In praise of the compost toilet: why I love compost loos

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Posted Mar 3 2021 by Sophie Paterson of Lowimpact.org
In praise of compost toilets: why I love compost loos

In praise of the compost toilet, Lowimpact.org’s Sophie Paterson shares her love of compost loos, showcasing their versatility and practicality with a rundown of her favourites through the years.


First of all, a bit of a disclaimer: I’m a serious fan of compost toilets. So much so that a former colleague of mine wrote in my leaving card that whenever she uses a compost loo, she’ll think of me – a compliment, I’m sure!

A popular off-grid choice for allotments, community gardens and even golf courses, compost toilets are on the rise thanks to a burgeoning no-flush movement. Here’s a quick rundown of their environmental benefits, courtesy of the Lowimpact.org topic introduction.

  • The solid waste is dealt with on site, and doesn’t have to be treated with chemicals in sewage farms, or end up in waterways, where it causes pollution and algal blooms
  • Saves water – you don’t have to use one resource (pure drinking water) to flush away another (fertiliser)
  • Organic matter is ultimately allowed to go back to the soil where it belongs, improving soil structure and nutrition
  • No chemical cleaners or bleaches are used in the toilet
  • They don’t contribute to the sewage sludge that is often dumped in landfill, or more controversially, put on to agricultural land uncomposted
  • As long as the decomposition is aerobic, there will be no greenhouse gas emissions
  • No electricity needed
  • Very low resource use – no pipes are needed to transport waste to a sewage farm, and no truck needed to remove solid waste.

Not a bad list for starters. So where did my own love affair with compost toilets begin?

Back to basics

Having previously taken toilets somewhat for granted, a trip to the Hockerton Housing Project in 2007 gave me pause for thought. Amongst an impressive raft of sustainable infrastructure projects, compost toilets were not themselves a feature; instead, a rainwater harvesting system provided medium grade non-potable water for washing, bathing and toilet flushing, with the result that flushing was a luxury reserved for solids only.

If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”, read the sign on their toilet wall. But what about not flushing at all? Here follows a selection of some of my favourite indoor and outdoor compost toilets to date.

Cosy, clean and comfortable

Is it possible to describe a toilet as cosy? Well, this one certainly was. Fast forward to 2014 and my very first – and all-time favourite – experience of a compost loo came courtesy of Carol Atkinson’s Straw Bale Cabin, near Howden in East Yorkshire (as featured here). Nestled into one corner, accompanied by a bag of sawdust, scoop, and instructions, it provided a comfortable, clean and entirely positive initiation into non-flush toileting, incorporated beautifully into what was otherwise a very conventional bathroom space.

Alas, I’m sad to say that it appears to be no more, having been replaced with a flushing toilet after a recent rennovation. Of course, compost loos can also be bought off-the-shelf with aesthetics closely resembling their conventional flushing counterparts, if this is an important consideration for you.

Pleasingly practical

Another compost loo success story for me was the practical yet stylish compost toilet block at OrganicLea, a vibrant workers’ co-op growing food on London’s edge in the Lea Valley. With plenty of space and all the necessary mod cons at hand, the addition of the aloe vera pot plants was a lovely little extra, as can be seen in the photo at the top of this page.

A poo with a view

A final favourite for me has to be the rather pleasingly-named Thunderbox mobile compost toilet, versatile units specifically designed to cater for events in off-grid settings. It comes courtesy of the Thunderbox Collective, who take their ‘poo miles’ seriously by supplying compost loos for hire within a 70 mile radius of their East Devon base, as well as constructing a variety of different models to order for distribution across the UK. In a suitably isolated setting on a Devon farm, it officially offered the best view I’ve yet had from a toilet.

Think you could love a compost loo too?

Perhaps you too are feeling inspired to consider a compost toilet in your life, or perhaps you need convincing that bit further? Here’s a rundown of resources from us here at Lowimpact.org to help.

  1. Our topic introduction sets out the what, why and how of all things compost toilets
  2. Read our most popular article about compost toilets ever, by Lesley Anderson
  3. Learn how to build a compost loo to suit you with our comprehensive online course led by compost toilet extraordinaire Cordelia Rowlatt of Vallis Veg
  4. Swot up with the Compost toilets: a practical DIY guide book by Dave Darby
  5. Ask our specialists a question by adding a comment at the bottom of this page
  6. Get crafty with The Loveliest Loo colouring book, a unique way to learn about compost loos courtesy of Mandy Burton

Compost toilets online course introductory video

Last but not least, if you have your own favourite compost loo somewhere in the world, do let us know in a comment below.

Main image: author’s own.


Sophie PatersonAbout the author

Sophie Paterson is a co-director at Lowimpact.org and NonCorporate.org, where she looks after promotion, social media, the blog and more. A graduate of the School of Natural Building, she lives in Totnes, Devon, having previously spent a year living and volunteering on a nearby smallholding.