We are all (for the most part) familiar with traditional toilets – the conventional porcelain throne. You go about your business, flush, and a strong stream of water takes care of the rest. It is of no concern to you where the waste goes. Out of sight, out of mind.
Incinerating toilets work a little bit differently, and are slowly carving out a niche in the marketplace. It can effectively remove human excrement in water-scare areas, and is held in high regard by residents who don’t really have the option to eliminate waste the traditional way.
Those who consider changing their lavatory lifestyle need to have a firm understanding of what an incinerating toilet is, and how it works.
You need to be aware of incinerating’s pros and cons. They do have their drawbacks, but do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
Let’s take a look.
What Is an Incinerating Toilet?
As the name implies, this waterless system literally incinerates/burns human waste at high temperatures. It can run on electricity or gas, and looks almost exactly like a conventional toilet, with a few exceptions, of course.
After use, you will press a button that will carry the waste to an enclosed chamber. Here, the waste is ignited, leaving behind only a small amount of odorless ash.
The combustion gasses are released through a special ventilation pipe. It equates to about one teacup of ash per week for a household of four.
Once the compartment gets full, you will need to dispose of the ash, but since it is sterile, no special waste elimination is needed.
It is worth a mention that electric incinerating toilets will burn waste after every use, but the gas versions will collect waste until the chamber is full. Luckily, this will happen at night when the toilet is not in use.
Types of Incinerating Toilets
1. Split Systems
This type of toilet splits into two sections, called the pedestal above the floor (the piece you will use) and the tank below the floor to store the waste.
They are versatile enough to suit homes, outhouses, clubs – pretty much anywhere with space to spare under the floor.
The tanks have a larger capacity and are ideal where multiple people have to use the facilities.
2. Self-Contained Systems
These are all-in-one systems where the pedestal and the tank are built into one piece. They are perfect for smaller areas, motorhomes, and even boats. In principle, all other features remain the same.
3. Continuous vs Batch
Both systems can be further broken down in either of these two categories, depending on whether you are using an electric or fuel incinerating source.
In a continuous system, waste gets burned as soon as it reaches the chamber, whereas a batch system will only incinerate waste when the chamber has reached its capacity.
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Pros of Incinerating Toilets
1. Does Not Need Traditional Plumbing
Obviously, these toilets don’t use water, so you don’t have to worry about expensive plumbing plans. They are ideal for all areas of the home that doesn’t have access to traditional plumbing.
2. Saves Space
Incinerating toilets are more compact than conventional ones, and self-contained systems even more so. In small spaces like camper vans, you are afforded more space to move around without bumping into something.
3. No Odor
It may be difficult to get your head around the concept at first, but incinerating toilets give off hardly any odor. Electric models especially are the ideal choice where a bad smell would be catastrophic – like at a wedding.
4. Easy to Clean
When you use the loo, you will lay down a liner, which collects the waste and traps it neatly in the incinerating chamber. When you clean the tank, you will only have to scoop out sterile ash that can be disposed of in the garden.
Granted, using a liner every time is a bit inconvenient, but it will result in having to clean the unit less frequently.
5. Adapts to Any Climate
Toilets in colder regions have a tendency to freeze the water in pipes, rendering them useless. Incinerating toilets have no such issues, making them ideal in cold weather.
Although incinerating toilets are initially costly, they can save you money while serving as they do not need water at all after use. It reduces the usage of water and in turn, your bill. Saving water can also be helpful to the environment.
7. Assembly Not Required
Incinerating toilets are ideal for people who love to travel as these toilets don’t need any assembly. You also don’t need backhoes or any other heavy machineries to install.
They also don’t need tanks or other plumbing systems, eliminating the chance of leakage or maintenance. Incinerating toilets are also easier to transport.
Incinerating toilets are highly portable as they are not permanently attached to the floor. This is specially great for people with a small bathroom space. You can move your incinerating toilet easily when you don’t need it or want to renovate your house.
As the whole process doesn’t need any treatment chemicals or water, this is an environment-friendly process of human waste disposal. The toilet also helps recycling materials so you can reduce the dependency on landfills.
10. No Contamination
Bacteria or germs will not grow and contaminate the toilet area as there will be no waste product remaining. The ashes it makes from waste material can even be thrown into normal dustbins as they become sterile in the combustion chamber.
Cons of Incinerating Toilets
1. Distasteful Concept
The very idea of disposing of your own waste is distasteful to many, let alone disposing the waste of someone else, even if the waste is odorless and sterile.
The biggest drawback is the costly purchase price. Incinerating toilets can cost up to four times as much as regular toilets! They come with hefty price tags ranging between approximately $1500 on the lower end, and up to $4000 for higher models.
3. High Energy Cost
With the hike in both fuel and energy costs, your monthly energy costs will inevitably go up. These little costs will add up over time, and the efficiency of the system will depend on the source of fuel you use.
Electric units might be more convenient, but the gas variants could prove to be more economical in the long run.
4. Requires Ventilation
While you are spared the pain of plumbing, incinerating toilets do require vents to expel the combustion gas. The vent either needs to run out through a wall or up through the roof.
5. Destroys Composting Nutrients
Although you can save water in this type of toilet, there are no more environmental benefits of incinerating the waste. The waste material in it is burnt down to ashes, which destroys all the nutrients. So, there is little chance for the ashes to be used as a natural fertilizer.
Incinerating creates harmful gasses like nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, heavy metals (mercury), particulates (including dioxins), polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Most of them are greenhouse gasses that contributes to global warming.
7. Inconvenient to Use
You can not use the toilet during incineration, which takes more than one hour (4 hours for gas incinerator toilets) to do its job. However, there are larger toilets that can be used up to 60 times before incinerating.
Where Is an Incinerating Toilet Most Useful?
Incinerating toilets really come into their own where there is a need to handle biological waste innovatively. There are numerous examples we’ve used where a traditional toilet simply isn’t suitable.
They are especially useful in camper vans or RVs, areas without access to running water, or regions where water pipes frequently freeze solid.
How Incinerating Toilets Work
Here is a presentation of how an incinerating toilet function -
How to Install an Incinerating Toilet?
Here’s a step-by-step visual guide to go about the process –
1. Do incinerating toilets smell?
Ans: Not really because they use electric heat to burn and turn waste into bacteria-free ash. The process is virtually odor-free but you need to install and use it correctly.
2. How to clean my toilet incinerator?
Ans: You need to clean various parts of the incinerator in different times. Most come with a cleaning kit and instructions for convenience.
3. Which US states allow incinerating toilets?
Ans: Washington, Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Idaho, Florida, Montana, and Massachusetts are some of the states that allow personal use.