Like camp­ing

Sunday Times - - Insight | Water Crisis - By CLAIRE KEETON

Peter Sta­ley built his first com­post­ing bucket toi­let un­der the stairs of his Vic­to­rian home in a posh Lon­don neigh­bour­hood years ago, to the hor­ror of his fam­ily.

In Cape Town in 2018, de­mand for his toi­lets is surg­ing as sub­ur­ban­ites seek out flush-free op­tions ahead of Day Zero.

A former Royal Navy en­gi­neer turned per­ma­cul­ture prac­ti­tioner, Sta­ley has run three fully booked courses in the past week on how to build com­post­ing toi­lets. He has a long wait­ing list for more courses and self-assem­bly kits.

“We are not tree-hug­ging hippy farm­ers. Per­ma­cul­ture is a de­sign sci­ence,” said Sta­ley, who uses com­posted “hu­ma­nure” to fer­tilise veg­eta­bles.

Or­ders for other types of wa­ter­less toi­lets have also rock­eted. EcoSan West­ern and East­ern Cape man­ager Michele Spooner said: “In the past we would have or­ders for about 20 toi­lets over a few months from eco-minded cus­tomers who wanted to re­duce their en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print.

“In the past two weeks we have had in­quiries for about 250 toi­lets and have a long wait­ing list.”

Mid­dle-class Capeto­ni­ans fear they might not have enough grey wa­ter to flush toi­lets if Day Zero comes, and are scram­bling for dry al­ter­na­tives.

Op­tions like the com­post­ing model do not re­quire ser­vice providers to take away buck­ets of waste — a sys­tem long used in un­der-ser­viced com­mu­ni­ties.

But peo­ple must man­age wa­ter­less sys­tems prop­erly to avoid health haz­ards, said bio­pro­cess en­gi­neer Ber­nelle Ver­ster, a re­searcher at UCT’s Fu­ture Wa­ter In­sti­tute. She is a fan of dry toi­lets and in­stalled one at her home three years ago.

At the time only a few friends and eco-ac­tivists were in­ter­ested in her sys­tem, said Ver­ster. Lately, how­ever, she has been in­un­dated with in­quiries.

Ver­ster, an ex­pert in us­ing sewage as a re­source, has planted trees in her gar­den fer­tilised with her com­post, which she makes in a wheelie bin. “If peo­ple are un­com­fort­able or afraid about com­post­ing in their gar­den, they should talk to coun­cil­lors and neigh­bours about a cen­tralised sys­tem,” she said.

Pub­lic health ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Jo Barnes of Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity stressed: “The suc­cess of any toi­let op­tion de­pends on the user obey­ing the sys­tem.”

Com­post­ing toi­lets could breed dis­ease if the sys­tem was upset, failed to kill pathogens and be­gan to stink, she warned. “Not only would you no­tice, but the neigh­bours would as well.”

The World Wide Fund for Na­ture South Africa warned Capeto­ni­ans this week that dig­ging pit la­trines or “long drops” was prob­lem­atic in ur­ban ar­eas. They ran the risk of con­tam­i­nat­ing the ground wa­ter sup­ply, the group warned.

For health rea­sons, the City of Cape Town said it would pre­fer peo­ple to keep flush­ing with grey wa­ter rather than switch to al­ter­na­tive san­i­ta­tion sys­tems.

Eco-ac­tivists like Sta­ley and his wife, Ger­maine, who founded the Per­ma­cul­ture Re­search Cen­tre, are ex­cited about pro­mot­ing green toi­lets.

Ger­maine Sta­ley said: “We have been prac­tis­ing this life­style for more than 20 years. I’m telling peo­ple not to panic. It’s like go­ing camp­ing.”

Pic­ture: Esa Alexan­der

Peter Sta­ley with his wa­ter­less toi­let.

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