Lack of water and the resulting foul odour in most Indian public toilets are the top reasons we eschew using them. So what could be the appeal of a waterless toilet? According to The Better India, Marachi Subburaman is building Ecosan toilets which are waterless and zero waste. Mr. Subburaman has spent his life working in the public service space. Initially he helped poor people build low-cost homes and later through his organisation – Society for Community Organisation and People’s Education (SCOPE) in Trichy – he worked for women’s welfare as well as with sanitation projects. He was also invited to form what was later called Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.
Along the way he was inspired by British marine engineer, Paul Calvert’s toilet innovation. Calvert’s innovation was based on Swedish planner Uno Winblad’s Ecosan toilet design where there are separate receptacles for urine and faeces, with two different chambers underneath. Calvert spent his winters helping a fishing villagers along the coast of Thiruvananthapuram build toilets. But the challenge was to construct toilet pits which would remain unaffected by the high water table in the region.
Ecosan toilets’ two separate receptacles mean that when one is filled, it is sealed and the other one opens. Once the faeces dries up it and decomposes in the sealed chamber it gets converted into manure which is used for crops. Urine on the hand is diverted to a vessel from where it is diluted with water and directed towards plants. Ecosan toilets made sanitation possible in the Thiruvananthapuram fishing village.
Subburaman borrowed from this innovation and designed Ecosan Urine Diversion Toilet (EUDT) which is essentially a toilet pan with a hole at each end, one for urine and one for faeces. This separation is key and it allows each to be dealt with at little to no cost. Among the numerous advantages of the EUDT are the prevention of germs escaping, the conversion of faeces to manure and the gradual recycling process which returns nutrients back to the soil thus closing the loop. They also save on electricity and water which are the two biggest expenses in sewage treatment.
The unique design of EUDT mean it can be provided for sanitation anywhere including deserts (water scarcity), rocky area (difficult to dig pits) as well as regions with high water tables or prone to flooding. Subburaman’s EUDT can be seen in Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Orissa, Bihar and Ladakh. They are an inexpensive and easy-to-operate alternative to traditional waste disposal which is crucial to the Swachh Bharat Mission.