Have you imagined a toilet that does not require to be connected to a sewerage system or one that requires minimal water? Well, imagine no longer because the future is here – bio toilets. “Bio toilets are extremely viable. IIT-Bombay and several academic institutions have been involved in working on various toilet models, some of these are already functional in various parts of the world,” informs researcher and activist Payal Tiwari of Observer Research Foundation (ORF) who conducted an extensive study in Mumbai’s slums on sanitation. She further stresses that they need to be studied, tried and replicated in Mumbai’s slums as a solution to the acute sanitation crisis that we are dealing with.
The most basic facilities like a toilet are often considered a luxury by most Mumbaikars and the bio toilets might just prove to be the cure we are all looking for. Slum toilets cannot be a standard design and need significant innovative alterations that use lesser space and use lesser water and electricity.
While the current models may not be best suited for the Mumbai slums with alternations the bio toilets may be easily installed if not in every home then at least as community toilets. There are various advantages of using bio toilets: they are well ventilated, eco-friendly, efficient, safe, can be cleaned easily, rely on solar power for electricity at night and can be used in extreme climates. Bio toilets are odorless, do not require any connection to sewage treatment plants or sewerage lines, are hygienic and non-polluting and also eliminate manual scavenging.
The toilet is designed so that the main latrine cabin is about seven feet in height and three to four-feet in width and length. This is made with brick and cement with a ceramic Indian or western style commode. Slits in the walls of the structure ensure good ventilation. Upon flushing, the waste is transported to the bio tank built under the structure. This tank is filled with bio inoculums or bacteria/microorganisms. While the water is allowed to pass into the ground, the waste, upon coming in contact with the bacteria, is ‘eaten’ by the bacteria instantly, leaving behind only biogas that is ventilated through a vent. There is an ‘inspection chamber’ in the commode, a trap of sorts that allows you to remove unwanted objects like small packets and other garbage that might choke the system. This ensures the system never gets blocked.
“There is no need to replenish the bacteria in the bio tank as it is self replenishing. The bio toilet can be used by 50 persons at a time safely without having to worry about overflow or over use. If the bio tank gets filled to capacity, the latrine has to simply be locked and left overnight for the bio gas to eat all the waste so by morning the bio tank is empty to be filled again,” explains Sandeep Shinde, who is currently installing bio toilets in villages in Maharashtra. “Cost depends on the order size or area where the toilets have to be installed, the time frame in which the installation has to be completed,” he adds.
Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International tells me. “The Defence Laboratories through Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) have licensed around 50 private agencies to develop and market the product however the present conditions of bio toilets seem to have some issues that need to be addressed.”
According to the World Bank about 50 per cent of the population that practices open defecation is in India, which translates to roughly half a Billion people. If all the issues around bio toilets as described by Pathak can be resolved they seem to be viable solution to an otherwise immense and ever increasing problem. There is a massive potential to solve the problems of open defecation through bio toilets especially in areas like Mumbai, which already has an overburdened swear system. Since they do not require much space they can also be installed in individual homes.
If you think bio toilets are the answer to Mumbai’s sanitation woes and would like to contribute towards or get involved with installing as many as possible across Mumbai, write or tweet to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to me @ShainaNC
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