Today is World Toilet Day. For some, toilets are something we don’t really think about, and we certainly don’t talk about. The point of World Toilet Day, however, is to remind us that toilets and sanitation are hugely important.
Currently, about one-third of the world does not have access to adequate sanitation. This leads to problems including drinking water contaminated with fecal matter and having to defecate out in the open. The World Toilet Organization estimates that 1,000 children die each day because of poor sanitation.
The problem isn’t just limited to the developing world though. In the U.S., toilets account for about one-fourth of the clean water we use. New toilet technologies, however, aim to change this. So, in honor of World Toilet Day, we have compiled a list of a few innovative toilet designs that show promise in helping to solve sanitation and ecological problems.
The lack of sanitation is especially problematic in slums. Around 1 billion people in the world live in slums. A lack of bathrooms can lead to violence and rape, as women venture off to secluded locations to use the bathroom. Another common practice, the use of “flying toilets” (urinatinginto a plastic bag and throwing it into the street), leads to the spread of diseases.
Mobile toilets aim to combat these problems. These toilets are small, portable and affordable. The Peepoo, for example, is a biodegradable bag with a urea lining that can be used and then discarded almost anywhere. Other systems, such as re.source and x-runner offer small toilets that can fit in a home, which have removable waste collection bags that can then be collected and taken to processing facilities.
For much of the world, having water-based sanitation systems simply isn’t feasible. For them, composting toilets may be the easiest system to implement. These designs take advantage of the fact that human feces naturally break down into compost when exposed to oxygen, and urine makes an excellent fertilizer. Designs like Toilets for People’s “the crapper” (Compact, Rotating, Aerobic, Pollution-Prevention Excreta, Reducer) create an eco-friendly toilet for developing countries.
However, composting toilets aren’t just for the developing world. In the developed world, composting toilets are becoming a more and more popular part of the green movement. Last year in the U.K., the popular Glastonbury music festival used composting toilets. Composting toilets can be used on a smaller scale though. The BioLet composting toilet is an example of a composting toilet designed for houses, cottages or boats.
One of the most interesting aspects of toilet innovation are ideas that look at how human waste can be turned into a useful product. Just recently, the United Nations declared that the treatment of solid human waste could yield both fuel and biogas which would help increase sanitation, and reduce global warming.
The Janicki Bioenergy Omniprocessor utilizes this idea to create a processor that converts sewer sludge into clean water, electrical power, and fertilizer. China has also been experimenting with models to turn waste into fuel and organizations like the Umande trust are trying to bring this technology to developing countries.
Another problem with toilets in the developing world is that they need to be self-powered. Solar-powered toilets are one way of tackling this problem. In 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a team of researchers at Cal Tech $100,000 as part of their “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.” Their design was a solar-powered toilet which recycles water and breaks down waste into reusable energy. Recently, the team has been field-testing the design in India and China, and plans to begin tests in South Africa soon.
Solar-powered toilets are another example of a technology useful in the developing world as well though. In San Francisco, mobile solar-powered toilets have become so successful they are being considered in other cities.