Better Living Challenge


Creating a Blue Diversion toilet to solve sanitation problems

Apr 30, 2014

The 2013 update report from the Joint Monitoring Programme of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF highlights a stark reality: one in three people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation. That’s 2.5 billion people. The statistics for South Africa – our own backyard – are equally somber. In 2011, Stats SA said that 5.7% of the population don’t have access to a toilet, or are using bucket toilets. In a population of 52 million, that’s nearly three million people.

Poor sanitation is not just about not having a toilet. It also presents significant health challenges to people living in informal settlements. Children are particularly at risk: according to WHO research, globally around 1 400 children die every day from preventable diseases like diarrhoea.

While toilet design hasn’t changed significantly since the flush toilet was invented, the need for an alternative means of dealing with human byproducts has become more urgent. Designers across the world have risen to the challenge, and you have a chance to do so too.

This video clearly articulates the need for design thinking to provide better sanitation in informal settlements:

The producers of the video have developed the Blue Diversion toilet. Conceived by Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, the Blue Diversion toilet has been designed to deal with waste more efficiently and to provide a readily available source of clean water on site, which can help reduce the risk of disease caused by inadequate water supplies.

The Blue Diversion toilet filters and cleans water which can be reused within each unit, while also providing a hygienic way to remove waste.

The Blue Diversion toilet separates faeces, urine and water by three channels leading into a separation mechanism underneath the toilet pan. The water is processed through a membrane-bioreactor where a biofilm converts organic matter and ammonia. The water is then filtered through an ultra-filtration membrane and polished by an electrolysis unit to convert traces of organic matter and ammonia. The residual chlorine produced by the electrolysis protects the water tank from pathogen regrowth. The filtered, cleansed water can be used for flushing, hand-washing and personal hygiene.

The process runs through a filtration unit built into the wall of the Blue Diversion toilet. This means that the clean water source is constantly available. Because the unit is closed the risk of disease spreading from contaminated water sources is reduced.

How a Blue Diversion toilet works

How a Blue Diversion toilet works

The Blue Diversion toilet provides a safe and more hygienic way of processing human waste while also improving water conditions for informal settlements (C) Eawag/ EOOS


The faeces is then removed by exchanging a sealed container which is more hygienic that traditional waste removal containers.

An entry into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet challenge, the Blue Diversion toilet has been piloted in Uganda and Kenya. The designers are also currently researching ways to treat urine and faeces in a second model.

Do you think you can do better than the Blue Diversion toilet? What’s your idea for improving sanitation for the people who need it the most?

The Better Living Challenge has been set up to challenge designers everywhere to find solutions to everyday issues, helping to better the lives of millions across the country. It’s a unique opportunity that could quite literally change the world. Enter the Better Living Challenge by 31 May and stand a chance to see your product become available on the open market.