Give me a moment while I remove my rubber gloves and put away the bleach, and then I will review the BTS-33 Composting Toilet by Biolet. When I was looking for a composting toilet for our off-grid cabin, I found many, many people who had this on their Pinterest wishlist but no one who had actually reviewed it after use. I should have been warned.
If you’re grossed out by the mention of feces, urine, maggots and other related stuff, you might want to stop reading. Have you read my Living Plain in a Fancy World series yet? Nothing gross there.
This post may contain affiliate links. And gross talk about poop, too.
There are a number of different ways to collect and dispose of human feces (and sometimes urine). Most likely, you can think of more, but just off the top of my head, I have come up with a list of six and ranked them based on ease and enjoyment of use.
The portajohn has come a long way.
I just got off the phone with someone who services them, and I was quite surprised. Government regulations (at least here in Canada) mean that portajohns must meet a high level of cleanliness. No insects and no smell – they must be emptied every other week. I asked about chemicals, and they are only used for odour, not for treating the waste.
As for the waste itself, it is taken to a sewage treatment site, so it is essentially exactly the same as a flush toilet but without the water waste. That’s why I rank it as the first. Exactly like a flush toilet but it doesn’t use water. Awesome. (Okay, it’s outdoors, so maybe it should lose points for that.)
Honestly, who can complain about the modern flush toilet?
This is the gold standard of toilets when it comes to convenience and ease of use. The only real problem is that it requires a frightful amount of water to do something as basic as wash away our urine and feces.
Granted, no one ever likes cleaning the toilet and it is hard to reach behind it, but it certainly can be scrubbed clean.
I have never heard of insect problems with a flush toilet.
Any problems tend to be water leaking, drain backups, or the flush not working properly.
Standard composting toilet
By this I mean the composting toilets that use really amazing technology to perform the same job as the flush toilet – that is, they make our waste disappear – but they also turn our waste into usable compost.
Some of them have rotating drums like outdoor compost bins. Some divert urine so that it never mixes with feces. The ones I’ve used in the past had inner lids that kept the waste covered and hidden when no one is sitting there.
Really, they have come up with some really ingenious ways to quickly compost human waste.
The problem, though, is that the self-contained ones are designed for a single person or couple, and the large, family-sized ones require a tank in the basement.
These all use some kind of electricity since they are really not designed for an off-grid family. I found none of these fancy ones that, according to the manufacturers, were suitable for our family. All required a steady flow of electricity, or a basement tank, or they could not handle more than two people full time.
Really, it is just an outdoor bucket that is not easily emptied and cleaned.
Flies and odour are known issues, and no one really enjoys using them.
Granted, they don’t have to be disgusting, and a well-maintained outhouse is not a bad thing at all. However, they are pretty cold in the middle of winter, a night time trip means mosquitoes where you don’t want them and, really, how many people actually take good care of them? (I’ve been in a few. Blech!) And then there is the problem that the sewage isn’t being treated, composted or anything – it’s just being buried in a deep pit. That’s not the best option environmentally.
The best thing you can say about the outhouse is that it is outdoors, away from any dwelling, so it is kept away from where you eat and sleep.
As much as I disliked the bucket system, which we used from January 2015 until June 2015, the biggest problem is hauling the buckets out to the dump site. No one wants to do that, especially when the snow or rain is coming down hard.
However, a well-maintained bucket system actually has little smell and the buckets are easily cleaned with a bit of bleach, hot water and a toilet brush. We had people visiting our home when we were using the bucket system and no one noticed a strange smell.
Cathole in the ground and small shovel
This is the standard “poop in the woods” system and it works. The trick is to bury your waste.
However, I’d rather use an outhouse than go in the woods.
Honestly, I would have once considered this the least pleasant and least convenient option. About twenty years ago, I picked up a bacterial infection from going in the woods during the fall. My doctor said that bacteria can travel both ways along the urine stream, so expect that anything you are urinating on is actually touching your genitals. That has made me very cautious about going in the woods or any other bacteria-laden place (and it meant that I emptied and cleaned our buckets often!)
I know – this is a LONG post. If you’re thinking about getting a composting toilet, you might want to read it through, though, since it will give you ideas on what to look for.
Biolet’s BTS-33 Composting Toilet
Perhaps I’m not feeling particularly generous, and I’ll admit that I am not very calm. To be fair, though, I spent an hour and seventeen minutes ranting to a sympathetic friend before I started writing this.
Yes, the BTS-33 Waterless Toilet is at the very bottom of my list at this moment. By “waterless toilet”, they mean “composting toilet”, of course.
At this very moment, a cathole in the woods seems better. This is a long post, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the read.