Stoneboat Winery (flickr)
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A team of science students at the University of B.C. have designed a compostable toilet that can be built for less than $20.The toilet is made out of mushroom roots and other inexpensive materials. It’s meant to help with addressing the problem of sanitation in refugee camps. Laurence Crouzet is one of the architecture students on the nine-member team. She said the project was initially focused on the scientific challenge of dealing with waste water treatment and bio solids in composting. Over about six months, the project evolved into using bricks made of mycelium — the fibrous parts of mushrooms — to make a compostable toilet. “The plan is to tackle sanitation in refugee camp while providing a very green sustainable alternative – the mycelium is fully compostable,” she said.
The MY COommunity Toilet turns human waste in compost. When the mycelium tank is full, which would take about 30 days for a household of five or six people, it’s buried and becomes fertilizer. Crouzet was part of a team led by Joseph Dahmen, an assistant architecture professor, and Steven Hallam, a professor in microbiology and immunology.
The UBC team competed against 20 other teams at the Biodesign Summit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York earlier this summer.
The UBC students presenting at the Biodesign Summit were Valerine Chandrakesuma and Laurence Crouzet, both MArch candidates at SALA; Jay Martiniuk, an MSc candidate in the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems; and Patrick Wilkie, a graduate of UBC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Crouzet said for the summit, the team developed a half-size version of the toilet. Next up for the team is to design a full-sized prototype and try it out at campsites and music festivals in B.C. this fall. A compostable toilet would be an alternative to traditional portable toilets which use chemicals that are toxic to the soil, she said. “We want people to use it and see what works and what doesn’t on the design side and test it on the biological side to see if the pathogens are killed,” she said. “We want it to be a planter afterwards.”
Two years ago, students and faculty at UBC were able to sit on mushroom benches made out of mycelium and sawdust outside the university’s bookstore. Crouzet said mycelium is practical because, as the mushroom benches at UBC showed, it is able to carry the weight of people sitting on them. “It is a very good insulator,” she said.“It keeps the heat inside which is necessary to kill the pathogens and make the bio solids sterile.” The mycelium also stays alive so that when it’s put back into the ground, it continues growing in symbiosis with the human waste which has been turned into fertilizer. “Even if the soil is dense, the mushrooms will help the roots grow,” she said.