Flying crap!

You’ve probably heard about flying toilets. Bags people poo into and then throw away hopefully unseen and unnoticed. They create a huge issue in the developing world where the unsafe treatment of sewage is a massive health hazard. The bags can land anywhere – you can imagine!

2.6 billion people around the world don’t have access to decent sanitation.

I’ve just read an article about a new innovation – the poopeebag – a better flying toilet which is biodegradable and contains urea to break down ‘waste’.

I’m quite shocked – I don’t want to be negative about innovation but why invent a better flying toilet with all the issues of disposal, cost, privacy, etc. when many designs for decent loos exist? While I can imagine their use in emergency situations, where populations are on the move, as a long term solution the idea seems to me to be a no-no.

So what does Practical Action do? We help communities get access to the decent toilets they need.

How do we do it?

1. We involve the community in planning the solution – sanitation, loos, crap, pee are some of the most private, sometimes delicate things you can discuss – it’s vital that we get solutions right and so we start with the people who use them. As personal example have any of you ever used a squat loo – what would you think if your new home had one installed without anyone talking to you about the type of loo you prefer?

2. We think about the wider infrastructure and sustainability – we consider waste disposal, other uses of waste such as fertiliser in eco-san loos, or as a source of biogas power, etc.

3. We innovate and explore technological options that work – but in truth with loos it’s often not technical solutions that are the problems but access, finance, knowledge, etc.

4. We consider issues of hygiene education – sometimes people don’t know the importance of cleanliness and hand washing.

5. Where possible we look at solutions holistically – there is a term WASH, which stands for Water, Sanitation And Hygiene. Where possible we believe the best solutions link these together.

I’ve talked before about visiting Zimbabwe not long after the terrible cholera outbreak. Talking with the cholera nurse there brought home to me the importance of getting sanitation right. People die, children die through the impacts of poor sanitation.

So I’m sorry that this blog was started by a shocked reaction to an email report, I am sorry to be negative about innovation – but getting access to decent sanitation doesn’t need to be rocket science it’s all about will.

Remind me to write about our great work on WASH in Kenya – or maybe I should ask one of our team there to!

For now I thought you might like to see this film showing some of our work on sanitation in Zimbabwe.

2 responses to “Flying crap!”

  1. Heather Purshouse Says:

    I actually visited PeePoople’s headquarters in Kibera a couple of days ago.
    I’m not sure if your email included the fact that the bags are sold for 3Ksh, and 1Ksh of that price is returned to the purchaser when the used bag is returned to a collection point. The bags are then taken to biodegrade in a suitable location, before being used for fertiliser. The deposit of 1Ksh, which is returned when the used bag is returned, at least encourages the bags to be collected and disposed of safely rather than being chucked on a roof. I completely agree with you that an improved flying toilet isn’t a great long-term solution at all, but the set-up of the PeePoo could (in theory) at least reduce the amount of plastic-bag flying toilets heaped all over the place.

  2. FairWater Paul Beers Says:

    The flying toilets always attract attention!

    Indeed, it is more a socio-economic problem. PeePoo is a first start in solving the problem.

    Best way to improve and upscale now with more decent sanitation is:

    1. to improve the PeePoo sack, current one is too small
    2. sell at very low subsidized price a PeePoo toilet bucket to sit on for convenience
    3. Do NOT sell the empty PeePoo sack, but give 5 Ksh and a new empty one for a returned used bag properly closed
    4. Improve on the marketing and use of PeePoo fertiliser.
    5. Accept that cross-subsidy will be needed for a long time, so it will not be a self-propelling cost return operation.
    6. Make it clear to all stakeholders that the revenues come in the end from income through better health and not from selling PeePoo sack.

    Paul van Beers

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