Move over, john: Israel’s Paulee is making a better, cleaner toilet

A $110,000 grant from the Gates Foundation aims to boost a waste disposal system that needs neither electricity nor water

Prof. Oded Shoseyov (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Prof. Oded Shoseyov (Photo credit: Courtesy)

If it works for dogs, why not humans? An Israeli-developed waste system that turns dog droppings into dust has been adapted for use by humans, in a toilet that turns human waste into compost without electricity or water. It’s perfect for use in parks or malls – or in the third world.

It’s that possibility that has won the company, Paulee Cleantech, a $110,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to “create next generation sanitation technology to help make sanitation services truly safe and sustainable for the poor.”

And there could be more where that came from, said company spokesperson Moshe Hibel. “The $110,000 is a first-stage grant by the foundation. If we do a good job, we will qualify for a second round of the grant, which could amount to more than $1 million.”

The toilet, invented by Hebrew University biotech innovator Prof. Oded Shoseyov, decomposes feces and urine using chemicals, which are released upon the pressing of a button powered by a battery or solar cell. The waste is then chemically broken down and turned into compost, which can be used for farming or other purposes, Hibel said.

The grant is part of the Gates Foundation‘s commitment to “reinvent the toilet. No innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by invention of the toilet,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the foundation’s Global Development Program, said at a recent international event.“But it did not go far enough. It only reached one-third of the world. What we need are new approaches. New ideas. In short, we need to reinvent the toilet.”

According to Burwell, some 1.1 billion people don’t use a toilet, with huge amounts of human waste being dumped untreated in rivers and streams.

The Paulee product fits the foundation’s criteria, Hibel said, because it enables deployment of toilets almost anywhere, providing a sanitary way to dispose of human waste. “Of course, there’s no reason it can’t be used in the first world, too,” Hibel added.

Of course, there are a few wrinkles to iron out — the main one being supplying the chemicals needed to break down waste. The dog waste product, called AshPoopie, requires insertion of a cartridge to the device in order to treat dog droppings. Mass shipment of such cartridges to the wilds of Africa and Asia might not be practical, but Hibel said that the chemical delivery system could easily be changed to suit the environment.

“There are lots of ways to add the chemicals — through cartridges, dispensers, or even manually. The main thing to keep in mind is that the chemicals are very cheap, and any entity that can afford to buy our toilet will be able to afford to maintain and keep it in use with the chemicals.”

That, apparently, is what the executives at the Gates Foundation believe. “We don’t know how they found out about our toilet plans, but they approached us and asked us to apply for the grant, which we did,” Hibel said.

The grant money will be used to perfect the company’s “working model,” and Hibel expects it to be ready within a few months, at which point the company hopes to be able to begin shipping them. There’s a large market out there, and plenty of places where the toilet can be deployed, Hibel added.

Will people start using the term “Paulee” to describe toilets, instead of “john” (named, legend has it, for Sir John Harrington, who first came up with the idea for the flush toilet)? Only time will tell.

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