San Fran Considers Public Composting Toilets


While the City of San Francisco weighs proposals to roll out composting toilets citywide, community groups are working on bringing portable composting toilets to a neighborhood with a large homeless population and a lack of public toilets. Photo: Flickr/Sustainable sanitation

San Francisco community groups are considering public composting toilets as an environmentally-friendly and inexpensive way to deal with the city’s public defecation problem, the San Francisco Examiner reported.

Eric Brooks, chair of the local Green Party’s sustainability working group, originally proposed rolling out composting toilets citywide to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Motivated by Brook’s suggestion, the commission conducted a study on composting toilet systems to determine if they would work in the “City by the Bay.”

But commission spokesman Tyrone Jue pointed out several challenges the city would need to resolve before implementing the new toilets on a large scale: where to take the waste, the health and safety of waste removal and the cost to retrofit existing toilets.

How does a composting toilet work? Unlike a conventional toilet, which empties water and waste into the sewer pipes, waste from a composting toilet is collected in basins, where liquids separate from solids. Once the waste hardens, it can be taken to farms to use as fertilizer.

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Because composting toilets don’t require any water to operate, they can conserve a precious resource while relieving San Francisco’s aging sewer system, Brooks said.

“If every toilet in the city was a composting toilet, that would save over 5 billion gallons per year because each [composting] toilet saves 6,600 gallons per person per year,” Brooks told GreenBiz.

To prevent odor, a composting toilet should have a ventilation system and constant suction through the toilet.

While the city continues to debate the issue, two local community organizations are working with an Oakland-based, eco-minded laboratory to design a portable composting toilet for San Francisco’s downtown Tenderloin neighborhood, which has a large homeless population and a lack of public toilets, the Examiner said.

Because composting toilets don’t require electricity or plumbing, they will be cheaper to install and maintain than conventional public toilets, community advocates from Clean City and the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District told the newspaper. They hope to set up the first composting toilet in the Tenderloin by summer.

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