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Dry Toilets
Why Use Dry Toilets ?

Our Relation to our Dejecta

Three Generations of Dry Toilets

The BLT Instruction Manual
Chemical Composition of Human Dejecta
Composting Human Dejecta
BLT's on the Market
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To find out how to build your biolitter toilet, click here, or download the pdf schematic. [Drawings adapted by Olivier Vienne, from Écaussine in Belgium]

The text within this page was first published in French on : in 2003

The original text has since been adapted and first published in English on this page at : 2009-06-15

Last update : 2011-03-02

The BLT Instruction Manual

It's Decided: We Will Use a BLT!

After having read the different chapters of this website, many have understood the importance of the approach taken herein and have decided to install a BLT in their homes. The key to success starts with a family consensus on the principle. In case of disagreement or hesitation, I always counsel visiting a family that uses and correctly maintains a BLT. An actual tryout of this toilet is worth much more than the most convincing of speeches.

Even for those who are convinced, it is wiser to test it out at home first with a temporary set-up before going out to purchase the definitive BLT. For that, you can use a common plastic bucket (sold for a few Euros or Dollars in plastic specialty stores) or an enamelled metal bucket that you can purchase in second hand goods shops.

This receptacle will be placed next to your WC. Also provide a container (basket or bucket) to hold the litter (in this case, sawdust or wood shavings). By using this temporary set-up, a family can become familiar with the simplicity and acceptability of this system as a new way to manage its excreta. If the experience is conclusive, only then do you go on to the next step: the purchase or building of your own BLT.

To those potential builders of new homes, I advise to foresee a location for a conventional WC by including an appropriate plumbing network, including the water feed and the drainpipe. The potential buyer may not want to use a BLT. In that case, he will have the option of retrofitting a WC, simply by breaking open the floor tile that covers the unused drain, installing a flush toilet and hooking up the flush tank to the water feed. This is a half-hour's work for a plumber.

In the mean time, instead of a flush toilet, you will have installed a BLT and your water management system can start-up...

Instruction Manual

1. All following components can be mixed together to form an appropriate litter for your toilet:

dry plant waste, shredded leaves and branches, dry grass clippings, all garden waste;
wood shavings and sawdust: these are not ideal, but they will do nevertheless;
some people use shredded cardboard (corrugated box type): in spite of ever-present printing inks, cardboard makes an excellent litter. The inks entirely decompose during composting. To shred cardboard, it first has to be moistened.

2. What must NOT be used as litter:

sawdust and wood chips from exotic tropical woods that can generate bad odours and provoke allergies;
too much kiln-dried sawdust, source of dust in the house:
compost or earth, ashes, peat moss.

3. To start, you put a layer of litter at the bottom of the bucket, a few centimetres (1 to 2 inches) thick. You will learn to assess the required quantity with use. Too much litter involves emptying the bucket more often. Too little makes you vulnerable to bad odours.

4. After each use, cover the faeces with a sheet of toilet paper and a bit of litter that you humidify with a water bottle sprayer (or garden sprayer) such as those commonly used for interior plants. Even better: if possible, urinate on it [1], spreading the urine on the entire surface of the litter that covers the faeces. Any type of toilet paper can be used and discarded in the bucket. This toilet will also accept compostable diapers and sanitary towels, if they can be found on the market [2].

This applies to men only. I have often observed smelly BLT's when these are poorly managed (where the previous user has not taken the time to humidify the litter material covering his excreta). By urinating on the litter, the smell immediately disappears. This practice is not appreciated by many women who detect drops of urine on the toilet seat after use by certain men. How can we reconcile easy odour control while avoiding this problem? If you ask men to urinate in a sitting position like women, the efficiency of this odour-control measure will be much lessened. Like women, they will have to humidify the litter, with a spray-mist bottle of water for example. Until BLT's are designed with an integrated spray-mist device t, the debate remains open… Notice to BLT manufacturers!
Diapers and sanitary towels are a definite source of pollution. Replacing these with washable substitutes does not resolve the problem. At best, we can prevent discharging an embarrassing and non-biodegradable matter into the environment. Unfortunately, we would continue polluting water and destroying precious organic matter, from laundering of our soiled cotton diapers. The ideal solution is therefore to manufacture diapers with a removable absorption pad, made up of cellulose transformed from cardboard waste. This would be a proper way to valorize the reuse of non-recyclable paper. Burning paper and plant residues is a grave destruction of the biosphere.

5. Don't wait for the bucket to be full as it will be heavier to manipulate and discharge in the compost bin. Avoid containers that are too big and more difficult to manipulate. Smaller buckets will be easier in this regard, but… will need emptying more often.

6. Rinse and drain the bucket before putting it back in place. If it is plastic, it's better to have two: one in service, and the other that you leave outside for aeration. To remove odours absorbed by plastic, you can put in a mixture of water and a bit of sifted clay during this aeration process. This water can be used several times. Soapy water reclaimed from cleaning or laundry can also do. However, a stainless steel bucket is much preferable, although more expensive. In this case, a single bucket is sufficient. Nevertheless, even a stainless steel bucket requires a thorough cleaning every two weeks. For that, use a cleaning product designed for baths. For those who find that rinsing the bucket after emptying is a chore, and for those who don’t have a water tap next to their garden, you can always use biodegradable compostable bags currently found on the market.

7. The compost bin destined to receive toilet effluent (maximum 1 m2 per person) is set-up in a corner of the yard or garden, far from sight. You will also put in garden and kitchen wastes. To avoid fly propagation, always cover freshly deposited toilet effluent with a bit of garden waste (grass clippings, dead leaves, weeds or straw).

8. In November of each year, empty the compost bin and set it up in a second separate compost heap, sloped like a roof and that you must cover with 20 cm (8 inches) of straw. After one year of curing, the resulting compost is ready to use in the garden including for food crops.

The BLT in Tropical Regions

We have experimented with BLT's in tropical regions. Providing the proper precautions are taken, the BLT can also be used in the tropics.

The higher temperatures in these regions appear to shorten the time span within which the BLT can properly function in controlling odours. There are no problems up to 25°C. Above this, the toilet starts to give off whiffs of ammonia. But the smell increases after a few hours on a very hot day. Above 30°C (within the home), you're better off to have you BLT in a well-ventilated exterior shed, apart from the house.

If you absolutely want to put the BLT within the house, than you must stick to stainless steel or enamelled steel buckets : plastic buckets are quite inadequate.

The receptacle must be emptied twice a day. After each use, make sure to moisten the litter cover material in your BLT. On this matter, also read the BLT instruction manual. For litter, you need material that is highly absorbing. Sawdust gives good results. However, sawdust and wood shavings from certain tropical species of wood emit unpleasant odours when wet. In Africa, they use shredded cardboard boxes as litter (first wetted, than shredded into small pieces). Printing inks completely degrade during composting, leaving no residues. Tall savannah grass clippings giver lesser results. If the litter is slightly moist, odour control becomes easier.

In tropical regions, composting is much quicker than in temperate Europe. After 3 to 4 months, you can already empty your compost bin to start the second stage of composting. Read more on this at Composting human dejecta.

The BLT in Muslim Countries

On the biolitter toilet, my North-African correspondents often ask me :

  1. Where can one obtain litter in a country that has sparse vegetation?
  2. How to use a BLT without toilet paper, while using water to cleanse oneself?

At the same time, these same correspondents point out that their toilets are Turkish-style squat flush toilets discharging into septic tanks. They are then stricken with serious water shortage problems.

The immediate answer to the 1st question is : anywhere people can live, there is sufficient plant matter to cover one’s cellulose litter needs. As mentioned above, all plant-based matter that is cellulose-rich makes adequate litter: dead leaves, grass clippings, hedge trimmings, coconut fibers and agricultural waste. Apparently in these countries, livestock housing is done on a litter bedding. You need much less litter for the BLT than you need for animals.

Another litter source can be found in urban waste : non recyclable paper waste (including facial tissue, household roll towels) and mainly cardboard packaging – even when covered with print. To shred cardboard, it first needs to be moistened, shredded, than dried. Cardboard litter provides high quality compost. Printing inks completely decompose after three months of composting.

You mustn’t forget that along side domestic waste, composted human waste provides high quality agricultural soil amendment to regenerate soils. The resulting humus increases the soil’s water holding capacity : watering needs are thereby reduced.

By eliminating squat toilets, you save at least 16 000 litres of water per person per year, besides reducing the pollution and the sanitation risks that come from sewage treatment. Water that is used in flush toilets is not available for agriculture, in a region where the amount of food crops are limited by the availability of water. In arid climates, using flush toilets poses a moral issue.

The Muslim ablution ritual does not constitute a problem. I am not Muslim, but following a grave accident I suffered, in order to cleanse myself when I went to the toilet, I was forced to use water for my ablutions (up to 25 times a day!). I therefore decided to keep a humid washcloth readily available next to the BLT. After each use, I rinsed out the washcloth under running water in a small lavatory. After 3 to 4 days of using this washcloth strictly for my own personal use, the washcloth would go to the laundry.

I think that this technique could also be acceptable to Muslims.

Flush Toilet Cohabitation with the BLT

It often happens that some people prefer conserving a WC in the home, even if the household has adopted daily use of the BLT. The main argument invoked to justify this decision is: «we don't have the right to impose a BLT on our guests».

Experience of a great number of households has shown that cohabitation of the two toilet types inevitably leads to the setting aside of the BLT. Never underestimate the potential return of ingrained habits.

In addition, this is a more expensive option in an ecological sanitation concept. When you have implemented a selective grey water treatment system, you are then obliged to provide a separate system for treating WC effluent (reserved in principle for guests, thus marginally used). Such an expense is unreasonable.

It is more likely that those who dare not «impose a BLT on their guest» are not totally convinced of the merit of their approach. Subconsciously, they are a bit ashamed to be «different» from everybody else. This is a type of conformism or social conformance. However, when you analyse objectively all the elements of this problem, the ultimate conclusion is that those who should be ashamed are those who persist in destroying the environment with a flush toilet when they have the material and technical possibility of using a BLT.

For those families who have adopted this idea, fair and simple, the use of a BLT does not pose a problem for guests. Elementary good manners dictate that visitors respect the domestic order of their host. The use of a clean and well-managed BLT poses no problem to whomsoever. I have seen BLT's installed in luxurious villas, inhabited by aristocrats where distinguished guests used it without the slightest comment. The rejection level of a BLT by houseguests is inversely proportional to their level of education and savoir vivre.

Young children have no problem in adopting a BLT. For them, it is like any other game. Initially surprised, our son's classmates also adopted it without problem. Our son was proud to live in a home where water pollution was eliminated.

Among our guests, there were some who at first refused to use the dry toilet, while at the same time admitting the pertinence of harvesting rainwater. During the extended discussion on the latter, nature helping out, these persons eventually had a pressing need to go… and had no choice but to use our BLT. There, they realized the discrepancy between their ingrained perceptions and actual reality. After that experience, many of these persons became militant supporters of the BLT.

To continue your reading, go to Chemical composition of human dejecta


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