Innovation Cities

Flush with success: Toilet that fights disease

Anmar Frangoul | Special to

For those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world, having a clean, flushing toilet and proper sanitation is something we take for granted.

However, from the favelas of Rio to the slums of Lagos, open drains, dirty drinking water and a lack of basic sanitation are a daily reality, the result of extreme poverty and inadequate infrastructure.

According to the World Bank, over two billion people do not have access to a proper toilet, using the street or open sewers instead. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports that every year, two million people – many less than five years old – die of diarrhoeal diseases.

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According to the WHO, many diseases could be prevented by ensuring, "better access to safe water supply, adequate sanitation facilities and better hygiene practices."

Sanitation Creations is a U.S. based start-up. They have designed the Dungaroo, a waterless, odorless toilet that could, in the next few years, transform the lives of people living in communities that lack basic sanitation. The World Bank estimates that poor sanitation and inadequate access to clean water costs $260 billion annually.

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According to Sanitation Creations the Dungaroo, "turns bio-hazardous waste into trash that is safe to throw away in any garbage can." The Dungaroo is flushed using a foot pedal, plastic bags designed to hold waste seal in odor and an antimicrobial is dropped in to kill off any bacteria and treat the bag's contents.

"It makes conditions too basic for pathogens to survive," Liz Morris, the company's founder, told in a phone interview.

According to Morris, the Dungaroo's portability – it is just 18 inches long and 20 inches high – is equally as important as its capacity to treat waste without the need for water.

"That became a requirement for people in developing countries," she said. "Since their spaces are maybe smaller, it had to be mobile to be able to go into a variety of different types of spaces, because as your family changes or your housing changes you can take your toilet with you," she added.

For Morris, the importance of communities in the developing world having access to a clean, functioning toilet, should not be underestimated. "There's 2.4 billion people that lack access to adequate sanitation today," she said.

Jean-Marc Giboux | Getty Images News | Getty Images

"The number two killer of children is diarrhoeal disease. When you consistently have to stay out of school, or stay out of work because you're too sick to go... that becomes a burden on the economy," she added.

"If you don't have to worry about where you're going [to the bathroom], think about how much free time that would give you… the time to work, to get an education, to just relax and not have to worry about these things."

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Morris' company offices are in Raleigh, North Carolina. One of the United States' centers for innovation, Raleigh provides start-ups with a solid base for networking and the sharing of ideas.

"We're part of what they call 'The Triangle'," Morris said. "We have three major universities here: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State University, that all specialize in different things… I consistently say, if I'd moved somewhere else I wouldn't have been able to start a company, because I wouldn't have known where to begin."

In October last year, a major new Innovation Center, or iCenter, was opened in downtown Raleigh to create, "a working laboratory where state agencies, educational institutions, private industry and citizens collaborate and solve challenges… to transform the way government delivers services," according to a statement on its website.

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