On Friday, March 17th, RTI hosted representatives of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (RDECOM) for a pre-demonstration and technology review of the TOWR (Toilet with Onsite Remediation).
The day included presentations from the team on technology performance and ended with processing demonstrations in the lab and the TOWR mobile platform. Next steps will be to perform a technology demonstration at a TBD military facility this summer. Natick RDECOM selected RTI to continue the development of transformative sanitation technologies that are also currently being developed under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation programs.
A recent Research Brief publication from WSP (April, 2014) presents findings from 12 urban case studies on fecal sludge management. This Brief is a useful snapshot of the plight of urban sanitation in large and smaller cities around the world.
Given the rapid pace of urbanization, on-site sanitation solutions are of vital importance. More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. There is a planner’s bias towards seeking piped sewerage solutions, but the reality is that there is a lack of political will, land availability and investment dollars for piped systems to adequately close the sanitation gap or keep up with urban population growth. Worse still, these piped systems are inefficient in their consumption of water and energy to make them work.
An estimated 20 million people join the ranks of urban slum areas every year and in these areas, improved sanitation is not available. In these crowded spaces, on-site sanitation is the best option but it is very poorly managed. This WSP Research Brief points to the fact that 64% of the population in the case study cities rely on on-site waste treatment solutions. Yet, in only 22% of these households is the waste from on-site systems properly captured or treated. Large portions of on-site waste in large cities goes either uncollected, or collected and untreated. In many small and medium-sized towns there is little to no safe waste collection and treatment at all.
Untreated waste discharged in crowded urban spaces is a threat. It poses public health issues for city residents, and short and medium-term environmental implications. Adding insult to injury, there are also significant economic costs to poor sanitation (information well-documented in the WSP series on the economics of sanitation).
These case studies are what inspire the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge and its innovation grants to develop on-site waste treatment systems that manage waste at the site of disposal – advancing the science of non-piped solutions that more effectively treat the waste at its source – thus reducing or eliminating the need for handling and transportation of waste. In other parts of the RTTC, work to develop better “omni-ingestor” or “omni-processing” technologies is ongoing to better service and maintain existing on-site approaches. This WSP Research Brief provides confirmation of the need for these new innovative solutions.