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Down To Earth Magazine, 01 Jan 2009
The morning after
Human excreta is rich in soil
nutrients. In a year,
one person craps 4.56 kg of nitrogen (n), 0.55 kg phosphorus (p) and
1.28 kg potassium (k) enough to rejuvenate a 200-400 sq m patch. A
billion can produce six million tonnes of NPK, one-third the total
fertilizer usage in India
Faeces is fertility: not only is this a perception that can be
comprehended, but it is also a reality; it delivers gross profit. Shyam
Mohan Tyagi, a 30-year-old history post-graduate, began nurturing his
crops with a diet of urine and decomposed human faeces. He collected
these from a special community toilet in his village Asalatpur in
Ghaziabad. The toilet was designed to separate faeces and urine, so the
excretions could be used as manure.
Nobody in the village did, till Tyagi. Now, everyone's eyeing the
ecosan toilet in the village, set up by Delhi-based non-profit
Foundation of Development Research and Action.
All credit to them. More credit to this 30-year-old, who broke village
taboo. He could break it because of that old principle: gross input.
Earlier, he used to spend Rs 1,500 on applying di-ammonium phosphate to
seedlings, and Rs 1,000 on grown crops and vegetables.
"Now I see the growth on the crops in my field is much better once my
son started using urine," said father Moolchand Tyagi. "Production of
this kind of local manure should be increased to meet the demand."
Villagers agree. Now they want household-level ecosan toilets. To
defecate or urinate in privacy and to make manure that reduces cost of
Art is nature's call
Toiletry is artistry, in a third world that cannot afford to waste
urine, faeces...or water.
Kudos, therefore, to Vinod Tare and his team at the engineering
department of iit, Kanpur for developing a toilet that reuses the water
used to flush that ablution, also reusable. It is a model toilet. For
mass use. They made it keeping trains and community toilets in mind.
The toilet is simple, because it challenges perception: it does not
matter what kind of water is used for flushing. The water gushes in,
guiding the excreta towards a separator. Here, toilet design so
functions that water-and-urine and solid waste go separate ways. That
liquids, collected separately, filtered, is pumped back into the system.
The solid waste? Used for compost, after the tank it is stored in is
The urine? Can be evaporated to recover fertilizer.
The water? Collected in an overhead tank, after passing through pipes
fitted with microfilters made of high-quality poly vinyl chloride which
clean the fluid, do not cost more than Rs 100 and last a year.
The stink? In the toilet, an Indian-style one where you squat, instead
of lolling about on it as on a WC, smell traps fitted in the pipes
carrying the water and in both kinds of tanks take care of this
privately-resigned to, but publicly-hated olfactory phenomenon.
It’s simple, and challenges perception. Come to think of it, isn't the
bathroom the infrastructure around which the rest of the loving house
Beautiful furniture: 21 anthropometric modules were part of an
exhibition of new major works by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra in
London, early 2008. In using faecal matter as the primary material,
Sierra challenges the notion of waste with optimism.
Message: If we change our ideas about the stuff we discard, learning to
revere rather than to reject, we would gain a wealth of renewable
resources and make a stand against social oppression.