Plumbing isn’t only about fixing blocked drains, hot water systems, burst pipes and leaking taps.
It’s also about finding solutions to issues that face many people around the world today. Here we discuss the case of the waterless toilet!
We all know how important water is, but recently, the issue of water conservation and sustainability has become more than just an interesting topic for plumbers.
Nowadays its scientists looking for ways to reduce water wastage! These efforts are taking place around the world.
Toilet access is a massive problem. Globally, around 2.4 billion people lack access to a toilet, putting health and safety in jeopardy on a daily basis.
There are many factors affecting this – the financial cost of a toilet, cultural differences and lack of awareness of the risks associated with unsanitary practice are just a few of the challenges with creating a sustainable, next-gen loo.
These risks can involve the spread of disease or pathogens, parasitic infections, or drinking water becoming unsafe when human waste gets into it. There are also inherent safety risks associated with open defecation – especially for women and children in some communities, or in conflict scenarios.
And so, when researchers at Cranfield University in the UK built the world’s first waterless toilet, we were naturally very excited! Not only does the loo provide a more hygienic, safer alternative to defecation in the open (does a bear…) and public bathrooms, it actually producers power from poo.
Poo power, if you will.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
In short, this means that various waste water or waste products are vaporised and separated within the toilet using a skin, a nano-membrane in this case, which requires no water or electricity.
The toilet removes the water from human waste, and leaves behind solids that can be used up as fuel or even fertiliser – free of bacteria and other pathogens or parasites!
Currently being trialled in Ghana, sanitation expert Alison Parker from Cranfield University and her team are looking into a wide variety of options which could bring the tech into public use.
The most economical solution so far seems to be a rental model – where users are not expected to pay upfront, meaning that the toilet is accessible to even the lowest income earners.
This stage means working with local entrepreneurs who have an interest in providing regular maintenance or other services to the community.
It’s not without precedent – the Clean Team project, again in Ghana, rents portable toilets to residents and charges a fee to collect the waste two or three times a week. As of now, nearly 700 loos have been installed in the Kumasi district, to benefit over 4.5 thousand people.
Similarly, Loowatt in Madagascar use a regular payment system set at a low-cost for their operations. The toilet is built on a digestion system – that is, the waste is broken down by bacteria. Loowatt charges customer $1.10US each week for refills of the packaging where waste is stored.
Affordability is another big issue – with no set cost of the device, being only in prototype stages, there’s no clue as of yet as to the end-user costs. In-country manufacture, using hollow-fibre membranes available off the shelf, means keeping production costs low.
It’s also about demand – proving that the loo is necessary both to investors and to customers. This can include the design of the loo itself. Western-style seated toilets are popular in Africa, Parker says, but less popular in Asia – where squat toilets are more culturally preferable.
WHERE’S IT GOING?
This toilet managed to snag a whopping $800,000 in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2012.
This was through The Reinvent The Toilet Challenge, funding research into development of sustainable toilets – that is, toilets that remove germs and recover the valuable resources in human waste without connection to water, sewer or electrical lines, AND are financially feasible for use in the developing world.
There’s a few other developments reaching for the same goal – RTI International, builders of a multi-use toilet block, utilise the in-country production to keep production as cheap as possible. RTI’s model also creates electricity from the toilet, essentially powering itself – and adding to the local grid.
PLUMBERS TO THE RESCUE!
It’s great to see plumbers and researchers around the world working on long-term, viable and sustainable solutions to basic problems.
The next-gen toilets being developed are an exciting prospect! With the future of sanitation looking bright, and investment in waterless or power-generating toilets increasing, research teams such as the one at Cranfield are making great progress towards a sustainable, hygienic future.
IS IT REALLY EASY?
We’ve done out best to make the steps above as simple as possible, but please bear in mind that the above information is general and is by no means a substitute for comprehensive professional advice. Before working on your home plumbing, you should always consult a licensed professional.
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