What does a toilet that recycles poo look like?

Designed with nanotechnology, the portable toilet recycles human waste into fertiliser without the need for water or electricity. Here's how.

Researchers from Cranfield University’s Cranfield Water Science Institute in the United Kingdom have built a portable toilet equipped with nanotechnology, which allows the treatment of waste onsite without using water and electricity.

The ‘Nano Membrane Toilet’ was designed for households with up to 10 people that do not have clean water and toilets. Researchers consulted with potential users in Ghana in Africa, where sanitation and water access is still severely lacking. 

Users do not have to worry about smells as the waste is disposed of properly through a flush system that “transport the mixture into the toilet without demanding water whilst simultaneously blocking odour”, the researchers said on their website.

Nanotechnology is the engineering of materials in molecular scale or nano sizes, one-billionth of a metre.

The solid remains could even be used as fertiliser, while the water recovered from the waste could be used for washing or irrigation, the researchers noted.

About 2.4 million people in developing countries still do not have access to clean, private toilets as well as safe drinking water, the United Nations said on World Toilets Day on November 19 last year. 

Contaminated water leads to diseases such as diarrhoea, which kills 700,000 children every year, UN data shows. These deaths could be prevented by better sanitation, the UN says.

The nano toilet was developed as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, an initiative that seeks sustainable solutions to water and sanitation challenges in developing countries.

Lead researcher Alison Parker told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the team plans to test the toilets later this year.

The toilets will be rented out to households and maintained by trained franchisees, Cranfield said. 

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