Gedanken zum Welttoilettentag 2016

The following blog post is in German only, and covers some thoughts and activities on World Toilet Day 2016.

Wenn man in Deutschland zum Arzt geht, bekommt man oft nur Leiden diagnostiziert, für die es in der Gebührenverordnungen der Ärzte eine Abrechnungstabelle gibt. Ähnlich verhält es sich aus meiner Sicht mit den Toilettensystemen, die zur Auswahl stehen und dann oftmals nur aus Kostengründen zum Einsatz kommen. Aber der Reihe nach:

Der Frankfurter Welttoilettentag 2016

Die Pressekonferenz beim Welttoilettentag 2016 im Zukunftspavillon in Frankfurt am Main
Die Pressekonferenz beim Welttoilettentag 2016 im Zukunftspavillon in Frankfurt am Main

Für den Welttoilettentag 2016 hatte ich mich dieses Mal mit zwei Frankfurter Unternehmern zusammengetan, die mich aufgrund meines Leserbriefes zu den Toiletten in Frankfurt kontaktiert hatten. Wir Drei haben eine Arbeitsgruppe gebildet und möchten uns in Frankfurt für mehr und für bessere öffentliche Toiletten einsetzen, die man gerne benutzt und bei Bedarf auch jederzeit sauber und offen vorfindet. Jetzt in 2016 ist das leider noch nicht der Fall, es gibt einfach zu wenige Toiletten, und die relativ wenigen Toiletten entsprechen auch noch nicht dem Standard, den man sich als Nutzer bei einer öffentlichen Toilette wünscht (siehe: FNP1, FNP2, FR, RTL, Hessenschau). Dazu kommt, dass die Versorgung mit öffentlichen Toiletten für die Städte nach meinem Kenntnisstand keine verpflichtende Maßnahme ist (im Gegensatz zu Toiletten in Arbeitsstätten). Aus Sicht der meisten Städte verursachen öffentliche Toiletten vor allem Kosten und müssen ständig gewartet werden. Und das stimmt leider auch, weil jede Toilette nur so gut ist wie ihre Reinigung und Wartung – ein sich komplett selbst-reinigendes System gibt es bisher noch nicht. Ebenso ist es so, dass es in Frankfurt verwaltungsrechtliche und historische Gründe gibt, wieso die Zuständigkeiten für die Toiletten noch auf verschiedene Ämter verteilt sind. Alles keine leichte Ausgangssituation für den neuen Stadtrat, der hier eine Verbesserung versprochen hat.  Continue reading “Gedanken zum Welttoilettentag 2016”

Pros and Cons of sustainable portable toilets in Germany

The following post was written by guest blogger Kevin Kuhn of NonWaterSanitation.de:

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: Kevin.kuhn@nonwatersanitation.de // www.nonwatersanitation.de

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 Stackoverflow.com – 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.

StackExchange

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?

How about a Cradle2Cradle certification for toilets?

UDDTs in Ukunda, KenyaYou may or may not have heard of the Cradle to Cradle® design concept – an approach to environmental engineering where materials flows are analysed and optimized to enhance the quality of products for the user so that they are more practical for the user, healthier for everyone affected by the product, and beneficial for the economy and the environment.

Quality enhancement is achieved by focusing on three innovation principles:

  1. Everything is designed to be a nutrient for something else (waste = food)
  2. Use (of) renewable energy produced from current solar income
  3. Support diversity including conceptual, cultural and biodiversity.

A Cradle to Cradle trade fair, held in 2008 in Frankfurt, Germany, already showed C2C products and concepts – mainly from US, Dutch and Austrian manufacturers. This new design concept may just be one side of the medal – the other one being that William McDonough and Michael Braungart, the two inventors behind Cradle to Cradle, actually took this a step further and created a certification: the Cradle to Cradle® Certification.

Now, my question to you, dear readers, is: what do you think – would it make sense to obtain such a C2C certification for one of the existing or a future sanitation (toilet) system?

My assumption as someone who has been active in the field of sustainable sanitation is that most activists in this sector are scientists, who have in the past missed to really market their approaches. It’s because they are mainly scientists and only sometimes business people, where the creation of a problem-to-be-analyzed is more attractive than a marketable solution. This may of course be only one out of many other reasons why sanitation as such has been so neglected as an important issue for every human on this planet (don’t get me started on the public toilets situation in most countries…).

I am a great fan of the “Reinventing the Toilet“-approach, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as I believe that real acceptance of reuse-orientated sanitation systems in the developing world will only be possible when the rest of the developed world also starts using a reinvented type of toilets.

Also, a good product may also be made of high quality materials (which could then be recycled, thus kept in a technical loop) and I can also imagine a different type of ownership for the 21st century – where products aren’t “owned” by their users, but instead leased for a period of 15-20 years. This would enable a much more natural recycling where older products would just be given back to the manufacturer.

So the question really is: would such a C2C certification be a catalyst within the redesign process, and would it be an ultimate marketing tool that would also help changing the general perception of toilets (as a taboo that no one likes to talk about)?

What do you think?

Photo credit: UDDTs in a school in Ukunda, Kenya, by Engineers without borders. Taken from the (CC)-licensed Sustainable Sanitation photo collection on Flickr.

Harnessing the wisdom of crowds: Open discussion forum helps to answer many sanitation related questions

The following is a guest post by GIZ ecosan team leader, Dr. Elisabeth von Münch:

Harnessing the wisdom of crowds: Open discussion forum helps to answer many sanitation related questions

The idea for this open discussion forum on sanitation came from our experience that when you want to buy a new car or have a question about your baby’s teeth: where do you get advice from? You put your question into a search engine like Google and you end up reading other people’s postings on a discussion forum. Usually, those questions and answers prove to be very helpful.

SuSanA-forum-header

The same mechanism can hold true for a discussion forum on sanitation issues. This is why the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) secretariat developed a new discussion forum which was launched in July 2011. The forum is open – as opposed to some existing closed fora which require a login even just for reading. Today, the SuSanA forum already has 930 registered users, 40 topics, nearly 1000 views for the most popular topics, and some topics have attracted up to 20 replies.

All postings are readable by everyone and searchable by search engines like Google and Yahoo. A broad range of topics are covered such as sanitation systems and technologies, health and hygiene, CLTS, school sanitation, sanitation systems for special conditions, menstrual hygiene management, SuSanA working groups and announcements and many more.

All registered users can contribute to the forum by creating new discussion topics or by responding to the posts of others. The option to create a user profile, including a passport-style photo, is available. The user can also attach additional documents and photos to his or her posts.

For people who like to receive postings via e-mail, it is also possible to subscribe to a daily e-mail alert service of new posts simply by leaving your e-mail address here. Alternatively or in addition, one can subscribe to specific categories or topics after logging in and thereby follow specific discussions.

Here are four examples of very active discussion threads so far:
Faecal sludge management
Mobile sanitation systems like peepoo bags in Kenya or a new urine diversion toilet pot in Bangladesh
Menstrual Hygiene Management, including the Ruby Cup business idea in Kenya
Progress of SuSanA working groups

To view the discussion forum or to obtain your own login for writing on the forum, please click here: www.forum.susana.org

For further information or questions please contact the SuSanA secretariat.