India Bio Toilet: The Rise of The Green Track


Most of current trains in India are still using direct discharge toilets, dumping human waste directly on the tracks as the train drives along. This brings not only numerous health risks, including disease outbreaks, but also severe corrosion of the railway tracks that will raise another social and economic issue in the form of safety and yearly maintenance. These unhygienic direct discharge toilets will soon be history. In an attempt to shift this habit to better and cleaner standard of living, Indian Railways is looking to eliminate direct discharge toilet systems from all passenger coaches by the end of 2022. The ten-year plan proposes replacing these direct discharge toilets systems with environmental-friendly bio-toilets.

Developed by India Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO), the portable bio-toilet is a new greener solution to overcome the unhygienic railway problem. The system will work in such a way that it will keep a container under the lavatories, filled with a colony of anaerobic bacteria that converts human waste into water and small amount of gas. The gas will be released into the atmosphere while the water is discharged, after chlorination, on to the track. The anaerobic bacteria used in green toilets can withstand extreme climates and common disinfectants. They are resistant to normal cleaning solutions used by the railways.

The first train that implemented bio-toilet, Gwallor Varanasi Bundelkhand Express, has been running since January 2011. The bio-toilets in the Gwallor Express ensure that the undercarriage is clean and without any fecal depositions. Their bio-toilet tanks or digesters are made of stainless steel and have a dimension of 1,150mm x 720mm x 540mm. The weight of an empty tank is 110kg, and a full tank is 410kg. The toilets, which are welded to the passenger coach, have an inlet for human excreta and an outlet for biogas.

A digester tank consists of multiple chambers that enable biological degradation by providing optimum pathway for the bacteria to work. It has a provision for bacteria colonization to cope with sudden washouts by accidental pouring of large amount of water in the toilet. Maintaining a bio-toilet includes visual inspection of the toilets, clearing of the toilet chute in case of choking, and charging the chlorine tablets in the chlorinator. A single recharge works for nearly a year.

The cost of a single module of bio-toilet is between Rs 75,000 and Rs 80,000. However retrofitting bio toilets is a challenge and can be expensive. The success of this green toilet will rest on the cooperation of the passengers, who are expected not to use the toilet pan as a garbage bin for they can easily get clogged by plastic bottles, tea cups, cloths, sanitary napkins, nappies, plastic bags, and gutkha pouches. Nevertheless, the aim to make cleaner stations and tracks is always behind the decision to adopt bio-toilets. ( — ED)

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