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Australia Leads the World with Wheelie Bin Compost Toilets

Photo: Ingrid Pullen

Splendour in the Grass is a music, arts and culture festival held near Byron Bay in Northern New South Wales, Australia. It is a 3-day event attended by more than 30,000 people (on an area of 256 ha., or 660 acres — partly adjacent to a large nature reserve) and it is considered the country’s largest winter music festival. The festival has won many awards for its environmental policies, and the management continues to work with permaculture principles to keep improving and implementing the best policies they can achieve.

This year, after six wheelie bin dry compost toilets were previously trialed and complimented for their functions as “low-odour” and “waterless”, approval was granted to install hundreds more. The festival organisers commissioned 258 of them, designed and built from re-purposed shipping containers. As re-locatable dry compost toilet blocks they are an infinitely more sustainable solution than the typical ‘porta-loo’, and resolve some issues that outdoor venues face, including a significant reduction in waste-water truck movements and the transportation of hundreds of port-a-loos and showers to and from the site. This created a dramatic reduction in waste being sent to the Byron Shire Council’s sewerage treatment plant.

Complementing this initiative, Byron Shire Council recently provided approval to augment the existing gravel reed bed grey water treatment facility, which processes shower water, and the facility can now treat up to 920,000 litres of grey water on site, further reducing the amount of waste water directed to Byron Shire Council’s sewerage treatment plant.

One the more outstanding and memorable points to note about this wonderful situation is that these are "wheelie bin" compost toilets, which means that worldwide we really have no excuse not to move forward and approve wheelie bin toilets and save not only the 30,000 to 40,000 litres of water each year by each person using a flush toilet — which uses precious drinkable water — in a world deficient in potable water.

Photo: Ingrid Pullen

It is also through bad toilet design with incorporation of water that many innocent children die unnecessarily in under-developed countries. We can educate people to do this and easily save water, save lives and gain extra nutrient rich fertiliser — which, in this case, goes to a native tree planting program on site. This is a cost effective technique and wheelie bins made from re-cycled plastic are a globally available item today, just about everywhere.

Photo: Ingrid Pullen

As permaculture design supporters, consultants, and teachers we have a responsibility to use this example to help the world get its shit together.

The new compost toilets were not only approved by the Byron Shire Council but the mayor himself, Simon Richardson, made a special visit to the site to christen the new facility with his own personal depoosit (excuse the pun).

Photo: Ingrid Pullen

Photo: Ingrid Pullen

Photo: Ingrid Pullen

Further Reading:

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton is a world renowned Permaculture consultant, designer and teacher. He first took his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course in 1983 with Bill Mollison the founder of Permaculture. Geoff has undertaken thousands of jobs teaching, consulting, designing, administering and implementing, in 6 continents and close to 50 countries around the world. Clients have included private individuals, groups, communities, governments, aid organizations, non-government organisations and multinational companies under the not-for-profit organisation. In 1996 Geoff was accredited with the Permaculture Community Services Award by the Permaculture movement for services in Australia and around the world. Geoff's official website is Geoff's Facebook profile can be found here.


  1. I would love to see more plans on how to build the wheelie bin toilets. Particularly on how to ventilate and where the waste liquids drain to.

  2. I have been waiting a very long time to see this come to fruition.One of the worlds greatest problems is the safe management of human waste and here is an answer so simple.
    Bravo to all involved

  3. Love it. I really hope all festivals will copy this initiative – was disappointed that there was no mention of Permaculture at the Woodford Folk Festival I went to last year in Dec. Lots even they can improve on (like banning bottled water being sold on site).
    Are the plans open sourced to allow rapid dissemination of these portaloos?

    1. This is fantastic news about Splendor’s site management. I was disgusted to see Woodford got a massive grant for chemical-treatment toilets (because they use water, and effluent comes in batches during music festivals, a continuous activated sludge wasn’t a suitable treatment) .

  4. Great post. Looks promising. Milkwood has some good info on this kinda thing. Let’s hope it grows beyond festival events. Much thanx.

    1. Urine makes the composting process work better with the carbon process of decomposition, the carbon in this place is the sawdust which will soak up the urine and stop it smelling like ammonia, which is often the problem with urine separation, this makes the toilets less appealing.

  5. These really are great! I replaced a standard toilet with a professionally made wheelie bin compost loo 4 years ago. Then I made one for $137 out of second hand stuff (old bins purchased from Lismore council $50 each, old 6V computer fan, old 6V phone recharger cable, old pipes etc). They both work really well, constantly draw humidity out of the bathrooms and take out all smells unlike standard toilets. I use all the composted material around my bananas or in the holes before I plant trees. The urine (smelly) goes 20 meters aways from the house into a watering can. I then put small amounts of this black liquid around my fruit trees. You can also have the urine outlet go into a small underground pile of aggregate but that’s a waste of quality fertiliser.
    One wheelie bin lasts a family of 3 about 5 months before I spend a whole 5 minutes swapping it over. Anyone who is serious about building their own can email me and I’ll take some pics. The one I made took me 4 hours to make in my shed.

    1. Yeah, seeing what you do would be great – how about writing an article like the one above to share to all?! It’s always good to see many ways of solving ‘a problem’ :)

    2. Hello Nathan, thank you for your offer to share details/photos of your wheelie bin toilet. We are about to owner build on an off-grid site and would appreciate any details you can offer. Thank you, Lionie & co

  6. Hello Nathan, my wife and I are setting up an off grid Glamping business, and want our tent sites to have their own composting toilets. Also the island we are on, the locals still use Smelly long drops, which affect the water table. It would be nice to be able to assist them to improve their drinking water quality.
    Thanks Mark

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