Fact-checking chemical toilets

23.04.2020 12:06

Fact-checking chemical toilets

We thought we’d take a look for a change at chemical toilets, which are often still used in places with no water or sewage connections. We’d love to tell you how many chemical loos there are around the world, but we doubt anyone knows!

Chemical toilets come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and they’re used in many different settings. The classic is probably the ‘porta-potty’ – those omnipresent plastic outdoor cubicles seen at music festivals and other major events as well as on building sites and some roadside picnic areas. Smaller types of chemical toilets, either permanently installed or portable, are frequently used when camping and on allotments. They’re also ubiquitous on coaches.

A row of port-a-pottys

How exactly do chemical toilets work?

Since there’s such a huge variety of chemical toilets, rather than looking at individual models, here we’ll merely go into the most common modes of operation.

Regardless of whether chemical toilets are large or small, whether they’re fitted with a cassette or a holding tank, one thing they have in common is that chemicals are used in all of them. Although certain types don’t need to be flushed with water, the fact is that none of these toilets can work without their cocktail of chemicals – and that in all models, faeces and urine are collected in the same tank.

Large mobile toilet systems are emptied by suction through hoses attached to special vehicles – you’re sure to have seen them out and about.

When it comes to small chemical toilets, the holding tank or the cassette has to be emptied more or less by hand. If you use a toilet like this in your caravan or motor home, you’ll be familiar with the walk to the waste disposal station at the campsite.

a person removing the tank of a chemical toilet

Why do chemical substances have to be used at all?

Consider, say, a standard chemical toilet with water flushing. Chemical additives are even used in the freshwater tank in order to kill germs. After going to the toilet, this mixture of water and chemicals also serves as a cleaning agent when flushing.

In the holding tank, the additive reduces the formation of odours, algae and gas. It accelerates the decomposition of faeces and toilet paper, and also kills natural putrefactive bacteria.

What do toilet fluids also contain?

The main components are formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde and quaternary ammonium compounds. Mind you, they also contain citric acid, fragrances, dyes and surfactants.

The first three substances are microbicides and aren’t exactly harmless. As well as triggering allergies, direct contact can cause irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract, and even burns. It’s vital to read the safety instructions and avoid touching the fluids required for chemical toilets. In most cases, wearing gloves is recommended.

Another major drawback of quaternary ammonium compounds is that because they aren’t by any means completely eliminated in sewage treatment plants, substantial quantities enter surface water.

And what happens to the mixture of chemicals and excreta?

Some people think that once they’ve emptied the tank or cassette, everything’s hunky-dory. In fact, although owners of chemical toilets are acting correctly by emptying their tanks at sanitary disposal stations, few of us realize they’re connected to the regular sewerage system. And this means the faecal-chemical mixture ends up in a normal sewage treatment plant.

If sewage plants are to work properly, if filtration and decomposition are to take place as planned, a sensitive ecosystem with active microorganisms is required. To avoid overloading this ecosystem or even killing it outright, a huge volume of water is needed to dilute the incoming sewage. The snag is that the microbicides contained in the toilet fluid don’t just destroy the ‘bad’ microorganisms – they also kill all the organisms that are essential for water treatment. Sewage treatment plants are often overwhelmed by the addition of these chemical cocktails. Sometimes the system is on the brink of collapse and the sewage winds up unfiltered in our rivers and lakes.

a chemical toilet on a meadow

Beware of eco-friendly labels!

The packaging of toilet chemicals often bears a symbol or picture implying that it’s kind to the environment. This creates the false impression among some consumers that the contents of a holding tank can simply be poured down the drain or emptied anywhere in the countryside. But that’s not the case at all – please don’t ever do this!

Many of our customers told us they had a chemical loo before switching to a urine-diverting dry toilet. They usually found disposal unpleasant and said using chemicals went against the grain. Sticking to biological additives didn’t make them any happier; several people told us that they were by no means odourless and that the liquid’s effectiveness was really hampered by hot weather. And even when biological additives are used, the cassettes have to be emptied at special disposal stations, making them anything but convenient.

The benefits of chemical toilets are that they’re very light, often very small, and usually cheap. But their disadvantages outweigh the advantages when compared to a Kildwick composting toilet with a diverter.

-       Instead of environmentally harmful additives, our toilets only need natural cover material to remove moisture from solids and thus prevent odours.

-       Most chemical toilets consist of countless individual parts: seals, rubber washers, hoses and so on, and sometimes even electronics. What do you do if one of them breaks while you’re on holiday? That can’t happen with our products. Our systems may be simple but they’ve been built to last. And with a less complex design, there’s less to go wrong.

-       Do you love the great outdoors, the freedom of the open road? And do you like to keep things simple? So do we! And we can’t bear having to constantly search for the nearest disposal station. But with Kildwick toilets, the search is over. After all, solids can simply be disposed of with the rest of the household waste or even (inside a degradable bag) be composted. Meanwhile, the contents of the urine tank can simply be poured down any toilet. Sounds easy? That’s because is!

-       “But chemical toilets are so light.” True, but so are Kildwick camping toilets! Our MiniLoo weighs only 8kg, while the Kildwick EasyLoo is also a lightweight at just 12kg.

-       And there are some other benefits, too. All the materials we use are biodegradable or can be 100% recycled. And apart from a few small exceptions, the materials and our suppliers come from Germany. This reduces harmful emissions by keeping transport distances short.

In a nutshell, the benefits of our urine-diverting dry toilets are as follows:

-       No additional water is required

-       No chemical additives whatsoever are needed

-       Kildwick urine-diverting dry toilets are light and robust

-       Emptying and disposal are easy

If you’re thinking about switching from a chemical loo to an ecological urine-diverting dry toilet and have any questions, write to us at hello@kildwick.com or just give us a call. We’ll be delighted to help!

a dry toilet and a chemical toilet next to each other