Design Your Own Compost Toilet

flickr photo shared by rightee under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license


Maybe no other invention represents the modern lifestyle as strikingly as the flushing toilet. Imagine when it was first introduced back in the 16th century!  How the huge sanitary problem that all urban areas experienced until then just disappeared, into the ground. Gone! What a relief, what a convenience, what an achievement in hygiene, health and human civilisation! Today, it never comes to our mind that it could be otherwise, or what happens with the stuff that we flush away. The reality is that our modern lifestyle assumes a gigantic societal machinery working for us, making our lives convenient but that also detaches us from the processes that we’re part of and makes us oblivious to how we affect the world.

In past civilisations, human excrement used to be a crucial resource. In China and Japan (and elsewhere, including in the UK where they were/are known as “Night soil men”) there was a special occupation for trading the excrement produced in the cities with the farmers as indispensable manure for their fields. In this closed loop system, the nutrients were always going back into the soil and once again turned into new crops to feed the urban population. The flaw of the flushing toilet is that it’s not a closed loop system and instead produces a lot of waste. Using fresh water for flushing uses about 27 % of the fresh water usage in an average American home. And the toxic cocktail of freshwater and excrement then has to be treated by using harmful chemicals before it’s neutralised, while the end product is not of much value anymore.

For anyone having a garden or living by the country-side, a compost toilet is highly useful. By taking care of the excrement in the right way, it can be used as a fertiliser, just as ordinary compost!

In this exercise we will design our own compost toilet. It can be a lot of fun and there are many inventive examples, much cozier than any flushing toilet could ever be!

Activity Type

Individual / Theoretical


1 day

Learning Outcomes

  • To learn the principles of human waste management

  • To enhance design skills

  • To learn about different compost toilet approaches


Required Materials and Tools:

  • Everything you need for creating a visual presentation of your design - it can be a real-life or virtual model, drawing, poster, etc.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Do some research of compost toilet concept. Familiarize yourself with at least the following aspects:

    1. visual appearance

    2. various types of compost toilets

    3. urine separation

    4. composting and usage of the humanure

    5. safety and hygiene

  2. Think about a compost toilet that would fit your lifestyle, circumstances, aesthetical needs best and create a design of it in a free form. Present the following aspects:

    1. visual appearance, location

    2. capacity - how many people would use it?

    3. how would you ensure the composting process?

    4. where would you use the compost?

    5. safety and hygiene

    6. legal aspects



  • How has your opinion and knowledge about compost toilets changed?

  • What are possibilities to realize your design in real life?

  • Which aspects of your design you see as possible problems / weaknesses?

Instructions for Submission

Upload 1 photo of your compost toilet design and submit your written reflection, so that your peers can give you feedback. Instructions on how to upload photos and how to submit things in Moodle can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading

Instructions for Assessment

Provide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback

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