Talk about a crappy assignment! The other day, the boss sent me over to the Hollenback Community Garden on Washington Avenue in Fort Greene to check out its new-fangled, solar-powered composting toilet.
A group of United Nations dignitaries had visited the wacky watercloset earlier this month to determine whether such green latrines could be useful overseas. My own fact-finding mission was more personal: could it stand up to what Brooklyn — the home of Peter Luger, Junior’s Cheesecake and DiFara Pizza — dishes out?
Now, some reporters would’ve grumbled at this toilet duty, but I took this assignment as seriously as any other. In fact, the night before, I helped myself to a prodigious feast — then woke up and downed two bowls of Nature’s Path Optimum Power Breakfast (10 grams of fiber per serving!) and two large cups of coffee.
Do the math — I was ready to review this eco-toilet. But was the eco-toilet ready for me?
Entering the urban outhouse, I wasn’t entirely sure. Yes, there was the traditional “throne,” but no flusher. Instead, there’s a barrel of wood chips (I later found out that they would aid in the, er, composting of my, er, deposit).
Mike Dimpfl, who tends a plot in the garden, talked me through my green defecation. “It looks like a normal toilet,” he said, “but everything below the floor level is different.”
In other words, once it leaves your body, the “stuff” doesn’t go down a pipe to a sewage treatment plant or get flushed into the Gowanus.
First, “the solid and liquid waste is separated,” Dimpfl said, assuring me, thankfully, that I wouldn’t have to perform that task myself.
The solid waste sits on a “landing pad” (don’t worry; you won’t have to land there yourself) to slowly degrade with the help of a solar-powered fan that sends air wafting over the pit.
“Eventually, you have a tank full of compost that you can use,” he said.
Besides that, this non-flushable toilet doesn’t waste water or tax sewage systems. That sounded good, but I still felt guilty leaving such a hefty deposit for the Hollenback gardeners. Dimpfl quickly reassured me.
“You should feel proud that you’re giving back to your community,” he said. I reminded him that I really gave back. Not to be graphic, but I gave back so much to the community that I should get a proclamation from Marty Markowitz.
“Believe me, it’s wonderful,” he said.
That’s quite a relief (if you know what I mean).