Tag Archives: India

“Do it differently: Toilets are not enough to achieve sanitation, India must reinvent the waste business”

In a recent article in The Times of India, Sunita Narain brings up the tried and true dilemma of how throwing new toilets at a city, without an existing waste treatment infrastructure, is not a valid answer to its poor sanitation problems.

"This is because we often confuse toilets with sanitation. But the fact is that toilets are mere receptacles to receive waste; when we flush or pour water, the waste flows into a piped drain, which could be either connected, or not, to a sewage treatment plant (STP). This STP could be working, or not. In the majority of cases, human excreta (our household waste) is not safely disposed but instead discharged, untreated into the nearest river, lake or a drain."

Indeed! We’ve mentioned multiple times on this very site that simply manufacturing and installing toilets, doesn’t answer the call for better sanitation. In the end, any sanitation solution we create needs a corresponding way to deal with the waste we humans create. Be it, gigantic sewage treatment plants or basic septic tanks, we need a place for our waste go instead of our rivers and streams.

Despite this common sense though, we still need efficient ways to remove our waste and transport it into receptacles safely for treatment. For many countries, retrofitting or building new sewerage systems in towns and cities is disruptive and cost-prohibitive, to the point of impossibility.

So, as Narain wrote so well about, Governments are starting to see the value of working within the existing infrastructure.

"Governments are beginning to realise that yesterday’s system can be re-engineered to work for today and tomorrow. They now recognize the fact that septic tanks are decentralised waste collection systems. Instead of thinking of building an underground sewerage network – that is never built or never completed – it would be best to think of these systems as the future of urban sanitation. After all, we have gone to mobile telephony without the landline. Individual septic tanks could be the way to achieve full sanitation solutions."

It’s important remember: sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Many times you just have to find different ways to use it.

We encourage you to read Sunita Narain’s article. You can get to it by clicking right here.

“A Perfume that Smells Like Poop?”

A very interesting post was recently published on the personal blog of Bill Gates. It is about odor, and it focuses on the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s partnership with Firmenich and how they are attempting to combat odor, or eliminate it completely.

“Millions of new toilets are being built around the world to help end open defecation, including in India where a massive new toilet construction program is currently underway. This is great news. Unfortunately, many of these new toilets, especially the pit latrines, don’t get used because they smell bad and people continue to relieve themselves in the open where the air is fresher. This is a worrying trend that threatens to undermine the progress that’s been achieved in global sanitation.” – Bill Gates

As you may imagine, one of the many challenges we have faced in creating a sanitation system (and promoting its adoption), is a human’s natural aversion to the smells that can often occur with bathrooms used by the public.

A video from the post (also embedded below) includes a few scenes from Ahmedabad slums, and Christian Starkenmann applying Firmenich bleach powder in an Ahmedabad community toilet.

Our project has worked closely with Firmenich over the last 2 years. RTI and our partnership with SEWA facilitated this latest visit to slum areas for part of the filming of this video in September.

To read the post in its entirety, click here.

“Have We Substantially Underestimated the Impact of Improved Sanitation Coverage on Child Health?”


An interesting research article posted recently on plos.org covers the findings of two large studies conducted in India where instances of child health/morbidity weren’t necessarily reduced by improved sanitation quality. Furthermore, it was found that the value of sanitation was only improved through effective community coverage.

“We hypothesis that the value of sanitation does not come directly from use of improved sanitation but from improving community coverage. If this is so we further hypothesise that the relationship between sanitation coverage and child health will be non-linear and that most of any health improvement will accrue as sanitation becomes universal.”

Past history/sentiment has shown that if we could just improve the quality of sanitation that, naturally, incidents of malnutrition and death in children would decline. This research article posits that, that notion is only part of the solution.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

“Autonomous Beta-Test Toilet Up and Running in India”


A post on our sanitation system was recently published by our partners at Duke University. Duke University has played a crucial role in getting the recent beta implementation of our toilet installed and functional at the CEPT University in Ahmedabad.

In the post, they reference the recent improvements we made to our liquid and solid waste processing units, as well as a new process control system to makes our a system that much more autonomous.

“This is the first fully automated test run for our experimental toilet in India, and we’re all very excited,” said Jeff Glass, professor of electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke, who has led the team responsible for the liquid disinfection technology. “This is a huge milestone for the overall project led by RTI that is very important to all of us that are involved.”

To read the post in its entirety, click here.

RTI and Duke University Host Guests from the India Institute of Technology (IIT)

RTI and Duke University hosted guests from the India Institute of Technology (IIT) for a day of networking, to expand research partnerships aimed at addressing complex global issues. Four students from Duke and four from IIT, along with faculty advisors from both universities, joined RTI researchers for a day of activities that included assisting with the testing of a new combustion unit that RTI’s partners at Colorado State University have been developing for the burning and energy capture of dried human waste.

The larger automated toilet system that RTI is developing through funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to simultaneously disinfect and recycle liquid waste while drying and combusting solid waste, was introduced to the students followed by the operation of the combustor – first using wood pellets as fuel, followed by dried feces mixed with wood pellets then finally pure feces.

The students – coming from various engineering disciplines including Civil, Environmental and Chemical – collected data surrounding the air quality of the combustor’s exhaust, which is part of a larger discussion regarding the harvesting of energy from trash and human waste.

After the events of the day were complete, we retired to The Pinhook in downtown Durham, North Carolina, to relax, reflect, and network further.

The gathering was a complete success for everyone involved! Here are some reactions from participants:

“I am thrilled to be working with RTI and 2 top universities in India on this collaborative project. The students are thoughtful and ambitious, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.” – Heidi Vreeland (PhD student, Duke University)

“I am a student of Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. Just recently, Duke University and RTI International sowed seeds of research and academic collaboration with IIT Gandhinagar. I attended one lecture by Mr. Brian Stoner on his visit to India and I was amazed to see their research goals and success. They have chosen a growing Tier-II city in India which, I think is very necessary as cities like these are home to rising middle class of India and face serious toilet challenges. I was selected to be a part of the team for the Trash combustor project and was invited for a 3 day joint workshop at Duke University in the second week of July. It was an amazing experience to interact and share my ideas with so many bright minds. We were given some basic hands-on training to operate equipments that we will need when we will conduct field research in Ahmedabad in December. I am excited to meet them again in India and work with them in the near future. I hope our relations continue to grow stronger and better.” – Anmol Kishore Raina, Junior Undergraduate, Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar