Composting toilets are not a new invention but for caravans, their use has started to gain popularity. People have been using them in houses, huts, granny flats and sheds for years, so the concept has well and truly been tried, tested and perfected already.
In case you’re wondering, the answer is no. Composting toilets for caravans are not just glorified buckets for poop, and they don’t smell. In fact, there are some very undeniable benefits to installing one.
Here’s the lowdown on how and why they work, the pros and cons of considering a composting toilet for your caravan, and where to get one.
How does a composting toilet work in a caravan?
You may be familiar with other traditional ways of toileting when travelling. If you’re not, you can read about them here. Composting toilets for caravans differ from traditional loos in that they don’t require water for flushing, and no chemicals are needed. The major difference is that the poo is separated from the wee. This sounds complicated, but it’s actually not. In fact, it has all kinds of advantages when it comes time for disposal. More about that further on.
The basic principle is that the liquid waste (aka wee), is tipped out and the solid waste (aka poo), turns into compost. The solid waste lands in its own chamber, where it is mixed with something natural like peat moss or coconut fibre to help break it down. These are readily available from Bunnings.
Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to open the toilet and stir the poop and peat moss around with a big stick while pegging your nostrils shut. There is a little handle on the side of your toilet, and you just crank it a few times after you’ve shut the lid. This mixes up the solid waste with the peat moss in your caravan toilet and encourages composting. Some toilets even have an auto-electric function that does it for you upon the closure of the lid.
Why is the poo separate from the wee and um … how?
The reason they are separate is that when combined, they turn into sewerage. Anyone who has dealt with a cassette toilet will know how unpleasant that is. It stinks, splatters when you pour it out, and you have to empty it fairly frequently.
Keeping it separate means less odour and easier disposal. Disposal of your wee from a caravan composting toilet is as simple as pouring the wee canister down a flush toilet. Remember, you haven’t used any chemicals, so this is perfectly fine. You can also dispose of it at a designated dump point. The solid waste is emptied far less than the wee canister and far FAR less than a chemical toilet. You will be surprised at how much less.
We’ll talk about what to do with the poop further down.
Luckily, you don’t actually have to do anything to separate them. Most composting toilets for caravans have separate chambers for both wee and poo. The urine chamber is located at the front of the toilet, and by nature’s design, it just ends up in there when you sit down on the toilet to do your business. The solid waste goes straight down into its own chamber, where it begins to compost.
Yes, this means that men will have to sit down to wee. Sorry about that. I hear some of you protesting, but as both a wife and a mother of a boy, I know for a fact it can be done regardless of the state of your pride and joy. Just lean forward a little and point it in the right direction. Trust me, the benefits of using a composting toilet in your caravan will far outweigh the initial awkwardness.
In other words, you’ll get used to it.
But what about the smell?
Surprisingly, there are hardly any odours with caravan composting toilets. Separating the two wastes means a drastic reduction in smells. Also, a required 12-volt fan keeps things aerated and helps with the composting. Instead of the sewerage smell that sometimes wafts out from cassette toilets, you may get a whiff of a different kind of smell. It’s hard to explain, but it’s more like fresh dirt (aka the compost) and it’s easier on the nose and gag reflex than the sewerage smell.
How often will I need to empty the waste?
Obviously, it depends on how much you use your caravan composting toilet. The liquid waste is tipped out every few days. Depending on the brand, the liquid holding tank is usually around five to eight litres. As for the solids, it’s more like a fortnight between emptying, as opposed to chemical toilets, which require a dump point every four days or so. The popular Nature’s Head brand of caravan composting toilets in Australia says you can go 80 times before emptying.
What do I do with all that composting poop in my caravan?
There are two ways to deal with your composted waste, but to start with, you have to get it out of the caravan toilet. This is done by unclipping the top off the toilet and tipping it out. If you have a garden at home, you can use it as actual compost for your trees. Obviously, don’t tip it directly onto your edible fruits. If you’d just rather not, you can place an eco-friendly compostable bag over the top, and tip the holding tank upside down so that the soily-poop mixture falls into the bag. The bag can then be disposed of responsibly at a dump point.
What about toilet paper?
Toilet paper can be used with composting toilets for caravans, just like normal. However, it is recommended that you use RV toilet paper because it breaks down quickly. In saying that, if you place your loo paper in a bin with a lid next to your toilet, the holding tank won’t fill up as quickly. So it’s up to you how you want to manage the loo paper.
Pros and cons of composting toilets for caravans
- The toilet is decent-sized, so feels more like a home toilet
- Men have to sit down to wee – great for those travelling with a man who can’t usually remember to put the lid down
- DIY Installation is possible as no plumbing is required
- Emptying solid waste is less frequent than a cassette toilet
- Can be retro-installed
- No water
- No chemicals
- Free compost
- Good for eco-conscious travellers
- Men have to sit down to wee – can take a little getting used to after decades of standing up
- Needs a 12V supply to run the fan so if going off-grid, you will need solar
- When installing, enough space must be left behind the toilet to aid in opening the lid to gain access to the waste
- More expensive than a cassette toilet
- You get an eagle-eye view of your own poop when you’re emptying it
Where to buy a composting toilet for your caravan
Cost: from $1,715
Cost: from $1,400