Everyone - well, most everyone - knows the history of the first commercial water-based flushing toilet invented by the eponymous Thomas Crapper. But not everyone knows the history of waterless toilets.
While basic water-based flushing toilets have been around since Roman times (boy did the Romans love their plumbing!), waterless toilets are actually much older. As with many things, the origin of the earliest waterless toilets – composting toilets – come from China.
It’s believed that over the centuries, people in ancient China would store human waste in ceramic containers for long periods of time to destroy any parasites so they could later use the waste for fertilizer – thereby creating the first composting toilets.
Thankfully, composting toilets today have come a long way from the ceramic bowls used thousands of years ago in China.
The first commercial composting toilet in the United States was created and patented by Henry Moule in 1860. He designed the toilet to pour dirt over the waste when you “flushed,” and it would be buried in a garden. But Moule’s idea didn’t gain much traction until an American soil scientist saw how people in China were using their composting toilets to enrich the soil in their farms, and people in the US started thinking more about how to use this process to improve their own yield.
The 20th century saw another leap forward for composting toilets, with a number of commercial composting toilet companies popping up, many in Scandinavia. These toilets had modern features, such as heat to kill pathogens and ventilation systems to reduce smell.
A Swedish company named Clivus Multrum first created their own composting toilets in 1939 and patented them in the 1960s. However, they remained small, and their toilets didn’t sell outside of Sweden. A few years later, a company called Biolet was founded in Sweden in the 1970s to manufacture composting toilets. It was good timing - thanks to the environmental movement of the 60’s and 70’s, Biolet composting toilets were soon selling in more than 30 countries!
Another way to get rid of waste without using water is to burn it – hence, incinerating toilets. As you can imagine, incinerating toilets use electric heat to burn the waste, which creates a small amount of ash. One of the first incinerating toilets was designed in 1904 in Germany, but incinerating toilets were not commercially sold until much later. Frank J. La Mere patented his first incinerating toilet design in 1946, and his "Destoilet" was created in the 1960s. A company in Texas started creating Incinolets around the same time, and EcoJohn began selling their incinerating toilets around the world in the 1990s.
Packaging toilets are another form of waterless toilets. Imagine a toilet that acts like one giant diaper genie – instead of reusing the waste like composting toilets or destroying the waste like incinerating toilets, packaging toilets “package” up the waste and vacuum seal it, so there’s no smell. This makes it easy to contain and dispose, just like you would the diapers from a diaper genie. Dryflush is one of the leading manufacturers of packaging toilets, and their prototypes were tested for years before perfecting their design a few years ago.
Waterless toilets are getting more innovative and environmentally friendly every year. As these three toilet types don’t use any water, they help keep our fresh water fresh. They also allow you to have a modern “flush” toilet in places where you have no access to sewage lines. Whether you want to do your part to help the environment or you just need a portable toilet for your next camping or ice fishing trip, waterless toilets are a great investment!
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