A new low-cost technology is set to bring compact and waterless toilets to individual homes in off-sewer communities and is being hailed to be a game changer in sanitation services. Change: WATER Labs are behind it.
It’s estimated that some 2.4 billion people globally lack access to safe and sanitary toilet facilities. For communities without a sewage system, such as people living in refugee camps or in city slums, the simple act of going to the toilet can be a huge challenge. In these places, especially at night, people (and women and girls in particular) are left with the choice of putting off trips to the toilet as much as they can, thereby putting themselves at risk of urinary tract diseases, or walking to isolated and poorly lit community facilities, where they run the risk of assaults and violence.
And during the daytime, for the many people without sufficient toilet facilities the practice of open defecation may be the only alternative – that’s currently 1 in 7 people, a huge 946 million worldwide. Cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and diarrhea are some of the diseases that can be contracted via contact with human waste, and some 800 children are estimated to die every day from diarrhea-related diseases.
For all the money that the aid industry spends on sanitation, some 40% people worldwide still lack access to a toilet. In off-grid places like refugee camps or disaster-struck areas, where they lack of water, plumbing and sewer infrastructure, what could a sustainable solution actually look like?
The Evaporative Toilet System
Change:WATER Labs have come up with an idea. Through their ongoing collaboration with Harvard University and MIT, as well as dialogue with sanitation and waste water treatment industry experts and aid agencies, they have come up with an evaporative toilet system. It’s low-cost and compact and requires no plumbing, sewer or access to water.
This waterless toilet collects waste solids and liquids in a removable and replaceable pouch, made of a non-porous polymer membrane. Just like a sponge, the pouch soaks up the full liquid content of sewage (95% of sewage is liquid), and then vaporises it, leaving behind a mere five per cent of dry solids. These can then be picked up by a waste collection or sanitation service. Its compactness means collections don’t need to be as frequent, and there’s 95% less haulage volume.
The technology works best in dry and hot climates, so places such as the Zaatari camp in the Middle East are ideal. Indeed Oxfam and Unicef have already expressed an interest in these toilets for use in similar places.
These toilets have the potential to help reduce violent attacks on women and girls, prevent disease, help improve school attendance by girls, and bring much needed dignity to a simple act which is yet to be taken for granted.
Change: WATER Labs are currently field piloting their evaporative toilet technology and are set to launch it in mid 2018. They are also taking part in the 2017 Hult Prize Challenge, focused on finding sustainable and scalable solutions to the many challenges faced by refugees.
Here you can watch CEO Diana Yousef deliver her pitch to the Hult Prize Foundation: