The United Nations estimates that more than 600 million people in India do not use toilets or even pits called latrines, but relieve themselves on the ground, according to a report in the Journal Sentinel.
There have been improvements over the past 20 years, but an estimated one billion of the world’s population still practise open defecation. Another 700 million use unclean types of bathrooms while some make use of ‘hanging latrines’ that dump directly into streams, or buckets that are emptied in the streets, the journal report says.
The report says that global estimates of annual deaths from diarrhoea range as high as 1.5 million. Most of the deaths are caused by the intake of faeces-contaminated water.
Scientists believe many of these deaths can be prevented by proper sanitation, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene.
“Toilets have played the role of assisting in reducing diseases, that is, when they are well-connected.” It does not help if a toilet is not attached to a system that treats the waste, which then swirls away.
In 2011 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’.
The foundation funded the participation of eight universities, one being the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). After the announcement, a group of university students in California worked alongside Kohler Co to reinvent the toilet.
Kohler, a US company based in Wisconsin, is better known for manufacturing plumbing products.
The plan was to develop a self-contained toilet and waste treatment system powered by a solar panel that generates enough energy to be stored for use at night.
Science professor Michael Hoffmann led Caltech’s team to design the toilet; their product won the Gates challenge in 2012.
Hoffmann and the students have been preparing to fine-tune the original model and ready it for field testing in India, which is set to begin later this year.
Meanwhile, another toilet maker called American Standard Brands also received a grant. It took a low-tech approach and developed a plastic toilet pan that uses a mechanical trap door and water seal. It’s designed to close off holes beneath latrines from the open air and prevent flies from entering.
Toilet made for densely populated settlements in Nairobi turns waste into cash
In April, a report on the Daily Beast website said that Sanergy, a Kenya-based supplier for crowded areas, had designed a toilet which facilitates ‘quick and clean’ waste removal.
About half of Nairobi’s 3.3 million residents do not have access to piped water or a sewerage grid.
Water and sanitation development projects are legion in the informal settlements of Nairobi, and yet the basics of sanitation—access, affordability, and cleanliness—barely exist, according to the Daily Beast report.
Sanergy, a for-profit/non-profit hybrid started by five students in 2011, manufactures and distributes toilets designed specifically for dense, urban informal settlements, then collects the resulting waste and processes it into high value by-products like fertilizer, which is sold to local farmers. Its model has the potential to sustainably improve sanitation in dense, urban areas where there is no proper sewerage grid.
Rather than using a pit, the ‘Fresh Life Toilet’ has two blue modular plastic jugs that collect waste during the day. These are removed and replaced with clean ones each evening by the company’s logistics team.
Sanergy also allows entrepreneurs to purchase and run the toilets as independent businesses.
According to Lindsay Stradley, a co-founder of Sanergy, Fresh Life Operators, or FLOs (the company’s term for its micro franchisees) receive discounts on sanitary products and other forms of support. But beyond that, “they own it, they operate it and their success is their own”.
FLOs purchase Fresh Life Toilets for 50,000 Kenyan shillings (about $580/R6, 041—the manufacturing cost); additional toilets can be bought at a discount.
“Unfortunately, many prospective FLOs don’t have that kind of money, and accessing credit can be very difficult for the chronically unbanked settlement population. This was a significant challenge to Sanergy’s model until it partnered with Kiva (a multinational micro-financing organisation) in September 2012. Since then, dozens of FLOs have received loans to purchase toilets.”
The toilet was designed to have a very small footprint — just three feet by five feet (0.91440m x 1.5240m) — so it fits on an individual’s plot. After manufacturing pre-fabricated components at its headquarters, Sanergy engineers install a toilet on the FLO’s land, and it is immediately ready for use.
There are currently 365 Fresh Life toilets in various settlements around Kenya, owned by about 190 FLOs.
The toilets provide hygienic sanitation for about 15,000 residents. About 2,050 tons of waste has been collected over the past two years.
– Aarifah Nosarka
Innovative toilets for developing countries
Below is a list of innovative toilets for developing countries as illustrated in the Borgen Magazine
• Earthworm toilet – this toilet is unique in using both aerobic bacteria and earthworms to compost human waste into limited-odour loam. The toilet makes use of tiger worms and need only be emptied every six months. An example of this type of toilet is in operation at the La Providence golf course in Quebec. Fortunately for the developing world, a research project entitled ‘The Tiger Toilet’ was undertaken by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and funded by a 2009 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
• The sulabh toilet – a pan-trap squat toilet that uses a two-pit system minimising both odour and water waste. Only one pit is in use at a time. Each pit can contain up to three years’ of collected waste. Sulabh was founded on the principle of liberating the Dalit caste in India from being forced into work as scavengers. This toilet is said to have liberated more than 60,000 scavengers.
• The BioFil digester – Kweku Anno from Ghana developed a simple, compact, on-site composting system that limits odour and avoids many of the problems of pit and ventilated pit latrines. The system itself uses a primary treatment of both aerobic bacteria and red worms to aerate the solid contents; the BioFil digester then treats what remains through a sand filter into a reed bed. Its installation is flexible – it may be installed beneath the ground, half-buried, or above ground.
• The xRunner toilet – a waterless urine-diverting portable toilet s developed by Noa Lerner, an industrial engineer. The toilet separates urine from faeces, minimising odour with its enclosed and detachable pan. Lerner initially focused on composting waste in India, but found that the need was greatest in places without stable access to water because of drought. Community entrepreneurs arrange weekly collection and processing of the contents of the detachable pans.
• The EcoSan toilet – is completely water-free and entirely closed. It was developed in the late 1990s by Eco Sanitation Ltd. The EcoSan toilet relies on dehydration of waste to limit odour and avoid the use of water resources. The excrement falls into a conveyer that rotates and moves the waste mechanically every time the toilet lid is opened. This process dehydrates the excrement in about 25 days before it falls into a reusable collection bag. The waste, now 5-10% of its original mass, can be used for composting, fuel, or disposed of traditionally. The system has a number of options including a toilet hut for privacy, different toilet bowls or urinals for other countries, or high-volume modifications.