Pete: Good job. Check some of the stories on NPR. There is a quarantine camp where they essentially lock people up together with no toilets. There’s another facet where sanitation technologies would pay for themselves. I like how you have incorporated both stories from NGO’s in developing countries as well as challenges/opportunities in the USA. Please keep it up. Present website grade: 9/10


It is easy to take a modern amenity such as a toilet for granted. According to the World Health Organization, “More than 748 million people living in cities today without access to decent sanitation”. Our goal is to find a solution to this problem for reasons such as health, comfort and even safety. Although the problem may seem minute compared to other development issues, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “diarrheal disease kills more children each year than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined”.

Fall 2014 team:

Sammy Ness: <>
Aydee Melgar: <>
Aaron Packard: <>
Camille Lo: <>


Poop Group Presentation 1
Final Poop Presentation
Kickstarter Video


Informative video on poop (child friendly!)
GHESKIO Cholera Treatment Center in Haiti by Mass Design Group
Cholera in Haiti articles by NPR
Bayakou in Haiti
Reinvent the Toilet Challenge by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Water, Sanitation & Hygiene by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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Checking out the toilet at Pete’s house:

One of many meetups!

Phone Interview with Sebastien Tilmans of SOIL

What do you use alongside waste in the compost? Where do you implement the compost after the full process?
We use food and non-food crops. In one instance, it was used to fertilize a soccer field…Community gardens are another area where food crops are grown using the compost. The composting procedures are led by SOIL, they are very robust so you can trust that the process has killed off the pathogens. The brewing company is using this compost in their shops because that’s not something that’s going to be eaten raw, it’s going to be processed.

When people subscribe to a toilet, how long do they get to have the toilet for?
It’s a monthly subscription service. It’s open to say whether that’s the right way to do it. The locals have trouble saving, so you want to break up collection days as much as possible. In Haiti when people pay rent they pay once or twice a year. So they’re saving for the whole year to get that lump sum in January. Would they rather be paying for things? Because they do have the ability to save. It’s tough creating a service for people at the bottom. You want to make it cheap and accessible, but there’s the chicken egg problem, where without revenue it can never grow or be sustainable. So it’s a compromise you have to make…where you have to set a price to have the service work. You have to establish a relatively high gross margin, since your overhead is so high, to make the whole thing even work. So the people who need the service the most don’t necessarily have it, but starting somewhere can allow for it to get to those who need it the most by marginalizing. Market-based solutions will not reach the poorest of the poor, as a given. The government would have to get involved. You have to achieve access for everyone, but that’s simply a difficult thing to do.

Have you come across any cross-cultural issues in regards to the people in Haiti?
Not by the design of the toilet, but miscommunication, or misunderstandings. Culturally, these sorts of situations are going to inevitably happen. As long as you apologize and show that you are trying, that goes a long way. The actual design of the toilet didn’t have many issues because we asked users, interviewed Haitians what an ideal home and bathroom would be for them. Even the first prototypes were designed with them in mind. 10 versions later is the ‘real deal’, now in 130 households. The big questions are, ‘are they wipers or washers’…but that’s just the beginning. Seat height, color of the toilet, many factors impact people’s interest. The western style toilet is taking over the world. It’s what movie stars and rich people have, so it’s idealized. It’s not so complicated because of this…it’s easy enough to have the product adopted, but to get people excited about the toilet, that’s different. You could make a culturally sensitive toilet, but they may not be as excited about it as the pedestal. Toilets are not the highest priority on their list, even in these very rural countries. But privacy is the motivator, as it is impossible to have in these very urban areas. Making it a status symbol, because it makes people feel wealthy and comfortable, that is the appeal. Also, the first prototypes were made in CA, but the ones we deployed were almost completely bought and made from materials in Haiti.

Are there any plans for more long-term solutions? Could compost toilets be long-term? Is it a sort of stepping stone to a sanitation infrastructure like we have here in the US?
In an excerpt in Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People mattered by E.F. Schumacher, he mentioned how intermediate technology (as opposed to non-modern and modern technology) is the solution for developing countries. By definition, these compost toilets would be considered an intermediate technology. The toilets is a means to an end. What’s more important is the background or the context of the situation. On our toilets, the fact that it’s portable makes it better because it’s a more immediate solution, although not necessarily a long term one. At some point we’ll have to do something that is not removable. Many different models, including ours is waterless which is a great benefit.
Many people are squatting on unincorporated land, so they see actually putting in plumbing as legitimizing their illegal staying. Because this community(Shada) is illegal, nothing can be done about cholera. This is a solution where the government cannot object. They have said they’re going to bulldoze Shada for the past fifteen years, still haven’t done it.

Is there any way we could personally get involved with the work that resource sanitation is doing in Haiti?
Nothing at the moment.

Lexi Interview :

  • Horticulture & crop science major
  • Student farm director
  • Independent project:
    • Design experimental farm site
      • Landscape plan
      • 2 acres (mostly flat)
      • Only a porta-potty at the site
    • Goal is to communicate with other groups
  • Sub project: Make pitch about our compost toilet to Lexi
    • Make signs for how to use the toilet / how it helps the environment
  • Collaborate with Soil Science and Construction Management major
  • Quail Springs: __lindsay@quailsprings.org__
    • 2 models for compost toilet
  • Conclusion: We have decided to work with Lexi in developing the experimental farm unit. It may not be our main focus for the class however we think it would be a good project to work on nonetheless. Her main focus is to communicate with other people in different fields to see what their input on the how the experimental farm land should be developed. Through talking to her, we have decided to contact Lindasy at Quail Springs and ask her what she thinks about the compost toilets on her site.

Jamie Cignetti Interview:
Where does the Earth Auger get its funding?
What are you short term goals?
We actually have material goals.. within 5 years to distribute 500 toilets a month, and 1 mil toilets a year within 10 years. But philosophically, it’s making a difference in the world…not getting rich, but making enough money to get paid a salary, become for-profit not non-profit, reach towards the larger context of providing sanitation to areas that cannot access it.

Where are you implementing this?
We’ve been focusing on areas that lack a central system, so rural areas primarily. We mainly target is developing countries, but we have been working with ecuador to develop projects in kenya, south africa, nepal, etc. Quite a few opportunities opening up around the world.
Identifying target areas would be areas that big NGOs target. US just came out with 13 or so countries target in terms of need. We target the places with the most need, but honestly we have to be open to opportunities anywhere, even in the US where there a lot of people who want to change their sanitation situation. Not closed to any opportunities.

We are formally associated with the Gates Foundation. We are a sub-organization given a grant through the toilet competition. We’ve been funded for two rounds, 11-12 and 2013-15.

What are your long term goals?
What have been your largest stumbling blocks (design/implementation)-wise?
Well people around the world want flush toilets like the US. They think that is showing that they’re modern and sophisticated. So places will have this, but the waste won’t go anywhere. So opening them up to the other system options. Another challenge is getting people away from open defacation. Some other challenges are financing. NGO financing, bias towards water-flush systems as well as education why sanitation is important. Group adoption of improved technology. For instance if your neighbor doesn’t adopt your technology and the problem remains, why invest? Creating demand for improved sanitation is the main concern.

Aaron: People in developing countries enjoy western-style toilets, so if we got people excited here about composting toilets, would that carry over?
Scandinaivan counties, you could research. Adding new toilets to existing wastewater structures is a huge cost. So they will subsidize for people who do not add on to this. I have a lot of insurance in Afganistan, and we tried to implement it there, but they wanted flush toliets. That’s what we’ve been trying to do…make our product feel advanced. Make it feel like it’s not a pit toilet. We actually have designed a way for it to “flush” with a foot pedal and etc, to give the feeling that you are operating it that way..things disappear!

How much do these toilets cost?
Our idea is to sell them in bulk. 150 dollars each. If you were to buy them in the US, the extra money goes towards supporting selling them. We are looking at microfinance solutions, or have the unit subsidized by the government so it could be affordable for the people.You have to realize that this whole industry is exploding. Today I got a big call from Vinka, the other day another…so this has been estimated to a trillion-dollar industry. So we are shocked by the opportunities coming in day to day.

So are these toliets as something you see being shipped elsewhere?
The idea is that folks could manufacture them in their home region, so ultimately we’d like to establish a local labor force. Right now we’re manufacturing in China, but we do hope to establish it in other places. But, it requires demand. We report through the gates grant, which is how we’ve been able to do what we’ve done so far. Every so we have to sell a lot of toilets to make this work.

So with your organization, how can we get involved?
We actually weren’t sure which class you were, but we’re a startup, so there’s projects across the company that you could get involved in. More on the business side than the technical side. I’d really like to stay in touch. Part of our main focus now is developing our marketing materials, helping us come up with our collateral, and an instruction manual for the toilet, as well as on the technical side, increasing the heat in the system, working on making a parabolic solar trough.

Make sure the next group can hit the ground running!

Possible Design Projects for the Winter Quarter class
*Given to us by Jamie

*Installation/use/testing in campus sustainability house *
– Design/retrofit existing structure for installation of unit
– Design process around user education/O&M/material use in Cal Poly
– Pathogen testing for location/season specific material retention time
– We have methods developed for this already, but will require
working with/in a lab on campus. Potentially a sub-project for a bio/chem
– We would like to certify the unit for use in the US – this testing
would be part of the certification
– Throughout the assembly/installation/use process – look for and
recommend improvements to the design

*2nd generation of manuals (user, technical, assembly and installation) and
other informational material *
– Currently have user and technical manuals, working on assembly and
installation – developed by our partners in Ecuador, but could use work
– Infographics are awesome!
– Animations of how the technology works

Personal Statements

Aaron Packard
The most valuable thing that I have learned from this class is that to tackle problems in developing countries , especially as it pertains to sanitation, we must first look at the issues in our own society. how could we possibly promote sanitary and Eco-friendly toilets to a third world country when we haven’t even made it that far either? With the stakeholders in mind, we must ask our community what needs to be done, and do it, without the idea that we are fixing them.

Sammy Ness
This class completely introduced me to development. I had no concept of how NGOs and third world help worked, and didn’t work. My eyes were opened to this, and also the many facets within that I was equally oblivious to– through my book, the Guatemalan 36-year war, through my project, the horrendous conditions of toilets in the third world, and through other’s projects, the reality of how diverse, but serious, problems are around the world. I will never let go of looking at problems through a cultural lens, and remembering that in the end, it’s about the people.

Aydee Melgar
This class has opened my eyes completely in regards to helping other people. In my not so distant future I see myself starting a nonprofit organization to help problems in third world countries like the ones we studied in this class. This class made me realize that it is a really big task to try and help people from a completely different background and culture then mine, but nonetheless it is possible to make a difference. It made me realize that what lies ahead in my future will be difficult and surly consist of many failures but every failure will be a step closer towards making the difference for at least one person. It also made me realize that I should always have my mind open to learning from everyone, because when ever you encounter someone new you are bound to learn something from them and that collaborative learning is the best way to learn, especially with people from different backgrounds.