One of the biggest challenges to addressing an issue like the environmental impact of the toilet is that people don’t really like talking about going to the bathroom. Of course, that’s perfectly understandable! I’m quite sure we don’t really want to live in a society where people do like talking about going to the bathroom.
This is why To.org seems like the ideal organization to present an issue of this kind to the public eye. “How can we make doing good approachable and sexy?” is a question the company’s CEO, Nachson Mimran, posed in a 2020 interview with the Times of London, as a way to refer to the impulse that drives his – and his company’s – investments. Precisely this theme emerges again in the company’s latest project, ‘The Throne’, a 3D printed, portable composting toilet made entirely from upcycled materials: “it brings an ‘unsexy conversation’ about sanitation to the forefront, and also encourages mass additive manufacturing providers to accelerate The Throne’s path to existence in more remote places.”
Produced by a seven-axis, robotic 3D printer (made by Swiss company ABB), The Throne’s main components were made from upcycled single-use plastics derived from medical waste, and took a total of three days to print. (Some of the smaller components were either injection-molded or purchased from other sources.) “Upcycling” involves the transformation of recycled materials into more useful end-products, as opposed to “downcycling”, which involves breaking down recycled waste into smaller parts to be used to make component materials. So, when you see, for instance, a work of art or a piece of furniture that’s made entirely from recyclables, that’s upcycling.
The Throne is a real work of art in its own right. If Apple or Dyson made a portable toilet, you could imagine it looking something like this. But the truly significant aspect of it in an ecological sense is its potential for composting: The Throne has separate containers for liquid and solid waste, and another container filled with wood chips to offset the noxious odors and facilitate the breakdown of toxic materials. So, this type of toilet could not only eventually aid communities in the transition towards more sustainable methods of horticulture and agriculture.
Its design also intentionally bypasses the need for mass sanitation infrastructure, in the same areas of the world that companies 3D printing houses are focused on helping. In fact, this is how the company first stumbled across the idea for The Throne: while working on a previous project in Uganda, they realized how lacking in sanitation infrastructure was the area in which they were working. This led to the company’s building of the recycled-material-derived bottle-brick toilet, a precursor to To.org’s current endeavors.
Thus, as much of a contribution as it could make on its own towards efforts to live more sustainably – both in terms of the materials it uses for its manufacture, as well as its potential for management of human waste – The Throne could likely have an even greater impact in terms of making the future for 3D printed homes a more feasible reality in a shorter time than would otherwise be the case. If companies don’t have to worry about a lack of traditional flush-toilet infrastructure in areas where they’re trying to build 3D printed homes, it’ll really open up the market’s landscape. The Throne is a perfect example of how 3D printing’s impact will have to be made on a holistic level, in order for it to truly fulfill its technological potential.
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