Composting Toilets, Or 'Pooplets', Move One Step Closer To San Francisco Sidewalks

12/08/2011 08:29 pm ET
  • Aaron Sankin Assistant San Francisco Editor, The Huffington Post

In September, when Hyphae Design Laboratory first proposed "pooplets," or public composting toilets targeted at dealing with San Francisco's public defecation problem, the idea was roundly pooh-poohed for reasons owing to both its cost and general ridiculousness.

However, the Oakland-based company's plan has recently begun to gain momentum toward actual implementation.

Eric Brooks, the chair of the San Francisco Green Party's sustainability working group, has been pushing the potties at meetings of the San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission. At Brooks's urging, the commission has published a report looking into the feasibility of installing composting toilets throughout the city--especially in areas like the Tenderloin, which boasts a sizable homeless population and relatively scare public bathroom facilities.

Instead of using water to empty waste into the sewer system, composting toilets separate the excrement into liquid and solid containers. When the solid waste hardens, it's then removed and can be used as compost.

The best part? The toilets don't smell. A ventilation system sucks out the gasses that produce noxious odors before they can collect and make the entire structure start to reek like, well, an outhouse.

While the commission did compile the report, it's not a given that they'll actually act on it. The San Francisco Examiner reports:

Commission spokesman Tyrone Jue pointed out several problems The City could face, including where to bring the compost, the health and safety of removing the stuff and the cost of retrofitting buildings.

"I don't want to say it's not possible, but we also have to think about these other challenges," Jue said.

There's also a green element to the composting toilets. Traditional flush toilets are usually the biggest source of water usage in any household; even high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 gallons with each flush.

Water rights activist Laura Allen built her own composting toilet in response to how much water she realized her home was using on a daily basis. She tells Berkeley's KALX that she was initially apprehensive about the idea but was pleasantly shocked at the results. "The first time we harvested, when it was finished--I was surprised," she said. "We knew what went in there. And then you see it: it's just earthy soil, like great earth. That hummus-y, forest-y smell. And it's completely transformed."

Hyphae's toilets would cost between $40,000 and $50,000 each for permanent installation.

Check out this video showing how a composting toilet works. (Don't worry, it doesn't show that part):