How do they work?


Composting toilets require no water for flushing. When you use the toilet, your waste drops down a pipe into a tank where natural processes break it down, transforming it into a soil-like material called humus that can be used as fertiliser for your garden. In fact, the Phoenix Composting Toilets at Camp Glenorchy work much like garden compost piles, using food, air, bacteria, moisture and heat to transform waste into a usable end product that doesn’t contaminate the environment and isn’t harmful to humans.


Maintenance is a key requirement for composting toilets to work safely and efficiently. Depending on how frequently they’re used, owners need to perform weekly, monthly and yearly tasks. Frequent tasks include adding bulking agents (such as white wood shavings) to make waste more porous and, in the case of the Phoenix Toilets we're using, rotating a crank handle located on the tank to help with the downward movement of the pile. The moisture level of the waste and the cleanliness of the components also need to be checked every few weeks. On average, finished compost is removed once a year from the bottom of the tank and turned with the soil in the garden as fertiliser. 

When they are well-maintained, composting toilets do not have any odd smells. Like a standard toilet, if they smell at all it generally means something is not working as it should and needs to be fixed.

Composting toilets at Camp Glenorchy

To achieve our water goals, we will be collecting rainwater, using efficient fittings and reusing greywater, in addition to the composting toilets. There will be 21 toilets installed on site, with six in the Amenities Building, one in the Maintenance Building and two in each cabin. We estimate the 21 toilets will generate approximately 2.4 m³(3) of compost each year. 

Each building that has a composting toilet installed will have a cellar or basement where the tanks are kept at a stable temperature year-round. Tours of the Amenities building basement will allow visitors to learn first-hand about the Phoenix composting toilets and the way they work. 

When guests open the toilet lid, air from the room will be pulled down the toilet into the tank and then expelled through a vent on the roof. This means each time one of our composting toilets are used, the bathroom will actually smell better than before!

When using a toilet in one of our cabins, guests ‘flush’ it by throwing a handful of wood shavings down the pipe, which helps with processing the waste. Toilets in the Amenities building are a little bit different: guests there won’t need to do anything. Maintenance staff will add wood shavings directly to each toilet's tank, as frequently as once a week during peak season. 

How could composting toilets affect our larger communities? 

Modern cities rely on a vast network of water infrastructure to deliver potable water to buildings and collect wastewater for treatment. Costs of operation, maintenance and upgrades to keep up with increasing demand are high. How high? Ratepayers across the Queenstown Lakes District will need to pay an estimated $27,000 a day, every day for ten years, for new infrastructure works required to meet the growing peak demand(4). 

Using a composting toilet instead can dramatically reduce demands on water infrastructure by eliminating the need for almost tens of thousands of litres of water every year for flushing(5). This preserves both money and resources. In Auckland, for example, each cubic metre of wastewater treatment costs 59% more than a cubic metre of drinking water(6) due to the complex process it undergoes to make it safe. 

In New Zealand, composting toilets currently can’t be used in urban areas where a mains sewer connection is available. However, authorities can provide a waiver and some Councils have been very receptive to the idea. 

Composting toilets can be especially beneficial to communities without a public sewer infrastructure by reducing the amount of waste sent to septic tanks and of leachate to dispersal fields, helping protect underground aquifers. In Glenorchy, Camp Glenorchy's home, this issue has been identified as a potential risk due to the shallow groundwater level. Increasing levels of discharge from a growing resident and visitor population may eventually impact the bore that is used for town-wide potable water supply. Technologies such as composting toilets could reduce the required investment in sewage treatment facilities as well as the size and frequency of upgrades by reducing the amount of water that needs to be treated. 

Our commitment

At Camp Glenorchy, we are committed to living in harmony with nature and reducing our impact on the environment. The use of composting toilets reduces the impact on Glenorchy’s groundwater reserves as there will be no wastewater from toilets and the small amount of leachate produced will be treated on site.

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We’re aware that composting toilets will require more care and maintenance than conventional toilets, but instead of flushing the ‘problem’ down the toilet, we we've made the choice to take responsibility for our waste by transforming it into a valuable end product that will be used on the site.

Camp Glenorchy's composting toilets be rigorously maintained on a strict schedule, ensuring our guests have a comfortable and enjoyable stay. Doing so will ensure there won’t be any odors, and the end product will be inoffensive, dry and safe for everyone.

Testimonials Sustainability
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What can I do at home What can I do at home


Composting toilets are a viable alternative to on-site wastewater treatment in areas where connection to a public sewerage system is not available or where water is scarce. If you are thinking of installing one consider the following:

  • Check with your local council

    Find out if you are allowed to build one and what regulations and requirements you need to comply with. Some councils will be more accepting of the idea than others.
  • Weigh the environmental and economic costs of your decision.

    For example, if you are in a remote area and using a holding tank, sucker trucks could be expensive. A composting toilet is likely to reduce the frequency of collection as well as the use of drinking or rainwater.
  • Find a system that works for your family and lifestyle.

    Even though most composting toilets work under the same principle, operation differs from one system to another. There are two main types of composting toilets:

    1) Continuous composting toilets that, like the Phoenix, have a tank underneath that is constantly receiving new waste while producing compost at the same time.

    2) Batch composting toilets need more than one container. When full, the tank is removed and set aside to decompose, while an empty container takes its place.
  • Check you have the space required.

    If you’re retrofitting one into an existing home, check you have the space required to fit the system you have selected. If you’re building a new house, manufacturing companies will be able to help you with the design to ensure the system fits and works in the best possible way. For example, the Phoenix requires room underneath the house to accommodate the tank and dry toilets need to be installed directly on top. You’ll also need to fit two pipes: a vent pipe from the tank to the roof and a drain pipe from the tank to a holding pump or gravity sewer for disposing of excess liquid.
  • Maintenance and commitment.

    Remember that composting toilets will require more maintenance and commitment than normal flushing toilets. However, your effort will be rewarded with rich compost that will become food for plants. Careful maintenance will ensure the end product is of the highest quality, healthy for humans and free of smells.

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