Off Grid Septic System and Sanitation: The How-To Guide

Waste and sewage are a natural outcome of everyday human activity. For most of people in the Western part of the world, the government is the one that removes the waste as sanitarily as possible. However, since you are living or planning to live off the grid, the task of sanitation is yours. Knowing everything about an off grid septic system and off grid sanitation ensures that you will run a clean and comfortable homestead.

This article will help you to get started. I will discuss greywater and blackwater sewage, septic systems and composting toilets. These elements guarantee that your off-grid home stays ecologically friendly throughout the year. Let’s begin, shall we?

Greywater Sewage in Off Grid Living

Sanitation is a critical component of successfully living off grid. Without proper sanitation protocols in place, you are putting your health, and the health of others, at high risk. Runoff can be extremely dangerous if harmful pathogens and bacteria are present. Therefore, careful consideration and precautions must be taken. Luckily, there are laws that you must abide by, and the Environmental Agency must approve whatever system you have in place. As long as you are approved, you have nothing to worry about.

This being said, there are two types of water waste: greywater and blackwater. Greywater comes from sinks, washing machines, and off grid showers. It can be processed and recycled, as it does not have the same harmful bacteria and pathogens that blackwater has. Blackwater comes from dishwashers and toilets. It needs to go back to the earth.

There are three stages to water treatment: separation of solids from liquids, biological filtration, and mechanical filtration. Biological filtration employs friendly bacteria that denature the harmful bacteria in a heavily oxygenated environment. Mechanical filtration filters the water, making it fully treated and ready for its return to the environment.

Living off grid means making things yourself and reusing things as much as possible. This is the case with water as well. Luckily, you can reuse greywater. If you are moving into an existing home, it might not be a practical decision to re-plumb. It is always wise to work within your means. Remember, one motive for off grid living is to lessen the impact on the environment. Can you make do with what you have?

You can easily recycle greywater by using it in toilets. All you need to do is filter it, apply the proper chemical dosage, then direct it to the toilet. There are greywater recycling products on the market that can do this. With more processing, you might be able to get it to meet the standards for the European Bathing Water Regulation 2006/7/EC, in which case you may be able to use it in showers, baths, washing machines, and even sinks.

If you are building your set-up yourself, definitely take greywater recycling into consideration. Up to 50% of your water can be recycled. That is a lot of water, a lot of money in your pocket, and a lot of relief on the global water supply.

Greywater Recycling Products

You can choose between a greywater diversion device and a greywater treatment system.

  • The diversion device, like the Aqua2use Greywater Diversion Devices, recycles water from the shower, bathroom sinks, and washing machine. You can use this water for irrigation.
  • The Matala filtration system also removes impurities, making the greywater safe for irrigation.
  • The treatment system, like the Aqua2use Greywater Treatment System, has the same capabilities as the Aqua2use Greywater Diversion Device, and it also recycles, treats, and stores the water for use in the home.

If you have the right equipment, you can safely reuse greywater and simultaneously save money, conserve water, and be more environmentally friendly.

Blackwater Sewage in Off Grid Living

One of the reasons you should process your own waste is that it is better for the environment, and consequentially, healthier for you.

Here are the four most common options for dealing with your sewage:

  • Cesspool or cesspit: This is a holding tank that stores the waste until a waste management company comes to pick it up. It has been banned in many countries as it is horrible for the environment. It requires a huge tank and leaves a very large carbon footprint.
  • Septic tank system: This is a tank that separates the solids from the liquids. The liquid can then drain to a reed bed (see below for more information on the reed bed). When considering your options, you need to check with your local province or county to see if you can have a septic tank system.
  • Sewage treatment plant system: A small-scale treatment facility, which produces fully treated effluent that is ready for release into the environment. This set-up is one of the best ways to get approval from the Environmental Agency, and to truly deal with your waste off grid.
  • Compost toilet and compost heap: A self-containing system that takes care of itself. There will be more on this topic in the next section: Off Grid Sewage Options.

Off Grid Septic Systems

Septic systems use a combination of proven technology and nature to treat household waste from kitchen drains, laundry, and bathrooms.

The septic system has two components:

  • A septic tank: a buried, water-tight concrete, fiberglass, or poyethylene container that separates solids and floatable matter (grease, oil) and digests organic matter. The effluent is then discharged to the field. Pumps or gravity then move the effluent through sand, constructed wetlands, soil, or another medium to remove pathogens, nitrogen, and other contaminants. If it is soil-based, the waste enters perforated pipes that slowly release the waste into the ground.
  • A drainfield: a covered, shallow excavation in unsaturated soil. The soil soaks, treats, then disperses the wastewater into the soil, which further filters it from harmful coliform bacteria (indicator of human fecal contamination), nutrients, and viruses. It then becomes groundwater.

You can install your septic system following these steps:

  1. Prepare and design your system by doing a site survey and soil test.
  2. Submit your application and wait for approval.
  3. Dig the hole for the tank and route the pipe from the tank to the house.
  4. Excavate the leach field.
  5. Route the pipe to the leach field and surround it with gravel to keep the pipe in place.
  6. After inspection, cover up the tank and pipe.

Your leach field can be a reed bed, which is an engineered pond of reeds that works with the natural ecological processes in order to break down the wastewater organic matter. The pond also consists of gravel and sand.

Wastewater settles at one end or across the entire surface. Since the atmosphere is rich in oxygen, the bacteria are able to effectively process the waste into treated effluent.

Composting Toilets

If you have not already begun to do so, you must consider installing a composting toilet. Composting toilets are already popular in tiny houses, RVs, boats, and off grid homesteads. They are safe, healthy for the environment, involve minimal effort, and can be very affordable. In fact, you can even make your own composting toilet, which oftentimes makes using the compost toilet much simpler than using one you would buy.

This being said, composting toilets are not legal in all places. You need to check within your area to see if composting toilets are allowed, and if not, you need to learn about your next best option.

How Compost Toilets Work

Composting toilets are not attached to a septic or sewage system. They do not use any water, and they take care of themselves. There is no plumbing, chemicals, or flushing. They are organic and natural. So, what is the catch?

You must empty the bucket.

It is not that bad. The composting toilet does all the work for you, so emptying the bucket is like dumping out your coffee grounds.

Most composting toilets separate the solids from the liquid. This takes care of the smell. The solids fall to the back and the liquid is directed to the front. Most people empty the front tank every three days, and the back tank every three weeks. The liquids can be diluted with water and tossed onto land that you are NOT growing any food on. The solids can go in a compost bin that you are using for ornamental plants.

You do NOT want to put any human waste on any plants that you are growing for consumption. This is a recipe for disaster.

Types of Composting Toilets

Take a moment to learn about the different types of composting toilets.

  • Incinolet composting toilets: These toilets essentially evaporate the fecal matter through the use of heat. These composting toilets require power, but the end result is dust which you can put in your non-food compost pile.
  • Self-sealing cartridge composting toilets: This type of composting toilet seals the waste in plastic bags, which you can then throw away. This system kind of defeats the purpose of having a composting toilet, however, because plastic is bad for the environment. Nevertheless, the set up might be easier for some people to deal with. These toilets are more affordable, but you will have to continue to buy plastic bags.
  • DIY composting toilet: The DIY composting toilet is exactly as you want it to be. They are very affordable and easy to fix because you made it yourself. Below is a step-by-step guide for making your own compost toilet.

DIY Compost Toilet

This section is broken down into building the compost toilet, building the compost heap, and maintaining and using the compost heap.

Compost Toilet Supplies

  • 20 liter bucket
  • Plywood
  • Toilet seat
  • Bin
  • Scoop
  • Sawdust

Compost Toilet Steps

  1. Build a box big enough to fit the 20 liter bucket.
  2. Place the toilet lid on top.
  3. Do your thing (no need to separate the liquid from the solid).
  4. Use the scoop to add the sawdust.

Compost Heap Supplies

  • Two containers (each container should be 1.6 square meters, and 1.3 meters high.
  • Straw or cardboard
  • Designated turning fork

Compost Heap Process

  1. Build the containers, then place a thick layer of straw or cardboard on the bottom.
  2. Empty your bucket of waste onto the cardboard, then cover it with fresh straw or cardboard.

When you empty another bucket…

  1. Use the designated turning fork to make a hole in the heap.
  2. Empty the bucket into the hole.
  3. Cover the fresh waste with the old waste, then cover the pile with fresh straw or cardboard.

Here is a detailed video that demonstrates how to build an affordable DIY composting toilet:

Healthy Compost Heap Tips

  • Keep the top of the heap flat.
  • Add new material to the center of the pile.
  • Include both liquid and solid waste to keep a balanced ratio of wet to dry ingredients.
  • Keep the heap covered.
  • Start the new heap in the second container when the first container is full.
  • Only use the finished compost on plants that you are not going to eat.

The compost toilet is an excellent way to decrease your footprint on the planet in a safe and simple fashion. You must, however, use caution with your compost and compost heap. Never use the finished compost in or near your gardens or fields where you are growing your food.

Final Words

Living off the grid demands tending to all sort of aspects of your daily life, which are usually taken care by a local government. Getting rid of your sewage is just another part of this deal, an inevitable portion of off-the-grid life. I hope that with this guide I was able to clarify how off grid systems and off grid sanitation work, and you are now more prepared to face this small yet necessary challenge.

Naturally, living off the grid requires knowledge in more than one area. For instance, you need to learn how to grow your own food, and even how to communicate off the grid.

All in all, if you’re looking for a complete guide on how to live off the grid, then visit the linked article. This post will answer absolutely every question you might have about off-grid living.

Best of luck in your new independent life!

Alex Rejba

Alex is a seasoned survivalist, with a passion to all things related to prepping, hiking and living off the grid.

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