2013-04-17

Co.Exist

This Automated Public Toilet Is Being Installed Throughout India

The Gates-backed Delight toilet keeps itself clean by flushing automatically, and is funded with advertising. Could it be the solution to sanitation in India?

Maintaining a safe, clean network of public toilets is a hard job in developed countries, where most people have other places to go to the bathroom. In places like India, with limited facilities and a big "floating population," it’s doubly difficult. Facilities easily get damaged and misused, and quickly become no-go places.

The point of the Delight, a toilet system backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is to automate as much maintenance as possible, while conserving water and electricity. It is monitored remotely, so that operators know if it’s clean, and whether water or power is available. And, best of all, it’s self-funding.

Eram Scientific Solutions, the Indian company behind the system, says it has installed 400 so far, in Delhi, Kozhikode, and Kerala State, with another 6,000 in the pipeline (including 5,000 in Mumbai). It has also developed a "SheToilet", aimed at women, and a school model.

"The sustainability of public toilets is often disregarded and in the long run these infrastructures are abandoned or closed down, due to lack of maintenance," says assistant manager Glory Krishnan. "The ultimate beneficiaries [of the Delight] are the urban poor who have no alternate access to hygienic public sanitation facilities."

The Delight flushes automatically, and uses different amounts of water depending on how long users are inside. Less than three minutes, it will use 1.5 liters; longer than that, 4 liters. The unit also flushes a little water when people first enter, and then automatically every two hours to keep things tidy. And, users can also call in to complain if the unit isn’t up to standard.

The lights and exhaust fan are motion-sensored, to save energy. They come on only when someone enters.

Public agencies can monitor units remotely, using a mobile link. This allows them to see how much money has been deposited, and to ensure water and power is always available. If users stay longer than 20 minutes inside, they get an automatic alert, and can send a janitor to see what is going on.

Eram either hooks the toilet to a temporary sewage tank, emptying the waste every three months, or to the mainstream system, if it’s available.

Krishnan says the 200 square feet of advertising space, along with the fees, ranging from 1 to 5 rupees (2 to 9 cents), can pay for the unit’s upkeep. "The installation cost and other related expenses can easily be recovered through the daily collection," he says. "The agency can recoup its investment in the e-sanitation facility within a short period of time."

The Delight is one of several innovative Gates-funded toilets now going into service. Check out some others here and here.

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