There is no doubt that most people have the idea that airplane toilets are different from other types of toilets. If you are wondering how airplane toilets work, you are not alone, as many people are curious about this. Fortunately, the method used to collect waste from toilets on airplanes is much easier to understand than you might think.
Instead of using water like regular household toilets, airplane toilets use a vacuum system that primarily sucks waste and holds it in a special tank located on the aircraft itself. Once the plane lands, the collected waste is transferred by several specialized tanks and then discharged into a specially designed disposal system.
These toilets also provide the following advantages:
- They can be placed anywhere on the aircraft.
- They can flow in different directions.
- They use very small diameter pipes, allowing them to go anywhere.
- There is no need to direct pipes downward to save space.
- They are lightweight and easy to install.
Where does airplane waste go?
In reality, the process is not complex. Waste goes into the toilet, and then it is sucked into a special tank usually located at the rear of the aircraft. Upon landing, dedicated trucks with additional tanks arrive. Hoses are used to suction the waste from the airplane to their storage tanks. Then, the waste is transferred to another tank, typically part of the airport, where it is mixed with other waste from airport toilets.
To understand how airplane toilets work, you first need to be familiar with how regular toilets work. Standard toilets use water and gravity to operate. When you flush, water carries waste into the sewage system. However, this is not practical on airplanes due to the movement of the aircraft. Instead, vacuum systems are used, and only a small amount of water is used to clean and prepare the toilet for the next user.
Standard toilets use around half a gallon of water per flush, while older toilets can use up to five gallons. Airplane toilets use even less water.
What happens during airplane toilet cleaning?
Airplane toilets usually contain a blue liquid that is added to the small amount of water used. This liquid is a cleaning agent and has no effect on how the toilet operates. When you flush the toilet, the vacuum effect retains all the contents, including the blue liquid, inside a closed waste system. This system is maintained until the plane lands, where trucks remove the waste.
Contrary to what many people believe, there is no special button for the pilot to release the waste tank mid-flight. The waste is kept in a closed system until the plane lands, and then it is removed by trucks.
How to use airplane toilets:
Smoking is not allowed on commercial airplanes almost anywhere in the world.
If a child uses the toilet, accompany them as they might have difficulty using it alone.
Open the door slowly to avoid hitting someone outside.
Dispose of toilet paper properly; leaving it in the toilet is unsightly and unhygienic.
If you need to vomit, use the toilet, not the small basin.
Where does train waste go?
While the urban legend of airplanes dumping waste on the ground is false, trains have had a different story. Although modern trains no longer dispose of human waste onto the tracks, traditional methods did exactly that. This system was known as the “thunderbox” or a full-flow system. Some old trains in the UK still operate this way, although there are plans to phase them out by the end of 2023.
In the United States, train employees have been instructed to close the airplane toilets when the train is at a station and reopen them when the train is running again. Newer trains are equipped with chemical toilets, which are connected to regular toilets or vacuum toilets similar to those on airplanes. These chemical toilets need regular emptying, leading trains to return to terminals.
Understanding these waste disposal methods helps shed light on the practices and technologies used to manage waste on airplanes and trains.