Certification Bodies for Compost Toilets

Navigating the the maze of local building control, planning permission and building regulations in relation to installing a compost toilet can be intimidating. What doesn’t help is that different regions may have different regulations (or different interpretations of regulations).

In the UK, each country/region (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) has its own take on building regulations etc. So England and Wales uses a set of regulations that was changed back in 2010 and for the first time, officially permitted the use of composting and chemical toilets in dwellings (as part of a set of measures designed to reduce domestic water consumption).

Whilst building regulations deal with the toilet (and it’s location and general safety), the composting aspect (and the urine or leachate discharge) would then come under the EA (Environment Agency) or SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency), although providing the volumes of matter produced are ‘domestic’, you are unlikely to need to apply for a permit unless there is some other mitigating factors such as poor drainage, or flooding danger.

In Scotland, building control documents say; “Waterless closets must follow the guidance in this clause and should be certified under Standard NSF 41 or NSF/ANSI 41 or by a notified body e.g. BBA.”, although they then indicate that there many European made compost toilets not made to a specific standard, and imply that you can use them if you can be sure of their safety etc.


The problem with the NSF41 standard is that it applies to compostING toilets – in other words a system where the ‘raw’ material goes in and compost comes out, and I have to conclude that the Scottish standards were probably drawn up many years ago, before ‘modern’ compost toilets were easily available in the UK. Most compost toilets (note the lack of ING on the end) are actually just collection units where the final composting is done away from the toilet. This makes the toilet much simpler and less reliant on power and gears and mechanical stuff (which can easily break). Arguably, most composting toilets (certainly the small units for houses) don’t actually produce compost – at best, they desiccate the solids using airflow, sometimes heat and agitation, but as composting is a long-term biological process, the contents will need further processing before they can be safely used as a growing medium.

The further problem you might encounter is ignorance or a lack of awareness of modern compost toilets and how they work. It’s understandable given the workload many local authority officers are now given – it’s easier for them to refuse at the first hurdle because they don’t have the time to research things.

For new buildings, particularly where planning permission is sought, the issue of the toilet can be a stumbling block, although it does depend on the individuals involved – some people get approval without any issues.

Where the toilet is going in a shed or glamping unit, i.e. no planning permissions are sought, then many people just get on and do it.

Around the world

Each country will have a different approach. France is now more open to compost toilets compared to it’s official position ten years ago. And in the USA you have individual state regulations etc so whilst it is legal to have a compost toilet in Oregon, you are not allowed to compost the contents (or at least that was the position – let me know if it’s changed now!).

It’s easier if you can stay under the radar, but it’s not always possible. My hope is that in time, more governments and local authorities will accept the benefits of compost toilets and adopt a more pro-active and helpful approach to those people who want to install and use them.

If you’re from outside the UK, what regulations are applicable to you? Did you manage to get around them? Let us know!

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  1. Change of use planning application to a bothy/camping barn. All ok (Environment Agency, Building Control) except Environmental Health who are not happy. I don’t believe that there is any EH legislation and they don’t have the power to stop us. Any thoughts please?

    1. EH officers at your council do have powers (although I’m not sure exactly what they are) if they feel their is a danger to the public or users of your facilities. The default position for most EH officers, if they don’t fully understand something, is to put in an objection and force the proposer to justify their request. I know a recently retired EH officer who *might* be able to tell me a bit more about the powers they have and the best way to approach this, but I think if you have the OK from EA and Building Control, then EH should follow suit. Have you asked them for specific reasons for their objection?

  2. I seem to keep finding conflicting responses as to whether I need planning permission for a composting loo on a glamping site – here you indicate you don’t, others imply you do whilst others say it’s up to the EA in each individual instance. Do you know if I do need to seek planning permission to put up one loo in a private woodland site or can I just get on with it? Thanks!

    1. It is a complex area with a lot of misunderstanding! Planning permission granted by your local council and is generally needed when you:
      – build something new
      – make a major change to your building, such as building an extension
      – change the use of your building

      Planning permission ‘generally’ doesn’t apply to non-permanent structures (sheds, summerhouses etc), and doesn’t necessarily deal with the type of toilet (flushing or compost). With a compost toilet, depending on the amount of discharge, you may need to talk to the Environment Agency (or the equivalent regional body such as Natural Resources Wales, SEPA) and possibly building control.

      I don’t know the whole situation you are in – many people I’ve dealt with have just got on with it, especially if your structure in non-permanent, in a secluded spot, and you’re being responsible with managing the outputs. Naturally, I can’t officially advise you.