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05. April 2010

Portable toilet innovation bringing solution to address the world's sanitation challenge

It is a problem that literally stinks to high heaven. 2.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to proper sanitation. Lacking hygienic facilities exposes people to a huge health risk and a social stigma creating an endless vicious circle of poverty - especially for woman and the elderly people. In July 2010, access to improved sanitation was a declared a human right by the United Nations.

In view of the task’s magnitude and the challenges in acquiring charitable finance, the installation of traditional sewage systems will not do it. There is little space in urban slums, water needed for flushing and cleaning is scarce, not to mention the high costs that the installation of traditional underground sewage systems would entail. It is time to think of sanitation in a radically new light.

What we take for granted is for approximately 40% of the world’s population an unfulfilled luxury to have a private and hygienic place to answer the call of nature. The results are dysentery, hepatitis, worms and in the worst case death. More than 6,000 children die every day as a result of dysentery alone.

But the global sanitation challenge cannot be solved by using only conventional sanitary technology and sewage infrastructure. Flushable toilets with western standards do not provide a reasonable solution in many regions. The cost notwithstanding, the affected regions – (especially Sub-Saharan Africa and much of Asia) lack water and adequate canalisation systems.

The answer to the challenge is x-runner: an innovative sanitation venture that offers an urban, private, water-neutral and low cost solution for the global sanitation crisis. X-runner is a compact squat toilet that can be used at home, that does not require any connection to a sewage system and that fits into small spaces. The waste is collected in a tank underneath the base. A mechanical siphon seals the tank from odours and provides the necessary hygiene. When the tank is full, the user can separate it from the seat. The waste would then be collected and brought to a treatment facility where they would be recycled into bio gas and compost which can then ideally be used in households in the form of cooking gas, warm water and electricity. As the toilet is made out of plastic it provides anti-bacterial and dirt repellent characteristics allowing easy cleaning using little water.

The magnitude of the challenge and the huge number of toilet facilities needed requires a large scale solution. Charitably financed solutions are not large scale and sustainable enough. Therefore x-runner will be established as a social business. Once the venture is running, its products will not only help to reduce an enormous hygiene and social problem, but will also create work places and thus further improve the living standard for people in poor countries.

Under the umbrella of Water for the World, Borealis and Borouge are supporting this innovative project in the development and implementation phase through financial fundings as well as with expertise in selecting the right plastic material suiting the needs.

X-runner has completed design testing across the spectrum of potential end users and users in India, capturing behavioural insights about the value of a private, dignified toilet.

As a next step a pilot will be run in Peru where the x-runner team is currently conducting field research together with local NGOs and International organisations. The aim is to further fine-tune product design and to prove the service concept across the entire value chain.

Recently, the x-runner team took 1st place in the Next 50 Global Innovation Challenge. This competition is organised in the course of the golden jubilee celebrations at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India and awards changing innovations (

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