Recycled Car Parts Augment Amazing Poo-Extractor

May 27, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Posted in News | 7 Comments

vacutag3Recycled car parts are components of a marvelous motorized vehicle that sucks human feces at 1,700 liters a minute from pit latrines in slums worldwide and transports them to treatment plants. That’s better than human beings having to bail out the pits by hand with buckets, which is commonplace among the billion-or-so poor who lack plumbing and who often empty those buckets into the nearest lake, river or sea. Pit latrines are holes in the ground a few feet deep over which the user stands or squats. In areas such as Mumbai’s Dharavi, where Slumdog Millionaire was partly set, thousands of users share a single pit.

Say a toiletty hello to the Vacutug. Powered by a small gasoline engine and rolling on salvaged secondhand car wheels and hubcaps, this adorably named four-foot-tall, 500-liter vacuum-tank-and-pump conveyance sucks fecal sludge or just plain urine lickity-split, then trundles it to a safe processing place. Paised on a program produced by the London-based Television for the Environment collective, the Vacutug is “a service affordable by the urban poor, with the capital cost affordable by entrepreneurs who can potentially develop a micro-enterprise, recovering the operational costs from the revenue generated.” First developed in 1995 for use in Kenya, “it is capable of accessing some of the most densely populated urban areas, with narrow and bumpy lanes, where conventional systems are unable to penetrate. It can be constructed, operated and maintained using local materials and skills…. The vacuum tank is fabricated from mild steel…. The tank is fitted with a check valve, a sight glass and two 75mm ports, for sludge inlet and vacuum pump connection. The assembly is mounted on a steel frame.” Also fitted with a motorcycle throttle and braking system, the Vacutug travels on its scavenged wheels at speeds of up to 5kph.

We who take flushing for granted have no idea how gross and potentially lethal it is to rely on pit latrines. (One is depicted at right.) When they’re shared by so many, and when their contents enter water sources, aquatic ecosystems suffer and diseases run rampant. Think cholera. Think typhus. (And yes, pit toilets are actually better than no toilets at all.)pit

We who take flushing for granted would be shocked to realize how many folks around the world can’t flush. Estimates range from 980 million (UNICEF) to a staggering 2.6 billion (Stockholm International Water Institute). Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka, has a sewage system — but only 35 percent of city residents are connected to it. Outside Dhaka, Bangladesh has no sewage systems.

According to All Africa, residents of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, generate 800,000 litres of feces per day — that’s 800 cubic meters — but only a tiny fraction of this quantity is ever extracted. The vast majority of Ugandans rely on these pits. Only 8 percent of Ugandans are connected to the nation’s sewage system, also according to All Africa.

A partnership was formed in Kampala this week between the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, Uganda Investment Authority, Enterprise Uganda and the Private Emptiers Association. When the partnership document was signed, World Bank senior water and sanitation specialist Samuel Dawuna Mutono declared that he hopes more people will “invest in emptying pit latrines.” Those investments could entail the Vacutug or its newly updated vesion, Vacutug Mark II.

Scavenged goods help save the world yet again.

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