brought to you in part by
Swedish Start-up ECOLOO’s Solution For Cleaner Water & Sustainable Sanitation
Award-winning Sustainable Toilet Technology that benefits health, water and the environment
By Suzanne Forcese
“We are going to change the world by installing as many indoor and outdoor ECOLOO toilets as possible. Saving water. Saving the environment. Saving millions of lives.” -- Imad Agi, CEO, ECOLOO Group
More than half the world’s population uses unsafe sanitation facilities.
Poor sanitation and a lack of sewage infrastructure in low-income and off-grid communities expose individuals to water-borne diseases which kill thousands every day.
To help reverse this alarming trend ECOLOO has developed an innovative way to treat human waste by breaking down excreta into ashes and converting urine into an organic liquid fertilizer that is pathogen-free, yet rich in nutrition. All this without water.
ECOLOO has developed a waterless toilet installation which is odour-free, energy- free and easy to set up. Its main innovation comes from the bacteria which treats the waste and creates a natural fertilizer. Malaysian entrepreneur and environmentalist, Zuraina Zaharin, collaborated with Swedish entrepreneur, Imad Agi to launch the ECOLOO waterless toilet system that is a hygienic sustainable way to combat disease and water scarcity.
WATERTODAY learned more from Imad Agi, CEO of ECOLOO Group.
WT: There’s an interesting backstory for both you, and your partner/ co-founder Zuraina Zaharin. What was the story behind a ‘problem’ that Zuraina encountered on Mount Everest? And you already had a ‘solution’ just waiting for an entrepreneur to appear. What was your solution?
Agi: Zuraina encountered a problem finding a dignified toilet near Mount Everest while on a climb. The toilets available there were very dirty and full of human waste. ECOLOO could solve this problem by treating the waste onsite biologically and terminating the odor simultaneously.
WT: What was the impetus for founding ECOLOO? Where is your company based?
Agi: The ECOLOO development journey started from a TV documentary on Swedish TV showing the actual situation in India of people who were suffering from poor sanitation. Kids and women practised open defecation whilst the lowest caste Indian women collect excrement from door to door without gloves or shoes – just to earn a few rupees.
This loo story was the motivation behind the creation and R&D of ECOLOO. We are very passionate about this project.
The first ECOLOO pilot project was done for the Municipality of Stromstad, Sweden in 2008 and the toilet is still up and running until this date with great testimonials
The project was implemented next to a lake to protect the freshwater that this Swedish community uses for drinking water. The objective was to protect the water from being polluted by human waste the tourists might cause. The public eco toilet was built manually so we decided to design a technology in a box and prove the concept.
In 2013, the mass production of ECOLOO for outdoor use began in South Korea.
WT: Please describe your invention and the technology.
Agi: ECOLOO’s award winning and patented biological sustainable sanitation solutions are based on the principle of Simplicity, Scalability, Environmental Responsibility and Economic Vitality.
It employs a special formulated bacterial culture to treat and vanish human waste; transform the urine into natural liquid fertilizer that is odor free, pathogen free and full of nutrients-- perfect for organic farming.
ECOLOO is environmentally friendly, odor-free, water-free (water can still be used for hygiene purposes), sewage-free, energy-free. It is easy to install, uninstall, move and maintain.
The ECOLOO base is made of a 2-tier chamber; the upper chamber is where human waste including urine (not a urine diversion system) is collected and treated by specially formulated bacterial culture whilst the lower chamber is where the organic fertilizer in liquid form is rendered by gravity, using zero water to flush.
The lower chamber is built with a special indicator and outlet for end-users to collect or drain out the ready-to-use by-product each time the lower chamber is full.
ECOLOO can be installed in rest areas, schools, mosques, deserted areas, tourist destinations, beaches, events, festivals, and construction sites and is unaffected by weather conditions
The bacterial culture dissolves and vanishes the solid waste plus other degradable waste such as toilet paper in this water-free environment within 3-4 days.
The nitrification process that is built in the system converts the liquid waste into the by-product of value-added fertilizer that is odour-free, pathogen-free and yet full of nutrients within 30 minutes.
WT: Zuraina’s experience on mount Everest was a pressing problem for her and no doubt for Mount Everest, but there’s a much larger problem worldwide – please comment on the global environmental issues of toilets or lack thereof.
Afi: There are over 2.5 billion people who do not have access to proper toilets and hygiene, mainly remote rural and slum communities (what we call BOPs –Bottom of the Pyramid) who lack water due to water scarcity or drought or geographical conditions.
Also – victims of natural disasters such as floods, typhoons, cholera outbreaks, the refugees and homeless, and those who live in remote areas or off-grid areas with no access to sewage treatment plants or septic tank systems – are the unfortunate populations without access.
Open spaces, riverbanks, road and street sides and the open fields are some of the common places people use to relieve themselves. Water sources are badly affected by both pit/ring and modern flush toilets.
The sewage from the flush toilet has badly affected the fragile environment. These practices not only pollute the environment but have contaminated the land and water resources. This will eventually affect human health.
Sanitation is an urgent issue and number one priority in many countries.
According to UNICEF, 5.7 billion gallons of potable water are flushed in toilets each day in the U.S.; 5.5 billion gallons per day in the U.K and Canada, while 2.1 billion people globally lack safe drinking water at home.
In 2015, NASA’s satellite data revealed that 21 of the world's 37 large aquifers are severely water-stressed.
WT: How does the ECOLOO toilet solve these issues?
Agi: ECOLOO’s patented sustainable sanitation system serves as an onsite biological treatment solution, particularly in areas with water shortages and that have no access to sewage treatment plants.
A totally enclosed energy-free system (preventing pollution and contamination), and waterless (preventing sewage generation and environmental contamination) is our solution with the added benefit of producing organic fertilizer.
WT: You have said that sustainable toilets eliminate poverty. Please explain.
Agi: ECOLOO’s tagline – eliminate poverty through sustainable toilets – describes our commitment to achieve the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through our sustainable solutions that lead to huge social, health, economic and environmental impact.
Our business model is developed to integrate underserved populations into supply chain by creating business and job opportunities for the local community from production to distribution, installation, training, maintenance, collection and reuse of fertilizer from the toilet, which may lead to organic farming.
Besides the poor, farmers can also benefit from free organic liquid fertilizer generated in the ECOLOO system which will reduce the use of expensive chemical fertilizer, thus improving the financial situation of that demographic.
WT: Where may the different toilet models be installed?
Agi: ECOLOO can be installed indoors and outdoor as a stand-alone sustainable solution.
Our beneficiaries are mainly the underserved, rural communities which have no access to a proper toilet or lack toilet facilities. Also, people who lack water or where water is scarce due to drought or geographical conditions may benefit.
Victims of disasters such as floods, typhoons, cholera outbreaks, refugees or the homeless may also be served.
But even floating houses, chalets, public rest stops, pilgrims, devotees, tourists, construction workers can be served. There are also possibilities for bus/ferry/boat/ RV/train passengers, event participants, off grid and owners of tiny homes, military, police, navy, oil and gas workers...and the list goes on.
Today, ECOLOO has been exported to over 25 countries including UNDP, UNSOS, UNHCT and used by millions of people around the world, especially in the developing countries, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Mongolia, Cook Islands, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Somalia, Senegal, Sudan, South Africa, Nigeria. Jordan, Bahrain, Germany, Chile, Peru, India, Canada, USA and more resulting in a great impact on people, water resources and the environment
WT: Are extreme weather conditions an issue?
Agi: ECOLOO is suitable for all purposes in any weather condition. We have installations in Canada, Sweden, and Mongolia where the weather is extreme.
WT: What are some of the most interesting and rewarding projects you have been involved with?
Agi: The first pilot project was done for the municipality of Stromstad in 2008 and the toilet is still up and running. The project was done next to a lake which is the source of drinking water for that Swedish community.
Our second is a Biodiversity Project with UNDP for UNESCO World Heritage Sites My team has successfully solved the environmental problem at the heritage sites by installing 20 units of ECOLOO at the famous Heritage sites in Jordan, in collaboration with UNDP Jordan. This project saved them from losing the title given by UNESCO. The result also revived the tourism industry and the business within the sites. Plus, over 10 million litres of water were saved within one year!
We solved the open defecation at two girls' schools in Sierra Leone, in collaboration with Hope2Overcome NGO.
This provides the students with safe places to exercise sanitary hygiene with dignity resulting in better education and performance.
A 35% attendance increment of the girls was realized as they are no longer worried of their “time of the month” problems at schools with hygienic toilets provided by ECOLOO.
Installation of 10 ECOLOOs at Kuala Lumpur 2017 SEA GAMES, in collaboration with Malaysian Ministry of Youth & Sports, helped the Government save around 15,000 litres of water and protect the dignity of women.
Installation of 50 units for the UNSOS in Somalia used by military officers and 10 units for the UNHCR in Mali used by refugees as pilot projects.
WT: You have received awards and global recognition by the United Nations, UNWTO, CNN, Swedish Energy Agency, Confederation of Indian Industries, International Federation of Inventors’ Association, WSSCC, OFEED, Solar Impulse Foundation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Energy Globe, MaGIC, China Tourist Association, GCIP, Mercy Mission, World CST Congress Council in India, World Invention Forum in China – among many others.
What has this meant for you?
Agi: Receiving these amazing awards humbles us and encourages us to do more for those in need, the environment, and our next generation.
WT: Moving forward...what’s your mission...what’s next?
Agi: We believe prevention is better than cure and that we have to protect our water resources by preventing water from being flushed/mixed with waste. The flush toilet is the worst invention of all time according to WASH experts, creating diseases and killing people.
Our vision is to scale up to the next level and contribute to sustainable living and ecological tourism by offering sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene to every development project and nature.
ECOLOO provides a smart sustainable sanitation solution a totally enclosed system that prevents contamination of groundwater while reducing carbon emissions from transportation and sewage treatment. It separates black water from gray water, and it doesn’t consume water for flushing.
Cities would not only save water, energy and expenses on construction, maintenance, treatment, transportation, cost of sewage and its treatment but they will also create a circular economy.
The organic fertilizer would ensure food security. Cities would eventually become low carbon and climate resilient.
The huge impact of the whole supply chain is our way to measure our success. We would see this by:
- the number of people using our toilets will impact the amount of water and energy we save,
- the health that we keep improving,
- the decrease in infant, child, and maternal mortality,
- the number of farmers using organic fertilizer,
- the number of Bops (Bottom of the Pyramid) who are able to come out of the poverty cycle due to healthier and more productive life,
- the number of business and job opportunities created through our social business model,
- the improvement of societies or communities or the whole country in general and the savings on public expenses such as waste treatment, sewage treatment plants and maintenance costs, environmental impact and decrease in pollution and carbon footprint
WT: And one last drop … something for us all to think about.
Agi: Why are people stuck in the poverty cycle?
As per the survey, a person living in an open defecation or pit latrine area unknowingly consumes 10 grams of fecal content every day because of the water sources that are badly affected by those practices.
This is causing 80% of diseases like Dysentery, Typhoid, Polio, Cholera, Hepatitis E, Gastroenteritis, Cysticercoids, Diarrhea, Ascariasis, Trachoma, and others.
One gram of human feces could contain 10,0000,000 Viruses, 1,000,000 Bacteria, 1,000 Parasite cysts, 100 Parasite eggs, and Coronavirus.
This can be changed...with dignity.