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Hello. I have read Joseph Jenkin’s book on humanure systems and would like to go ahead with his bucket based approach with thermophilic composting taking place in a compost area separate to the dwelling. I have a few questions about this:
– do you need a building consent for this method?
– Are there any mandatory regulations applicable to this method? e.g Do you have to install a vent if you set up a bucket based toilet seat indoors?
– if there are regulations which make this mostly DIY method too onerous, are the regulations dependent on you locating the bucket toilet within a dwelling? e.g Could you just set this up with a natural screen of bushes.
– does all of the above depend on your local council? If so, what is the best way of finding out more information without alarming all the fecophobes as Joseph calls them.
– I have read that if you property is connected to the mains sewer you have to use it via at least one toilet or get a special waiver. Is this special waiver generally only possible by buying a commercial composting toilet?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
The responses I have received from councils in Victoria, Australia, are varied. There seems to be an emphasis here on “approved” systems.
Our community in NSW, Oz lobbied to change the state law to allow composting in city boundaries (we live in a bush setting with no reticulated sewer line in a high rain fall clay soil area unsuitable for septic tanks, but in a city boundary). The change in the law was helped by an outbreak of 400 cases of Hepatitis A due to malfunction of septic tanks. The new laws came in about 15 years ago after 15 years of lobbying.
Often the regulations on such things as composting toilets contain a fine print clause allowing ‘experimental units’. This might be a way to proceed legally with an owner design and build as we did.
I am happy to report that the City of Portland in Oregon USA has endorsed the Christchurch Twin No-Mix Emergency Toilet. Congratulations on your elegant approach and thank you so much for leading the way in a time of crisis. Your toilet now is enabling others to prepare for the risk of a devastating Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. We are especially grateful to James Bellamy for joining us by Skype at a recent PHLUSH meeting to answer our questions.
Now PHLUSH, as all volunteer grassroots group based in the Portland’s Old Town Chinatown neighborhood has its work cut out. Everyone want to learn about the Christchurch Twin. Last week we oriented 75 emergency responders in Clark County in Washington State. We have two dozen invitations to speak to Portland neighborhood groups and at a couple of preparedness fairs in early 2012. And there is interest in your work in Seattle and other cities of the Pacific Northwest.
Do you have any materials or suggestions for training or trainers? We need to train people to speak on why you need the toilet in your emergency kit and how to make and use one. We focus on use doing the first seven days post-disaster, although this is a unique opportunity to talk about pee and poo and people have lots of great questions about composting and nutrient cycling.
Philippa Jameison, editor of Organic NZ, rang to say that she wants to run the short piece on the Christchurch Compost Toilet project in the next issue, but wondered if there were any updates on how it’s going, forthcoming workshops, etc. Also she wanted to verify that it was ok to use one of the images from the website – she mentioned a high res one, a cartoon I think, that would reproduce well.
I rang the landline no. I had written down for you (09) but got a discontinued service message. I also sent a text to the mobile no. I have for you – 021 02404961?
If you get this in the next couple of days, could you get back to me please? firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 0314664, or 03 4701668.
The building code situation that Richard outlines is very similar to the one we have here in Oregon and elsewhere in the US. But new understanding of finite water supplies, Peak Phosphorus, global food security, and the like are changing attitudes and policy very quickly. ReCode Oregon has helped write code to authorize site-built composting toilets and this should be official soon. The new work Sustainable Sanitation in Cities: A Framework for Action. Lüthi, C., Panesar, A., Schütze, T., Norström, A., McConville, J., Parkinson, J., Saywell, D., Ingle, R. (2011) has information on successful introduction of composting toilets in European towns and cities.
Also PHLUSH here in Portland, Oregon really would like to hear from the Compost Loo Team. What we are calling the Christchurch Twin No-Mix Toilet has been well received and we expect city, county and Red Cross officials will endorse it. Although it’s for emergencies we are educating people about nutrient cycling and long term use.
Please can you get in touch with us at info [at] phlush.org ? We are writing a grant – due Tuesday – and would like to include a video conference with you at the University of Oregon. Perhaps we can get some senior officials here to validate your work in a way that supports your work for regulatory change.
Planners and rulemakers like predictable outcomes, and the commercial systems are the only ones that offer tested reliability that isn’t dependent on the level of knowledge and care of the householders. “Give the handle three turns once a day” is about the same difficulty as “press the flush button after each use”. Also, local authorities are generally legally liable for the outcomes of the regulations they set. If they get it wrong (e.g. leaky buildings) the people affected will blame (and seek recompense from) the rulemakers.
In most places, if there is a sewer system running past the property, it is mandatory to have at least one flush toilet per dwelling connected to it. Typically you are allowed to also have a composting system and not to use the flush toilet, but that is a ridiculous waste of money and resources. If we were to get most district plans changed to allow commercially designed and engineered composting toilets as an alternative to a sewer connection, that would be a significant advance.
There are at this stage, also social attitudes to contend with. At a rough guess there might be 10% – 20% of the population who would be comfortable with a non-flush toilet as an everyday solution (as distinct from “roughing it” on holiday). So if you build your house with a composting loo, you might be limiting its resale potential to that 10-15%. Of course social attitudes change over time – and the generation for whom still having an outside dunny was an indicator of poverty will soon have left us.
Nice points Richard,
politics and policy is so broad and varied, but at the end of the day councils and authorities are managing risk and most of the issues surround composting toilets is health risks. Health risks are purely around the method people are using and they way they are managing their excrement.
Environmental risk is the other component that is being managed and the greatest risk is from grey water from a property than the excrement, unless you are near to a watercourse or an area that received high levels of water saturation and surface water.
This is entirely understandable, given that the authorities have to work to the lowest common denominator when it comes to managing these risks, because one outbreak has a lot of potential, which is why the ‘flush’ toilet is so widely used and accepted. Compost toilets HAVE to be managed by the user.
This is where social change to close the loop and create resilience is where pressure needs to be placed on the authorities. At this time the resilience is where we can focus given recent events.
Bill Gates and one of his charities is donating millions at the moment, for an alternative design to the flush toilet, given that a large percentage of the global population do not have sufficient water to flush their excrement away. This is all coming from a health risk to these populations.
I’m just wondering if anyone has talked to the Otautahi city council about the bucket composting system?
Where I am in Golden Bay the council does not like bucket systems, the only systems allowed (for permit purposes) are the fancy expensive ones. Of course it doesn’t stop a large group of people making their own loo’s.
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