The importance of clean toilets and how standards save lives
"Establishing common guidelines is a key step towards fostering next-generation sanitation systems and engaging commercial interests."
Dr. Andreas Hauser
Director of Digital Service, TÜV SÜD
Monday, November 19, 2018
Despite being declared a universal human right by the United Nations, safely managed sanitation is something that an estimated 2.3 billion people is currently deprived of. Annually, the lack of basic sanitation and hygiene claim the lives of 361,000 of the world’s most vulnerable citizens: children aged under five.
Untreated or poorly-disposed faecal sludge and effluent can pollute living environments with dangerous pathogens and bacteria and spread debilitating diseases like cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid and polio.
This year, the theme for World Toilet Day on 19 November is: Toilets and nature. Nature-based solutions, where toilets and sanitation systems work in harmony with the environment, are explored to ensure availability and sustainable management of sanitation and water for all by 2030.
That is why some organisations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are now looking to address the issue, launching the Reinvent the Toilet initiative in 2011.
The ultimate goal of the impetus is to create toilets that are not only safe, but completely sustainable.
Many activists are keen to develop solutions that do not require the consumption of huge quantities of energy or water.
Dr. Andreas Hauser, Director of Digital Service at TÜV SÜD, argues that long-term sanitation sustainability can only be attained if innovators start thinking outside the box.
He says, “In order to achieve long-term, widespread improvement, we need to design sanitation technologies that also work without the need for connection to traditional electrical grid, water and sewage systems. Previous decentralised solutions have often proved to be unsafe, unsustainable or too expensive to build and maintain.”
Here is a video of what 21st century sanitation look like:
Several researchers globally have taken the challenge. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grantees include the California Institute of Technology, which is piloting a self-contained toilet where solar power is designed to break down human waste. Excess power is stored for use under low-sunlight conditions.
Meanwhile, Eram Scientific Solutions Pte Ltd in India has proposed a self-cleaning toilet that recycles its own water, and allows remote computer access to maintain facilities, making real-time improvements to individual units’ cleanliness, service quality and consistency.
However, as with most research and development (R&D), getting ideas from the drawing board to the factory line is not always straightforward. Commercialisation – the journey from prototype to product – requires companies to meet certain key standards that allow facilities providers to install, implement and sustain technology. The process becomes even more complicated when you are working in pioneering new fields like sustainable toilet technology, where government-recognised standards and best practices are few and far between.
TÜV SÜD has received grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for several projects, including the development of technical standards for non-sewered sanitation systems – supporting national standards bodies, government authorities and non-profit organisations to develop new, game-changing and forward-looking International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards which are voluntary. This sets a performance benchmark to drive the commercialisation of R&D ideas.
In 2015, with support from the Foundation, TÜV SÜD developed a private technical standard which served as the seed document for the ISO International Workshop Agreement (IWA-24) on a set of safety and performance requirements for designing and testing non-sewered sanitation systems (NSSS). The work has paved the way for the birth of a new standard in NSSS: the ISO 30500, a globally recognisable standard, published in October this year.
Similarly, the Foundation awarded TÜV SÜD a second grant following the same trajectory as ISO 30500, to develop a private technical standard for non-sewered, resource recovery, faecal sludge treatment systems. These systems are intended to offer a community scale solution to address the situation of poor faecal sludge management practice and sustainable treatment solutions that would generate valuable resources such as drinking water or water for irrigation, fertiliser and biomass for energy production. The terms Omni-Processor (OP) and faecal sludge treatment units (FSTU) have been used to describe such systems.
The new standard and other guidelines are an important step in the right direction for sanitation pioneers.
Not only will these guidelines help address the health needs of billions of people and move away from often-problematic water, grid and sewage connections, but they will also help remove costly, labour-intensive management issues often associated with sewage treatment. The solutions may also help communities move away from or supplement sanitation network models that require the consumption of vast quantities of water. This will also drive commercial and economic benefits to local enterprises.
Program manager Chan Mei Yee from TÜV SÜD concurs, “Our work in partnering experts from governments, universities, utilities, and companies to develop international standards not only supports researchers in commercialisation of their ideas. More importantly, it addresses the health and environmental needs of billions of people. It serves to break the cycle of health issues arising from poor sanitation in many developing countries.”
Last year, TÜV SÜD was awarded the third grant to carry through a new initiative that aims to resolve unmet sanitation needs in China, India, Senegal and South Africa and establish qualified labs and testing facilities to accelerate the development and implementation of non-sewered resource recovery technologies.
Poor sanitation is not a new problem – but the inclusive approach now being taken by innovators, philanthropists and testing and certification companies is. TÜV SÜD took the direction to not only test, inspect and certify according to existing standards, but actually developing forward-looking, new ISO standards.
Joining forces with governments and experts to develop standards in anticipation of technological breakthroughs is a new way of transferring innovations into the market place. And it may well be an ethos that will help the entire world enjoy the right to use toilets that are wholly sustainable – and wholly clean.