Taking quake readiness to the next level

While compost toilets have given Eric Mawer a newfound appreciation for running water, he highly recommends them above portaloos.
While compost toilets have given Eric Mawer a newfound appreciation for running water, he highly recommends them above portaloos.

Giving up modern plumbing for a compost toilet is not for the squeamish, but two Johnsonville residents have done it in the name of quake-preparedness.

Eric and Miranda Mawer are part of a Wellington Region Emergency Management Office-led compost toilet trial to see if such a system could be an option following a major disaster.

Eleven local individuals, families and businesses were each given a compost toilet to use for a month, and were now in the third week.

The system featured two separate chambers and buckets, one for liquid waste and the other for faecal matter.

Because the liquid waste is sterile, it is diluted and poured onto the garden, while the solid material is composted in a wheelie bin with sawdust, sticks and soil.

While the trial had left the Mawers with a newfound appreciation of running water, they highly recommended the system as an option after an earthquake.

One of the biggest advantages was compost toilets could be set up in people's homes, Mr Mawer said.

"It's an awful lot easier than a portaloo."

Mrs Mawer had been pleasantly surprised by the system's lack of smell and how "piss easy" it had been to clean.

"I thought that would be a minor ordeal but it hasn't been," she said.

The couple became interested in quake-preparedness when they moved to Wellington from Britain two years ago.

Another reason for joining the trial was Mrs Mawer's hatred of waste.

"Anything that can be re-used, I'm in favour of," Mrs Mawer said.

The idea for the trial came from compost toilet designer Matthew King's time in Christchurch teaching residents about his systems.

Following the Christchurch quake, 3000 portaloos and 30,000 chemical toilets were distributed, though other people elected to make their own compost toilet or backyard long-drop.

The Canterbury region suffered problems treating the waste from chemical toilets as many treatment facilities were damaged - issues that could be compounded if Wellington is cut off from other areas following a quake.

Composting toilets, provided people would use them, could be another option besides chemical toilets and portaloos, Mr King said.

''A compost toilet can take all your waste, possibly up to three months' worth. People can be self-sufficient.''

WREMO trial co-ordinator Sarah Gauden-Ing said the feedback from the trial had been positive, and in general for people it had just been "business as usual".

Some families were even reporting unexpected benefits, such as the system allowing two young children to use it at the same time.

A recent report from the Wellington Lifelines Group predicted people in Wellington city could be without water for up to 70 days following an earthquake.

Residents of Porirua would have to go up to 75 days, and those in the Hutt Valley up to 40 until running water services can be restored.

After the trial concluded, WREMO would prepare a report for civil defence teams and local authorities detailing how compost toilets could be stored and rolled out following an earthquake.

Contact Olivia Wannan
General reporter
Email: olivia.wannan@dompost.co.nz

The Dominion Post