State of the Intrepid – La Toilette
The C-Head BoonJon composting toilet has proven a worthy investment, in spite of being the most expensive portable way I know to separate solid from liquid waste in a boondocking RV. To my surprise, it has proven odorless in spite of the lack of venting that is normally installed with these things. The maker suggested trying it out sans vent first, just to see, and I’m glad I avoided that complication. Most C-Heads are intended for marine use, or remote cabin use without plumbing. The separation of urine from solid waste prevents most noxious odors, and a churn handle mixes the solid waste with an absorbent material each time solids are added. The intent is that it is the initial stage of composting human waste. The collection bucket is then dumped onto an outdoor composting pile on site. While I may complain about the C-Head’s expense in this post, I must also add that my unit’s workmanship and overall build quality are impeccable. It is handmade, and shows none of the foibles that handmade items can evidence. This is a post in praise of a toilet, of all things.
My variant, the first prototype/production unit sold of its kind, is now a regular production option: a lowered body with no churn, the solid waste going into a bag-lined plastic bucket and a fabricated 0.9-gallon urine container in place of a common 1-gallon milk bottle. The lack of a churn keeps this variant from being an effective composting first stage, which is fine for me since I have no home-based compost pile. The low-profile model is the only one with a prayer of fitting into my Grandby’s lower cabinet, and it slides right in, fits snugly, and is securely contained by the cabinet door’s locking latches. It uses a common demount-able residential seat assembly, the base, seat and lid of which had to be trimmed off and repainted with white appliance paint in order to fit within the limited cabinet depth. The HDPE-topped false cabinet floor shown at the bottom of this post makes removal and insertion over the raised cabinet lip a breeze, and it’s the easiest part of making or breaking camp, other than turning the Ford’s ignition key. It stows and deploys in a moment.
My model of C-Head is just a collection device, and you dispose of the waste per your sense of order and justice. To dispose of solid waste, C-Head recommends emptying the bags into a lidded plastic bucket and treating the contents with some added bleach to prevent breakdown when added to a residential waste collection stream. This makes it legal for disposal in any municipal waste stream. To make urine disposal handy, it recommends emptying the urine container into an empty 1-gallon water bottle. When you get two, you’ll find that they both fit neatly into one of those reusable shopping bags, which can then be discreetly carried to bathrooms, pit toilets, or whatever. I’ve done the pit toilet thing, the free dump station thing, and in the true boonies where peeing in the grandeur of Mother Nature is allowed, I’ve emptied it there as well. Many areas allow for catholes to be dug for solid waste, but if I wait a week to dispose of the solids, and that would be quite a cathole.
Instead, I find a public dumpster and toss the bag in, thinking of it as being consistent with the old diaper disposal ploy. However, I’m holding a lidded 3-gallon Ace Hardware bucket in reserve for those occasions when only the best will do. Then again, it may well be possible to get a couple month’s worth of poo bags into that thing, making the cost of the bucket and bleach negligible. I may well switch to the bleach/bucket system after a trial, simply because I’d prefer to do things the right way as far as imposing myself on the largess of the towns I visit. After all, these aren’t diapers, and I’m not an infant, physically at least.
I do not recommend leaving the bag in the toilet longer than 1 week for solids, since mold or fungus will eventually appear, which may not be the best for one’s health inside an enclosed space like a camper. Once the plastic bag has been removed from the toilet, the wondrous aroma of its contents permeates right through the bag, so you’ll want to develop an external storage solution rather than place it inside the camper until it can be disposed of. I use a wire basket mounted over the Ford’s rear bumper, which is also handy for holding small trash bags for that trip past a dumpster. Heavy duty odor-stopping bags exist, but I have yet to find any for the small 6-gallon size needed.
I happen to use coir as the covering medium, which is shredded coconut shells, mainly since it comes in small bricks which are easily stored in very confined spaces. I separate one brick into quarters with a hatchet and hammer, and drop one into a wide-mouth plastic jar provided with the C-Head. They expand when mixed with water before use, and are good for one week’s-worth of waste. You can use peat moss or horse bedding too, but I was never able to figure out where on earth I’d stow a 40-pound bag of those. The packaged coir bricks stack nicely in the cabinet alongside the toilet. (See the first photo.) I place the rest of the dry brick pieces into a Zip-Lock bag for later prep.
The only phenomenon I’ve observed in my “installation” that is non-optimal is a tendency toward condensation on the interior of the toilet body over time. Since this body lacks a vent (which can be added with the included hose), the seat is just airtight enough that cold overnight temps can condense the natural humidity in the coir. I initially thought that the urine container leaked slightly, but that’s not the case, and the small amount of pooled water is “clean”. Naturally, I wipe it out with a paper towel at each bag swap and treat it as though it isn’t clean water for safety’s sake. Venting, especially power venting with a small recycled computer-style fan, would eliminate that. That’s the sum total of “problems” with the unit. A very quick spray of Lysol on the inside of the urine funnel after each use works well to prevent any issues, as recommended by the manufacturer. Naturally, occasional cleaning and sanitizing of the body interior and seat is a good idea. The seat that comes with the C-Head is instantly demountable using cams, so effective cleaning is that much easier. This style of seat is widely available in hardware stores, so my only limitation in replacing the seat is marking and sawing off the front so it will stow properly.
I recommend the C-Head for its ease of use and compactness. All ’round, it is pretty much issue-free. If you have no need for the low profile version, you’ll prefer the standard height model that uses common grocery water bottles to hold urine. Those bottles do not fit in the low-profile C-Head, and my model’s fabricated container works great with nearly the same capacity, but it’s a sophistication that isn’t necessary if you don’t have vertical space problems. I do. Also, the lid needs to be lifted to check how full the special urine container is, while the milk bottle model has a viewing slot right in front. This urine container uses a pingpong ball as a float and automatic closing valve when full, so it’s an easy matter to see how high it is as a signal for emptying it. This system also serves to discourage back flow and spillage should you decide to travel on rough trails with a nearly full container. I do not recall a similar gizmo on the taller units that use milk bottles, but traveling with anything but an empty container is not the best idea anyway. Since this system was a prototype when I ordered it, I also added a spare urine container just in case this fabricated unit decided to spring a leak while I was traversing the boonies. Happily, this has proven completely unnecessary so far. Any accidental overages or spills are contained within the toilet body, so carelessness or extremely rough trails are not the disaster they could otherwise be. Waste stays contained. The only essential is that the C-Head needs to be secured in transit, whether with hold-downs, straps, clips or basic containment, as I have done.
The main benefit for me is freedom from dump stations, which in the past has had to be a factor in determining where I could go and thus where I could camp. The cost of dump stations is not inconsequential, but you can’t really have much freedom of choice or schedule when you’re tethered to be within striking range of one. Many campers do without entirely by sticking with developed campgrounds or by going au naturale behind a bush with a shovel. My personal preference on these options is no. Not going to step out in the rain and track in mud, and bushes are in short supply in some areas, with other campers in sight. Others simply use a seat on a 5-gallon bucket, but separate urine into a separate bottle, which is very inexpensive. I think one or two fairly similar approaches to the C-Head exist for a lot less money, but again, I wanted a better-than-camping quality system for the long run that would be stable and a no-brainer to use and stow. Let’s face it folks, while groggy in the middle of a very cold night, I’m not at my best for patience, motor skills or discernment. Any system which demands that of me is simply going to invite a regrettable “incident”. There must be a downside to the C-Head system, but other than initial cost, I have not encountered it yet. Compared to the typical 2.5-gallon Porta Potti normally ordered with FWC campers and its frequent need for dump stations or some other compliant facility, the C-Head would have paid back its seemingly-exorbitant cost before I arrive back in Yuma this November, except for the fact that my recent surgery took it out of action for half of the year.
There are a few places where built-in holding tanks are a requirement, and a few places where special and brutally expensive waste bagging systems seem to be the only official alternatives allowed, just as there are places where pop-ups like the Grandby itself are not allowed, but those tend to be the most heavily-visited National Parks and parts of some Long Term Visitors Areas. Bunking in with heaps of RVers and tenters in overused areas is not high on my bucket list, so to speak. It may matter to you, however. In any case, my own Regrets Rating for the C-Head is zero, as is its nuisance factor. If you stay mostly in developed fee camps where toilets exist or dump facilities are already within range, you may not count the C-Head as such a boon to mankind. For me, in full-time use over most of a year, it’s pretty darn close.