We decided years and years ago that if we wanted to do our bit for the environment, what we really needed to do was to invest in solar energy. For two or three years, Amit insisted we were going to get solar power to run our lights and fans, so we didn’t even buy an inverter and suffered through a couple of summers of interminable load shedding waiting for the solar energy to come.
Then we built this house and of course we planned to have solar energy for everything – except maybe the fridge and washing machine – from the day we moved in.
It hasn’t happened yet.
So when Amit started talking about a composting toilet a couple of years ago, I tried all the usual strategies. I ignored it and waited for it to go away. When it didn’t, I put my foot down, firmly. When even that didn’t squash it, I threw a tantrum. And finally, after all else failed, I agreed to a compromise. We had planned four bathrooms in this house. Three would be normal. At least three.
Naturally, along with living room furniture, procuring a composting toilet was left to Amit. Actually, it’s not that I wanted to leave the living room furniture to Amit. Quite to the contrary. I was all excited about going to all the major furniture shops and picking out a medley of stuff, hopefully spotting a nice plush purple velvet sofa along the way. But our man here wanted restored genuine teak furniture, lovingly hand-crafted and made to last for several generations. Well, we’ve been here five months now and we haven’t seen hair nor hide of that teak wood furniture. So I was expecting the composting toilet to go the same way. But no. A mere five months after we move in, before we have the spiral steps in place to access the rooftop or the railing in place to prevent errant children from falling into the basement garden, we have a composting toilet in place. It arrive yesterday and it hasn’t gone away yet. I guess it’s here to stay.
In case you have not had the pleasure of prior acquaintance with a composting toilet, let me introduce you to the concept. Basically, it’s a means of conserving water. In fact, as a means of conserving water, it’s extremely sensible and highly laudable. After all, using clean white water to flush is a criminal waste, if you think about it. You take unimaginably vast volumes of clean white water, pour it down the toilet and then, once it’s irredeemably dirty, send it out to via drains and rivers all the way to the sea to pollute that as well. There are ways to purify sewage (black water) even to the extent that it can be used for all purposes including drinking… but nobody wants to do that, it’s undeniably yucky. Or we could at least purify it to the extent that it could be used for other purposes – watering parks and lawns, for instance. And we could also use gray water, instead of white, for flushing with in the first place. But generally it’s not done, and definitely not at an individual household level.
When we were constructing this house, we did discuss with our architect the possibility of emptying our black water into the earth. It sounds yucky? It’s not, actually. It’s a more natural way of giving back to nature. Human waste is a pollutant in rivers and the sea, but in the soil, it’s fertilizer, nothing worse. Yes, it can contain diseases, microbes and besides, it might be smelly, right? But if it were to be discharged into the ground, it would go a long, long way down where the diseases and microbes would eventually die and the water and nutrients would enrich the soil and provide nutrition to any plants that happen to be growing above. But our architect said it wouldn’t work – we would need a much longer phytoremediation bed, and we would have to be careful that kids (and pets, if any) didn’t go anywhere near it.
So our toilets flush the normal way, and our sewage goes out the normal way.
And that’s why Amit insisted on this wretched composting toilet.
So this toilet is basically a bucket with a toilet seat on top of it. It looks ok, no complaints on that account yet. You “flush” it by adding a lot of dry matter like sawdust or cocopeat after each use. In theory, that keeps the smells away and helps everything to dry up. And I’m totally alright with it in theory. The trouble is, I didn’t agree to have this device in any of the main bathrooms – the ones attached to the bedrooms. So it’s gone into the powder room. Now the powder room happens to be fairly close to just about everything else in the house. It’s close to the stairs, close to the guest bedroom, close to the dining room… If this area starts to stink, much of the house will become unlivable in. And I’m not at all convinced it’s not going to stink. I also am not quite prepared to go to the bathroom on top of so many other installments of… well, you know…
It’s not that I haven’t used toilets like this before – it’s common practice in Ladakh, where the village folk don’t dirty the rivers and don’t mind raking out the waste and using it as fertilizer. But I didn’t like it there, either. In the mountains, the toilets are often built on a slope, such that the platform is several feet above the repository, and it’s usually dark and dingy inside so you can’t see anything anyway, but those places still retained all kinds of smells. Shudder.