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The Problem with Poo

Recent DAE graduate Theo Brandwijk has developed a new toilet system that makes it easier to recycle human waste.  He got the idea from his dad – whose no frills advice defined urine’s biggest asset – phosphate!

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 03-01-2013

Every human being produces about one litre of urine per day.  Urine contains substantial amounts of nitrates and phosphates – elements that are sorely needed in agriculture and which are rapidly depleting natural resources - they also turn cleaning the sewage system into a costly affair.

To tackle this Theo Brandwijk developed Piet (pee plus seat) a toilet that separates urine and faeces. This will make it cheaper to clean the sewage water, and the nitrogen and phosphates can be recycled, for instance, to produce fertilizer.

Brandwijk has exhibited his toilet in Milan, at the DAE graduation galleries and also at De Beurs Domotica in Eindhoven.

Piet does not have a toilet seat and everyone is requested to pee sitting down.  “I do not think it is a problem to sit on enamel,” Brandwijk says.  “It adjusts to the room temperature and is ultimately more hygienic.  It also makes the object easier to clean because it is made from one material.”

Piet works via a movement sensor, which opens a lid. The urine is diverted down towards a special drain at the front leading to a tank that empties periodically.  The faeces disappears through the larger regular drain.

The toilet lid automatically closes when the user stands up.

Initially Brandwijk was working on a hybrid between a sink and a toilet that used second hand water to flush.  Then, his dad - a plumber – versed him in the issue of phosphates and how they are increasingly expensive to access.

“It was then that I started researching and realized that a lot of the problems associated with human waste comes back to design,” Brandwijk says.  “I realized that because a man still stands to pee, he is is actually peeing into the wrong exit.  If he sits down, a different front exit can automatically separate urine form faeces making recycling easier and much cheaper.

“The solution wasn’t hard,” Brandwijk continues, “it was just about making the hole smaller and reshaping the basin to make it more ergonomic.”

The final object could have a future in a hospital or in new housing projects that are designed to be more environmentally responsible.  This week Brandwijk has his first meeting with a potential Dutch producer.

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