Luxury Composting Toilets at the Black Sheep Inn
While a composting toilet won’t be right for every hotel, for those in more distant regions, or even your local B&B who might be interested in going that route, composting toilets are more manageable than one might think. Recently, we sat down and had an e-chat with Andres from Black Sheep Inn about his internationally acclaimed, award-winning eco-lodge and famous composting toilets.
From The Beginning…
Andres and his wife Michelle moved to rural Ecuador in 1994 with the intention of building the Black Sheep Inn. The pair discovered the location of Chugchilan two years earlier while backpacking around South America. During their previous travels, Andres and Michelle visited what they considered to be one of the pioneers of ecotourism in Ecuador at that time – Hosteria Alandaluz on the Pacific Ocean
Alandaluz was creatively built in the early 1990’s out of local, natural renewable materials (bamboo and thatch), had composting toilets, organic gardens and did extensive community work. After visiting, Andres and Michelle figured if Alandaluz could have a successful hotel with composting toilets, they could too.
Implementing Their Own Eco-Lodge
After purchasing the property in 1995, the first thing Andres and Michelle built was a composting toilet. They used a design for a home built Clivus Multrum toilet out of a book entitled, The Toilet Papers by Sim Van der Ryn. The book served as their guide but they also had to rely on a sense of trial and error. Black Sheep Inn now has four large composting toilets and seven smaller ones on the property.
A Look Inside Black Sheep Inn’s Famous Composting Toilets
Andres and Michelle then decided to build a fancy composting toilet at Black Sheep Inn, because for most guests, using a composting toilet is a first-time experience. A typical composting toilet can be as simple as a toilet seat placed on top of a barrel, with dry stuff available for the flush. Andres and Michelle went out of their way to make this new experience pleasant and educational. The result? The composting toilets that they built are luxury tourist toilets.
But what really makes them so famous? According to Andres, the following details help to lighten-up a typically dark subject and make the composting toilets popular.
- The View: In order to take advantage of the great Andean scenery, Andres and Michelle built the toilets into the hillside overlooking the valley and canyons below.
- Interior Gardens: They used the large footprint on top of the composting toilet tank to plant flower and herb gardens inside the toilet room. Using transparent roofing, which eliminates the need for electric lighting during the day, Andres and Michelle made the toilet room into a mini-greenhouse.
- Roof Water Catchments: The roof of the toilet collects rainwater for hand-washing. Black Sheep Inn only uses biodegradable liquid hand-soap, so the drain from the hand-wash sink directly drains into and irrigates the internal greenhouse gardens.
- Recycled Toilet Paper: Toilet paper made of 100 percent recycled fibers is used in the composting toilets.
- Education: Inside each composting toilet, guests find there are instructions about how to use the toilet and information about how the toilet functions – including how the roof water catchment system works. A copy of the book that Andres and Michelle based their design on is provided for additional information.
- Humor: This may be the most important part which helps the composting toilets in their popularity. The composting toilets were built in a big and open room, with flowers and a view. Andres and Michelle publicly displayed and decorated the walls with their certificates of eco achievements, awards and memberships to eco organizations. Nothing like hanging your diploma in the bathroom! Plus, the instructions on how to use the toilets are drawn with a stick figure cartoon character.
Green Attributes of Black Sheep Inn’s Composting Toilets
Most importantly, composting toilets conserve water. Why is water conservation important? Because over 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean water. Composting toilets also produce a valuable fertilizer. According to Andres, human feces are not a waste to be flushed away because they are a valuable, nutrient-rich product when properly composted. Last but not least, composting toilets offset carbon emissions because they decompose aerobically – meaning with oxygen. In a typical water flush toilet system, the waste will decompose as sewage anaerobically, releasing both methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
What Goes Into The Composting Toilet Flush?
Try to imagine a typical water flush toilet that for some reason does not have water. After just one use, it emits an unpleasant odor and may attract flies. After two to three uses, no one wants to go near it because it is quite literally a ‘pile of poop’.
On the other hand, a dry composting toilet adds a scoop or two of dry material to the toilet after each use; this material acts as the flush. The dry material can be made up of any of the following: leaves, sawdust, wood shavings, ash or any farm waste such as the chaff from wheat, barley or rice, or chopped corn husks. This material is used to cover up the urine and feces from flies and eliminates smells. Dry materials are used to help absorb the moisture content.
Both urine and feces are mostly water, but also high in nitrogen. In order for every one part of nitrogen to compost, it needs 30 parts of carbon; therefore a lot of dry material. The dry material is also light and fluffy which allows air into the pile which assists the process of decomposition. Carbon and oxygen are the ingredients that aid in decomposing human waste. Inside the composting toilet tank, the material naturally heats up similarly to a garden compost pile. The heat kills off bacteria and the pile reduces in size, producing an odorless dry humus fertilizer.
Additional Green Initiatives
Black Sheep Inn based their design principles on permaculture, which is simply defined as the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient (i.e. Permanant-Agriculture). One of the goals of permaculture is to be self-sufficient in energy, water and food production and to not pollute.
In addition to composting toilets, Black Sheep Inn manages its waste through gray water systems, composting kitchen waste – and reducing, reusing and recycling other solid waste. They try to keep any resource or product that arrives on the property, on the property. Over an extended period of time, this actually produces an abundance of resources. Andres and Michelle have yet to produce their own electricity or harvest their own bio-fuel. To date, they purchase most of their food supplies, although a high percentage is grown locally.
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Visit blacksheepinn.com for more information on their eco-practices and to make reservations.