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Composting Toilet News

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Composting Toilet Project News 2006

posted December 10, 2006

The Bio-toilet Project

This past summer and fall a small but hard-working group of bio-toilet opponents delivered house-to-house flyers that described the new playground toilet as a “cesspool” built with the help of “child labour.” The same folks also e-mailed their views to all of the City councillors and many heads of City divisions. The down side of that opposition was that the bio-toilet project was stalled over and over again. So only the foundation got built (but it’s a great foundation) before cold weather came.

The up side was that there was more and more detailed debate in the park about the merits/demerits of alternative ways to deal with sewage. Park users already know an amazing amount, and this winter they can upgrade their education even more. There will be displays about the project, press clippings from other parts of the world, and – hopefully – some postings by opponents, making for some lively hot-stove discussions.

Certainly there’s more material in the press now almost every week. It turns out that the largest Japanese zoo has had bio-toilets for some time (and very clean – the Japanese are famously fastidious). A town in Saskatchewan introduced the bio-ioilets and won a “2005 Sustainable Community Award” from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Partners for Climate Protection Network. World Watch Institute’s latest newsletter praises them as “the ultimate in treating waste as a resource.” We thought we were pioneers, but evidently not.

Both of these displays are a preparation for a City-run all-neighbourhood meeting about these issues in February or March (just when everyone is getting tired of winter and wants to think about playgrounds and gardens).

posted November 12 2006

Park neighbour distributes second flyer

On November 9, the same pamphleteer distributed a second anti-toilet flyer, again throughout the whole neighbourhood. This flyer refers to the bio-toilet as a "cesspool" and says the foundation of the project was "put in place by amateurs and with the help of child labour."

The letter also challenges the head of City Buildings to answer an earlier letter from park neighbour Bonnie Burgess, and to meet with Carol Seljak, the pamphleteer. The flyer concludes "Why and what is City Hall Hiding?" For the real story on City Hall's involvement with this project, e-mail Sandy Straw, City Parks Manager at

[ed for the first flyer distributed by this neighbour see A Neighbour Distributes A Flyer]

posted October 16, 2006


On Friday October 13, every mailbox in the neighbourhood had a broadsheet from park neighbour Carol Seljak and the “Bloor Dufferin Residents’ Committee Ltd.,” containing many warnings about the park playground composting toilet project.

Four days earlier, Ms.Seljak and a small group of other park neighbours took action to halt work on the new Foodshare youth garden, a 10 by 15 meter plot at the southwest edge of the park near Dufferin Street. They said then, and afterwards in letters to the mayor and many other officials, that any additional park garden was a shrinking of the park’s green space.

Change can be hard. Even though Dufferin Grove Park was a horticultural showplace back in the thirties, later on, the park was pretty standard -- grass, big trees, sports and swing sets. Now there are still all those things, but new little trees have been planted, there are four community-garden areas, there are the ovens, the dancers, the theatre, the adventure playground, the picnics of so many diverse groups, the campfires at night, the soccer players stopping for prayers, the busy farmers’ market. At times it may seem that the park will gradually fill right up and overflow. That can lead to anxiety, as it seems to have in the case of these worried neighbours.

Hopefully, their worrying will turn out to be unnecessary. It may well be that the Foodshare youth garden becomes a wonderful teaching garden in an otherwise little-used corner of the park, a place where shoppers crossing from the mall can linger and enjoy the display. It may be that the composting toilet works as well as the national-parks toilets do, and the project will inspire other communities to contribute to small-scale waste diversion. And it may be that the on-site park staff here continue to get City support and recognition for their considerable talents, and so non-staff can ease off on the unpaid work.

Yes! Kids allowed after all

posted September 13, 2006

Results of Public Meeting About Community-Built Composting Toilet, September 2006

Tuesday September 12 2006. Issues resolved the next day...

cob stomp with no fence

Since it rained, the meeting was held in the rink house instead. We now know that 95 adults and a whole lot of children can crowd into the rink house if necessary. The complainants who had called for the meeting didn't come, but City Parks manager Sandy Straw came, and so did her Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, and so did Recreation supervisor Tino Decastro. City Councillor Adam Giambrone was the moderator. Children as well as adults talked about wanting to help build the cob structure, wanting to have a toilet by the playground, and wanting to do something better with the environment. Georgie Donais answered questions about the way the toilet works. Many people asked the City staff and the councillor to go back to City Hall and find a way to remove the blocks to the project. They said they'd try.

They were as good as their word. Early Wednesday morning Georgie went to the Park supervisor's office for a meeting with architect Martin Liefhebber. They looked at the plans and the architect said they needed only very minor changes for him to certify them. The Buildings Department said they would fast-track the approval as soon as the certification reaches them.

Peter Leiss said that when the foundation hole is level with the ground, the project would be categorized as no longer a construction site but an art project. That means that children can help again and the fence can come down. Later, when the roof goes in, the fence will go back up briefly until that bit of construction is finished.

See also Meeting The By-Law Blues and the editorials David And Goliath and David And Goliath Two. See the Main Composting Toilet Project page.

September 13, 2006

Pictures from the meeting (pictures by Wallie Seto)

Part of the crowd

One of the speakers

posted Sept.2, 2006

A BIG fence, instead of community hands:

See also Meeting The By-Law Blues and the editorial David And Goliath.

But the project has gotten a bit bogged down in the zealous application of rules by the City, such as this fence.

Photo by Joe Adelaars.

The good news: At a site meeting on September 1, the Buildings manager said that under the building code, a composting toilet is a "Class 1 sewer system": "A person is exempt from the requirement to obtain a permit under Section 8 of The Act for the construction of a class 1 sewer system." (1)(c)" A class 1 (there are 5 classes, 1 is the most primitive) is one "designed only to receive human body waste for disposal" Meaning collected without drains.

And the little cob structure enclosing the composting toilet is exempt because it's so small. Any building less than 100 square feet is exempt. That's why we didn't have to get a building permit for the community ovens.

City: Children keep out

The bad news: Parks and Recreation manager Sandy Straw says that the entire area of this cob project is legally a "building site" and therefore has to be surrounded by an eight-foot-high construction fence with no one allowed inside, ever, without regulation steel-toed boots and work gloves. So last year's cross-generational project of five hundred pairs of hands building the cob courtyard becomes impossible. Children are banned from helping in the way they did for last year's cob project.

The manager says she has to enforce this because of the Ontario Health and Safety Act. This is an Act to protect workers at workplaces, but City Policy says that volunteer workers are treated just the same. We've asked where it says this in the Act. So far no one has shown us the citation that corresponds to the City policy. But City staff feel certain that the Act includes volunteers and that if they allow us to build in the same beautiful way as last year, and we are caught, the Parks staff will be personally subject to heavy punitive fines.

last year's cob project

Since community participation is central to Georgie's reason for doing this playground composting toilet project, we're looking for any legal information that park friends have, on this crucial issue: City staff say the law makes no distinction between construction workers building a sky-scraper and women and children shaping little bunches of clay and straw together in an ages-old shelter-building technique. We hope there is another option.

posted Sept.8, 2006

The sequel

A six-foot-high construction fence went up on Tuesday Sept.5. The supervisor says that what makes this a construction site is the presence of shovels and wheelbarrows.

On September 8, the Parks supervisor brought over thick copies of various laws relating to construction. There is no written City policy that addresses the situation, and so, he said, in this case it is the Criminal Code that prevents children from helping to build as they did last year.

"A new institutional capacity must be developed at city hall that embraces more experimentation and risk-taking." Paul Bedford, Toronto Star: Jul 23, 2006. INDEED WHAT IF: A chance to end mediocrity

City: No kids allowed

posted September 7, 2006

Notice Of Public Meeting About Community-Built Composting Toilet
Tuesday September 12 2006, 6.30 p.m by the Cob Courtyard

This is the public meeting about the community-built composting toilet for the playground area. The meeting is on site, near the cob courtyard. The food cart will be there and the park staff will entertain the kids, so their parents can address the regulatory obstacles to building the toilet. If it rains, the meeting will be in the rink house.

posted August 31, 2006

The next crisis August 31:

Thursday 11 a.m.: A visit from Parks supervisor Peter Leiss brought the news that the Buildings director called the Parks manager today.

Apparently a person who is unhappy with the playground composting toilet project sent the cob link to the director of Building. He saw the photos on this site and didn't like what he saw. He was concerned about code violations. He was unhappy with his staff for giving the go-ahead for a pilot project for which no code exists yet. Here is today's photo:

Georgie standing on the earth bag foundation

It's easy to see that the walls have less than three feet of unsecured earth. The earth bag foundation that secures the lower section exceeds California's tough earthquake standards in strength and is certainly comparable to shoring up the walls with wood.

Here's the tally so far: a $9000 gift of the toilet from an anonymous donor; $12,000 in City funding; over $5000 park snack bar fundraising; many hundreds of hours of volunteer time already. From the City bureaucrats: blocks, suspicion, delays, more obstacles. All this for a playground toilet installation that has been requested by parents for decades; that has been used in national and provincial parks for almost ten years; that costs a fraction of a regular toilet; and that gives the City a pilot project to learn on.

The many, many blocks put in the way of projects like this sometimes make us forget the main community objective here: to find inexpensive, ecologically sound ways make our parks beautiful and functional. But good will is running low.

Comment to the above, from Georgie, Sept.1 2006:

Do you think this might be a bit sweeping, considering that Sandy and Peter have been trying to move this thing forward?

I think it's more like the fact that there is no provision in the building code for this kind of building, and little for composting toilets. Grey areas, and city bureaucrats have been unempowered these last couple of decades to think creatively, to apply the spirit, not the letter necessarily. Everyone has been taught that there's no point in sticking your neck out. The benefit to society does not equal the harm it does to your job or life. A cultural shift to creative thinking and an appreciation for collaboration is what's required. To get that they need support from the top. IMHO.

posted August 21, 2006

Responses to General Concerns Raised

1. Handwashing: The toilet will never have handwashing facilities because it has no plumbing. It has no plumbing because putting in sewage access at the south end of the park is physically impossible due to the existing plumbing configuration, as Georgie found out last year when she made inquiries to Parks, Forestry & Recreation. The dedicated handwashing sink at the cob wall is close enough that it is acceptable to public health. The public health inspector says he has no issues with the design, only with toilet cleanliness once it's built. (See web site report.) He does, however, have an issue with kids urinating all over the place, around the edges of the playground, as they presently do because of the absence of a nearby toilet. The problem is more urgent because the playground is so well used.

2. Wheelchair accessibility: Accessibility is very important in this project. What it requires is willing volunteers to help with the work, willing donors to pay for the materials, and someone to coordinate both, just as in the creation of the rest of the structure. Since wood is quite expensive, building a proper ramp might cost up to $10,000, although a resourceful coordinator can often find materials for donation, reducing the end cost significantly. Volunteers for any of these positions would be welcome; the time and effort these jobs would take would be more than compensated for by park users' appreciation for their efforts. The original plans called for a stroller ramp to be put up in time for opening, with a wheelchair ramp as a project for next year's volunteers.

3. Liability: Toilets do not require special liability provisions. The City's insurance policy covers everything in the park.

4. Repair of the field house toilets: The existing washroom facility in the field house is not broken and so does not need repair. Like many other washrooms in city parks, they are old. Many other parks are scheduled to have washroom upgrading before us. 2012 is the earliest we could dream of it (according to the capital budget). The funds that Georgie raised for the composting toilet are specific to that project and can't be re-allocated -- they did not come out of any capital budget.

5. Year-round opening: There is no chance of either the field house washrooms or the composting toilet being open year-round. Our park already has an extended public washroom season at both ends and it will not get any further extension. This is an operating-budget issue, not a "repair" issue. The rink house washrooms are available in the winter.

6. Police surveillance: The toilet will not obstruct police surveillance (which in any case happens very rarely) any more than existing trees, bushes, and other park buildings obstruct police.

7. Staffing: Dufferin Grove Park has the unusual case of rec staff looking after almost everything. This has been well worked out among experienced staff over the past ten years. Monitoring the toilet for number of users, cranking, cleaning, locking and unlocking the toilet and reporting on its function is already incorporated into their upcoming task list. The rec staff are very committed to this experiment because they have strong environmental interests, and because their job includes addressing the needs of parents with young children.

8. Public meeting: There was a well-advertised public meeting about the composting toilet project on Sunday June 25 at 3 p.m., on site. Tino DeCastro, Peter Leiss and the Councillor were sent invitations on June 19. The people who attended were predominantly playground users because it is parents of young children who have been asking for a toilet nearby for many years.

9. Open green space: The park is 14.2 acres in size. It includes a number of amenities, like the rink and its change house, the field house, the baseball backstop, the playground and the wading pool. It also has some fenced gardens. That leaves lots of open green space (turf). The addition of a cob structure of less than 100 square feet will not spoil the park.

10. Deterioration of the cob courtyard: Sometimes folk arts which developed over thousands of years are lost in the modern day and have to be regained. In some parts of the cob courtyard, the plaster didn't stick. If one method didn't work out, we need trial and error to find a better way. Also, some of the structure was too easy for kids to climb, so a bit of the wall has been remodelled this summer. This project has been ongoing and required tarps for keeping in the moisture. That stage is now complete; the last stages of re-plastering start tomorrow. The tarps have been gone for several weeks and the courtyard will soon look even more beautiful than it did at last year's opening feast, when almost a thousand people came to celebrate this community achievement.

If the plaster still doesn't stick in those spots, we can try yet another way next year. It's only clay, sand and straw -- no big deal. There are cob structures all over the world which have lasted for hundreds of years. We'll get it right.

posted August 21, 2006

Responses to Technical Concerns Raised

regarding the earthen sculpture and composting toilet facility in Dufferin Grove Park


This toilet facility – the Phoenix 201 PF (Public Facilities) – is installed in several national and provincial parks in Ontario, as well as a couple of YMCA camps. It is a well-accepted alternative to standard sewage or septic options, where there is concern about minimizing environmental impact and encouraging environmental stewardship.

posted August 2, 2006

Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 3.30pm

with Georgie Donais, Jenny Cook, and lots of others. Help build a park bench that looks like an old tree; find out how to make an earth-bag foundation; and (later in August) make a little composting-toilet enclosure with bas-relief sculptures. For more information: See the dufferin park cob courtyard subsite for details about cob.

posted August 14, 2006

See a review of this project in the National Post: Park goes arty with compost toilet

posted August 13, 2006

7 a.m. by the cob gardens

posted July 18, 2006

Digging For The Composting Toilet Project Has Begun!

Come one, come all! Help us dig in beginning Wednesday July 19th and get the Cob Composting Toilet Project started!! Details below:


From Wednesday to Friday, our hours are 1 - 4pm.


On the West side of the path near the Cob Courtyard.

What to Bring:

Yourself, and a shovel if you have one. If you have a wheelbarrow to lend, bring it by.

IMPORTANT: While digging is happening, closed toe shoes are a must. Sandals do not qualify :)

See you in the park!


posted July 11, 2006

Composting Toilet Project Gets Final Approval


The composting toilet in Dufferin Grove Park is now a go for this summer! Over the next week, I will be preparing the site and doing some preliminary digs. Starting next Wednesday July 19, we will be inviting volunteers to join us in creating the foundation for the building, and then we'll get cobbing.

More details next week!

Yours in cobbing,


posted July 8, 2006

Composting Toilet Status

The meeting with neighbours went well, and a specific location for the toilet and its house was chosen.

The permit process has moved ahead, and we expect final authorization the week of July 10.

People who want to participate in this innovative project over the summer can get in touch with Georgie Donais, the lead, at

Public Meeting June 2006

posted June 20, 2006

Composting Toilet Proposal

Meeting, Sunday June 25, 3pm

Click the flyer image for the larger version.

Read the proposal

From the proposal:

What’s going on?

This project would engage the Dufferin Grove Park community in a unique and exciting art project this summer. A composting toilet unit would be installed in the south end of the park, near to the playground and wading pool, and would be enclosed and protected by a small earthen building. As was the case last year, park attendees would be invited to participate in the making of the building.


Read about the toilet

Click the diagram for more info on the toilet design (from Phoenix Composting Toilet System

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