March 11, 2010

The Peepoo: A Biogradable Single-Use Toilet for Urban Slums

The New York Times published an article written by Sindya N. Bhanoo about the Peepoo, “a biodegradable plastic bag that acts as a single-use toilet for urban slums in the developing world. Once used, the bag can be knotted and buried, and a layer of urea crystals breaks down the waste into fertilizer, killing off disease-producing pathogens found in feces.” (Photo: Peepoople)

Developed, produced, and distributed by Stockholm, Sweden-based Peepoople AB, “The Peepoo is in the form of a slim elongated bag size 14 x 38 cm,” explains the company’s website. “Within the bag there is a thinner gauze that measures 26 x 24 cm. The inside of the Peepoo bags is coated with a thin film of urea. Without sacrificing ergonomic function the bag’s design is adapted in every way so that it might be manufactured at as low a price as possible and sold to the groups with [the] weakest purchasing power in the world.” After successfully testing in Kenya and India, the Peepoo toilet is scheduled to be mass produced and available for delivery in summer 2010 with a price point of 2 or 3 cents each, which is comparable to the cost of an ordinary plastic bag.

One benefit of the Peepoo toilet is its portability and small size, weighing less than ten grams. Peepoo bags are odor free for at least 24 hours after use and can thus be stored in the immediate environment. Moreover, the Peepoo is one of few sanitation solutions which require no water and the only water required is to wash the hands after use. This means that the traditional link between water and sanitation has been cut. A used Peepoo bag is clean to handle. It has become a waste that neither smell nor is dirty to handle and collect.

The bag is made of a high performance degradable bioplastic which meets European Union standards. This means that the plastic not only disintegrates, but also that the molecules are broken down into carbon dioxide, water and bio-mass. 45 percent of the plastic used in the Peepoo is produced using renewable materials and through research and development, the company intends to find a solution that is 100 percent renewable. The bioplastic comprises a mixture of aromatic co-polyesters and polylactone acid (PLA), with small additives of wax and lime. PHB represent alternative bioplastics. (Photo: Peepoople)

This innovative product does not require infrastructural solutions for implementation (i.e., the construction of buildings or pipes), therefore reducing investment costs. The company explains that the “Peepoo can be simply distributed and can thus meet the enormous demand in a highly efficient manner.” Comparing investment costs for different sanitation solutions are listed below to illustrate the product’s financial value.

Local costs for installation (not including use, maintenance costs, water costs and emptying):
  • Flush toilet connected to sewer or septic tank, 400-1,500 USD
  • Urban dry or wet Eco San, 675-1,500 USD
  • Condominal sewers, 75-600 USD
  • Dry vault urine diversion, 35-400 USD
  • Improved pit latrine or pour flush toilet, 40-260 USD
  • Basic pit latrine, 10-50 USD
  • Soil composting ecosan, 10-40 USD
  • Communal toilet/latrine (50 persons per seat), 12-40 USD
  • Peepoo bag, 0 USD
The need for proper sanitation is greatly needed in the developing world where, according to United Nations figures, an estimated 2.6 billion people, or about 40 percent of the earth’s population, do not have access to a toilet. This creates a public health crisis where open defecation contaminates drinking water, “and an estimated 1.5 million children worldwide die yearly from diarrhea, largely because of poor sanitation and hygiene,” explains The New York Times article. “To mitigate this, the United Nations has a goal to reduce by half the number of people without access to toilets by 2015.”

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I see the Peepoo as having two main advantages over other solutions (like pit latrines): it's 1) low cost and 2) doesn't force people to change their usage norms.

    As discussed in an earlier NYT article from 2006, the UN published a report estimating the cost of halving the number of people without access sanitation services at $10 billion. Additionally, there are significant drawbacks to the usage of pit latrines, mostly concerning convenience, culture, and concern for personal safety.

    I just posted an article discussing this very issue (see the link on my name). I'd be interested to hear your thoughts!