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Turd Burner

posted: 04/11/12
by: John Fuller
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Troy Paff Blaine Fisher/Getty Images David

Wanted: Turd Burner to successfully maintain a special incinerating toilet and hope nothing goes terribly wrong.

Job Description: We take going to the bathroom for granted when we're on land. When nature calls and we need a clean, private place to take care of business, chances are there's a bathroom with operating toilets nearby. We do our thing, flush the toilet, wash up and move on, not really thinking about where all that waste goes.

When you're on a boat, however, it's a different story. Just like when on an airplane or long bus ride, waste produced by passengers can't really go anywhere other than in a holding tank on board. Many boats can hold waste in big septic tanks, but they're sometimes smelly and are costly to bring back to land to be pumped out. And (obviously), dumping human waste on land or into the sea in an unregulated way is not just messy but dangerous and can spread harmful germs to other living organisms.

That's why many boats employ savvy workers to run and maintain the turd burners. These are the people who understand how to efficiently handle human waste without pumping or dumping anything at all. They understand the technology behind special toilets, like the Incinolet, which lets ships dispose of waste while in route. Basically, they are in charge of burning waste that enters receptacles that convert it into harmless, germ-free and — maybe most importantly, odor-free — ashes.

The process is fairly simple, and takes three easy steps. First, before anything is done, a special paper liner must be placed inside the toilet bowl, which protects it from getting dirty and keeps turd burners from having to constantly clean the toilet. Once a passenger is finished using the toilet, they step on a foot pedal located on the side that drops the mess into an incinerator. Finally, a start button is pushed to operate the incinerator, which is a set of electric heating coils. The incinerator chamber will reach temperatures as high as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and burns for an entire hour to fully dispose of waste. Once it's done, the unit takes an extra 10 to 45 minutes just to cool down.

There's not much to a turd burner, but those maintaining the toilets and overseeing the process need to make sure an incinerating toilet functions as needed. The ash left over from the burning process, for instance, should be removed after the ash pan is about half an inch deep — otherwise, the heater coils could burn out too quickly and lead to unnecessary repairs.

The ability to hold your breath (or your nose) for long periods of time definitely helps. In fact, the only way to ever figure out one is broken is by the smell; the wafts that alert you that waste isn't burning, but collecting.

If you like to keep your boat ship-shape and, perhaps, have the ability to turn off your olfactory senses for periods of time, turd burning could be the job for you.

If you think the Incinolet is a quirky idea, just take a look at the World's Most Expensive Toilet. And if you thought going to the bathroom at sea was a little shaky, try Doing It Out in Space. But if you just want to get down the mechanics of your bathroom, learn about How Toilets Work and How to Repair a Toilet.

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