Disconnect to Reconnect: Ditching the “Flushie” for a Composting Toilet

Image from the Wikimedia Commons

We’re lucky to have another guest post by Nancy Klehm (see a nice interview with her on foraging here). Nancy visits us at the Root Simple compound at least once a year. What follows is an account of a plumbing misadventure she had on her last visit. 

To give you some context, ever since we’ve remodeled our bathroom and switched to a low-flow toilet we’ve had periodic backups. We think there is a low spot just within reach of our turlet snake. The toilet flushes OK most of the time, but at least once a week I’ve got to deploy that damn snake.

Here’s Nancy:

I don’t use a flushie often, I made the decision to ‘go dry’ years ago, adopting the bucket toilet + sawdust system as it pairs nicely with my composting obsession and food growing habit.

I stayed at Erik and Kelly’s back in February. Their low flush toilet and antique piping can’t seem to handle even the most modest bodily donation. Once a flushing attempt proves unsuccessful, and immediately following the ‘oh no…’ guilty grimace, a light-hearted blame game plays out and then according to homestead rules, Erik snakes the toilet. The closet augur is kept on the front porch (to greet visitors?). Erik augers for a few minutes, flushes successfully, marches the tool back outside to air out and we settle back into our routines relieved that our burdens are flowing into the larger mystery of pipes and their soupy contents to the municipal waste treatment plant miles away.

But with Erik and Kelly out of town on one of the weekends during my stay, the daily chores of feeding the kittens, letting out the single hen to roam the yard and snaking, if so needed, fell on me. And yes, the toilet clogged and no, I did not assume the blame. I am regular enough (2-3x/day) as are Erik and Kelly for the record [editor’s note: the editors demur from either acknowledging or disavowing the hypothetical frequency of their natural propensities.] to avoid creating such monsters and yet, the flushie needs snaking every day soon after the post-caffeine effect.

Using a closet augur looked pretty self-explanatory, but I decided to check in with YouTube University and watch ‘the pros’ do it. I was fortunate to find a true pro: Ramona’s Plumbing, a D.I.Y. plumbing site with 36 videos uploaded of Greg Chick, a licensed plumber in flipflops who walks you through fixing problems on a variety of topics including faucets, showers and yes, toilets.

I watched a 10:37 minute video of Greg dislodging a ‘soft blockage’ of intentionally placed, wadded paper towel. He was sensible and upbeat, but the bowl in the video was clean. The one I was working on was not. My tool was the poor cousin of the streamlined one Greg was using. So I opened the window wide, and with a burning candle and a wad of mugwort smoldering on the back of the tank, I swung the augur into the bowl and batted a foul. I closed the door and grabbed the phone. Fortunately, I managed to reach Erik and he coached me through my next attempt. My heart-rate jumped ugghing that augur coil into the tank. I yanked it out. There was a sloop. I flushed. Pooping in a bucket with sawdust ultimately feels more sanitary, sane and more manageable as very little can go wrong with such a simple system.

And, when I sat with cup of tea to write this, I had just snaked the toilet for the 6th time in three days. Sure I was glad to learn a new tool and this skill, as well as earn some more insight into the workings of water toilets and yet, snaking a toilet is one of the more compelling arguments for why I ‘go dry’.

Considerations for abandoning your flushie (and switching over to the bucket):

  • Your body’s nutrient should be returned to the Source and by that I mean Mama Earth. This has always been the way. Now is the opportunity to revisit this connection.
  • Pooping into sawdust allows you to observe your waste, an indicator of healthy body function. This is commonly understood in the medical community be it Western, Aruvedic or Chinese.
  • Human waste is a source of healthy soil if properly composted. (subset of consideration #1) It is sane and safe to compost your human waste if you are a competent (read: very experienced) composter of other organic waste and have the place to do so that will not create a nuisance (aka SMELL) for your neighbors or family.
  • Waste should not foul potable aka drinkable water. Waste treatment plants use chemical and loads of energy (gas and electricity). Electricity by the way, depending how it is generated also uses large amounts of fresh water.
  • Greywatering your house is a much more enjoyable way to stretch into your plumbing fantasies than dealing with a clogged flush toilet.
  • Your water bill will plummet. Toilet’s account for 30% of our daily water useage.
  • It’s quiet. No one knows you are ‘using it’ even if you are on the phone.

In other words, Disconnect to Reconnect, folks.

Since I haven’t been able to convince the most thoughtful people I know to join the dry movement, I am investing in a closet augur and taking this show on the road.

For more information on humanure composting, visit www.humanurehandbook.com

Leave a comment


  1. I like this a lot. Your flushie-abandoning considerations are really compelling – in X years, when I have the means to do so (aka NOT having 7 grossed-out roommates), I’ll definitely look into going dry!

  2. I just had professional de-cloggers, aka plumbing pros to the max, come in, take out the whole seat, ram a wire down the pipes attached to a certain computerized specialty equipment which sent oscillating waves down the pipe and break open the clogging. It turns out our pipes had clogged by calcification.

    Through out the 2 days of not being able to go properly + a simple hours procedure that cost me a bit, I kept thinking how sane dry composting toilets are compared to this crap. 🙂 If only we didn’t live in an apartment with no garden…

  3. aka why anyone staying at Homegrown household should carry a bucket to go poo in!

    I own a snake but have never used it. A friend did it for me. However, there is an access in the basement so that the snake never comes in the house. The city told me it was blockage in my pipes. I insisted they dig up their end, anyway. What they insisted was a blockage in my pipes was actually a problem with where it exits my property, 10 feet from the roadway.

    Although I did buy the snake, I avoided digging up my yard. Of course, it did cost me because the city said I had to have a cleanout at the edge of the easement.

    If the same thing happened again, I could use a dry toilet forever.

  4. Yay!!! Great post 🙂 We were forced to abandon the “flushie” when we moved out to our property in the boonies. No sewer system, no water and no well. So composting toilet and out house for us plus we wouldn’t want to waste water in that way ever again. It’s easier than one would think!

  5. I think I would be ok with a dry toilet, but I think it would be the final straw for my boyfriend. So no dice.

    Also, how does this work in a suburban neighborhood? Doesn’t the humanure have to cure for like 2 years? I would think my neighbors would not be very happy with me.

    • Space is more the problem than smell. A well-managed humanure pile shouldn’t smell like a cess pit. The neighbors wouldn’t know it wasn’t a normal compost pile. But space! This is our problem. Yes, humanure can take up to two years to cure safely (though experts do it in less time) so you need space for a few piles in different states of progress.

  6. I can remember going to the house of thunder on those very cold january days in minnesota. i was very young so when we did get a flushing tolet i was very releved. i was in africa in december and had to sqwat over a hole and then take a ladel of water to flush I will take a flushing tolet anytime.

  7. Some towns, like mine, do compost sewage waste at their sewage treatment plants. It’s later sold to gardeners, and spread on municipal landscaping projects, while the water is treated and returned to a local creek. So look into what your town does, if the idea of a composting toilet or more low tech options squick you out- you may already be doing some good without knowing it.

  8. Nancy, here….

    I am not a proponent of municipal sewage sludge being used in gardens. What many people flush down the toilet is different than what you and I do. There is plenty of controversy around the use of the appropriate use of sewage sludge. Better to be used as a landfill or mining cover or in landscape use. Remember the White House Garden controversy that the Obama’s decided to remediate?

    just so y’all know: Kelly is right. A well-managed compost pile doesn’t smell even if you are composting humanwaste. I do this in Chicago, which is dense enough.

    added note: know that this is not condoned or legal in any city yet, it is tolerated as long as there is no ‘nuisance’.

  9. I grew up with a composting toilet. To this day I find flush toilets scary with what they spray and how little control you have over contaminated water. Everytime ours stops up my partner has to do the unstopping because I just want to puke. Ask me to haul a bucket of poo and sawdust, mine or others, and I put on gloves and get to work, no bother. It’s not going to spray, if it moves I can see it and shovel it etc.

    I would be on a bucket if not for nosy neighbors and little to no compost space. I’m already at the max allowed by the city just doing food and yard waste.

  10. I didn’t check to see when the article about the low water flush toilet was posted. My wife and me lived in a 5th wheel trailer for a while before our house was ready. If your plumbing is not set up for low water flush it just won’t work. when we first moved into the trailer a friend told us not to try and bypass the black water or the grey water tank because it would do nothing but cause trouble. We eventualy found out the hard way what he was talking about. We had dumped the blackwater tank and hadn’t quite got the valve closed when done so what happened was the solids were building up where they fell and the liquids were draining off. The same will happen in the plumbing past the toilet if it doesn’t have enough water to get it gone initially at flush. In the black water tank the solids digest becoming all/mostly liquid. this allowed a complete drainage of the blackwater tank when dumped. (we called it the big flush.)

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