Solar Toilets & The Future of Cohousing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 14 Aug 2011 07:55:19 -0700 (PDT)
Continuing the discussion from this week on the current condition and future of 

When I saw this article in today's New York Times on solar toilets and the 
increasing problem of waste disposal as the world's population increases, I 
realized that the cohousing conversation has turned from ideals of a better 
physical world to workshare and the problems of personality and generational 

Another article on pop-up playgrounds that I'll forward in a moment raised the 
same thoughts — our concerns have turned away from making the world better one 
macro neighborhood at a time to coping with the micro neighborhoods we have 

Maybe what we need to do is focus on the larger ideals again. Retrofitting with 
solar toilets may seem impossible but so did cohousing when we first started.

> The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has begun a “Reinvent the Toilet” 
> competition and awarded $3 million to researchers at eight universities, 
> challenging them to use recent technology to create models that needn’t be 
> connected to sewers, or to water and electricity lines, and that cost less 
> than pennies per person a day to use. Later prizes will include financing for 
> one or more winning prototypes to be tested and produced commercially.
> “The present toilet is a 19th-century device that does not meet the needs of 
> a vast part of the world’s population,” said Frank Rijsberman, an executive 
> at the foundation. Instead, he said, about 2.6 billion people without access 
> to sewer-linked systems must use simple latrines, holes in the ground or just 
> the nearest available spot — a situation that can lead to many health 
> problems, like acute childhood diarrhea.
> One of the new toilets being financed by the foundation is a compact chamber 
> that runs on solar power from a roof panel and uses built-in electrochemical 
> technology to process waste.
> “We can clean the waste water up to the same level as would come out of a 
> treatment plant,” said Michael R. Hoffmann, a professor of environmental 
> science at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who received 
> $400,000 to develop this solar toilet. It uses the sun’s energy to power an 
> electrode system in the waste water; the electrodes drive a series of 
> cleansing chemical reactions, converting organic waste in the water into 
> carbon dioxide and producing hydrogen that can be stored in a fuel cell for 
> night operation.
> The cost of each unit, which can be used up to 500 times a day, may initially 
> be as high as $5,000 for a prototype but would drop with commercial 
> production. Operational costs will be only a few cents a day, Dr. Hoffmann 
> said.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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