RTI hosted Vincent Santos (TUV SUD/Singapore Water Services) at our prototype site at CEPT University in Ahmedabad on 13 April.
RTI and TUV Sud are collaborating as part of the working group engaged with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in developing a new international standard for non-sewered sanitation systems. Currently the standard is in the draft and is undergoing a validation process.
Vincent and the TUV Sud team are engaging with a number of the BMGF reinvent the toilet grantees to validate the practicality, applicability and accuracy of test requirements outlined in the draft standard with those technologies that are now in active field testing.
In a recent Nicholas Kristof interview with Bill and Melinda Gates in The New York Times, when asked about any mistakes they made during their immense philanthropic endeavors, they mentioned that they would’ve taken a more “low tech” approach.
“So what mistakes did they make in their philanthropy? They say they started out too tech-focused. Now some of the measures they promote are distinctly low-tech — like breast-feeding, which could save the lives of more than 800,000 children worldwide each year.”
This topic resonates deeply with the global sanitation crisis the world is currently facing as well. For all the technological advances we make, for all the whiz-bang toilets we manufacture, there are also societal and educational hurdles we need to get past before any of this has an effect. These obstacles are easily as complex as the technology being developed and, in many cases, they are problems that can’t be solved quickly with the simple flip of a switch.
This is why field work is so important and, for our toilet project, has been invaluable.
Through active engagement with the people who are going to be using our toilet everyday we are listening and learning about their needs and potential concerns. Through this communication process, we are developing a sanitation/waste treatment solution that won’t languish after it’s been deployed. We’ll have already educated them on its use and maintenance. And they will want to use it because it’s familiar, clean and safe for anyone to use.
You see it happening more and more around sanitation, and hygiene (particularly in regards to women and girls/children). People are talking and it’s vital that we keep that dialogue alive and, most importantly, learn from it moving forward.
Having a conversation – engaging and educating people – is about as low-tech as you can get. Seeing the intrinsic value in this dialogue will be key to solving the world’s sanitation problems. We need to continue to have these conversations. Otherwise all of these high-tech solutions we’re so busy creating will only sit, unused, collecting dust, while antiquated ideals and ideas of how sanitation should be, carry on.
In a previous post we encouraged people to focus on waste treatment when considering new toilet technologies. It’s of vital importance that we find creative and efficient ways to deal with waste. Without a doubt, keeping human waste out of our water supply, containing it until it can be treated, is one of the biggest issues we face at the moment.
Or you are interested in reading about China’s massive effort to process fecal sludge into fertilizer or biogas (an estimated 6,800 tons of human excrement, daily, in Beijing alone!!) for reuse amongst their people. It’s clear that the world is seeing waste treatment as an opportunity – both on a humanitarian level, and a lucrative level as well.
But many of the solutions in the news are massive in scale. Both in the literal space they take up and on the shear amount of waste they treat. They also typically cater to situations with existing waste treatment infrastructure.
In many cases where the situation is much, much smaller in scale, these solutions are impractical.
That’s why the diversity of the Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” initiative is so important. In addition to these massive scale projects, we also need solutions that can be dropped in remote areas. Solutions that can fit within a tiny village and slums with inevitably tight spaces. Small scale solutions that cater to smaller communities are more affordable, versatile, and appropriate to the situation at hand – which is often places with absolutely no infrastructure for waste capture, let alone treatment.
The aim of our toilet project is to create a complete waste treatment solution that fits (spatially, and logistically) into that smaller scale need. We are creating a toilet that can be placed almost anywhere in the world. A solution that will not only give people privacy, safety and dignity, but will also turn their urine into water for cleaning and agriculture and turn their feces into harmless ash that can be used as fertilizer. In these cases, a small footprint is key to getting these solutions to the people that desperately need them.
The issue of waste treatment is incredibly diverse. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. That’s why it’s so important to see the recent media attention being given to those groups stepping up to the plate, trying to address this issue on both a massive and small scale.
The CBS 60 Minutes broadcast Saturday of “Bill Gates 2.0” originally aired on May 12, 2013, and was rebroadcast on July 28, 2013.
This Charlie Rose interview allows you to meet the man behind some of the most ambitious humanitarian projects the world has ever seen. The Reinvent the Toilet program is discussed around the 5:00 min mark.