The Research Triangle Park

RTI is Reinventing the Toilet

By Feb 23, 2015

The porcelain throne: some might call it the most important chair in their house. But, for 2.5 billion people across the globe, access to safe and sanitary toilets aren’t even an option. Can you imagine if a concert porter john was the best facility you ever had access to? For many, that porter potty is better than anything they’ll ever experience. In some parts of India, there are people whose daily bathroom routine consists of going in public streets or streams.

As one might imagine, the health, environmental and safety concerns associated with open defection are varied, and dangerous. Women and children are often exposed to abuse and harassment since the practice puts them at increased vulnerability. For many women in the developing world, once they reach the age of menstruation their education ends because they don’t have access to adequate facilities. There’s also the startling statistic that one child per minute dies in India due to diarrhea because of the lack in proper sanitation, even in urban areas.

But, there could be a glimmer of hope thanks to a cadre of engineers, social scientists and researchers working at RTI International here in The Research Triangle Park. This group of good natured folks is working on a project to reinvent the toilet in such a way that could provide adequate bathroom facilities in communities without access to plumbing or regular water resources. Through a grant provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, RTI International has partnered with Duke University and Colorado State University to “develop a prototype of this safe, sanitary and affordable waste treatment system.”

To put it in the simplest terms, this reinvented toilet looks like a souped-up porter potty, but houses technology that makes it a completely self-sustaining waste treatment system. The end product that comes out is burnable fuel that could be used for profit (or energy) by the communities that house the toilets.

While the toilet in the video above is still in the prototype phase, researchers at RTI are learning more with each prototype they create – and, they’re becoming faster at making them. The end goal is to create a product that not only helps create safer and more sanitary environments, but one that’s also affordable enough for cities and governments to buy and install in communities.

So, the next time you see a rickety bathroom setup, be thankful for the running water and access to safe and secure toilets!

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