Photo Courtesy of inhabitat.com

This Woman's Innovative Toilet Design Could Save Countless Lives (And The Environment)


Photo Courtesy of inhabitat.com

In today’s society, a new toilet design isn’t something to be fawned over. That is, until you realize what to many of us seems like a common household item is an unattainable luxury to billions of people around the world living without access to improved sanitation facilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2.5 billion people live without access to improved sanitation facilities, which are defined as having a flush or pour toilet, a ventilated improved pit latrine, pit latrine with a slab or a composting toilet. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 35 percent of the world’s population that is susceptible to deadly fecal-oral diseases, like diarrhea, that kill millions every year.

In an effort to resolve this issue, Cambridge, Massachusetts entrepreneur Diana Yousef and her team at startup change:WATER Labs are close to launching an innovative waterless toilet that will help alleviate the aforementioned dismal sanitary conditions around the world.

"Diana Yousef and her team at startup change:WATER Labs are close to launching an innovative waterless toilet that will help alleviate the aforementioned dismal sanitary conditions around the world." Photo Courtesy of Cartier Women's Initiative Awards

“Sanitation is so fundamental to every community,” says Yousef. “In the developed world, we take it for granted, but from Mumbai to Dubai to Fort Lauderdale, when toilets aren’t available or sewage infrastructure is non-existent or breaking down, the problems of sewage management can be very scary.”

The new toilet uses an innovative polymer pouch that aggressively evaporates the liquid of human waste, getting rid of more than 95 percent of the waste without the need for power or heat. As Yousef puts it, “We essentially shrink-wrap crap.” A single toilet can get rid of the daily waste of 15-20 people and can get rid of a day’s worth of waste from a single person in about an hour. Moreover, the polymer pouch used in the toilet is very cost effective. It takes only $0.40 worth of the material to vaporize the waste of 20 people for an entire month.

From an environmental standpoint, the toilet also makes sense as methane makes up 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is extremely potent—about 30 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Open sewage contributes 4-6 percent of man-made methane emissions and once in production, Yousef's innovative toilet will help stop the release of the gas substantially, producing nothing more than water vapor. She estimates that one day, her toilet will limit the amount of methane emissions equal to the carbon capture capacity of a forest the size of Spain.

Yousef’s invention will also help with a large problem facing women in areas that lack improved sanitation. A staggering number of women drop out of school due to a lack of safe toilets. Not only do young women not feel comfortable without access to a proper toilet when they begin their periods, but women also put themselves in a vulnerable position to being raped or abused without a proper facility to use the toilet.

One region hit very hard by these effects in India, where nearly 55 percent of the population, or roughly 597 million households, do not have proper sanitation access. Because of this, 23 percent of young women drop out of school, a problem that does not bode well for the future of women in India, who are already highly marginalized. The women in India living without proper sanitation also face an increased risk of being attacked. 30 percent of women living in these conditions have been physically or sexually assaulted due to this problem, something Yousef believes is unacceptable in today’s society and something she is passionate about improving.

Although not yet in mass production, the first prototype of the toilet will be put into field testing this spring on a Hopi Indian reservation in Utah. Final adjustments and tests are currently in progress on the prototype to get it ready for field tests and Yousef is hopeful to transition to the production stage shortly thereafter.

"Yousef’s innovative toilet will help stop the release of the gas substantially, producing nothing more than water vapor." Photo Courtesy of the Boston Globe

For her novel invention, Yousef has been selected from nearly 3,000 applicants from 30 countries as one of the eighteen finalists for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, an international business plan competition created in 2006 to identify, support and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs. She will receive $30,000 in funding and travel to Singapore to compete to become one of the six overall winners who will be awarded $100,000.

"Yousef has been selected from nearly 3,000 applicants as one of the eighteen finalists for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards."

Photo Courtesy of TheEditorial

Beyond looking to solve a global sanitation and women’s safety issue, there was another reason for Yousef starting her own company—to be a great role model for her two daughters. Having faced discrimination in her career for being a woman, she wants to teach her girls that they can be completely in charge of their own paths.

She admits starting change:WATER Labs wasn’t an easy undertaking, but she realized she wanted to do something important and be the ‘mistress of her own destiny.’

Adding to the challenges of starting her company, a recent report from Fit Small Business ranked Massachusetts 46 out of 50 in terms of support given to female entrepreneurs. Yousef doesn’t necessarily feel that information is true though, believing the Boston area has an abundance of resources available for her to develop her business further. For Yousef specifically, that may be due to the fact that her company falls into the biochemistry and health sectors, two areas known for success in Boston. What’s also interesting to note is that all three of the North American finalists selected for this year’s Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards are from the Boston area, providing another piece of evidence that Massachusetts may not be as unsupportive for female entrepreneurs as many think.

As change:WATER Labs progresses and one day brings its innovative toilet solution to the many in need across the world, Yousef’s impact will not only inspire her daughters, but will reach the future female leaders across the world that will one day make an impact of their own.

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.