Waterless Toilets made of Mushrooms

According to the World Health Organization, 2.5 billion people lack access to modern sanitation services. In many parts of the world, toilets remain out of reach. An estimated one in three people in the world don't have access to a toilet, and one in nine people don't have access to safe water (in large part because of that lack of toilets).

Today, 4.5 billion people live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste. The Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure everyone has access to a safely-managed household toilet by 2030.This makes sanitation central to eradicating extreme poverty.

 But a group of students from University of British Columbia has created a toilet out of mushrooms that could solve some of the most pressing problems when it comes to clean, safe sanitation–when the toilet is full, you can plant it the ground where the entire thing becomes fertilizer. A mycelium (a mushroom product) tank to eventually turn human waste into compost. Everything needed to set up the toilet is packed into one kit, which users can set up into a small, sit-down toilet with a traditional seat and a tank for waste. The appliance is designed to fit into a refugee tent and serve a family of six for up to a month.

A group of students from the University of British Columbia have come up with a new way to give people without plumbing clean, safe places to do their business, and according to Co.Design the key is mushrooms.

The project, called MYCOmmunity Toilet, is the winner of the 2018 Biodesign Challenge, which awards innovative student research at the intersection of design and biology.

Students Valerine Chandrakesuma, Laurence Crouzet, Jay Martiniuk, Patrick Wilkie, Joe Ho, Kateryna Ievdokymenko, Abner Bogan, Resmi Radhamony, and Enrico Trevisi designed the toilet specifically for refugee camps, where there’s a lack of water and existing sanitation solutions–namely, portable toilets–are expensive to maintain. Because of the smell, the  toilets are often placed in a single central location away from living quarters, but that makes them unsafe for women and children to visit at night.

Instead, the MYCOmmunity Toilet consists of a mycelium tank that is small enough to sit inside each individual dwelling. The design of the receptacle divides liquid and solid waste. The urine is treated with either urease enzyme capsules to neutralize the formation of ammonia and begin decomposition of the urine. Feces are covered with a layer of sawdust, coconut husk, or some other kind of local organic waste to prevent the smell and encourage composting to begin. The team says the toilet is designed to be used for about 30 days for a household of five or six people.

Then, when it’s full, the toilet is buried in the ground or left somewhere out of the way for another 30 days to allow the composting process–aided by the mushroom spores–to finish. Each toilet includes local seeds, which can be planted on top of the toilet, allowing plants or crops to grow from the human waste.

The team currently has a small-scale prototype and plans to begin testing it in Vancouver at musical festivals before looking to partner with refugee organizations.

The toilet separates solid and liquid waste for separate treatment. Enzyme capsules can be used to neutralize the smell of urine and start the decomposition, and poop can be covered in sawdust or other material to tamp down odors and rev up the composting process. After the month is up and the tank is full, the whole thing can be buried, and the mushroom spores will speed along the process of turning it into compost. The kit comes with seeds that can be planted on top of the buried toilet, turning the waste into new growth. (Biosolids have been used to fertilize crops for thousands of years.)

The University of British Columbia students—led by Joseph Dahmen, an assistant professor in the architecture school, and Steven Hallam, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology—competed against 20 other design teams at the 2018 Biodesign Summit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in June, taking home first prize.

They hope to further refine the prototype in the future, and according to Co.Design, test it out at local music festivals, which, with their outdoor venues and high volume of drunk pee-ers, are the perfect venueto stress test waterless toilet technology.

Polystyrene foam, generally referred to as Styrofoam, will be replaced by mushrooms in the next few years. Greensulate uses fast growing mushroom mycelium to bind agricultural castoffs like seed and corn husks in a mold producing insulation and packaging pieces. The mushroom’s mycelium, which is analogous to a plants root system, uses the energy trapped in the agricultural castoffs to create microscopic webs that spread through organic matter until it is one tightly knit block, corner piece, or whatever shape is desired.

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