Humanure – sawdust toilets

Sit, flush and forget, that’s what most of us do, multiple times a day. Composting toilets are the answer.

We use perfectly good, drinkable water to flush our waste —  what a waste it truly is! After we flush, we don’t think about all the water that is used/wasted to process the sewage that is created, chemicals are pumped into our water system, the water we DRINK, so that we can do it all over again.

I’m starting to sound pretty green aren’t I?

Honestly that’s not the reason why I stopped using a flush toilet system. For us, it was a case of necessity. We were moving completely off-grid, building a cabin, there is little water, at least little water to waste on flushing a toilet. We had no well, no septic system, no flush toilets. We needed a good way to deal with our toilet waste so I started researching how to eliminate our eliminations.

That’s when I found Joseph Jenkins and Humanure. Well, first I learned about composting toilets. These are usually all self contained units, looking like uber toilets, they tend to come with an uber price tag too.

How they work is they contain your waste within the unit, you add cover material, usually sawdust or something like that. Many of them have heaters,  vents and fans to help dry out the waste. After a period of time, you empty the container and finish composting outside if need be. The biggest problem with these is the price tag, usually thousands of dollars, plus these tend to be rather large, bulky units.

It turns out that Joseph Jenkins figured out a very simple way of composting bodily waste using little more than a 5 gallon bucket, a toilet seat/lid and some organic cover material. You split the composting  into two parts, with the majority of it going on outside in a compost pile instead of inside the unit. The system is so simple, nearly fool proof, I quickly decided it was the right way to go for us.

This is also a common question I get about living off-grid, how and where do I go to the bathroom? It’s quite simple once you know about composting and sawdust toilets. We have been using this system since Dec 07, we have tweaked the system a couple of times, other than that it has worked like a charm for us.  The main thing we have changed is the outside portion. We started out using a wire enclosure to hold the compost pile, we are not on level ground and once the compost pile was as tall as I am, the whole thing began to tilt, we were afraid it would topple over and we did not want to have to deal with that kind of mess.

Bob created a 2 barrel system to hold and compost our humanure.  This system composts fast, there is little to no smell, the only time it has any odor is when we are dumping the bucket into the first barrel. Once the door is closed, no more smell. The bottom composter has no smell, well I take that back, it does have a pleasant, humus, dirt smell, nothing like what originally went in.

Here is a video about that:

Joseph Jenkins has been kind enough to shoot videos of his system and place them on YouTube, you can view them here, there are 14 videos, they will play one after the next:

You can get Joseph Jenkins Humanure book here:

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third Edition

This contains everything you ever wanted to know about sawdust toilets, including instructions how to build one yourself. You don’t need to live off-grid like I do to use a sawdust toilet, many people have and use sawdust toilets along side their flush toilets. I read about one lady who had a flush toilet and a sawdust toilet in her bathroom. She placed instructions on the door, stating that you could either use the pure drinking water wasting toilet, or you could use the Earth friendly, no water wasting sawdust toilet. She said that most people opted to use the sawdust toilet.

Read my other articles about my off-grid life here


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7 Responses

  1. Hi

    Simply Love the concept and the workings of it all. Thank you for your information and insight into this very interesting topic and concept.


    Please could you assist :

    Where I live there are a number of local people who use longdrop toilets (I know….not the same but there is decomposition of waste occurring all the same) and I was wondering if one could use sawdust that is impregnated with creosote to dispense into the longdrop intermittently, almost as an air freshener, to not only assist in the decomposition of waste but also to aliviate the rather pungent odour emanating.

    Especially as the longdrops are housed in very tight quarters and reek on hot days in particular

    I have loads of railway sleeper sawdust and can’t find a purpose for it and after coming across your site I am extremely intrigued as to whether or not it is viable please?

    Thank you kindly in advance.

    Kind regards,


    1. Dave, yes, cover it up, it’s quite simple. On occasion, when one of us has a “messy” poo, maybe we ate something that didn’t agree with us, or just had a particularly nasty movement, at that point, we would go ahead and dump out the bucket early, fortunately that doesn’t happen too often. No, it doesn’t smell any worse than any other traditional toilet. We live with 2 toilet buckets inside our house, a very small house, essentially 2 rooms, we don’t have a separate bathroom area, so it is very much in your face/nose, believe me, if it smelled, I wouldn’t have it in my house. :)

      Of course when you are using the toilet, yes, you will smell what you are doing, just like it does when you use a traditional flush porcelain toilet, poo stinks, but the room does clear out, maybe you have to open a window if it’s particularity stinky, but in general, the covered bucket does not stink.

  2. I get the impression composting toilets require a certain minimum temperature in order to be functional. So far I have not seen data on this. Maintaining a temperature above a given level could become problematic in colder climates. Is this a needless worry or might we need provisions to bring heat to the composting toilet if the floor and wall is facing the exterior? I have learned the hard way that placing anything against an exterior wall results in the chill creeping through, despite layers of insulation if warm interior air cannot reach that part of the wall.

    1. Elnav, the great thing about using the Joseph Jenkins method is it doesn’t matter about the temps inside, the composting takes place outside, if it’s too cold for composting to take place, it will simply start up when the weather warms up. Our compost (outside) keeps going nicely year round, I’m sure it slows a bit during the coldest parts, but it still works fine. As far as the commercial composting toilets, I don’t know how the inside temps effect it, you would have to contact the manufacturer about that.


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