth reading and the blog site worth studying for all its good information.
Please feel free to comment or ask questions you may have below.
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