After experimenting with numerous mediums, it has become clear that the ideal medium (sawdust, peat moss, coco coir, etc.) for processing your waste into compost depends on how you plan on using your C-Head toilet. Boaters and RV owners are going to want something that stores easily and doesn’t take up space. They may also consider the ecological impact of disposing of the waste be it in the trash or in the woods. Homesteaders and permaculturists are more concerned with which mediums compost the fastest and best and are compatible with their gardening philosophy. The C-Head can accommodate a variety of mediums in processing solid waste.
Every medium has both positive and negative attributes that will determine which is best for any given application including sub-groups of any given category. For example, among boaters we have houseboat owners who have a lot of storage space for medium, and day sailors who don’t. So let’s examine how each medium works and where they are best utilized.
Some general rules are that dark mediums (coco coir and peat moss) hide from view the interior of the solid waste collection bucket better than do light mediums (aspen bedding, pine pellets, pine shavings and most sawdust). I am going to cut to the chase and start with what I think is the best all-round medium, which is Aspen Bedding. Other mediums work very well and it ultimately comes down to the user’s preference. I am going to endorse some specific brands for use in different situations. Please feel free to make constructive comments on which mediums have worked well for you and why. Thanks!
I had tried numerous other mediums with good success when I came across Aspen Bedding at Walmart. At first I didn’t think it was going to work that well, mainly because of its white color which would highlight everything going on inside the toilet. But right away it became obvious that it has some really good qualities for composting. The size and cut of the shavings is smaller than most of the other wood shavings and the shavings are rolled up which makes it a great mixing medium since everything rolls around freely and churning is very smooth and easy. It also clings to the waste so well that it completely hides the waste from view. It has very little dust and almost no smell. It is cheap and compressed into a 3″x 10″x 14″ plastic package that stacks and stores well. I have found that one package will last a month with two people using the toilet daily, so a one-year supply will cost just over $40 with tax and take up 3 cubic feet .
It is also available at Petsmart and Petco, I believe. This medium will work well in almost any setting: boats, recreational vehicles, cabins, etc. Aspen is abundant, renewable, fast growing, and does not have preservative resins to retard degradation. For more information on Aspen Bedding read (this blog – pending).
Coco coir has been a compact composting toilet favorite for a long time and seems to be the default medium of owners of my competitor’s toilet, particularly with boaters. It may be because it works best in their toilets, or maybe they don’t feel the need to research better alternatives and prefer to spend their money and efforts on marketing instead. They say you can’t argue with success and to that I say, “The tortoise and the hare my friend. The tortoise and the hare.”
Nevertheless, coco coir is a very good product. It is easily found online. It is powdery but dust free. It bonds to the waste well and churns easily. CC is very dark so it hides the interior of the collection bucket, and it is abundant and decomposes quickly when composted completely. It comes in compressed bricks that are easy to store. So what’s not to like? While the price has come down a lot, it is relatively expensive, about twice the cost of Aspen bedding and even more so if you buy it already in a powder form. In brick form, it must be broken down into a powder which is more laborious than advocates like to admit and you usually will need to use ventilation with the toilet since it tends to be slightly damp from the water used to break it down. Aside from that, it is an excellent medium.
Next to coco coir, peat moss is probably the most common medium used. It has many of the attributes of coco coir, being dark-colored and being compressed but it is broken down by hand by simply crumbling it up. It is very cheap at about a quarter of the cost of Aspen bedding if bought in a 3-cubic foot bale. It can be bought in smaller quantities at garden centers for a slightly higher price for storage aboard boats and RVs. It can be dusty and it is not a renewable resource so some people object to that. Many users claim that it can be infected with insects but I have never experienced that myself. For the most part it works very well, dust being the biggest issue.
Corn Cob Pellets
If your end goal for using a C-Head is to compost the waste, then corn cob based mediums are definitely a consideration. Unlike wood based products, it is loaded with helpful fungi, bacteria and molds which start breaking down the waste in record time. It can always be added in smaller quantities to other mediums to get the composting off to a fast start. If you are put off by the sight of fungi and molds growing inside your toilet then it might not be right for you. I do recommend using ventilation with this medium, especially if you are going to use it alone and not mixed with other mediums. That way the spores will be carried outside instead of escaping into the bathroom where someone might be sensitive to it.
Other Mediums for Churning
There are several other mediums that can be used but are typically more difficult to find. If you have a sawmill in your area, you can get rough cut lumber sawdust which is very coarse and ideal for churning. It costs almost nothing ($5 a yard) and works well but may be damp and need drying. Milling shavings from kiln dried lumber from a sawmill is ideal. Hardwood planer shavings from cabinet shops will also work and is usually free. Don’t use fine sawdust from a cabinet shop. It comes from the sawdust collector and is usually abundant. The shop owners will probably try to get you to take it. It usually is contaminated with plywood, MDF, particle board and OSB which contains a lot of undesirable adhesive glue. Use just the planer shavings. Different woods will emit different smells when they get damp from use.
Also, there are several different types of wood-based cat litters that you should consider. They come both scented and unscented. Personally I prefer the unscented litters, but I am not a fan of perfume either so you may feel differently. Scented wood-based cat litters can be overpowering but they do cover the waste well and churn easily. They can be made of a mixture of wood or just pine or corn cob material.
Mediums for a Churnless System
A “churnless” C-Head (also called a “bucket and chuck it” system) is one that doesn’t have a churning mechanism inside the bucket and you would need to add medium by hand after each use. There are pluses and minuses with this system (read more here). For a churnless system, one advantage is that you can use almost any medium, coarse or fine, as well as mineral based cat litters like clay. People often want to use cedar shavings in a churning C-Head but the shavings tend to be too large and are less effective at covering the waste. Cedar shavings are, however, fine for a churnless toilet. They cover the waste effectively and absorb the smell. With that said it will never smell like cedar so the added expense of using a more expensive wood is probably not worth it. It doesn’t cost that much to give cedar a try and see for yourself.
I encourage people to experiment with mediums to see which works best for them. Compact composting toilets are an evolving science and input from users can be very helpful in refining it. Please feel free to comment as you see fit.
This article is not an endorsement of any product or vendor unless specifically stated. It is intended to show the reader options. Read and follow the instructions on anything you use. All advice in this article is anecdotal and from my personal experience and I assume no responsibility for the results or experiences of others. In all cases, exercise due diligence and use your best judgement.
Feel free to make constructive comments or ask questions below.
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