World Toilet Day 2012: RTI Projects and Innovations


Innovative Technologies and Social Campaigns Mark the RTI Commitment to Improved Sanitation and Human Health

World Toilet Day 2012 logo

Lack of proper sanitation, water treatment, and human waste management is a serious global health issue in many developing countries. As World Toilet Day is observed around the globe on November 19, RTI is answering the call to improve sanitation systems and develop novel technologies for human waste management on a number of fronts.

The Waterless Toilet

Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are developing a waterless toilet that converts human waste into burnable fuel, stored energy and disinfected, non-potable water. We are partnering with Duke University, Colorado State University, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to build a prototype of a safe, sanitary, and affordable waste treatment system.

Threefold Functional Design

Waterless toilet design
Waterless toilet design (click for larger view)

Our design will accomplish three primary functions: disinfect liquid waste, dry and burn solid waste, and convert the resulting combustion energy into stored electricity … all without requiring piped-in water, a sewer connection, or outside electricity. The system also includes innovations to improve operational utility, energy efficiency, and cost.

The solid waste drying process will use a combination of mechanical, solar, and thermal energy. A mechanical screw-like device will separate out liquids and begin the process of converting solid waste into combustion fuel. Solar energy, natural drafts and heat from burning waste will further aid the drying process.

As it dries, the waste will be broken down into uniform-sized pellets, which will be burned using the RTI-developed thermoelectric enhanced cookstove add-on device, a self-powered unit that captures a portion of heat and converts it into electricity. This electricity will run a combustion blower and be stored in a battery to power the water treatment functions.

Liquid waste—including urine and liquid that is removed from the solid waste—will be disinfected through electrochemical processes using diamond-based electrodes (to be developed in partnership with Advanced Diamond Technologies, Inc., and Duke University). The disinfected water will be suitable for use as rinse water for the toilet or as fertilizer.

For more information, see the RTI news release or contact Brian Stoner, Ph.D., an RTI senior fellow in materials and electronic technologies and principal investigator on the project.

The Cocopeat Filter System

Cocopeat biofilter demonstration
Cocopeat biofilter demonstration

Under a separate Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations grant in 2011, we are currently pursuing an innovation that uses cocopeat as a filter to treat wastewater.

Cocopeat is essentially coconut dust, the waste product that remains when fibers are removed from ground coconut shells. At two schools in Muntinlupa City, Philippines, we are setting up testing facilities to experiment with cocopeat to determine the best mix for long-term use as a filter to treat wastewater. The testing facilities will work in conjunction with activities at the schools to raise awareness of wastewater treatment and hygiene, as well as provide improved sanitation for hundreds of students and staff.

If cocopeat, which is a widely available material that is easily repurposed, can be proven effective long term and at a large scale, the opportunity to improve sanitation is significant. Additionally, microfinancing and training can be applied to the economics of cocopeat production and delivery, unlocking the power of decentralized wastewater treatment for wide-scale, community-based sanitation improvement.

Community-Based Urban Sanitation

Completed Indonesia washhouse
Completed Indonesia washhouse

In 2010, with a grant from the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we began to develop community- and school-based hygiene improvement campaigns and infrastructure improvements in a selected district of Tangerang, Banten Province, Indonesia. Tangerang was chosen because it is an industrial and manufacturing hub just outside Jakarta where many migrant workers live in areas that are poorly served with water, improved sanitation, or solid waste infrastructure and services.

Our partners in this effort are the Environmental Quality Protection Foundation of Taiwan and the well-regarded Indonesian non-governmental organization, the Institute for Integrated Social and Economic Development, better known as BEST (Bina Ekonomi Sosial Terpadu). BEST, established in 1995, has a strong track record of sanitation programming in Tangerang, among other locations in the country.

Using a simple and efficient community-based planning process and a training program for local masons, toilets and community wash facilities with proper wastewater treatment have been installed. The project follows the community sanitation, or SANIMAS approach, a well-proven model in Indonesia.

But we have taken the SANIMAS approach one step further by combining community-based sanitation initiatives with simultaneous hygiene promotion programs for schools. We believe hygiene education in the schools can drive behavior change in the community. We are timing the promotional programs with the completion of the toilet and community wash infrastructure so community members have the appropriate facilities to put new concepts into practice. The local government is also helping by removing the old “helicopter” style toilets that discharge waste directly into the river.

For more information, see the RTI news release or contact Myles Elledge, a senior director in international development policy and planning at RTI.

Promoting Safe Water and Sanitation in Rural Senegal

Senegal CLTS latrine
Senegal CLTS latrine

The USAID Millennium Water and Sanitation Program (USAID/PEPAM, 2009-2014) is an RTI-led project to improve sustainable access to improved water supply and sanitation and promote better hygiene in targeted rural and peri-urban areas of Senegal. With core funding from USAID, we are working with two US subcontractors (Relief International and Tetratech), US Peace Corps, Coca-Cola, UNICEF, Red Cross, the Italian NGO ACRA, and about 30 Senegalese NGOs and businesses.

The project has five integrated components:

  1. Improve local participatory governance
  2. Increase demand for improved water, sanitation, and hygiene services
  3. Train local entrepreneuers to respond effectively to demand for services
  4. Construct water and sanitation facilities
  5. Promote community-led total sanitation (CLTS) and water, sanitation, and hygiene programs in schools.

As concerns sanitation, we have conducted hygiene education programs and fostered improved sanitation facilities in 204 rural communities, benefitting 51,400 people. Seventy-eight of those communities have reached open-defecation free status and people have constructed their own latrines with their own funds using an innovative modified approach to CLTS. The Senegalese national Department of Sanitation has endorsed the RTI-led CLTS approach.

Addition program initiatives include the following:

  • We are starting to work in low-income peri-urban neighborhoods. The current plan is to reach over 90,000 beneficiaries by the middle of 2014.
  • We have developed detailed construction manuals of three basic types of latrines and trained over 100 local masons to build them.
  • We have helped to created 471 community-level water and sanitation committees, and supported them to manage their own water and sanitation affairs, including local water and sanitation funds with cash contributed by beneficiaries.
  • The RTI Water and Sanitation Project and the RTI Education Project collaborated with the Ministry of Education to prepare a new middle school curriculum on water sanitation and health, which has just been adopted as the official new curriculum for all schools in Senegal.

For more information, contact Alan Wyatt, senior water and sanitation specialist.