Going to the toilet may not seem like a sensible solution to any of the country’s environmental problems.
However, using an electrically powered toilet that burns up human waste after each use could contribute to water conservation and reduce sanitation problems, according to proponents of the incinerator toilet, known as the Ecosanitario in Spanish.
The toilet, which does not use a single drop of water, is manufactured in Dallas, Texas, and recently made its way to Costa Rica – the first Latin American country where it has been introduced, according to Martha Bernard, representative of distributor Ecosanitarios de Costa Rica.
The toilet model has been on the market for 44 years and is used in more than 20 countries, she told The Tico Times.
The portable incinerator toilet was created by the U.S. Navy to carry in submarines and other war craft, Bernard explained.
Here, it is part of the Agua Pura Vida, a conservation initiative directed by Bernard, a U.S. businesswoman, and her partner, U.S. marine biologist Richard Barone, to save bodies of water in coastal areas threatened by pollution and water extraction.
The Universidad Nacional’s Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (OVSICORI) provides ongoing collaboration to the project. In recent months, it completed a study on contaminants found in rivers in the popular Pacific beach destination of Montezuma, on the NicoyaPeninsula.
The study revealed that aside from visible pollution from runoff, these rivers contain high levels of contaminants from untreated sewage and industry waste.
According to OVSICORI chemist María Martínez, who contributed to the project, the incinerating toilet could help reduce this contamination.
“Many times as a result of ignorance, or lack of resources, toilet wastes (in coastal towns) end up going directly into the ocean… The great advantage of these toilets is that they efficiently degrade organic matter,” Martínez said.
The Ecosanitario does not flush like an ordinary toilet. Instead of using water, a paper bowl liner that catches waste must be dropped into the toilet before each visit, Bernard explained.
Afterward, the user presses a foot pedal that swings the bowl open and drops its contents to an incinerator chamber below.
Pressing a button activates a set of coils inside this chamber that heat to 760 degrees Celsius and turn the waste to ashes.
Waste must be incinerated after each use to avoid the accumulation of odors, according to the manual.
Bernard explained that the Ecosanitario, which generates only about a teaspoon of ashes after each visit, requires little maintenance.
In the case of residential toilets, the toilet’s ash pan must be emptied approximately once a week. Toilets in public areas under constant use must be emptied more often, depending on the frequency of use.
Every six months, users are recommended to remove the toilet’s top and clean the inside with a paper towel and spray cleaner. Bernard said Ecosanitario de Costa Rica can provide maintenance services if clients want.
The toilet is new on the market. Since its introduction to Costa Rica in July, three toilets have been sold but have not yet been installed. Bernard and Barone keep a model at their Montezuma home.
One of the toilets, purchased by the Sano Banano Hotel in Montezuma, will be donated for public use near the parking lot at the bottom of the famous Montezuma waterfall, Bernard said.
Another toilet was purchased by The Bakery Café in Montezuma, and the third by a resident of Playa Carmen, in the neighboring town of Malpaís.
The Ecosanitario costs $2,300, has a lifespan of approximately 20 years, and has models for 110 and 220 volts, according to Bernard. She said its price is the result of high manufacturing costs in the United States.
The Agua Pura Vida project directors have the goal of installing 300 toilets across Montezuma to improve water conditions through philanthropic donations.
“We want to show people how beautifully it works in mass installation,” Bernard said, adding that this could be a way to clean up Montezuma’s water.
Bernard said she also hopes to sell the Ecosanitario throughout the country and eventually expand throughout Latin America because she views it as a blessing and a social obligation.
“When we introduce it to people here, they ask us ‘why hasn’t anyone showed us this before?’ It is really heartbreaking,” she said.
For more information, call Bernard at 357-9264 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.