A few years ago I visited the Ecuadorian Amazon as a guest of the Rainforest Alliance, and was surprised by the washroom facilities that were often built next to many of the houses. They were little concrete block rooms with tiled interiors, a toilet, sink and shower. They are all built by the Government of Rafael Correa, who was trying to bring modern facilities to the people. I wrote in a slideshow at the time:
This is odd; in the first world, dependable water supplies came first, then the toilet evolved to take advantage of the water supply, and then the sewer was invented to cope with the explosion in contaminated water. Water flush toilets were a response to available infrastructure and there is no chicken/egg question; infrastructure came before toilets.
But in Ecuador, the water supply needed electricity to run the pumps, and the toilets just dumped into a cesspool so the toilets rarely worked properly. In many cases, they were abandoned and turned into storage lockers, being the most solid room in the house.
Now, according to Vanessa Hua writing in the Washington Post, a Foundation is trying to fix this mess. The Fundacion in Terris is supplying an interesting design of composting toilet, co-developed with Critical Practices. They call it an Earth Auger; it is a urine separating toilet with a big horizontal pipe with a big auger in it. Pushing the flush pedal turns the auger and moves the poop down the pipe and mixes it up with the composting stuff that has been added. Eventually it falls out at the other end into a bucket.
Separating the urine has a number of benefits; urine is a useful source of phosphorus, and causes most of the smell. The poop makes better compost when it is drier; many composting toilets have electric heaters to evaporate the urine, but electricity is often unavailable.
The odors from poop dissipate relatively quickly, whereas as urine sits around, it really stinks over time. If both urine and poop sit together – that’s the worst conditions for odors, as the mess becomes anaerobic (without oxygen), causing ideal conditions for odor generation.
Vanessa gives the toilet a test drive. I will leave the graphic detail to read in the Post, but it doesn't sound any more offensive than any other composting toilet; in a lot of ways it might be less so because that auger really moves it right along, out of sight and out of mind. She notes that the Kichwa, the local native people, were not crazy about using the compost:
Upon death, your body returns to the earth. If something passes from their bodies, it can’t be used again, says Juan Pablo Argüello, who coordinates the group’s contracts with local NGOS and municipalities.
But even if they don't take advantage of it, they are still getting working toilets and getting rid of those horrible cesspools. This is definitely progress.