Composting Toilets for RV: Pros and Cons

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Whether you’re on a joyride, a camping trip, or simply testing the nomadic lifestyle—recreational vehicles (or “RVs”) are quickly becoming the trend in long-distance travel, as they offer a comfortable means of transformation. Not only do these keep you on the move, but most rigs are customized to keep you safe, snug, and equipped while you’re en route.

However, if there’s one thing the so-called “van life” hasn’t quite solved yet, it’s using the toilet in an outdoor setting.

While some RVs have built-in camper toilets, travelers have found issues with their clogged plumbing, water wastage, and chemical components. It can also get pretty messy having to routinely empty their filthy, holding tanks in campground hookups. 

But luckily, that isn’t your only option, as composting toilets have become a popular alternative nowadays.

What is a composting toilet?

A composting toilet is an eco-friendly alternative to RV toilets. What makes it unique is that it doesn’t need water to “flush” or dispose of waste; Rather, most models process these into two, separate containers—liquids and solids, respectively—which you can empty anywhere and at your own time.

Composting toilet in RV

Like regular toilets, composting toilets are built atop a waste reservoir. But, instead of using plumbing, your waste is redirected to a removable compartment and made into compost. You can empty this in dump stations, public restrooms (for liquids), or other camping grounds, depending on local regulations. 

Apart from its natural decomposition, most devices come with small vent fans that help keep the compost dry and odorless throughout this process. With that, you won’t have to worry about the smell!

  • Liquid wastes will automatically be transported to the appropriate tank.
  • Solid wastes, meanwhile, need you to pull a lever to segregate them.

In the long run, composting toilets are worth considering! If you’re vying to make a purchase, there are two kinds of toilet systems you should look out for:

  • Self-Contained: Compact, clean, and convenient, these standard-issue models separate liquid and solid waste into different compartments for quick disposal. 
  • Centralized System: These toilets, on the other hand, have removable tanks—with either one chamber (“Continuous System”) or two and above (“Batch-Type System”)—situated outside or underneath the device.

How does a composting toilet work?

Upon use, composting toilets separate your waste into liquid and solid compartments, where it’s broken down and made into compost.

Liquid matter

Due to the foul smells and icky output, campers often struggle with using RV toilets. Fortunately, composting toilets are well-equipped to address these maintenance issues while you’re on the move.

Despite being a waterless urinal, these comprise compartments that let you manually empty liquid wastesmaking it an eco-friendlier alternative to standard plumbing! Likewise, through its vent system and internal heating components, liquids can quickly evaporate to remove moisture.

Solid matter

On the other hand, once separated solid waste is made into “compost”, or fertilized soil. 

This happens when heat, oxygen, moisture, and organic material combine with aerobic bacteria to help oxygen flow, destroy pathogens and viruses, and safely repurpose your waste! Rest assured, the compost is non-toxic, as this process eliminates dangerous substances.

To do this, you can add “bulking material”, such as sawdust, straw, peat mix, coconut fibers, or even popcorn in your compost chamber, and mix this using the toilet handle. (But don’t use regular soil in your compost chamber, because this might attract pests instead!) 

Composting toilet

Composting toilets are a new concept, but they’re surprisingly simple to use! With a little of getting used to, you’ll soon have a more convenient and sustainable means of relieving yourself in an RV.

With that, I highly recommended you check out the different models and evaluate your top picks! Though, if you’re still hesitant about this change, here are some of the pros and cons of composting toilets:

Pros of a composting toilet

#1: Most designs are suited for RVs. 

Composting toilets are great for long-distance traveling. If routinely disposing of wastes is a hassle for you, then you’re in luckbecause these devices can maintain your waste from weeks to months without regular stop-overs. 

Compared to regular RV toilets, they’re much smaller since they lack a black water attachment. Their design also isn’t too complicated, so repairing leaks or screws won’t take long.

But keep in mind: Composting toilets need installation, and are sometimes thought to be “bulky” because of this. If tight spaces are a problem for you, you’d might want to consider portable chemical toilets instead, as this compact alternative suit your RV rig.

#2: They don’t need plumbing or routine hook-ups.

Say goodbye to dump stations! As mentioned, these toilets don’t have a plumbing system, and instead place your waste inside containers—thus, saving you the trouble of routine disposal! Nature’s Head Self-Contained Composting Toilet, for instance, features a handy spider/crank handle which you use to catalyze the decomposition process.

Since these don’t have flushes or pumps, you don’t have to worry about clogs either! With a composting toilet, you can feel free to indulge in an authentic and low-maintenance off-the-grid experience. 

#3: They help the environment.

By separating wastes, composting toilets can help you help the environment! Of all models, Separett Villa 9215 Urine Diverting Toilet does this process best, and without using bulking material!

Unlike septic toilets, their mechanism evaporates liquid wastes rather than disposing of them. Additionally, through organic processing, solid wastes are repurposed into reusable and non-toxic fertilizers! 

In this case, your waste won’t contribute to chemically destructive sewage plants; Compost can properly be segregated at any campground or disposal, but if you want to take the extra mile, you can use this to plant trees. 

Use compost to plant tree

#4: With the right use, they’re odorless. 

Contrary to misconceptions, composting toilets are odorless. In fact, standard RV toilets are more prone to having bad smells, due to a flawed plumbing system or excessive chemical use.

Instead of using water, compost starters help minimize odors; Organic materials, such as nitrogen, oxygen, microorganisms, and the like, are used to break down bacteria and hasten the decaying process—which, in turn, keeps your toilet clean, and gives you usable soil.

If that’s not enough, spray bottles and essential oils can lessen the stench. In addition, some models are equipped with ventilation fans.

#5: They can help you save up.

Due to their many features and proven functionality, composting toilets are usually more
expensive—but, in the long run, they’re worth your purchase.

For one, their unique design helps conserve your RV’s water supply and likewise doesn’t require frequent hook-ups, thus saving you from added fees on campgrounds. Similarly, these aren’t complicated to repair.

Cons of a composting toilet

#1: They’re expensive

Although fully-plumbed toilets are more expensive, composting toilets are a bit more pricey. Most often, these range from $600 to $2000, depending on their added features.

However, considering how durable, clean, and convenient they are, these devices are worth their price—especially when you’re on the road!

#2: Their installation takes a while.

Compared to chemical or bucket toilets, these aren’t always portable. Most models are permanent fixtures in your RV, which need extra care (and cash) to install. 

Don’t try to shortcut this either; With poor installation, you can have flimsy parts, which will increase the cost on your end!

So, should you get a composting toilet, make sure to allocate enough space in your RV. In addition, consider your model’s handle, electric pump, and rinsing features, as this will help you assess the extent of your installment (and repairs).

#3: Poor maintenance can lead to foul smells.

As amazing as they are, composting toilets don’t run on magic. For it to function properly, you’ll need to maintain the right temperature and moisture levels.

With the wrong conditions, you can end up with bad smells and next-to-useless compost—so, for a safe and seamless RV ride, you must always monitor your device.

#4: They need some power to work.

For models that use exhaust fans, your toilet will need a little electricity for it to work. 

Fortunately, if your RV has auxiliary batteries or solar-powered systems, this won’t be much of a problem! Moreover, models like the Loveable Loo Starter Kit don’t require power, so you’ve got lots of options to choose from!

#5: It’ll take some time to adjust.

As the name goes, composting toilets produce, well, compost from your waste, so you’ll have to make some routine changes. For one, you’ll need to stock up on bulking agents; and, as all RV toilets go, you’ll need to empty their compartments eventually.

However, considering the long road ahead, these changes are next to none. Given time, you’ll hardly see the difference!

Arrow pointing to composting toilet

So, should you install a composting toilet for your RV?

If you want a short answer, it’s yes! Unlike other camper toilets, composting toilets reduce water usage and expenses, making it a cheaper and environmentally-friendlier option.

Typically, most campgrounds have added see for sewage hookups, so you can skip this costly (and gross!) process of emptying your black water tank and switch to a non-toxic alternative. In addition, you don’t need to empty these as often, since the composting process naturally reduces foul smells!

However, if you want the long answer, it’s that you need to do your research before installing a composting toilet. Since these need regular maintenance to function well, you must be certain that you’re ready to accommodate them.

Before making a purchase, consider the following factors: 

  • Size: Composting toilets come in large and small sizes, so you must assess which suits your RV best. Note that heavier models impact your fuel economy. 
  • Durability: The more durable a model is built, the more expensive it’ll be. 
  • Features: To achieve maximum function, check your model’s vents, seats, handle, pump, and rinsing mechanism, as well as their cleaning equipment. Be sure to have enough space in your RV!
  • Tank Capacity: The smaller your tank, the more disposals you’ll make. Since single-tank systems are harder to clean, ideally, you’d want one which separates your solid waste from liquids.
  • Decomposition Rate: Electric toilets decompose wastes faster, though they’re typically more expensive!
  • Price: Enhanced features—such as seat height, tank size, separate waste containers, and the like—will add to your total cost.
Many composting toilets

Alternatives to a composting toilet

Now that I’ve laid out the details, you might have some second thoughts—and that’s completely fine! In fact, there are many types of camping toilets available for purchase. 

If you’re not too sure about getting a composting toilet, here are some similar alternatives you may consider for RVing: 

Cassette Toilet

Cassette toilets have a pre-installed black water tank that can be removed from an access panel on the side of your RV. When it’s full, you can easily remove this through an exterior door, empty your waste at a dump station, and then return it to your van.

Relatively smaller, these tanks hold about 4.5-5 gallons, and need frequent emptying (or more tanks) for travel convenience. 

Pros:

  • Closest to having a regular toilet. 
  • Tanks can be removed for disposal.

Cons: 

  • Manual disposal.
  • Contains toilet chemicals.
  • Can freeze during the winter.
  • Fixed placement; Difficult self-installment.

Portable Toilet

Portable toilets are like cassette toilets, but as the name suggests, they don’t need to be permanently installed in your RV. These are best for limited spaces, as these don’t have plumbing and require minimal security and/or storage!

This model likewise comes with a freshwater holding tank, as well as a hand pump to flush out your waste. To clean your toilet, simply detach its chemical waste tank from beneath your toilet bowl and empty it. How convenient!

Pros:

  • Portable and easily stored.
  • Cheap option.
  • Durable make.

Cons:

  • Manual disposal.
  • Contains toilet chemicals.
  • Can freeze during the winter.
  • Contains more parts, which can be a hassle to repair!

Bucket/Bag Toilet

If you’re craving the “authentic” experience, bucket or bag-type toilets. Essentially, these are lined with plastic (containing kitty litter, peat moss, or any similar filler) and have a 2.5-5 gallon capacity. 

While these aren’t the most ideal due to their smell, it’s a practical alternative for emergency use.

Pros: 

  • Cheapest option.
  • Doesn’t use chemicals.
  • Easiest to construct and use.

Cons:

  • Manual and frequent disposal.
  • Unsealable; Prone to spilling!
  • Foul odor.

Overall, composting toilets are great for RVing, since they’re odorless, clean, durable, and environmentally sustainable alternatives to standard toilets.

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