A ‘five-cent’ toilet solution aimed at saving 40 per cent of the world’s population, mostly in the developing countries, has been in the works for some time now.
A commercially viable option should come up over the next two three years, according to Doulaye Kone, senior programme officer, at Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Kone heads the water, sanitation and hygiene programme (global development), at the foundation. He was hosted here by Eram Scientific Solutions, inventors of the ‘Delight’ electronic toilets (e-toilets).
Eram is also a beneficiary of the foundation, which has announced $42-million in grants to spur innovations in the capture and storage of waste and processing into reusable energy and fertiliser.
Kone is its key partner for research projects in Kerala, said Anwar Sadat, director, Eram Scientific, who was also present on the occasion.
Among the ideas being worked on by the foundation are a waterless toilet, and a system that would microwave faecal matter and turn it into fuel.
It is estimated that 2.6 billion people of the world do not have access to toilets. This presents a massive healthcare challenge, with two million children dying every year from diarrhoea and other diseases.
The foundation says the reinvented toilet must be affordable, costing no more than five US cents a day per person. It also has to be easy to install, use and maintain.
It not only wants to improve access to toilets, it also wants to get away from the flush toilet model that is ubiquitous in the West but isn't a viable solution for poor countries.
“We aim to have new technology that doesn't put waste into drinking water, doesn't flush it down a very expensive pipe to a treatment plant where we spend lots of money to remove the dirt,” Kone said.
The toilet is the ‘least invented’ technology ever, he said. Putting this in context, he said the flush toilet as we know it is no less than 200 years old.
This has meant that countless millions of gallons of water, which is proving such a precious commodity, continue to be flushed out without so much as second thought.
This is something that Eram Scientific, whose e-toilet solution has won a lot of acclaim, is aiming to achieve, Sadat said.
It is also working on how to bring down the power consumption by its unit of Rs 400 per month. It has come across a solar energy alternative and is trying how best to marry it with the e-toilet.
Daniel Yeh, environmental and civil engineer and faculty at University of South Florida, who accompanied Kone, said he had a visit to the low-lying Kuttanad area with its own typical problems in sanitation.
It is a challenge dealing with the issue during monsoon floods, but similar situations have been reported from elsewhere in the world.
“We should not look at waste simply as waste,” Yeh said. Waste is energy-positive, too. There are efficient membrane technologies and recycling options available.
A solution customised for the region should work best, he added.