In 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) awarded a Rs.30 million grant to Eram Scientific Solutions, based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala as part of its “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’ initiative. Eram was the only company from Asia chosen by the Foundation for its outstanding work in developing an eToilet to address the publication sanitation woes in India.
Bincy Baby, Head-Convergence Business, Eram Scientific Solutions spearheads the development of the electronic-toilet as part of the company’s innovative solutions for public sanitation. As a woman, she has constantly felt the lack of toilets in public areas that are clean, secure and private enough to be used by women.Most affected are school-going girls between 12 and 18 who invariably miss 5 days in school during their menstrual period due to lack of clean and functioning toilets in schools.11% of schools in India do not possess basic sanitation facilities, while 34 % of toilets remain in unusable condition. Bincy thought of how technology could be used in a smarter way to improve public toilets in schools and institutions and thus impact public sanitation.
The WHO estimates that nearly 600 million Indians defecate in the open—a sizeable human waste of nearly 72000 tonnes every day that can prove to be a health threat with potential epidemics, common threats being cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, and hookworm. India needs 115 million toilets by the year 2019—the official deadline to eradicate open defecation.
The citizens seldom use public toilets in India due to its highly unhygienic conditions. In addition to this, it is difficult to employ attendants to clean such toilets manually in a highly educated state like Kerala due to the social stigma. Eram’s unmanned eToilet uses technology and sustainable design to address the difficulty of keeping public toilets clean.
Eram developed a coin-operated eToilet with an electronic system that triggers an automated, self-cleaning mechanism. It automatically cleans itself after each use and the water gets recycled for flushing. 500 such toilets are now in use across India (which includes 150 in schools) and getting toilet technicians to be part of the service teams for periodic inspection visits to ensure the toilet’s pristine condition is no longer a challenge. The school eToilets are girl-friendly, even featuring napkin vending machines and incinerators for their benefit.
Funded mostly by local governance bodies, the basic eToilet costs about Rs.2,00,000 and the operations costs are met by a minor usage charge and advertisements on the exterior and inner walls of the toilet. The usage pattern statistics of the toilets can be easily gained through the GPRS connectively inbuilt in the e-toilets. The eToilets feature options for solar power and sensors to control usage of water and electricity.
The target is to install nearly 20,000 toilets in couple of years. Eram Scientific has been able to make a positive impact on the public sanitation scenario and Bincy feels that stakeholders like the government, private sector and society should work together to address the cause of public sanitation. The major challenge is to reduce the cost of these eToilets to a price tag of Rs.1,00,000 without compromising the quality in order to increase the number of installations.
The Rs.30 million grant from BMGF will enable Eram Scientific to pursue research on maintaining cleaner public toilets while conserving precious resources of water and energy. One of their eToilet innovations will use water generated from the water vapour in the atmosphere, with the help of an atmospheric water generator. In coastal states where humidity is high, the water generator could produce up to five liters of water an hour. The clinching idea, according to Bincy, is to eventually develop a standalone toilet that does not require grid-electricity or an external source of water and can regenerate energy and water from sewage waste.