According to the United Nations, an estimated 40 percent of the global population, or close to 2.6 billion million people do not have access to a toilet of any sort, even a pit latrine.
This has created a public health crisis in developing countries, both in terms of contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation techniques. More than one million children mostly under the age of five die each year from diarrhea resulting from this lack of sanitary conditions. While the technology exists to solve this problem, it is expensive and sometimes hard to install.
But Swedish architect and entrepreneur, Anders Wilhelmson is hoping to tackle the issue with his invention: a safe, affordable, biodegradable plastic bag called the Peepoo that can be used as a single-use toilet.
According to the New York Times, Wilhelmson got the idea for the Peepoo while doing research in Kenya’s urban slums where he observed residents using cheap plastic bags to dispose of their waste and then literally tossing the bags out the window, know as “Flying Toilets.”
Wilhelmson and his team at Stockholm-based Peepoople developed a biodegradable bag made from 45 percent renewable materials (with a goal of 100 percent) with an interior lined with a thin layer of urea crystals. Urea, a non-hazardous chemical, breaks down disease-spreading pathogens such as parasites and bacteria in human excrement so the Peepoo can actually be used as a fertilizer. While in Kenya, Wilhelmson found that open areas that could be available for waste burial surrounded even the most densely packed slums.
Peepoople conducted tests in Kenya and Bangladesh in 2008-2009, and now Wlhelmson hopes to commercialize the product in 2010. He plans on selling each Peepoo for two or three cents, approximately the cost of an ordinary, non-disposable plastic bag.
The World Toilet Organization (WTO), a sanitation advocacy group, estimates the market for inexpensive toilets in the developing world is close to a trillion dollars. The organization has held an annual World Toilet Summit that has resulted in entrepreneurs such as Wilhemson working on low-cost sanitation solutions.
As reported in the Time, Rigel Technology of Singapore demonstrated a $30 toilet at the 2009 WTO meeting that turns solid waste into compost, and Sulabh International, an Indian nonprofit, has been promoting a number of low-cost toilets, including a one that produces biogas from human waste that can then be used for cooking.
The WTO has declared November 19 as “World Toilet Day” to increase awareness and generate local action for improved sanitation around the world.
Article by Julie Mitchell appearing courtesy Celsias.