Composting toilets are a sustainable, affordable, and autonomous alternative to traditional toilets. Many homeowners are ready to forgo common sewer and septic systems and move ahead with a composting solution, saving water, using waste as fertilizer, and becoming more independent from the grid.
But: Are the laws ready for this change?
For stationary composting toilet users, the legality of building and using a composting toilet and/or humanure setup can be confusing. Here’s all the important info to help you figure out if you can use a composting toilet where you’re living, if you have to follow any specific rules and regulations, and if a humanure setup is possible.
Importantly: Composting toilet rules and regulations vary depending on the state, county, or city you live in. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it easier to find any information, so keep reading for some tips.
States that allow composting toilets if they are NSF approved are Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.
States that allow composting toilets (even if they are not NSF approved) are Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
One of the composting toilet friendliest states is Oregon. It not only allows composting toilets as alternatives to a septic or sewer system, it also allows on-site built composting toilets (aka DIY setups).
However, if your building is within a so-called sewer district, you’ll still need a sewer connection. More info specifically for the Oregon legislation concerning composting toilets can be found here.
Two of the composting toilet unfriendliest states are Indiana and Virginia. While North Carolina does allow composting toilets, it does require a traditional sewer setup as well.
Many off-the-shelf composting toilets don’t have a NSF-certification or approval. As of today, only one regular off-the-shelf composting toilet meets the requirements and is certified.
Wait, what is NSF approval? NSF is the National Sanitation Foundation, a non-profit organization creating standards for food safety and sanitation. More information about their work is available here.
What to do with the waste?
One important factor in figuring out if having a composting toilet on your property is legal is the “path of the waste”. Most local ordinances don’t allow waste transported across property lines. If your composting toilet and your humanure setup are located on your property, and you don’t transport human waste off your property, you are fine in most areas. However, you have to make sure your compost pile does not smell and bother your neighbors.
Additionally, dwellings that already have a sewer system installed are often excused from local composting toilet regulations, as long as that sewer system is operative.
Find out which rules apply to your state, city, and sometimes, street
So how can you find out if composting toilets are legal where you are? The best (and safest way) is contacting the local environmental or health department and checking local building codes. They will be able to tell you if local, state, and/or community guidelines allow composting toilets, DIY composting toilets, and/or humanure setups.
In addition to the building and use of composting toilets, some states also restrict the handling of the waste itself. Some states require human waste to be buried below a certain depth, while others allow it to be used as a fertilizer - but sometimes only on non-edible plants.
A great starting point to research your state rules and regulations is the Primal Survivor overview.
Another great resource is the “Humanure Handbook” by Joseph Jenkins. It can be downloaded for free and has a comprehensive list of state regulations regarding composting toilets and humanure setups. Appendix 3 containing all the information about state legislations is available here. Keep in mind that regulations can change, and your local health and environmental departments will have the most up to date information.
The grassroots organization ReCode is working on legalizing composting toilets to offer a sustainable and convenient alternative to common sewer systems. You can read more about their proposed changes here. They also offer great general information about using composting toilets in residential setups.
Are there any loopholes?
There are always loopholes. The most common exceptions are the presence of an operational sewer setup in addition to a composting toilet, or installing a composting toilet in existing dwellings or Tiny Houses on wheels.
As a disclaimer, we don't condone any law breaking.
This is not binding legal advice. Rules, regulations, and laws change often, and it is your final obligation to make sure building and using a composting toilet and disposing of the waste is legal.