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Waste To Energy
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An exhibition cum competition organised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation brought together university students and entrepreneurs showcasing sanitation solutions. As part of the foundation's two-year-old programme of 'Reinvent the Toilet' challenge prototypes and some under trial models were on display at the the Taj Palace Hotel on March 21 and 22, 2014. A global programme, the challenge aims to create toilets that remove germs and disease, recover energy, water and nutrients from human waste in off-grid and non-sewer connected locations.
Reports of international organisations like the World Bank and WHO say India loses approximately $54 billion of their GDP annually due to ill health and low productivity linked to improper sanitation facilities. It is also believed that though sanitation and access to clean water has improved in the last decade in India of the total 2.5 billion people globally defecating in the open over 650 million live in India.
At the 'Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India' on Saturday (22 March), six Indian innovators of the 108 that participated were selected to contribute to the development of sanitation solutions as part of the Toilet Challenge. The Challenge is a collaborative effort of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India; Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), A Government of India Enterprise; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund Indian researchers to develop innovative, safe and affordable sanitation technologies. The DBT and the Gates Foundation invested a combined US$2 million, equally split, to support Indian investigators to drive research, development, and production of 'next-generation toilets'.
Pointing out the connections between economic growth, well-being and sanitation, Girindre Beehary, foundation's country head said “the scale of the problem is often overwhelming but it does not depress us and instead has energised us to look for sustainable solutions”. Citing the example of polio eradication in the country he believes that open defecation can soon be a thing of the past.
The fair included more than 45 exhibitors representing 15 nations and featured projects to stimulate discussion among a diverse group of stakeholders working to improve global sanitation. These include efforts to create toilets that are not connected to water, sewer or electricity; improve the collection, treatment and disposal of human waste; address behaviour change; and raise awareness of this critical issue for governments, stakeholders and local communities.
At the occasion, honouring the six Indian innovators, Secretary Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology K Vijay Raghavan said: “Effective and comprehensive sanitation seems an impossible dream for India,”. And added that today we see a congruence of new and applicable science and technology, its affordability, and sustainable implementation, which is a great opportunity which we cannot afford to let slip. “By implementing effective solutions in each kind of social context, big problems can be dealt with in small units and be catalysts for scaling up. By working together to hit big barriers at the right place and the right way, they can crumble and the impossible can become real.”
The models on display included water-less toilets, solar powered toilets, units using only treated urine and water from feces, some creating bio-gas from human waste, others generating manure and grey water. With increasing awareness of water scarcity these models seemed custom made for India- where access to infrastructure is a struggle even today. A majority of the units can be monitored online, have inbuilt income generation possibilities through sale of power, manure, infrastructure for internet service providers. In addition to treating waste and creating a productive value chain the models largely are automated thus helping remove global shame of manual scavengers.
But a majority of the models on display – both individual and community level were expensive. Largely costing around $4,000 and more the complete human waste solutions seem a bit too futuristic. But countering the view the Hari Menon, programme manager at the foundation says - these models are akin to the first chunky mobile phones and are going to lose most of their cost and bulk once rolled out for field trials. He adds that the foundation has learn from experience that once appropriate solutions are offered, over 80 per cent of the people are willing to pay for them.
Be it colourfully painted containers, coin-operated public toilets or something that looks like a 1980s sci-fi depiction of a space-ship the exhibition had it all. With over 72,000 tons of human waste produced in India every day these clean toilets can become money minting machines.