This post has been in draft for ages, but we got the research money to start the project and already a partner or two lined up, so it’s become urgent 🙂
If dry toilets, or very low flush, decentralized toilets are to be a viable water sensitive, sustainable sanitation option, and more so, to be considered as the top of the sanitation ladder, it needs to be acceptable to the user at all income levels, and easy to process and transport the material. Further, the produced material needs to contribute to the Sanitation Economy. From the infrastructure perspective the transport and processing of faecal sludge is a challenge. Faecal sludge management is not functioning well, with few private sector sanitation service providers (Holm et al, 2018). And personally, emptying the bucket is the only thing I don’t like about my dry toilet. If the faecal sludge is safe, easy to remove and not smelly, then the private sector may be more willing to manage it to contribute to service delivery and creating value from waste.
An Industrial Design Masters project on the Susana forum used fungal mycelium in a ‘PooPac’ liner to absorb odour and liquid of faeces in containers. It was a potential application of using fungi in-situ, but as a visual design project was done without any processing knowledge, the mycelium was not produced from the faeces itself, and the range of operating conditions was not investigated.
Separately, fungi is gaining interest globally:
- Fungi are nature’s decomposers, and to access as much of the planet’s organic energy as possible, fungi have gotten really, really good at breaking down just about everything. This Gizmodo article explores the opportunities that presents, from healthy soils to degrading plastic and more.
- University of Washington Bothell investigating the ability of mushroom mycelium to reduce faecal coliform bacteria contamination in surface water
- Mycelium DIY projects – try these yourself (perhaps start with straw rather than shit as raw material 🙂 )
We want to make stuff like this, like Ecovative‘s MycoBoard and MycoFoam. These can then be the toilet bin liners, which starts the composting process in the toilet itself, improving both the user and waste collector experience, to create a lighter, odour free material that is easy to transport.
Check out Paul Stamets’ TED talk on mushrooms:
There’s a few companies producing mycelium products (these are not made from faecal waste):
- Officina Corpuscoli. This is my favourite initiative. I met Maurizio Montalti in Amsterdam when I caught up with Willem from MediaMatic (“Art and New Technology in Amsterdam. We explore the possibilities and challenges that new technology offers art, design and society.”) and Ekim from PlayTheCity (“Changing the way we engage stakeholders, Play the City designs physical games as a method for collaborative decision making.”) as they all work closely together. The way Corpuscoli works and plays will be a guiding light in this project. The research funds we obtained is not enough to include an industrial designer and bring in the work that Willem and Ekim is involved in, but hopefully our other partners and further engagements will make up this shortfall – it’s a critical need, technology is simply not enough on its own.
- Corpuscoli has partnered with Ecovative on some projects, and as per the image above, Ecovative has some gorgeous interior design products made from mycelium for inspiration, and check out the planters!
- Mycoworks, with a mushroom leather as a highlight
In our project we want to grow fungal mycelium on faeces (ideally the stuff in the containers of e.g. Sanergy) to start processing the material while it’s in the collection container, to
- reduce any odours
- reduce the volume of the material so it takes longer to fill up
- reduce the moisture content so it doesn’t rot and is less bulky to transport
- produce a bin liner product from the stuff that needs to go into the bin – tight circular economy 🙂
- eventually be able to use the produced product as packaging material or insulation.
This project also investigates the potential of fungi to improve the dewaterability of sludges, there is a bit of work on this out there that we’ll build on.
How are we going to do this? A bit like this, with some shit thrown in 🙂