Meeting India's sanitation challenge with bio-digester toilets

Meeting India’s sanitation challenge with bio-digester toilets

Guest post by Sanjay Banka of Banka BioLoo Pvt Ltd.

Sanitation facilities in India are alarming with over 600 million people (half of India's population) having no access to toilets, according to The World Bank and other sources. People are forced to defecate in the open. This poses health hazards, raises environmental concerns and leads to water contamination. This is coupled with the Indian Railway’s open-chute toilet system wherein the human waste drops on the rail tracks.

Untreated human waste or the fecal matter lying in the open is a grave threat to the well-being and good health of the society and the environment. Banka BioLoo Pvt Ltd, a firm committed to environmental betterment and social uplift, is supporting to eradicate the malaise of open defecation. By providing eco-friendly bio-toilets (or bioloos), the enterprise is helping meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG-7) and actively supporting the government’s vision of an open defecation free society. Banka’s solutions address the following needs/pain points of the end-user:

  • Meet the need for basic, easy-to-install and hygienic human waste disposal mechanism in areas with no infrastructural facilities
  • Address the need for a cheaper and easy-to-operate alternative to the traditional waste disposal system.

The bio-toilet system consists of an easy to install super-structure, a multichamber matriced bio-tank that holds the bacterial culture and allows the treatment of the human waste. The system doesn’t need any external energy for treatment, rather emits pathogen-free effluent water that is good for gardening and similar purposes; and bio-gas that could be used for cooking or heating (in case of large institutions).

The system meets all regulatory and environmentally compliance and enhances the socio-environmental fabric of India. Moreover, the bio-digester technology was initially developed by Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the defense personnel. The enterprise is pioneering this, in an integrated approach, and taking this effective and innovative sanitation solution to the civil population with varying applications.

Bio-digester is a consortium of anaerobic bacteria, which have been screened and gradually adapted to work at temperatures as low as -5°C through the isolation of psychrophilic bacteria from Antarctica/Siachen. These convert the organic waste into water, methane and CO2. The anaerobic process inactivates the pathogens responsible for water-borne diseases. Bio-digesters serve as reaction vessels for bio-methanation and provide anaerobic conditions and the required temperature for the bacteria. According to our study, the following are the methods of human waste management or treatment:

  • Pit latrines - collects human waste in a "pit" that has to be periodically emptied. The waste is either treated centrally or dumped in the ground. The former consumes energy in transportation and treatment, whereas the latter contaminates the environment and ground water.
  • Septic tank retains the human waste, and are also periodically emptied and cleaned, emits foul smell and any leakage harms the groundwater.
  • The other major practice is of hugely built sewage treatment facilities (commonly called STPs). The human waste is transported via sewer lines to the central facility and treated using colossal amounts of energy.

Bio-toilets, in contrast, treat the human waste at source – obviating the need to carry/transport the fecal matter, no spoiling of environment or groundwater, and don't need any energy, no heavy infrastructure required – easing the burden on government bodies. On the contrary, there are other benefits of the bioloo. The system leaves pathogen-free water as effluent that can be re-used. For large bio-tanks, methane can be collected and used. These can be installed anywhere, without specification of land type, terrain, distance, etc. We see bio-toilets as a true panacea to many of India’s sanitation woes.

Learn more about bio-digester toilets here.