It’s easy to take flushing a toilet for granted. One push of a handle and all your worries rush off ‘harmlessly’ into your nearest body of water. Not all of America has it so easy though. Many Native American tribes in Alaska lack modern sewage systems and suffer from sanitary and health problems as a result. Fortunately for them, a researcher at UC Irvine is developing a new experimental toilet that should make life a little less poopy. From the press release:
For 12,000 people in remote Alaska native villages, human waste disposal is primitive. The toilets are 5-gallon plastic buckets, the “plumbing” that carries the waste away is an all-terrain vehicle, a sled or a person (all of which tend to drip on the ground along the way), and the “wastewater treatment plant” is a melted spot in the permafrost on the edge of town.
The use of these “honey buckets” contributes to a rate of gastrointestinal disease that is twice that of other Americans. But a UC Davis engineering student is working to change all that.
This week, in the Native Village of Chefornak in western Alaska, Simone Sebalo will begin testing an experimental toilet that could make things much healthier. If the $2,000 toilet works, the waste, instead of ending up in frozen limbo, will naturally turn into compost that can be used for gardening projects or to cover dump sites.
“These are citizens of the United States living with limited or nonexistent sanitation facilities,” said Simone Sebalo, who is studying for her master’s degree in environmental engineering. “But Alaska is a place where it’s difficult to find sound environmental solutions. In much of the state, you can’t put in septic tanks and leach lines because the ground is frozen all year. And logistically it’s difficult to bring materials in.”
…Back in California, Sebalo will be able to monitor the first toilet, long-distance. Sensors on the toilet will measure the frequency of use, air temperature, compost moisture, and power consumption by the heater and fan. The data will be transmitted to UC Davis via satellite and the Internet, for the first detailed assessment of the actual performance and true costs of operating composting toilets under Alaskan conditions.
We hope the toilet seat is heated.
Read the press release here…