Alternatives to Flush Toilets and Septic Systems

by Larry Losoncy, PhD

Information is available on the Internet for anyone researching alternatives to flush toilets, septic systems and hookup. Most of these products and technologies have been designed to address one or both of the two central problems presented by flushing away human waste.

Problem number one is the use of water to flush waste.

Traditional Flush Sanitation

A single flush can use up to eight gallons of water, with a household of four people using more than two hundred gallons a day just to flush the toilet. Low-flow toilets address this problem by reducing the amount of water used and increasing the velocity of the flush. Waterless toilets eliminate the use of water.

Problem number two is when the ground cannot properly handle human waste at a given site or in a given watershed area that would otherwise use a septic system. Categories of products and systems addressing this problem include advanced treatment systems, microbiotic treatment systems, portable potties, holding tanks, lagoon systems, evapotranspiration systems, chemical toilets, digestor tanks, composting toilets, incinerating toilets and evaporative toilets.

Advanced treatment systems and microbiotic treatment systems improve  on septic systems. With more treatment the waste is turned into a safer discharge, doing on site what waste treatment plants do for sewage.

Chemical Toilet at campsite

Portable toilets/chemical toilets simply collect the waste in small tanks that have a substantial amount of liquid chemicals pre-loaded for the purpose of killing pathogens and controlling odor. The tanks are then pumped and trucked away for disposal or drained into septic systems or sewers. Variations of these are also used in RV’s, boats, trains and planes.

Holding tanks are large tanks sunk into the ground. They are pumped periodically and are typically used for large public facilities such as rest stops and public parks.

Lagoon systems are ponds that collect sewage. Solids settle to the bottom of the pond and the liquids evaporate. These are widely used by small towns, campgrounds, resort areas, recreation areas and clusters of homes.

Wastewater Lagoon at Red River

Evapotranspiration systems put liquid waste out on top of the ground for   evaporation as well as absorption by trees, shrubs, plants and grass.

Digestor tanks collect and break down all waste and trash, producing both methane gas and humus.

Composting toilets collect human waste and turn it into humus.

Incinerating toilets burn the waste, reducing it to a fine ash.

The Sanitizer Toilet is an evaporative system

Evaporating toilets evaporate the waste.

Depending on the methodology, these alternative systems either reduce or eliminate the amount of waste needing to be pumped.

Three factors figure into the evaluation process of these products and systems. They are appropriateness, cost of system and cost of operating.

Is the system appropriate? Systems requiring water won’t work where there is no running water or the ground won’t perc. Systems not allowed by the local codes also get ruled out unless a waiver is granted (in many cases a waiver will be granted). Systems too small or too large for the anticipated usage should be ruled out. Systems that cannot stand up to local conditions, such as freezing, or to intermittent use such as seasonal cabins, would also be ruled out. For example, aerobic systems that spray treated waste need a constant supply of waste to treat because otherwise the bacteria they require will not multiply sufficiently to do the job.

Cost. In computing costs of a system be sure to factor in labor and any additional material required, such as sand or gravel. With septic systems the greater the amount of leech lines required, the greater will be the amount of needed land and the cost of the leech lines.

Operational costs. How much power, chemicals and system maintenance will be required? Are there pumping and disposal fees? Do any components need periodic replacing? How long will the system last? Can the system be left unattended and unused for extended periods of time without needing servicing to start up and resume proper functioning? Does the system need to be winterized?

Most professionals in the sanitation industry will tell you that proper sanitation can be provided for any situation. But remember, the advice is no better than the information you provide. So, ask and seek, don’t be bashful!


Larry Losoncy is the president of Clean Up America, Inc. The company manufactures and markets  The Sanitizer™ non-discharge, evaporative toilet.  To learn more about The Sanitizer™ please go to