Let’s take some time to talk about something taboo: our toilets.
Chances are if you’re reading this, the toilet closest to you is likely connected to a municipal water supply system. You go, you flush, and you forget about it. So the concept of a human-use plastic-bag toilet may not appeal to city slickers; but it’s a simple innovation that could help millions of lives around the world.
Stockholm-based NGO Peepoople invented a “personal, single-use, self-sanitizing, fully biodegradable” toilet named Peepoo to tackle sanitation problems in developing countries. And one of the biggest hurdles facing the group is something else man-made: the stigma when feces, urine, and menstruation enter a conversation.
“Evidently, food and clean water are easier to talk about than access to a decent hygienic toilet,” Peepoople CEO Karin Ruiz told The Swedish Institute. “Just imagine the benefits to society if you could reduce the spread of disease and at the same time increase people’s quality of life and self-respect.”
The Peepoo bag design is remarkably simple: It’s a small bio-plastic bag containing six grams of urea powder – an organic compound that when it reacts with urine or feces, neutrailizing dangerous pathogens in a process called hygenisation.
The bag eventually disintegrates and its contents break down into carbondioxide, water and biomass, creating a reusable nitrogen fertilizer.
Peepoople’s simple solution to sanitation problems in the developing world. Photo: Peepoople.
In Kenya, the bags are sold by local women in 28-packs and are priced around three cents per bag. For every bag returned at Peepoo drop-off points, one cent is refunded.
“The design of the Peepoo is really a core part of the concept. You need to consider the appeal and attraction to get user acceptance,” said Ruiz in a statement. She explains the ideal reuse of the Peepoo is for food security, using fertilizer for crops.
Children show off their Peepoo kit in Kenya’s Kibera slums. Photo: Peepoople.
According to the United Nations, 2.5 billion people around the world don’t have access to sanitary toilets. It’s an issue that’s particularly problematic in slums, areas of the world where adequate plumbing and waste treatment facilities are not possible at the moment.
It’s in these places where diarrhea-related diseases have the tendency to thrive, and water supply is often prone to contamination.
Statistics collected from UN Water states 1,400 children die every day from diarrhea because of inadequate access to safe toilets and clean water. The human right to clean water and sanitation is a cause celebrities, most notably Matt Damon, have also worked to push to the top of global agendas.
“In Kenya right now, where we have our biggest project, our school program is covering about 20,000 school children. And the plan is actually to reach out to 100,000 school children within the next three years,” she said.
There's another important cultural nuances to consider: the lack of proper toilets put women and girls at risk of attacks and harassment due to the lack of privacy. In some parts of the world, public alleviation is so taboo for girls and women, they wait until after nightfall to go out to use outdoor facilities if they exist.
The Peepoo bag is an example of outside-the-box thinking Sara Ilstedt, a sustainable design expert at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, praises rather than pushing for Western flush toilets in areas with zero infrastructure to support them.
“To look at problems from a completely new perspective … that’s what we need in the future,” she said.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Bike share programs have revolutionized transportation in some of the country's largest cities, like Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Miami Beach and Boston. For a daily or annual fee (usually around $7 or $75 respectively), users can check out a bike for about 30 minutes at a stand-alone kiosk, ride it around the city, and then check it in at any other kiosk in the system with no extra charge. The idea has been popular overseas since 2007 and there are now massive programs in cities like Paris (16,000 bikes), London (8,000), and Hangzhou, China (65,000). New York launched it's own 10,000-bike version, Citi Bike, earlier this year. Many other cities (like Portland, Seattle, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles) have programs in the works.
Electric cars are finally starting to gain some traction and become reasonably affordable. The Tesla Model S, subject to some recent bickering, has a range of about 275 miles on a single charge and a starting price tag around $50,000. The Chevy Volt, an electric hybrid vehicle, has a range of about 35 miles before a gas engine kicks in. The all-electric Nissan Leaf gets an equivalent to 99 mpg. But the main concern is the youth of the industry. At home charging stations are recommended for most electric vehicles, but there isn't a widespread public system that can rival gas stations, making long distance trips more difficult.
The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system (LEED, for short) has revolutionized eco-conscious building initiatives across the globe. Companies looking to pump up their environmental track record are spending time and money to have their buildings certified green. LEED projects are in progress in 135 different countries, and more than half of certified square footage is outside the U.S. A USA Today report criticized the system as being too lenient for some buildings, which only need to get 40 points out of 100 to receive a certification.
The cost for renewable energy continues to fall and is starting to become much more economically competitive with fossil fuels. New reports from the International Renewable Energy Agency show the cost of solar falling more than 60 percent in the past few years alone. Increasing competition has helped push the price down, particularly with solar as U.S. and European manufacturers struggle to keep up with the pricing of Chinese solar panels. Wind power has also gotten consistently cheaper.
Single-use plastic bags have been outlawed in a few major cities across the country like Seattle and San Francisco, and others like Washington D.C. have instituted a per-bag tax. China imposed a nationwide ban in 2008. Why get rid of them? They're rarely recycled, according to the EPA. They take a really, really long time to break down. And we humans use between 100 billion and a trillion annually. But people should be wary and keep grocery bags clean - a 2012 study found a connection between reusable bags and a spike in E. coli infections.
Sustainable fashion has been in vogue and on the radar since the early 1990s, but it's only gone mainstream recently. Synthetic fibers like polyester produce significantly more carbon emissions than organic cotton, and quite a few large brands were found to use some harsh chemicals to dye and manufacture their garments. Either way, ethical and ecological clothing is catching on. H&M is the biggest user of organic cotton in the world, and brands like Nike and Zara have followed suit.
The average American throws about 40 percent of their food away every year, and nearly 100 cities have launched composting programs to try and keep it out of landfills. Curbside composting has spread across the country from uber-green San Francisco, which started their program 15 years ago and now collects more than 600 tons of compost daily. Of the 250 million tons of trash created in the U.S. in 2010, 34 percent of it was diverted to composting or recycling programs, according to the EPA.
Lightbulbs have changed quite a bit lately. Compact fluorescent lamps were introduced as highly efficient alternatives to traditional bulbs before 100, 75, 60 and 40-watt incandescent lightbulbs are phased out of production by 2014. But now, the new lighting revolution is in LED. These high-tech bulbs last upwards of 20 years and use minimal energy. But, the new Philips 10-watt bulbs cost $60. Each. The good news is that the bulb is so efficient that if every 60-watt incandescent in the country were replaced, $3.9 billion and 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions would be saved in one year.
Community gardening isn't really that new, but the local food movement is. The demand for plots in p-patches or local green spaces has skyrocketed in the past few years as people opt out of GMOs and out-of-season produce (which some argue is actually more carbon friendly). Hyper-dense New York has plans to reclaim vacant lots for urban agriculture under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlaNYC initiative. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated the local food industry to be $4.8 billion in 2008 and upwards of $7 billion in 2011.
Death isn't the best thing for the environment. Cremation sends more than 6.8 million tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere every year, caskets take a long time to biodegrade and burial leads to methane emission (the second most prevalent greenhouse gas). But environmentally-friendly burial options are becoming more prevalent. Wicker and cardboard coffins can replace traditional wood, and dry ice is used rather than formaldehyde. And green burial services are popping up around the globe to curb post-mortem emissions.