No modern public toilets in Frankfurt

The following blog post is a reply (in German) I received the other day from the City of Frankfurt am Main in Germany upon my request for more public toilets.

A short proposal that asked the city to invest in more public toilets that would improve the overall toilet situation in Frankfurt (which is still bad) and that would make use of technologies such as vacuum toilets and/or Urilift urinals. A quickly drafted idea that I shared on Bürgerhaushalt FFM a while ago (which is a website by the city of Frankfurt to pool public participation). You may want to use Google translate if German isn’t your language…

A snapshot of closed urinals in a public toilet / restroom - seen at Frankfurt Airport in Oct. 2013. #fail

A snapshot of closed urinals in a public toilet / restroom – seen at Frankfurt Airport in Oct. 2013. #fail

The idea
Vorschlag und Ergebnis der Bürgerbeteiligung
Vorschlag Nr.: B903
Titel: Förderung öffentlicher Toiletten

In der Innenstadt sollte es mehr öffentliche Toiletten geben, gerne auch mit einer Benutzungsgebühr.

– Sicherstellung der sanitären Grundversorgung (!)
– Gastlichkeit für Besucher der Innenstadt
– Auslagerung der Verantwortung in eine GmbH
– Wassereinsparungen durch wasserlose Urinale
– Betriebskosten für Wasser durch Verwendung von Vakuumtoiletten einsparen
– Nährstoffrecycling mit z.B. Verwendung des org. Düngers in den Grünanlagen der Stadt
– Grauwasserrecycling, z.B. Handwaschbeckenspülwasser aufbereiten für Toilettenspülung
– Aufbesserung des Images des Stadt
– Zusatzangebote wie z.B. Verkauf von Hygieneartikeln, Handyladestation, etc.
– versenkbare Urinale (in den Niederlanden populär) für Vergnügungsviertel, die in der Nacht
aus dem Boden ausgefahren werden
In anderen Städten Europas wurde dies teilweise schon umgesetzt.
Bei richtiger Kalkulation, d.h. Umlage der Betriebskosten, könnte dies sogar rentabel sein, es
müsste aber eine Förderung seitens der Stadt geben.

Their reply

Beschlussempfehlung: Der Vorschlag wird abgelehnt.

Read more →

Pros and Cons of sustainable portable toilets in Germany

The following post was written by guest blogger Kevin Kuhn of

In this article, I´d like to talk about one topic which is not very common in the field of sanitation. I am talking about rentals for portable toilets for any kind of events, construction sites, or festivals, but even for parks, beaches, e.t.c. for the long-term.

Why is it worth talking about it?
The sanitary situation on the sector for portable toilets is catastrophic. Sometimes it is worse than the situation in third world countries! At the moment people leave their homes and go to a crowded place, and it is nearly impossible to find proper sanitary installations. Most of the time they have a disgusting odour, they are stuffed with waste and the dirt doesn´t even let you think about sitting on it. If you know one of these plastic toilets, you will definitely recognize your experience with distaste. The worst situation appears on festivals for 2-5 days. During these events, people don´t have any possibility to enjoy a normal toilet. I have heard about people getting communicable diseases and constipation after such a weekend. So let me ask you, is that a situation which we can except in a far developed society like ours?

Following this main problem, there are also the questions of sustainability in sanitation. The supply of cabins made out of plastic, does not seem to be a good solution for solving greater problems like declining resources of oil and climate change. They are very energy- and resource intensive in their production and cleaning processes. Special trucks are needed to collect the waste, to transport these bulky cabins and to clean the toilets via high-pressured water. A last point to be mentioned is that waste-water treatment is really struggling with the waste in those toilets through tampons or other sanitary products. Apart from that, the nutrients of urine and feaces are lost while treated in those facilities. This should let us also think about the externalities of supplying sanitation facilities.

There is a green solution
To solve the problems we are tackling, we have to rethink the production of toilet cabins, the treatment of the waste, and mainly the service around toilets.

Sustainable production of toilets: The current dominating plastic toilets have two advantages: they are light and they are easy to produce in masses. But using local wood instead as the main component makes it easier to disassembly them. The toilets are also light and it is a renewable resource.

The treatment of human waste: The treatment will be done through composting the collected material, in the same way it is done in private gardens or Ecosan projects. Sustainable mobile toilets are composting toilets. This means that there is a barrel under the toilet seat which can easily be removed and exchanged. Also there is no energy and no water used to convert human waste into valuable humus.

Service around toilets: It starts with using grid material to avoid any kind of distaste and odour. To achieve this, chipped wood will be used. This can easily absorb the moisture and is biodegradable. Also there is a need to raise awareness for sanitation, which can be achieved by having an employee who supervises the toilets and promotes sustainable sanitation, or through special offers like Tippy-Taps or music.

Compost toilets at Weltfest in Berlin, Germany, 2013

Compost toilets at Weltfest in Berlin, Germany, 2013

The revolution already started! But just began in central Europe.

If you do a quick Google search, you will find some worldwide festivals which are trying to have a share of 100% from sustainable toilets. Some examples include the BOOM festival in Portugal, Natural Event in Australia, and many smaller suppliers in England and France. Their goal is to make sanitation fascinating. Thus they have colourful toilets, easy-going staff, or even a DJ. There are actually people dancing in front of toilets. Some of the suppliers are taking a pay-per-use fee, some get paid by the organiser. But what they all have in common is the problem of logistics. Because serving toilets and treating faecal matter of 1000s of people needs a master plan. Mostly there are waste containers used, because the wheels lighten the transport. Afterwards it will be collected in larger containers and transported to a local farmer or any other composting site.

That works well for festivals, where mostly young people go to and most of the festivals in Europe try to start building their own composting toilets. But how is the market for one-day events like a street party, a family party, or construction sites so far? For that kind of service there is still no clear answer. This is mainly because organisers don´t know about this alternative. Another reason is the higher price that is still needed; like in any other breakthrough technology, new competitors have financial disadvantages.

In Germany and Switzerland, a few smaller companies were established in the last two years. EcoToi is working in the area of Berlin, nowato in Frankfurt/Main, Goldeimer in Northern Germany and Kompotoi in Switzerland. Thus, they are spatially separated and can´t compete with each other. But every one of the companies has the same problems:

  • costly and laborious production of toilets
  • a small budget and mostly depending on sponsorships
  • a small staff
  • high transportation cost
  • suppliers for conventional portable toilets canoffer lower prices
  • they just have a small stock on toilets (2-8), which is not sufficient for most organisers
  • lack of knowledge about alternative portable toilets

One advantage all the teams have right now is that some social groups are willing to pay a higher price for a green product. Almost every of these firms want to donate their gains to sanitation projects. This kind of corporate sustainable responsibility is well appreciated by the costumers, though the gains are too small until now, to create a noteworthy impact. The fact that these toilets offer more comfort is very important for those users. Also, there is still some uncertainty about the law situation for recycling of human waste. Until now mostly farmers and biogas plants take care of it with their own responsibility. But still the major target for the future will be to be financially independent and to up-scale the business and compete with conventional suppliers.

What do you think about the way to make sustainable portable toilets well-known as a better alternative? Should there be room for this kind of innovation?

If you have any comments, ideas, or concerns, please write me an E-Mail: //


WASH United, the international social impact organization that “combines the power of sports superstars, interactive games and positive communication to excite people about sanitation and practicing good hygiene” just wrapped up its 28-day campaign dedicated to shedding more light on menstruation and Menstrual Hygiene Mangement (MHM):


May #MENSTRAVAGANZA Day 28: BIG NEWS! Today wraps up our 28-day campaign dedicated to shedding more light on menstruation & MHM. THANKS FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT! WASH United, together with amazing global partners, announces that it will make May 28th a globally-recognised Menstrual Hygiene Day. Will you join us in supporting #MHDay?

(src: WASH United FB page)

Yes, of course! MHM is such an important and often still neglected hygiene issue that we urgently need to keep the conversations going – beyond this 28-day campaign. Online and offline.

Please also be reminded that the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) dedicated a category on its forum to this matter where professional conversations on everything around MHM are already taking place. A few scientists and activists exchanging ideas online certainly won’t be enough, which is why this idea of celebrating May 28th as an international Menstravangaza Day is a smart move.

What I really like about WASH United (the link opens their very active Facebook group) and why their work matters to me: our target group (the people) usually doesn’t pay attention to scientists, but they do hear what superstars say. Remember Angelina Jolie’s preventive double mastectomy? Right. Now, if we can achieve a similar open conversation on MHM the way we are now already talking about (the lack of decent) toilets or mastectomy, then we may have achieved more than what could probably be done via the usual top-down approaches in dev aid.

Let’s put the “men” in Menstravaganza!

P.S.: Did you know there’s an online museum on Menstruation? It’s called “Museum of Menstruation & Women’s Health“. Oh, and the Menstrupedia is also very informative!

Caution: Cholera!

The following post by guest blogger Thilo Panzerbieter of the German Toilet Organization (GTO) refers to the GTO activities during WWD2013:


On this year’s World Water Day, 200 school pupils from five schools assembled at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and confronted Germany’s Federal Minister of Development, Dirk Niebel, with “dirty water”, placards and various other diplays. This provocative gesture intended to remind Niebel that 783 million people still live without access to clean water and 2.5 billion have no adequate sanitation.

The school children highlighted that the consumption of contaminated water causes more than 3.4 million annual deaths and demanded more prioritisation of the topic. Beside causing cholera, typhoid and other diarrheal diseases, insufficient water, sanitation and hygiene results in children missing 443 million school days per year, according to UNDP.


Federal Minister Niebel thanked the students for their creative presentations and agreed that water is the most valuable good, which cannot be replaced by anything else, and which is not available in sufficient quality for most poor people. He stressed that he is also working for improved water and sanitation, despite the taboos associated with “toilets”.

In order to show solidarity with the many children that have to carry water over great distances in other countries, the pupils in Berlin continued on a public demonstration through the governing quarter of Berlin – making lots of noise for an issue which causes way too many silent deaths world over.

WASH karma score

Just as a quick hit and food for thought: in a recent e-mail exchange with WASH colleagues regarding online participation, I came to realize that it would be great to have some sort of (transferable) WASH karma for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) experts.

I have a friend who is an expert in the open-source server-side scripting language PHP. Being a programmer by profession, he often contributes to – a Q&A site for IT people. Questions and answers are rated and get voted up and down. His karma or online reputation is based on the quality of his answers. There is a direct relation between his expert knowledge, his willigness to share it with others, the resulting karma / online reputation and new contracts. Because, hey, wouldn’t you want to hire experts only? Right.

Microthrix parvicella An unrelated, but still interesting photo to attract the reader’s visual attention: Microthrix Parvicella, a family of bacteria the author of this blog encountered while working on a waste water treatment plant back in the days.


The International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) is currently also prototyping a website (under the interim name “Knowledge Point”) that is based around the same software that powers Stackoverflow (StackExchange). I support this cause and believe that it will be great.

I have been thinking about the forum of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance and other interactive websites that facilitate the exchange of expert knowledge online. As far as I see it, there are at least two main criteria that play a role when it comes to engaging experts in online conversations:

Motivation: Why should I contribute my knowledge/expertise to a forum/website/group? Can I do this during office hours? What if my competitors read up on my entries and copy from me? Will I get paid?

Sustainability: Why should I keep on repeating myself online? I have already shared this knowledge/expertise in a publication. Forum ABC has similar content like forum XYZ – where will I be active? Can I import my previous posts on another forum? Can I keep my aggregated karma points? What happens to my posts when the site goes down?

There may be even more criteria that limit the interaction of experts online and this list certainly isn’t complete. It may be against this background though that many contributors probably come from the scientific sector, less from the practitioner’s or (sanitation as a) business side.

WASH karma score

So in comes the idea of a transferable WASH karma / online reputation score. Something similar to the Klout score that measures the social media influence. But while Klout is based on an unknown algorithm, the proposed WASH karma score would be open and transferable: the better your answers and interactions, the higher your ranking. Quality instead of quantity (because that’s a well-known downside with Klout). And transferable with an application programming interface (API) – similar to the “Gravatar” avatar/profile pic icons you see that come along with comments. An independent site that keeps track of your contributed WASH expertise online – so that YOU as a contributor won’t have to worry about double efforts.

Everything counts, there is no single resource online, not the one-and-only-forum that has the magic solution. Small sites, comment threads on blog posts, locked Ning networks, LinkedIn/Xing groups, Twitter, Google+, FB, YouTube, etc. – all of them matter. People who contribute to such platforms online will do so for various reasons. Their knowledge is shared via a variety of channels, but they still are individuals who often have the desire to get credit for their various activities. A specified online reputation score for the WASH sector that will come along like a Gravatar image could probably contribute to that desire.

What do you think – would it be an improvement to have such a karma score for the WASH sector?