Posts Tagged 'sanitation'

Shit rules

This post is from Fionn, who works on a betterplace incubator project:

As Joana has already mentioned in ealier posts, Noa Lerner, Holger Schmitz and I are working on a sanitation project for the bottom of the pyramid market segment.It started as part of this WTO-Project on betterplace. We decided to design a squat toilet which requires no H2O and for which, therefore a drainage system is not required.

Our first prototype/ concept enables the residents of slums, who live in cramped  conditions, often in one room, to own their own toilet.  A mechanical syphon will permit the odourless enclosing of faeces and urine in a tank. The tank, when full,  can be transported to a public bio digester. Here the contents will be turned into methane gas.

A nanotechnological finishing surface will facilitate the complete emptying of the tank. The biodigester can be connected, according to need,  to an energy kiosk in which the methane gas can be transformed into electricity. In turn, slum residents will  be able to charge batteries. Small businesses, such as goldsmiths where well-lit work places are needed,  could  operate using the methane gas.

Maybe you remember Joana talking about a little stop and motion film we made from cut out fotos, finaly here it is :


To prove our concept, we recently went to India for two weeks. Here we had the honuer to work together with Dr. Pathak, the founder of Sulab international. His organisation is successfully trying to improve sanitation in India: up to this day, they already installed 1,2 million privat and 7000 public toilets. Together with his engineers , biologists and mathematicians  we work on all the issues which were still open regarding biogas and electricity.

Another part of our field study in India was to talk to the future owners of the toilets. We wanted to find out if they actually would be open for our sanitation concept and how they would like there toilets  to be designed.

Prepared with specialy designed interview tools we went into the living areas, were we not only talked to the inhabitants, but also tried out our first prototype, which we had brought along from Germany.

At the moment we are evaluating the results from our trip to India and prepare our business plan. This we will be presenting at the University of Arts in Berlin in April.

Fionn Dobbin


Sanitation is king

After having hosted workshops for the “real WTO”, the World Toilet Organization, this May, we at betterplace have become more sensitive to the global toilet and sanitation issue. Thus today, over lunch, new team member Jens Best (we’ll introduce him more thorougly next week), on the spur of the moment, came up with an intriguing scenario for a promotion video for the WTO (you might here more about it in a few weeks time).

Then, this evening, I came across an article in the New York Times, combining my passion for anthropology, my newly found interest in sanitation and a meeting I had this week with Andreas Scholz-Fleischmann, member of the managing board of BSR, the local Berlin city department of sanitation.

The NYT-featured anthropologist Robin Nagle, who teaches at New York University has been studying trash collectors for years. To her, city employees who sweep your streets and collect your garbage are “folk sociologists.”

They can give you a demographic and sort of a sociological and anthropological interpretation of a given block or a given section of the city that’s remarkably detailed

Nagle writes about the image problem NY sanitation workers have. To counteract the stigma, she and some colleagues at NYU want to create a garbage museum.

We have museums dedicated to the police, to firefighters, to mass transit, to various ethnicities, to skyscrapers, even to sex. But oddly, there is nothing devoted to sanitation, though we cannot live without it. It’s plainly more important than sex.

(No way, you say? Then try this simple test. Can you get through the day without having sex? O.K., now ask yourself if you can get through the day without having to toss something into the garbage. We rest our case.)

Reading this, I was struck by the power of clever advertising. Because over the past couple of years, BSR, the Berlin sanitation company, has managed to turn its reputation around. With the help of creatively worded campaigns, the image of the men in the orange overalls has shifted dramatically, loosing much, if not all of its stigma.  

The same shift in public opinion is possible, if companies take CSR seriously and communicate it successfully to their stakeholders.