Thursday, September 27, 2012

Waterless Toilets - What the Third World Needs Now

For millions of people living in third world countries, access to basic sanitation facilities is limited or nonexistent. In many of these areas, the lack of running water means that the same rivers used for bathing and obtaining cooking water are also used for defecating and dumping garbage. The biggest problem with such contamination is the threat of waterborne illness, a leading cause of death among infants and children in impoverished countries. One of the best possible solutions to this problem is waterless toilets.

Waterless toilets are not a new invention; in fact, they've been around for decades. One of the biggest barriers to their use and integration in third world nations is education. Groups like the Peace Corps and UNICEF routinely go into such countries to promote better sanitation by making waterless toilets available and educating people on how to use and maintain them. Unfortunately, there are far more areas that need such assistance than there are volunteer groups and funds to provide it.

There are various types of waterless toilets available today, and some are more feasible than others for use in third world nations. Probably the most commonly used is the sawdust toilet because of its extremely simple design. Consisting of nothing more than a five gallon bucket fitted with a toilet seat on top, sawdust toilets are very inexpensive to build and distribute on a large scale. All that is required to maintain the system is an ample supply of sawdust, peat moss, sand, or any other fine particulate substance. This material is used to cover the waste inside the toilet after each use, so as to prevent odors in the bathroom area. In arid climates with plenty of sandy soil, these systems are quite feasible for people to maintain. However, sawdust toilets are a good solution only for people living in remote or rural areas, because they do require some land in an area at least fifty yards or so from the primary residence. This land should be a location where the composting pile can be kept and buckets routinely emptied as they fill up. Obviously, in densely populated urban areas, this would not work.

A better alternative for urban areas are waterless composting toilets. These are professionally manufactured systems that are designed to hold all waste and compost it internally. The primary problem with this solution is the cost. Waterless composting toilets are often prohibitively expensive and require grants or donation from generous benefactors to implement them on a large scale. The advantage to composting toilets is that they don't require a lot of land space, since all waste is handled within the toilet itself. They are very simple to use and maintain; however, they do require an ongoing supply of bulking material, such as peat moss and wood chips. This bulking material should be added to the toilet on a daily basis in order to maintain the correct balance of carbon and nitrogen within the compost. This will help the waste to break down quickly and without creating unpleasant odors. Access to such a bulking material may be limited in some urban areas and also might be financially unfeasible for people to purchase, and this could create another potential barrier to their use. Ideally, if an urban municipality could supply bulking material to residents at a minimal cost, this hurdle could be overcome.

One way or another, better sanitation facilities are desperately needed in third world countries. Millions of people fall ill and thousands die each year due to illnesses caused by contaminated water supplies. Waterless toilets would allow residents of such countries to dispose of their waste in a hygienic manner without wasting or contaminating their limited freshwater resources.

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