According to the World Health Organization, 2.5 billion people lack access to modern sanitation services. But a group of students from University of British Columbia has created a toilet out of mushrooms that could solve some of the most pressing problems when it comes to clean, safe sanitation–when the toilet is full, you can plant it the ground where the entire thing becomes fertilizer.
The project, called MYCOmmunity Toilet, is the winner of the 2018 Biodesign Challenge, which awards innovative student research at the intersection of design and biology.
Students Valerine Chandrakesuma, Laurence Crouzet, Jay Martiniuk, Patrick Wilkie, Joe Ho, Kateryna Ievdokymenko, Abner Bogan, Resmi Radhamony, and Enrico Trevisi designed the toilet specifically for refugee camps, where there’s a lack of water and existing sanitation solutions–namely, portable toilets–are expensive to maintain. Because of the smell, the toilets are often placed in a single central location away from living quarters, but that makes them unsafe for women and children to visit at night.
Instead, the MYCOmmunity Toilet consists of a mycelium tank that is small enough to sit inside each individual dwelling. The design of the receptacle divides liquid and solid waste. The urine is treated with urease enzyme capsules to neutralize the formation of ammonia and begin decomposition of the urine. Feces are covered with a layer of sawdust, coconut husk, or some other kind of local organic waste to prevent the smell and encourage composting to begin. The team says the toilet is designed to be used for about 30 days for a household of five or six people.
Then, when it’s full, the toilet is buried in the ground or left somewhere out of the way for another 30 days to allow the composting process–aided by the mushroom spores–to finish. Each toilet includes local seeds, which can be planted on top of the toilet, allowing plants or crops to grow from the human waste.
The team currently has a small-scale prototype and plans to begin testing it in Vancouver at musical festivals before looking to partner with refugee organizations.