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”

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. Continue reading “WASH karma score”

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. Continue reading “How about a Cradle2Cradle certification for toilets?”

Mainstreaming proprietary software formats into dev aid publications

Mainstreaming the Environment into Humanitarian Action

Dear Readers,
as much as I would like to share the following link to a very nice training toolkit with you – a toolkit that has been up online for some time now and recently got an extra section on sustainable sanitation – I am seriously wondering what the good folks at UNEP’s Environment, Humanitarian Action and Early Recovery programme are doing all day long. Probably not anything related to knowledge management & IT.

“UNEP and Groupe URD have developed a training toolkit to assist humanitarian actors to integrate environmental considerations into their policy development, planning, programme design and operational activities. The training toolkit consists of 11 modules, with each substantive module containing a summary, PowerPoint presentation, trainer’s guide, training materials and key supporting documents.” (src)

I know it isn’t good style to publicly criticize others, but producing a toolkit that consists of documents saved in DOCX, PPTX or WMV format just isn’t appropriate in any way. This may work for those in charge behind their desks in Europe or the US, but not out there in the field.

Instead, all documents should rather be in Portable Document Format (PDF). Along with a free & light-weight portable PDF viewer. There are quite a few out there with open licences.  And the videos – how about AVI instead of Windows (!) Media Video (WMV)? Or Theora? And a portable VLC player for MS Win, OSX and Linux.

How many dev workers in Africa are on Apple computers due to the malware threat? Right.

This publication is just an example. In fact, there are many others – yes, even in 2012 – that are produced in a similar way and which make me think that there’s no real passion behind it. This issue probably wouldn’t arise if everything was accessible via the web – which could also be displayed on small mobile phone screen, instead of 48 MB *.pptx files. Maybe we also have to blame ourselves for producing PDFs that can be shared on- and offline, but whose content would be much better in old-fashioned html.

An example of a passionate project is Alex Weir’s CD3WD collection. That’s much more information than any one of us can handle, yet it’s all usable.

What do you think?

The Reptilian Code of Toilets?

I’ve recently read an interesting article on the work of cultural anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille who’s the author of different books, among them the The Culture Code and 7 Secrets of Marketing in a Multi-Cultural World .

One of this theories is that “buying decisions are strongly influenced by the reptilian brain”: only accessible via the subconscious, the reptilian brain is the home of our intrinsic instincts .

“Dr. Rapaille started his work on Archetype Discoveries in 1976 to identify consumers unstated needs and wants. His work is in sharp contrast to the traditional market research, which relies specifically on the permanent underlying structure of what people say through opinion surveys, focus groups or interviews to forecast behaviors. His research at Archetype Discoveries seeks to dig under ones “rational” reasoning, to uncover the true emotional and biological roots of ones opinions and behaviors. He believes that understanding this unconscious foundation gives one the tools to better motivate consumers, design new products, and improve communications strategies.”

According to his website, his list of clients includes General Motors, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Boeing, IBM and AT&T.

Archetype Discoveries
In the course of these Archetype Discoveries, as he calls this process, he helped uncovering the secret code of cities and products, such as Dubai and Singapore.

Clotaire Rapaille also recently received a lot of hatred when he identified the “code” of the City of Québec in Canada as “completely neurotic” and Quebeckers having a “sadomasochist” relationship with “the English”. The inconvenience of such “truth” obviously is the risk you take while uncovering subconscious messages.


This blog is about sanitation. Sanitation, as in: clean toilets and sound treatment options.

dilapidated flush toilet
Picture: dilapidated flush toilet in Kansuswa, Zambia

In an ideal world, all waste streams would probably be sustainable and could be reused (the biological and technical nutrients would remain in a loop). The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (of which this blog is a partner) aims to focus on such sustainable approaches.

Most humans, however, don’t seem to care about the treatment options, for them all that matters is the interface between them and the problem (their urine, faeces and other biological waste) because it is what they get in touch with. Such an interface is the toilet – a place where they can safely & comfortably urinate and defecate, with or without privacy.

Flush and Forget
To my understanding, the approach of the sustainable sanitation people has in the past also included the various treatment options (which are best described in the multilingual Compendium of Sanitation in Developing Countries), so the design of new toilets often follows the attached treatment option(s).

After about a hundred years of conventional flush type toilets in the developed world that are based on water for transport, the approach from the treatment side isn’t that wrong as it shifts the sanitation problem from the user side to the environmental engineering side: let someone else take care of it.

This “flush and forget” mentality probably also is what made flush type toilets so popular in the past, for they allowed the convenient discharge of waste within a few seconds.


Now, I understand that it would probably not be possible to have a single technology, a single toilet and treatment option for all humans out there on this planet, BUT! – and that’s where Clotaire Rapaille comes into play – would it be possible to make use of the Archetype method to identify the optimal toilet design for each culture out there? Not because toilet users in each community wouldn’t know best what they want (or rather: what they are used to), but because such an unconventional approach could probably shed some new light on toilet design – and which type would be best suited for each community (going by their intrinsic needs).

Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization in Singapore, already uses a similar approach on one of his toilet hygiene education projects in some SE Asian countries: “dirty toilets cause cancer”, he argues in this video, shot at the Water Cube @ Stockholm World Water Week 2010, “all the people in China who started smoking on the toilet” (because of smelly toilets) “continue to smoke and eventually get lung cancer”.

People smoking on toilets. On toilets! …because they don’t want to smell the remaining faeces of others. Oh my.

While his approach also delivers another argument on why progressive people in developed countries (yeah, the RP of China) should also rethink their investments into a proper toilet, it’s interesting to see the way toilet users chose to avoid the smell problem. Instead of cleaning the toilet, they prefer to smoke. This “hygiene” strategy in my opinion says a lot about the intrinsic instincts of toilet users in those communities. People don’t want to touch or care about other faeces, others than their own (as Jack argues: “you forgive yourself for the smell if you defecate within the first 6 seconds”) and will do anything else to cover it up.

You’ve probably already heard of or even used one of those sophisticated bidet/washlet toilets in modern Japan that offer so much comfort, including a sound module that covers up any embarassing sounds. I still remember squat toilets in traditional Ryokans while growing up in Japan which were very basic – but which also were very much in line with the traditional & rough Japan back in the days (1970s+80s). Nowadays, with over 13 million inhabitants in the Metropolis that Tokyo has meanwhile become, coupled with this special Japanese understanding of how an individual has to be part of a group, I understand that these modern toilets not only provide a very luxurious hygienic comfort, but also protect its users from any embarassing situation. The success of these toilet systems probably also goes in line with the use of toilet slippers, as there are clean and unclean areas, and may also be related to the ongoing ageing of society in Japan (which calls for automatic solutions). Given that about 72% of all installed toilets in Japanese households are of this bidet type, it seems obvious that toilet users / consumers are willing to invest money into such “luxury”.

Is this – the luxury of a clean & modern toilet – in any way related to the intrinsic needs of toilet users in Japan? I am asking this question as the “intrinsic instincts”, as Rapaille calls them, are very Freudian in a sense that they are associated with our early childhood memories. Given that Japanese boys are often pampered until they join university, and given that they are the ones who make the buying decision in Japanese families, could this desire for a luxurious toilet be part of their intrinsic instincts?

“Nonsense”, you may reply, “toilets are toilets, everyone needs to use them, Freud is totally overrated and this Rapaille dude from France a wacko”. Yes. And no, not really. Because there could indeed be a “Reptilian Code of Toilets” that still needs to be identified. “The Hot Button”, as Rapaille calls it, the unique code why consumers do something.

Why? Because he’s right on the Indian code as mentioned in the Fast Company article from 2006: “Indians are at root a practical people.”

Open defecation in a society that’s so old, sophisticated but also traditional and with a lot of 2000yrs old working in-the-loop-concepts, it seems more than logic that a lot of (poor) people are still defecating in the open (see documentary from my previous post) – simply because it’s the most practical thing to do. And that, ladies and gentleman, is a culture code.

Is there any Reptílian Code on toilets?