The Building RegulationsThese are the legal regulations which govern how a house is constructed. (not to be confused with Planning Permission which is about whether you are allowed to build the house at all or what it might look like) see Building Regulations) part H6 specify that space must be allocated for recycling containers.
The regulations also specify the distances for carrying waste and how far the storage should be from transport access.
1.1 For domestic developments space should be provided for storage of containers for separated waste (i.e. waste which can be recycled is stored separately from waste which cannot) with a combined capacity of 0.25m per dwelling or such other capacity as may be agreed with the waste collection authority. Where collections are less frequent than once per week, this allowance should be increased accordingly.
However, what is becoming increasingly apparent is the need for more careful design within the house for the positioning of the various waste containers. This depends on how your local council makes its collections in terms of separation of waste and frequency of collection.
The speed of (somewhat chaotic) development in the recycling sector is increasing and house design risks getting left behind somewhat, especially in terms of the allocation of space for the various types of waste. Local authorities differ enormously but many are now splitting their waste into around 20 different streams at the recycling depots and this may impact on how householders need to sort waste. However there are calls from some environmental groups to do the sorting at the kerbside as the waste enters the bin lorries. It is very hard to see which way it is going to pan out especially in terms of which items will be catered for by kerbside collection and which will be expected to be taken to a recycling centre by the householder.
Here are some of the main categories which householders almost certainly need to store on their own premises until either the bin lorry comes or they take them to the council recycling centre. In many cases the storage will need to be covered from rain and in some it will need to be a leak-proof container. Different councils are experimenting with a huge array of containers and wheelie bins.
- bottles – brown, white, clear – require leak-proof container and lid to avoid smells (unless stored outside)
- cans- require leak-proof container and lid to avoid smells (unless stored outside where they may attract rats)
- plastics – 1,2 and 4 – basically OK anywhere.
- cardboard drinks containers. this is unresolved at present more +/-»
- unrecyclables -’utter rubbish’
- paper, card – keep dry
- batteries – small. – not a space problem
- bits of metal – not generally a space problem
- fluorescent light tubes including energy saving light bulbs, electrical goods (see the WEEE legislation – container which protects items from breaking and leaking mercury)
- green garden waste – some councils now supply wheelie bins for this
- compostables – councils vary and if you have a compost heap then this can provide nourishment for the garden
- books, clothes, shoes – keep dry – sometimes there are collection points near glass recycling centres
- printer cartridges. some councils handle these
- occasional items such as car batteries, car oil, waste household paint, soil, rubble, wood – which may be recycled by the council
This ammounts to much larger storage areas than have traditionally been catered for and space needs to be allocated
- in or close to the kitchen – for food and drinks containers, card and paper, waste food compostables
- outside in a wheelie bin area – depending on the council’s policy (and possibly future policy on wheelie bins, containers etc.)
- in a shed or unheated area or utility room – for stuff that needs keeping sheltered but you don’t want in the bins or kitchen
waste water treatment
The outline of why human waste may be better treated locally rather than regionally points towards the use of composting toilets in conjunction with grey waterThis is the waste water that comes from the baths, basins, showers and washing machines. Kitchen sink water is known as black water. see Recycling grey water treatment on site. As there is no water used to flush composting toilets the only waste water is grey water (dirty washing water from washing machines, sinks showers etc.) which is not particularly polluted and can be handled in four main ways.
- If space around the dwelling is very plentiful then grey water can be dispersed into the ground via a leech line or it can be run into a constructed wetland.
- If space is very limited then an aerator unit will be needed to help with the BOD (biological oxygen demand) before water goes into a leech line.
- If somewhere between these two there is a moderate amount of space, say a large garden, then a reed bed might be appropriate.
- If the final effluent is of sufficiently high quality then it may be usable for watering gardens, washing cars etc.
With existing houses where an existing septic tank is present but which is putting out an effluent which is below standard then a reed bed may be a way of providing tertiary treatment.
Getting good expert advice on the design of these systems is most important. Over the last few decades designs have been refined and improved and there is now a large body of knowledge on the subject.
Some of the questions to consider are as follows:
- How many people will it need to serve? This will determine the size.
- Can it be a gravity system or will pumping be required? Pumps can be expensive to buy, run and maintain.
- Where will the outflow eventually go?. Is there any risk of pollution to a watercourse if the system goes wrong?
- Do you want to reuse the water in some way?
You may have to obtain discharge consent. The Environment Agency contact numbers can be found here
The Environment Agency have guidance on reusing grey water.
Create an oasis with greywater – one of the best really practical books around
Reed Beds – for the treatment of domestic wastewater.
Nick Grant and John Griggs. BREBuilding Research Establishment. bookshop
ISBN 1 86081 486 7
An excellent book on the subject covering the design, construction and maintenance of horizontal and vertical flow reed beds
see also books on composting toilet design -
The Composting Toilet System. A Practical Guide to Choosing, Planning and Maintaining Composting Toilet Systems – A Water-saving, Pollution-preventing Wastewater Solution by David Del Porto, Carol Steinfeld, and David Del Porto (Paperback – Feb 1999)
To flush or not to flush
The flow of nitrates, phosphates and potassium (in the form of food) and humus (in the form of peat for gardens) into and out of houses represents a huge cost to the environment, particularly the mining, processing and transport of them and the eventual dumping of them into rivers and the sea. (in case you are not convinced of sewage dumping problems at sea check out the Surfers Against Sewage website)
The Bill Gates foundation has recently put $42 million. into a project over several years to develop a toilet that doesn’t need water, mains power or sewerage and that will cost next to nothing to run.
The whole problem can be addressed by the use of composting toilets and on-site grey water treatment which keep the nutrients and humus for the garden. This also results in a 30% reduction in use of water (for flushing toilets).
- very low flush type
The advantage with the very low flush type (such as the Aquatron) is that the waste can be transported horizontally through pipework whereas with the waterless type it has to drop vertically. This helps if there is a problem with vertical allignment between bathrooms and composting area. The drawback is that the flushing water (which is black water) has to be dealt with somewhere on site if there is no main drainage connection and this is a bit more difficult than dealing with grey water.
There are five good reasons for using waterless composting toilets
- No water is wasted in flushing and hence there is no need for the complex process of separating solids from water at a sewage works. With normal toilets, about a third of the household’s water consumption goes on flushing.
- There is no chance of sewage entering rivers. It is not unusual for sewage companies to dump raw sewage into rivers when sewage works get overwhelmed during periods of flooding.
- Fertilizer is not lost to rivers and the sea. It can be used locally
- There are no smells in the bathroom because a fan keeps the toilet under negative pressure.
- The fact that human waste does not get mixed with grey water means that the grey water is easy to deal with on site by using a reed bed or leech line
Points 2-5 also apply to some extent to very low flush types.
There are five possible arguments against their use, depending on which particular design is used.
- They may take up potentially valuable building space (maybe about 4 sq. m. for a Clivus)
- They may be more expensive than normal loos
- They may use electric power
- They may partially dictate the layout of the building (in the case of such as the Clivus)
- They usually need some degree of maintenance
Waterless composting toilets are basically of two types
- those which have no mechanical or electrical assistance, relying on one or two large plastic containers on the floor beneath them in which the waste slowly breaks down over a few years. A slight variant of this is the waterless evaporating toilet such as the Woo Woo which uses radiant heat from the sun to create air movement and evaporation.
- those which have electric heaters and stirrers which greatly speed up the process. They usually have a small container built in to the base so they can be situated almost anywhere where a vent pipe can be fitted. They may have removable plastic bags which biodegrade.
The first type uses no energy (except for a tiny fan which extracts air up a vent pipe to prevent smells). They produce a compost which is similar to peat and can be spread on the garden (but not onto growing vegetables). Access is needed to a cellar or space below the bathroom. They were originally developed in Sweden for summer houses where it was environmentally undesirable to blast holes through mountains for sewer pipes. Since then they have been developed to a high standard with various sizes available. Examples are the Clivus Multrum and the Envirolet (waterless remote). The second type do tend to consume rather a lot of electricity.
Due to the composting toilet market in the UK being so under-developed the Clivus is not available for the domestic market here and this has led some self-builders to construct their own based on the original Clivus design as found in the books ‘The Toilet Papers” and ‘Sanitation without water’
The picture shows a Clivus ‘clone’ being built of 19mm BCX plywood (which then has a substantial surrounding structural softwood frame). The inside is lined with a thick layer of GRPglass reinforced plastic, also commonly known as fibre glass similar to that used in boat construction. A 4Watt extract fan keeps air moving in through the seat area and out of a fluepipe to conduct gas, typically ventilation air or boiler exhaust. see Flue on the roof (similar to a normal SVPsoil and vent pipe)
Some online links
The Humanure Handbook is an excellent on line source of information. Also at Joseph Jenkins IncClivus
LiliLow Impact Living Initiative. LILI is a network of great organisations with lots of ways to help you change your life and the world for the greener
The Nonolet from “The 12 Trades” (has English translation)
The Moonstone house project has a good video showing how the Aquatron works
The Composting Toilet System Book. A Water-saving, Pollution-preventing Wastewater Solution by David Del Porto, Carol Steinfeld, (Paperback Feb 1999) from £41.27
Goodbye to the Flush Toilet. Water-saving Alternatives to Cesspools, Septic Tanks and Sewers by Carol Hupping Stoner (Paperback 22 June 1978)