This video is a good intro to this list of Future Toilets. The developing countries need solutions for their massive sanitation issues. Like the guy says “the problem is not just technological, it is cultural.” Resolving the sanitation problems of developing countries is the main driver in toilet R&D driving the technology behind the toilets of tomorrow. So let’s have a look at some projects and trends making material and cultural interventions that are shaping our global toilet and sanitation future. I present 11 Low-Tech and 11 High-Tech trend setting projects.
So just as a preamble here. With innovation tunnel vision in the west designing usually means designers add as much arduino and sensors and tech to a project as possible. I know this from first-hand experience in collaborative projects with tech-heads: “let’s make it ‘smart’ because that’s cool.”
Sometimes ‘smart’ is the wrong direction. Here is a really good article that put to shame the really expensive high-tech crappers churned about by the Gates Foundation ‘Reinvent the toilet’ challenge : what-we-need-is-a-low-tech-toilet-revolution.
This PDF: using-human-waste.pdf outlines some of the basic low-tech solutions out there. And I will go through them in more detail in this list.
1. Converting Human waste to Bio Gas: Household Human Waste Bio Reactor – Overview of concept: Biogas_from_human_waste.wiki And this is an experimental design: http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2010/ph240/cook2/ This is one of the most exciting designs. There may not be flashy visuals but at the core of this project is the idea of transforming waste into power with little to no technology. This is a decisive advantage to other Future toilets because it is a truly open-source design because there is no skill or expertise required.
2. Converting Human Waste to Mushrooms – toilets-for-mushrooms
How to introduce toilets to a culture in which they are not used? This social design project re-markets the toilet from a hygiene facility to a business project: correctly used latrine waste is used as compost to produce a valuable cash crap. What is interesting here that the project is not about a product but rather a cultural intervention in the perception of the toilet. Could rebranding latrines as valuable compost factories solve India’s reluctance to use and maintain latrines?
3. Merdacotta – http://www.theshitmuseum.org
While this project uses cow shit rather than human shit to make ceramic products, it is an interesting cultural design intervention in how we perceive shit.
Compost Toilet: http://www.c-head.com/BoonJon_system.html – Garden Integration. There are a lot of various designs for compost toilets, and a lot different applications depending on the final destination of the compost. This video looks at the functionality of the composting process. The organic processes nature would execute by herself are simply helped along with a little organization. This isn’t technological but isn’t ‘smart’ to use and encourage an ecological system and process instead of trying to come up with an artificial circular economy?
5. Compost Final Destination: Black Soldier Fly – bsf-basics/ – So Black Soldier Flies are an excellent way to transform composted Human waste and filter out and collect the nutrients from a mass of dirt. This video shows low-tech fly harvester rig and how the flies can be used to feed live-stock. They can also be transformed into human food. The best thing is however is that they can fly away and distribute waste in a clean way and to the benefit of local wild life.
6. Sanergy Cycle Field Testing is a a-bike-powered-poop-pump This project focuses not on reinventing the toilet, but on reinventing toilet maintenance. There are many latrines but what good are they if they a not maintained. This is an interesting low-cost solution. By increasing the efficiency or working latrines new latrines don’t need to be built. How clean latrines are also impact how they are view in a culture and so how they are used!
7. Rollable porta-potty by Morph Design – green-toilet – This interesting low-tech solution make an immediate intervention in the developing world’s habit of shitting in the open. This gives governments more time to implement more long-term solutions that might require more investment.
8. Pee-poo Bag – http://www.nytimes.com – This biodegrable bag breaks down once the human waste has broken down and so can be re-used later as fertilizer.
9. Excrete a Poo Ring: – excrete-customised-poo-jewellery – The artefact is not as interesting as the speculative future is points to: “Gregory designed the concept for a future when food has been replaced by non-agricultural alternatives, and the human digestive system is under-used. In the interest of re-purposing an antique mechanism ” Here food has been replaced by intravenous nutrition or light, it is not specified, but it’s interesting to think that we have the technology now to almost totally bi-pass the intestines: no intestines = no toilets.
10. Eat Shit Milan – milan-2015-eat-shit – “In a project called Mummy Shit Lab, the students assigned themselves the roles of poo-producer, refiner and enhancer. The producer followed a strict diet and exercise regime for the duration of the project, and produced samples of excrement that were examined by the refiner, then freeze-dried and preserved in disks of epoxy resin by the enhancer.” What is interesting here is the approach, rather than the outcome. It represents a first-person cultural intervention: where working with shit changes your perspective of shit.
11. POO POWER CHARCOAL – This is a low-tech or like the video says “appropriate level of technology” solution to sewage treatment. Turning human waste into charcoal. I think this solution has an important to make about appropriate technology and local culture and needs. Biogas may not be appropriate because people don’t have gas cookers, and the state doesn’t have a large supply of gas tanks, or a gas pipe infrastructure. So we can talk about local toilet futures rather than global toilet futures.
High-Tech Future Toilets cannot be explored without first mentioning the Gates Foundation ‘Reinvent the toilet’ challenge: reinvent-the-toilet-challenge.pdf. There is no point pretending that most of those on this list are going to be successful challenge winners. More than half of these high-tech toilets convert human waste to energy through one process or another, while most of the rest simply convert human waste into Bio Char. Bio Char is nothing new and is a good way to lock carbon out of the atmosphere as well as make fertilizer.
1. RTI Waste to Electricity Toilet – rti.org
This is a more technical solution for waste to energy conversion using solar power as a base. This was a successful entry to the Gates Foundation ‘Reinvent the toilet’ Grant. This variation uses combustion to produce electricity.
2. TU Delft Plasma-gasification toilet – http://www.tudelft.nl This is another High-Tec solution for Gates Foundation ‘reinvent the toilet’ challenge. This particular solution uses microwaves to turn the waste into plasma and then gas.
3. CALTECH – Electro-chemical Hydrogen Toilet – http://hoffmann.caltech.edu
This is another one of those high-tech Gates Foundation winners. Currently being installed in apartment blocks and urban area in south east Asia.
4. Loughborough University Bio char Toilet. Another high-tech solution. Have you noticed all these videos start with the same intro “developing country hygiene problem so we need a solution”. These are technological solutions, not creative solutions.
5. Omni Processor – Reinvented Sewage Plant – Omni-Processor-Update – So Bill is trying to develop this into a viable business model and is already several phases of prototyping in to this project. Whereas I believe water waste is an issue with a flush toilet, I don’t believe developing an infrastructure based on a flush toilet is an intelligent solution even if you are able to recuperate all the water. Seems smarter to me to use a dry composting system, but I don’t have the information about transport and water costs in front of me.
6. Nanyang University – No-Mix Vacuum Toilet – Converts solid waste into electricity and urine into fertilizer while reducing water used in flushing by 90%. A more info: poo-power-new-toilet-system . More interesting than the conversion system and the water-saving, to me, is the ‘No-Mix’ concept and the implications for waste treatment and conversion.
7. Shit to Gold – Speculative Study in retrieving precious metals from human waste – http://pubs.acs.org – “According to a separate study that was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers estimate that extracting metals from the human solid waste of a population of one million people could yield as much as $13 million in a year.”
8.Incinolet – cremation toilet: I really like this video, and it seems like a really great solution for cultures unwilling to handle human waste. But like all of these high-tech solutions I worry about the price, and subsequent expenses of running and maintaining such a toilet.
9. AshPoppie – The portable version of the fire toilet. This one is being marketed for dogs but it would also work to clean up and sanitize excrement left in the open in public in developing countries. It could also be a viable solution for peak-poop.
10. wasteland is an online street poo mapping project. I think it’s an interesting toilet project that discusses homelessness and open-shitting in western countries. Right now it only works in San Francisco by mapping human waste reported to the authorities. Mapping open-shitting will be part of the long-term solution to sanitation in developing countries.
11. Poo-Stake: Protein derived from sewage bacteria made into artificial meat – steak-made-from-human-poop-passes-taste-test – “The steaks were first envisioned by Japanese researcher Mitsuyuki Ikeda after he was approached by Tokyo Sewage to come up with a solution for the city’s overabundance of sewage mud. Although “eating it” probably wouldn’t have occurred to most people, Ikeda recognized that the mud was chock full with protein-rich bacteria. After isolating those proteins in the lab, Ikeda’s team then combined them with a reaction enhancer and put them in an exploder. What eventually came out was no filet mignon, but it was edible.”
From this list of low and high-tech future toilets we can make some design criteria for a perfect future toilet:
The toilet bowl itself will be a hybrid squat-sit toilet: squatting being healthier but sitting being a necessary option for the elderly and disabled.
There will a “No-Mix” solution within the bowl itself so give urine and shit different final destinations because being different materials, different and specific processes are better than a single generic process.
That anal cleanse will be water based for water-based toilets, and dry-based for dry toilets.
The final destination of solid human waste will have to depend on local needs: for example, if gas is more important than electricity in a region it is better to convert human waste in bio-gas than combustible fuel. Or if food is more important than energy, composting or protein reclamation are better solutions than conversion.
The final destination for urine will also depend on local needs: conversion into drinking water or transformation into fertilizer being dependent on material circumstance.
More important than the implementation of a new toilet system, or a technological or material design intervention is a cultural intervention: a re-branding of shit, shitting, and toilets.
Though India with its caste-system maybe an exceptional case, this video proves regardless that a cultural rather than a material intervention is more important. And I feel this as true for Bolivia, or South Africa, as it is for India. So any future toilet will depend on the creation of a new future toilet culture, especially in developing countries.