Students to design composting toilet

A small group of graduate and undergraduate students have committed to meeting weekly to discuss options for enhancing the Yale Farm’s sustainability.

Though still in their initial stages, the workshops are intended to lead to the construction of a compost toilet for the Yale Farm, said Kendall Barbery FES ’13, a special projects coordinator at the Yale Sustainable Food Project and leader of the workshops. Doing so would constitute a sustainable, permanent solution to the Yale Farm’s current dependence on portable toilets. The idea to create a compost toilet, Barbery added, was not hers, but has been discussed by School of Forestry & Environmental Studies students in the past.

“There’s an ongoing need for facilities in close proximity for visitors to the Farm, but what that is and what is appropriate hasn’t been determined,” she said.

The workshop series currently aims to bring students together and discuss design possibilities, she added. At the meetings, Barbery delivers a presentation about composting toilets and then the group discusses potential designs.

Over the past year, Barbery said, a portable toilet has been sporadically available for Farm visitors, but this type of facility is both chemical-intensive and not cost-effective. Although Barbery has prior experience with composting toilet projects, she said she is interested in implementing a new initiative in an urban setting.

“I wouldn’t say that a compost toilet is necessarily the solution, but having an academic conversation about a composting toilet is part of the solution,” she added.

At their first meeting, Barbery said, the group considered various technologies — such as flush toilets and manufactured composted units — and discussed their advantages and disadvantages. She added that she decided that the group’s focus would be on composting toilets after the majority of attendees expressed interest in the technology at its first meeting. Workshop participants will also take into account the needs and constraints of the site in terms of slope, prevailing wind, solar access, neighbors and general site usage while brainstorming designs, she added.

During Monday night’s workshop — the group’s second meeting — students focused on the pros and cons of various types of composting toilets, Barbery said. She added that her presentation highlighted composting toilets from Vermont, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom and national parks throughout the United States.

Barbery said there is currently a core group of five student participants — primarily undergraduates — and that other students have expressed interest via email.

“I love the hands-on aspects of the project — walking around the site and observing slope, water flow, solar access — not to mention the designing and building components,” said Hannah Sassoon ’15, a workshop attendee.

To publicize the workshops, Barbery reached out to Skillshare, an undergraduate organization that provides logistical management to support workshops that teach a non-academic skill, Skillshare president Sophie Mendelson ’15 said.

Although she has yet to attend the composting workshops, Mendelson said she hopes to in the future.

“It’s nice to really build a tangible thing and make a lasting contribution in a way that people will see and interact with,” Mendelson said.

Meetings are held Mondays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Urban Resources Initiative building at 301 Prospect St.

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