What was your the first thought when you read the title of this?
Unfortunately for most people, it would be GROSS! But composting toilets aren’t gross; they are effective means of on-site sanitation that can greatly reduce energy and water demands. So why the hesitation towards composting toilets?
I think most people simply are not aware of the different types of sanitation systems (undoubtedly caused by centralized system where waste is flushed away and users are never made aware of the rest of the process). In fact, I believe there is common misconception between composting toilets and vault toilets.
Notice the vents; composting toilets don’t have those!
State and National Parks typically have vault toilets at popular hikes and ranger stations. Vault toilets are exactly what you think they are: a large vault or tank underneath the toilet and unfortunately, they typically smell.
So we have a problem here: people are unaware of how effective and non-smelly composting toilets can be, creating little demand for such systems. These systems are proven and effective, but they need widespread adoption if they are going to help make our world more sustainable.
If people are unaware and unmotivated to use composting toilets, to me it comes back to nudges. Just like the smiley face was used to help reduce the amount of energy people used, the same principle can be applied to water usage and indirectly promote composting toilets ( a waterless system). These emoticons not only show social approval or disapproval, but they also provide important feedback to homeowners to know if their water usage increased or decreased.
Pressures of Social Acceptance
Now, this nudge I realize doesn’t increase the adoption of composting toilets social pressure must combined with priming and framing. Priming (increasing the rate at which certain information comes to mind) and framing (how a problem is presented) can be used to encourage water and energy saving home retrofits and installment of composting toilets. For example, surveys bring respondents attention to certain issues. A survey sent to single family homes asking if and/or when they intend to remodel their homes and if water and energy saving features will be included in the remodel would increase homeowners awareness about their options in remodeling. Furthermore, a final question, framed correctly, about the benefits of composting toilets and their benefits, can enlighten respondents about how much they could loose by not installing a composting toilet: example question: Seeing as traditional toilets cost $4001 more per year than composting toilets, would you consider installing a composting toilet for your home remodel?”
Add a G: Low-flow shower heads and facets and composting toilets
Surveys, like this increased voting rates by more than 25% (pg. 71)! So let’s try a survey and see what nudges can do for composting toilets!
(1) This is an approximate estimate for a 4-person household, assuming the average American uses 36, 500 gallons per year at home of which 7,665 gallons per year are for flushing (or 21% for flushing). 21% of the $500 in water/sewer costs each year accounts for approximately $100 per person per year. The cost of water and sewer will vary by city. This savings does not include maintenance or initial investment.