The Hollenback Community Garden on Washington Avenue is about to become even more eco-friendly: it just installed a waterless composting toilet, one of the first of its kind in Brooklyn.
First flush will be later this month, after the installation of the solar panel, which powers the aeration bin.
The whosawhatsit? More on that later. The most important thing is that the waterless toilet will replace the garden’s chemical-filled port-a-john, which not only was environmentally unsound, but also cost $200 a month in rental and cleaning fees.
“Having this composting toilet will make everyone’s life better,” garden Co-Coordinator Cara Perkins explained. “We wanted the toilet to make the garden more user-friendly and so that people could really hang out and relax there.”
“The [port-a-john] was expensive and smelly and had to be placed right at the front of the garden, and it was very ugly,” Perkins added.
At a meeting last summer, members brainstormed how to improve the garden and someone threw out the idea of a composting toilet, like the kind already in place in Battery Park. In a stroke of serendipity, those same toilets were slated for removal, and were up for auction on eBay.
Despite an initial sticker price of $15,000 each, Perkins submitted a $150 bid, and won five toilets. Keeping just the one for the garden, the remaining four were donated to the Council on the Environment (two will end up in other Brooklyn gardens).
Work on the toilet installation began early in the summer with the excavation of a big hole to house the 800-pound aeration tank, where the water (the smelly part, actually) is removed from the solid waste (that’s a euphemism, people!). Once drained, the solid waste gets fanned (hence the solar power) and then broken down by micro-organisms (that’s the composting part). Solar power is also used for the exhaust fan.
The garden’s toilet has a 60-visit daily capacity.
“To toot our own horn, it’s very cutting-edge, not only in the community garden scene, but also in New York City,” Perkins said. “The Bronx Zoo is just finishing a project to build a facility with 16 units, using the same manufacturer that we have.”
She’s not worried that people may turn up their nose at the green loo, but it’s better than all that chemical green goo at the bottom of a portable toilet.
“Some people might freak out by the prospect of waste that doesn’t get flushed away [but] it’s extremely environmentally friendly,” Perkins said.