Greener Public Restrooms

The Maroon Bells composting vault doesn’t have a tumbler or way of directly increasing the levels of oxygen literally mixed into the waste material. It sits on a field of lava rock, and since the waste is about 90 percent water, the fluids drain through the lava rock and into a leach field, much like that of a common septic system. The solid waste is left to decompose in place. The decomposition is accomplished by bacteria that consume the waste and break it down into basic elements.

Small Venues

But not every location is going to need a facility as large as that in Maroon Bells. For example, seasonal cabins or remote locations that only receive a handful of guests each year would be better off utilizing one of the composting toilets that is small enough to fit inside a cabin and collects the waste material inside a drum.

“It is important to mix everything together to allow the air to penetrate the entire pile,” says Fraser Sneddon, sales manager at Sun-Mar, which designs and develops composting toilets and garden composters. “Oxygen and water thoroughly mixed into the pile along with peat increase aerobic decomposition. The toilet paper breaks down in a few days, and the waste is gone within a few weeks.”

“The volume of material drops because it is being converted into basic elements,” says Sneddon. “Putting a septic system in a remote location or adding new plumbing to a house can be expensive. A composting toilet makes a lot of sense.”

Composting toilets also make sense for secondary structures that you might not want to have plumbed. Barns, woodworking shops, tool sheds, airport hangers, oil rigs, mobile homes, recreational vehicles and boats are only a few structures where composting toilets have been installed.

A septic system has the potential of polluting the ground and surface water. “You need to protect the water sources,” says Sneddon. “If you are near a lake, you really don’t want the waste from the septic system having a chance to pollute the water that your children are playing in.”

Urban Applications

If you have an urban application, consider the strides being made by Portland, Ore. The Portland Loo is a pre-fabricated restroom powered by solar energy, and is tapped into both sewer and water lines. Inside the utilitarian-style restroom is the toilet, toilet paper dispenser, hand-sanitizing gel and a motion- and time-regulated overhead LED light. Outside the restroom is a place to rinse one’s hands and an exterior LED nightlight. The walls are louvers at the top and bottom with replaceable steel panels in the middle. Everything has been pre-treated with an anti-graffiti coating, making cleanup as easy as hosing down the structure.

“Inside the Loo people feel like they are under a microscope. You have a sense of less privacy because people outside the building can see your feet,” says Anna DiBenedetto, spokesperson for the Loo project. “It has decreased unwanted activities such as prostitution, drug usage and homeless people washing their hair or doing laundry.”

Greening Up and Safer

Whether a facility is located halfway up the side of a mountain or smack-dab in the middle of an urban park, you can create an off-the-grid restroom facility that incorporates green solutions, and makes the facility cleaner and safer.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC, which specializes in media and public relations for recreation businesses. Her upcoming book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, is due out May 2009 and can be pre-ordered through You can reach her at

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