Taping Laura Allen for the Pee and Poo show

100415_laura_250.jpgWe pulled up to the pleasant blue house in north Oakland (CA). Built about a century ago, it’s residents call it HAUT house: House of Appropriate Urban Technology. The technology we came to videotape wasn’t its generous rainwater and the greywater systems, whose pipes provide underground irrigation for the edible gardens filling every space in this modest-sized yard.

No, we came to tape the composting toilet. Right here in the middle of a city, peoples’ pee and poop are composted to return needed nutrients to the soil — no wonder the garden is so lusciously dense!

Our personable tour guide Laura Allen shares the house with five friends. As co-founder and educator with Greywater Action, she’s has been educating about low-cost urban water conservation technologies for over a decade. She showed us the ground-floor composting toilet, which starred in her recent presentation on “The Lowdown on Composting Pee and Poo.”  Composting toilets are smart: no fresh drinking water is wasted, it reduces impact on aging sewer treatment systems whose overload is polluting our waterways, and provides the gardens just what they need.

We had a great time with Laura. Sitting in the backyard surrounded by huge fava bean plants and purple-blossomed borage, we were warmed by the sun and the buzz of happy bees while getting classically low-key visits from her two cats.

100415_hautct_200.jpgLaura showed us the ins and outs of the low-cost composting toilet. Inside, we saw that the key component is a urine diverter — the pee and poop are stored separately.

She took us outdoors to where the two containers below the toilet are accessed through a door on the side of the house. We were greeted by a half-dozen clucking hens who scooted along their sideyard habitat through a nifty open-wire tunnel. Laura said that the pee goes out to the garden almost immediately, while the poop composts over about a year in a large barrel.

And I assure you — there was no smell. Not at the toilet, not at the collecting containers under the toilet “throne”, not in the long-term storage barrels. In fact, the jar of fully-aged compost had that wonderful earthy smell of forest-floor humus.

Now, a composting toilet is not effortless, like flushing a handle and dumping gallons of increasingly-scarce drinking water needlessly down the drain.

Not effortless, but it seems like really low effort. Build it in a day and pay less than $200. It’s the right thing to be doing, returning us to a no-waste exchange of materials the way Earth does it. You’ll see it on Pee—k Moment’s first Pee and Poo show. No sh*t!

Watch video: “The Pee and Poo Show.”


  1. Really reliable info and directly to the point. For some time, I have toyed with the concept of trying to put together one like this too.

  2. Hi Rachel,
    I’ll email you privately with Laura’s contact info. But also take a look at their website, http://greywateraction.org/. There may be construction information there. The key unit is the low-cost urine separating insert available online at http://ecovita.net/privy.html.

  3. Very interested in knowing more, how they built it etc. Can these people be reached via email? I live in the Sierras in a wooden yurt and so far the land owners have refused to let me build a compost toilet. I need all the positive information I can get. Thank you.


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