Letter to the Editor

The Waterloo Region Record, a newspaper from the Kitchener-Waterloo area in Ontario, Canada, recently ran a story about the efforts of a local non-profit, The Working Centre, to repurpose used shipping containers as emergency shelters for the homeless.

The Working Centre deals with issues of unemployment and homelessness, and one of their ideas was to install composting toilets in these converted shelters.

They hit a snag:

A plan to equip the bunkies with composting toilets also hit a roadblock. The Ontario building code doesn’t allow such toilets where sewer service exist, but putting in a sewer line would have cost thousands of dollars, Mancini said.

The Kitchener Post, another local newspaper, either published that story or ran a similar one, to which a Waterloo resident named Caterina Lindman replied. The Post published her response in its Letters section. The response is worth quoting in full:

To me, the most interesting part of the story about the Working Centre’s innovative efforts to supply emergency shelter for the homeless in converted shipping containers is that it wanted to install a composting toilet in the shelter, but this is not legal under Ontario’s building code because sewer lines are unavailable.

This law needs to be reviewed in light of today’s context of transitioning to a low-carbon economy, and finding ways to live that are in harmony with our natural environment. Our society will need to replace the use of fossil-fuel based fertilizers with other sources. People are starting to question how our current approach to sanitation can be improved to waste less water and also to recycle the nutrients that are present in human waste. Also, the fact that much of our sewage infrastructure needs to be replaced over the next few decades begs the question of whether different approaches might be more optimal.

There are many examples of composting toilets that work well. Rather than banning them, perhaps we should be using them in more places, such as temporary shelters for the homeless.

I couldn’t agree more.

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