Episode 1: The Beginning of our Composting Toilet Blog!

So who are we?

We are Fiona and Nick, and since the Autumn of 2017, we have lived on a 63ft narrowboat called Meand’er on the inland waterways (canals) of the UK. 

In this blog series, we will share our journey as we go from using standard cassette toilets to an easier and more sustainable way of managing our waste. Nick works from the boat (luckily IT can be done anywhere!) and I retired early to help look after my grandchildren. We love the peace and tranquility of being so close to nature and the freedom to cruise the canals when we want, taking our little home with us. 

Towards the end of 2018, we also purchased a Daf T244 Overlander called Colonel K (remember Dangermouse?!), when Nick fell in love with it and I agreed in a very weak moment! Now we have a new plan: spend summers on the boat in the UK and winters exploring Europe… Once I finally get Nick to retire!

When we purchased our boat it came with a Thetford cassette toilet, with a 12v electric flush and a waste tank of 17 litres. This is reduced to just under 16 litres by the time you have added chemicals and the recommended water of 1 litre. Sounds quite big you think, read on to discover the reality of it!

Why choose a composting toilet?

We know now that composting toilet is the best choice for us, but that wasn’t always the case! We thought the size of the cassette didn’t sound too bad until we moved onboard. We quickly discovered that living and working on our narrowboat means emptying the cassette toilet every 24-36 hours! Oh, and when the red full light starts to flash THAT is when to empty the cassette NOT when it is solid red, by then you are heading towards leakage!! We always had to check before bed as it’s no fun changing it at 3 am in the freezing cold. Thank goodness we have 2 spare cassettes!

When travelling, all journeys had to be planned around Elsan disposal points instead of just stopping in quiet secluded areas. We decided it was time to get away from our ‘toilet obsession’ and enjoy the waterways NOT the Elsan points!

If we are not on our boat we can be found travelling in our 4×4 overlander. We love wild camping but once again our cassette toilet – the exact same one as on the boat – was restricting our movements, enjoyment of our trips, and where we could park up. Let’s be honest, 2 or 3 full cassettes sloshing around until the next Elsan is not our idea of fun!

We decided it was time to look at other options!

What toilet to choose?

Many boats have a macerator toilet with a large capacity waste tank that needs pumping out periodically. Sounds okay in theory, but as soon as we realised we would lose our current storage space we ruled this out. Plus, I really didn’t want all that waste sloshing around under my bed every night! Oh and there are lots of chemicals involved, something we wanted to get away from.

 A composting toilet would have the added bonus of:

  • Sustainable and environmentally friendly.
  • Waterless – very important with limited capacity water tanks.
  • No chemicals required.
  • Less frequent emptying.
  • If using a fan, this can run off our 12v supply via our solar.

Decision made but now which one do we buy? Let the research begin…

What we want to achieve from our composting toilet

✓ Monthly solid waste emptying at most.

✓ Easy empty bottles for urine disposal.

✓ No daily ‘toilet situation’ conversations.

✓ User friendly so either of us can empty both solids and liquids.

✓ Suitable design to fit both the boat and the overlander

In this series of articles, you will be able to follow our journey through the minefield of choosing a composting toilet, installing it, and then actually getting to use and experience it. I am sure it won’t all be plain sailing (excuse the pun!) but what we hope to achieve by the end is to be happy with our toilet setup, to hopefully be environmentally friendly, and to have lost our ‘toilet obsession’! 

Will we succeed in our quest? 

Keep reading to see what happens next on our ‘toilet journey’. We hope this helps anyone else who might be embarking on the same journey, after all, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, we all use a toilet!!