Update on the University of Victoria composting toilet project

Derisking new technology with pilot projects

The work that I’ve been doing to fundraise and coordinate the installation of a composting toilet at the University of Victoria (UVic) Campus Community Garden (CCG) is a pilot project. In many ways, composting toilets are an established technology, but from a regulatory perspective, composting toilets represent a new sustainable sanitation technology. It was only in 2016 that the Province of BC established composting toilets as a legal sanitation system and published the BC Manual of Composting Toilet and Greywater Practice (the Manual). My hope is that the pilot project will serve as a demonstration and example of how to install and operate composting toilet systems on the UVic campus and elsewhere in British Columbia.

The development and implementation of new sustainable technology is highly uncertain and characterized by risk: technical, market-related, organizational, and institutional (Hellsmark, Frishammar, Söderholm, & Ylinenpää, 2016). Pilot projects can be used to manage those risks. Pilot projects can provide a critical space for learning-by-doing, create actor networks that shape technological development, and reinforce institutional and policy support. These three advantages are highly visible in the case of the CCG composting toilet project. The following are examples:

  • Learning-by-doing: The Manual describes how homeowners and businesses can install and manage composting toilet systems, including options for managing the residuals, or organic matter produced by composting toilets. It is possible to apply the residuals directly to soil surface (with the approval of a certified professional), but only if significant in-situ treatment objectives are achieved with regards to pathogen inactivation, material stabilization and maturation, and attenuation of heavy metal and biological oxygen demand content of material. There is an increasing dialogue around ongoing technological innovation that enables composting toilets to achieve these objectives.
  • Create actor networks: Through this work, I was able to connect to multiple authors of the Manual and share the project with wastewater professionals and practitioners at the annual BC Water and Wastewater Association conference. A direct outcome of this work is that I am now working with the lead author of the Manual to evaluate the feasibility of a composting toilet residuals facility on Hornby Island for the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD). A key question of the study is: would more people be interested in using composting toilets if it were easier to manage the residuals?
  • Institutional and policy support: The Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of BC (ASTTBC) is the organization that certifies professionals that install and maintain on-site sanitation systems, which now includes composting toilet systems. The ASTTBC wrote a letter of support endorsing the project and are interested in using the project long-term as a training facility for professionals interested in learning more about how to install and operate composting toilets.

Composting toilets are an appropriate sanitation technology in low-resource contexts. This includes both a developing country and humanitarian emergency setting, but more generally, will be everywhere that is experiencing a shifting climactic regime characterized by freshwater scarcity. This work will lay the foundation for future work.


Hellsmark, H., Frishammar, J., Söderholm, P., & Ylinenpää, H. (2016). The role of pilot and demonstration plants in technology development and innovation policy. Research Policy, 45(9), 1743–1761. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2016.05.005