Incinerating toilets offer many of the benefits of composting toilets without the fuss of having to tend compost. They run on electricity or fuel and produce little waste, so they’re convenient for remote locations and mobile uses where running water isn’t available. The main drawback of these toilets is cost.
How Incinerating Toilets Minimize Waste
Powered by electricity or a fuel such as natural gas or propane, incinerating toilets produce heat that burns liquid and solid waste into sterile ash. Because they don’t use water, they don’t need plumbing or a sewage system.
Electric models are either battery operated or plugged into a wall outlet. Fuel-burning models can be installed anywhere with a fuel tank or permanent fuel line. These models also use a 12V DC battery to power the control panel and ventilation fan. Most models are self-contained, with the incinerator under the seat, but some allow for an incinerator located outside the toilet.
Before using the toilet, you’ll need to line the bowl with a manufacturer-provided paper filter, which helps keep the bowl clean. Then use the toilet normally. When you’re done, close the lid and “flush” either by pressing a button or stepping on a foot pedal. This releases the waste and the bowl liner into a chamber below.
With an electric incinerating toilet, how often you need to run the incineration cycle depends on the model. It varies from one to six uses. To start the cycle, just press the start button. The process takes from 30 minutes for liquid waste to around an hour for solid waste.
Depending on the design and the size, a fuel-burning model can typically accommodate between 30 to 60 uses in the holding tank before you need to start the incineration process. After each use, you’ll spray an aerosol masking foam into the holding tank to hold down odors. An indicator light tells you when the holding tank is full.
When you’re ready to incinerate, add a package of anti-foam agent to reduce the risk of the liquid waste boiling over. You’ll then need to put the cover plug on the incineration chamber, then activate the incineration cycle. The process lasts for one to four hours, depending on the size of the load, and you won’t be able to use the toilet during this time.
In both electric and fuel-burning models, the waste is incinerated in a closed chamber, and exhaust gasses are discharged outdoors through the exhaust pipe. Each use of the toilet produces around a tablespoon of ash, which must be cleaned out regularly. The ashes are sterile, so you can throw them into your household trash.
Pros: Convenient and Waterless
With no need for plumbing, these toilets can be used almost anywhere. Models are available for fixed locations, such as homes, and mobile uses, such as RVs and boats. For fuel-burning models, options include natural gas, diesel, propane, and kerosene. These toilets aren’t fixed to the floor, so it’s easy to move them if you decide to remodel your bathroom.
Most work reliably in unheated buildings, even in temperatures below freezing. That means no worrying about frozen pipes or keeping compost warm, although propane-fueled models need protection from extreme cold.
Incinerating toilets cut down on your water use, lowering your bills. They’re a clean, hassle-free option for remote buildings without running water. In areas with water shortages, they help conserve clean water for more important uses.
Unlike composting toilets, incinerating toilets don’t require you to tend the waste by turning or adding chemicals or by taking the processed waste outdoors. To maintain an incinerating toilet, you’ll need to empty the ash periodically, clean the blower motor every three months and replace it when it wears out, as well as clean the exhaust and ventilation pipes and the catalyst once a year.
Low Odor and Low Noise
Incinerating toilets produce a slight burning odor just after the incinerator starts up, but this dissipates quickly, and it’s less than the odor from a composting toilet. Depending on wind conditions, you and your neighbors might notice some odor outdoors from the exhaust vent, but this soon dissipates. Choosing the right venting location keeps odors to a minimum. The typical model operates at around 55 db, the same noise level as a percolating coffee maker.
Cons: Higher Costs and No Landscaping Benefits
The purchase price of an incinerating toilet is around two to three times higher than that of a composting toilet. The lower water bills are offset by higher power or fuel costs. The average electric model uses around 1.5 kWh per incinerating cycle. So at two cycles a day, that’s more energy than a typical refrigerator uses in a day. Some composting toilets use just as much electricity to run the ventilation fan.
While you won’t waste water, you also won’t get the environmental benefits of producing nutrient-rich compost for your landscaping plants. The incinerator’s heat burns away most of the nutrients in the waste, so the ash isn’t much good for your plants. The process also produces greenhouse gases, making these toilets less eco-friendly compared to composting models.
More Frequent Cleaning
With an incinerating toilet for a family of four, you’ll need to empty the ashes anywhere from daily to weekly, depending on the system’s capacity. With a composting toilet, you can go 1 to 6 months without the need to empty it.
If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly way to deal with waste when plumbing isn’t available, an incinerating toilet is one of the simplest solutions.