How do toilets that incinerate waste work?

Written by keith allen
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Incinerating toilets work much as the name sounds. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, incinerating toilets are self-contained, gas- or electric-powered units that burn or incinerate human waste deposited in a holding tank. They serve as a sanitary waste disposal system in areas where water or sewage disposal systems are not available or would be cost prohibitive. The systems generally use no water and are portable, allowing for temporary installations at construction sites or other places where a toilet is needed but a sewage handling system is not available.

The Process

In most incinerating toilet systems, a disposable paper bowl is placed below the toilet seat. After use, the bowl drops into an incinerator chamber. Depending on make and model, the toilet uses gas or electricity to burn up the disposable paper bowl and waste, or the toilet may accumulate several uses to burn at a later time.


Incinerator toilets can be installed anywhere there is a proper energy source. All gas-fired and most electric incinerator toilets require ventilation from the chamber to the outside through the wall or roof. The ventilation on electric-powered incinerator toilets simply removes odour from the room, while the ventilation of the gas-fired toilets is necessary to vent carbon monoxide and other gases formed during combustion, as well as venting odour. No water is necessary.

Output from an Incinerator Toilet

According to the EPA, only a fine ash remains after the incineration process. Viruses and bacterial organisms are killed during incineration, resulting in a sterile material than can be disposed of in the trash or even spread on the ground. About one tablespoon of ash is generated by each use.

Energy Use

The amount of energy used by the incinerator toilets is one of the chief concerns. The website estimates electrical use of 1.5 kilowatt hours per incineration for electrical models. Another model is estimated to consume a 100-pound propane cylinder for approximately 960 uses. The EPA estimates the operational cost of an electric incinerating toilet at about £1,235 per year. The cost of energy should be considered as part of the overall cost of an incinerating toilet.

Common Uses

Incinerating toilets are commonly used where standard sewer systems are not available or feasible. This includes areas with high water tables that could become polluted by a home septic system, rural homes and cabins that are not inhabited year-round and in areas where the water to operate a conventional toilet is not available.

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