This Waterless Toilet Made of Mushrooms Could Be Key for Refugee Needs

iStock
iStock

In many parts of the world, toilets remain out of reach. An estimated one in three people in the world don't have access to a toilet, and one in nine people don't have access to safe water (in large part because of that lack of toilets). A group of students from the University of British Columbia have come up with a new way to give people without plumbing clean, safe places to do their business, and according to Co.Design the key is mushrooms.

The MYCOmmunity Toilet, which just won the 2018 Biodesign Challenge, is a portable toilet kit designed for refugee camps that uses a mycelium (a mushroom product) tank to eventually turn human waste into compost. Everything needed to set up the toilet is packed into one kit, which users can set up into a small, sit-down toilet with a traditional seat and a tank for waste. The appliance is designed to fit into a refugee tent and serve a family of six for up to a month.

The toilet separates solid and liquid waste for separate treatment. Enzyme capsules can be used to neutralize the smell of urine and start the decomposition, and poop can be covered in sawdust or other material to tamp down odors and rev up the composting process. After the month is up and the tank is full, the whole thing can be buried, and the mushroom spores will speed along the process of turning it into compost. The kit comes with seeds that can be planted on top of the buried toilet, turning the waste into new growth. (Biosolids have been used to fertilize crops for thousands of years.)

The University of British Columbia students—led by Joseph Dahmen, an assistant professor in the architecture school, and Steven Hallam, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology—competed against 20 other design teams at the 2018 Biodesign Summit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in June, taking home first prize. They hope to further refine the prototype in the future, and according to Co.Design, test it out at local music festivals, which, with their outdoor venues and high volume of drunk pee-ers, are the perfect venue to stress test waterless toilet technology.

[h/t Co.Design]

Chernobyl Creator Craig Mazin Urges Visitors to Treat the Exclusion Zone With Respect

Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Following the success of the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, one tour company reported that bookings to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone located in Ukraine rose 35 percent. Now, series creator Craig Mazin is imploring the new wave of tourists to be respectful when snapping selfies at Chernobyl, Gizmodo reports.

A 2500-square-kilometer exclusion zone was established around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant shortly after its reactor exploded in 1986 and flooded the area with harmful radiation. The abandoned towns are still too radioactive for people to live there safely, but they have been deemed safe to visit temporarily with the supervision of a guide.

Chernobyl has supported a dark tourism industry for years, but thanks to the miniseries, photographs taken there are gaining new levels of attention online. News of influencers posing for irreverent selfies at the site of the nuclear disaster quickly went viral. Mazin tweeted:

Regardless of why people are visiting the site, being respectful in the presence of tragedy is always a good idea. It's also smart to resist leaving a tour group to snap the perfect selfie in some abandoned building: Tour companies warn that breaking rules and wandering off approved paths can lead to dangerous radiation exposure.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Minnesota Wants to Pay Homeowners to Create Bee-Friendly Lawns

iStock/GoodLifeStudio
iStock/GoodLifeStudio

Bees are an important part of our agriculture, helping to pollinate around 30 percent of all the world's crops. That means humans have a vested interest in protecting bees from insecticides, predation, habitat loss, and other factors that have caused populations to drop worldwide in recent years. In Minnesota, legislators are taking steps to help bees by incentivizing homeowners to plant food sources for the insects on their property, the Star Tribune reports.

The new bill, which was recently approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Tim Walz, sets aside a yearly budget of $900,000 to be used to help state residents convert their lawns into bee sanctuaries. The program specifically aims to boost the rusty patched bumblebee, a pollinator native to the Midwest whose population has declined by 87 percent in the past two decades.

When the law goes into effect, homeowners will be able to apply for financial assistance to plant their bee-friendly lawn, with 75 percent of the cost being covered for most projects and up to 90 percent being provided in areas especially suited to rusty patched bees. Approved properties will be planted with "native vegetation and pollinator-friendly forbs and legumes," according to the bill. Small common flowers that many homeowners try to eradicate, such as Dutch white clover and dandelions, are some of the most appealing sources of pollen to bees.

It’s still unclear when Minnesotans will be able to take advantage of the new law. The state's Board of Water and Soil Resources will give grants to local conservation groups, who will distribute funding to individual landowners. The state representative who introduced the bill, Kelly Morrison, has said she hopes the law goes into effect by next spring.

The bee-friendly lawn program is just one way people around the world are taking action to save struggling bee populations. In 2017, the UK announced it would ban pesticides that hurt bees, and in Amsterdam, bees can take refuge at strategically placed "insect hotels."

[h/t Star Tribune]

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