So it is not about the toilet?
The toilet is part of the entire value chain. We believe the toilet experience need to be pleasant and safe. But, you have to look into the whole sanitation value chain to understand and do the most effective process.
Are Pit Latrines Bad?
A well-made pit latrine can do the job, but I have not seen one yet that gives you a pleasant experience. But we see pit latrines that are bad and breaks, and even children have drowned in them and died.
Some children don’t go to the toilet the whole day because the toilets are smelly, have lots of flies, and have no door to close. People want and need a private place when they do their business.
Tell me more about the toilet.
Well, it’s a ceramic, a real proper toilet that doesn’t use traditional sewage and uses only 100ml for flushing. It does not smell, so the whole idea is to give an excellent frontend user experience.
The toilet has a drying system, a fan to take the smell away. The backend is a service and maintenance program to use fluids and solids as a resource. So it is a very similar experience to the flush and forget toilet experience.
Where did the idea come from?
We started during the water crisis 2017-18 to import Swedish low water flush toilet and showers that saves a lot of water. One day we got a telephone call from a Montessori school in Eastern Cape that wanted to build new toilets, and they were interested in our low flush toilet. The problem was that they did not have water all the time, and a flush toilet without water does not work.
We decided to go there to see with our own eyes how the situation was. The school was very helpful when we asked if we could visit some other schools in the area. Several schools had awful toilets, smelly and lot’s of flies and some schools had ok ones but nothing close to what you want to have in your own home. When we start to dig into the whole problem, the facts are frightening 375 million schoolchildren do not have access to toilets in the world. According to UNICEF and WHO, about 2100 children below five years die because of inadequate sanitation. The problem is massive.
You are talking about using waste as a resource? How?
It is interesting if you look into what fertiliser is made of. Normal pee has a very similar structure to the chemical ones you use in agriculture. It can be used as fertiliser. It is the same with poop that can be composted or treated to be an excellent soil conditioner.
Simply turning waste into a resource. So you mean I can use poop to grow salad? Yes, if it is treated correctly, I think it’s more practical to mix with soil and use it as a soil conditioner. The critical process is killing the pathogens and making it safe to handle, which is what we are doing.
Is this a new idea?
Both yes and no. The technology to use pee and poop is not new at all. The methods to kill pathogens are known and tested. The unique thing is to combine it all into the whole value chain, what we call the New Generation Sanitation. We have collaborated with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, and they are probably one of the best in the world regarding sanitation.
So what is the New Generation Sanitation?
The idea is based on the closed circle. The front end has to have a good user experience and collect service from emptying the container to the local resource centre, which takes care of the waste and transforms it into fertiliser and soil conditioner. Sanitation Ambassadors provide the service. They are responsible for the service and liable to educate the schools about hygiene based on the WASH program developed by UNICEF. It is crucial to have a safe environment for both workers and cleaners. If you have proper sanitation in schools, it’s better for learning. If it is a clean and excellent user experience, you can better focus on education and much better for the environment.
Why a collection service?
The holy grail is the toilet that uses no water and everything “disappears”. There are products on the market that can do part of that, but they are expensive, and if they break, you need qualified technicians to repair them. The New Generation is based on “The flush and forget experience” as an end-user, and the service is like collecting garbage. The idea is to have a safe and easy service that can give jobs to local people and secure handling to produce products like soil improvement, and if it is no water or electricity, it will still work.
What about safety and menstruation for girls and young women?
There is a lot’s of stigma around menstruation, especially in Africa. People do not want to talk about it. It is the same with pee and poop. In western countries, we flush and forget and hope that the problem is solved by someone else. Regarding girls and young women in schools, I have read several reports and talked with teachers and people working on menstruation management.
It is common that when girls have their period, they stay at home for up to a week because there are no proper facilities to handle their menstruation hygiene. If they stay home a week a month, they miss 25% of their education, which is horrendous. Regarding safety, we know that in areas that practice open defecation, women get molested and raped. You do not want to go to the toilet if you can’t look at the door and be private. We want the girls to have a safe and hygienic environment.
Gates foundation started the Reinvent the toilet; how is New Generation Sanitation in comparison?
It is a great initiative to start to talk about the problems and to find new solutions. There are several solutions on the market, but overall, they are expensive, and some are pretty technical, and other solutions are something you do not want to have in your home. This kind of solution needs to work all the time, even if it’s no electricity and no water the toilet need to do the job anyway. So our solution is based on robust functionality and a great user experience.
To summarise, the problems are enormous, and New Generation Sanitation can change many people’s lives. We will start with the schools because education is vital to get people out of poverty. And to be honest, a proper toilet that we take for granted is a dream for millions of people. So next time you use the toilet, enjoy the moment.