Can mushrooms help provide safe clean toilets for refugee camps?

Published by Shamim Malekmian on

July 6th, 2018

A group of students from the University of British Columbia are using mushrooms to provide safe and clean toilets for people in refugee camps.

The MYCOmmunity Toilet, which recently won the 2018 BioDesign Challenge summit in June, is a portable toilet kit designed to serve families living in refugee camps that do not have access to plumbing.

The toilet uses mycelium (a mushroom product) tank which can turn human waste into compost. The eco-friendly toilet can be set up like a small, traditional toilet with a seat and waste tank. It is small enough to fit into refugee tents and can serve a family of six for up to two months.

Data shows that one in three people across the world doesn’t have access to a toilet and that the lack of toilet facilities deprives one in nine people from access to safe water. Contaminated water can cause ailments such as diarrhoea, Cholera, Guinea worm disease, Typhoid and Dysentery.

The award-winning toilet is capable of separating liquid and solid waste for separate treatment. Using enzyme capsules, the toilet neutralises the smell of human waste and triggers the process of decomposition.

Photo: Biodesign Challenge

According to its inventors, the toilet could also use sawdust and coconut dust to cover the smell of solid waste adequately and rev up composting.

When the toilet’s tank becomes full, the whole toilet should be buried, and the mushroom spores will rapidly turn it into compost.

 The toilets come with seeds that can be planted on top of the concealed toilets, turning waste into growth. Using biosolids to fertilise plants is a practice as old as farming itself.

The eco-friendly project, led by Joseph Dahmen, an assistant professor in the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture, competed against 20 eco-conscious projects at New York City’s 2018 Biodesign Challenge.

According to Co.Design, the Canadian scientists want to test their waterless technology at Vancouver’s music festivals that will have a high volume of beer-swilling music fans in need of the toilet.

If the trial phase yields desirable results, the students have said that they will aim to begin their work with refugee organisations.

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Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.