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]

How to Build an Igloo, According to a Canadian Film From 1949

iStock.com/vovashevchuk
iStock.com/vovashevchuk

Centuries before you started building snow forts in your backyard, the Inuit had mastered using snow as construction material. This 1949 video, produced by the National Film Board of Canada (and with narration that uses some outdated terminology), illustrates how exactly people native to the Arctic can erect warm, temporary homes using nothing but a knife and the snow beneath their feet. The artifact was spotted by The Kid Should See This.

The igloo (or iglu in Inuktitut) in this footage takes around 90 minutes to erect, but a similar structure can be built by a skilled person in as little as 40 minutes. To put together the shelter, the two men carve up firm, packed snow into blocks that are about 2 feet tall, 3 feet wide, and 4 inches thick.

After the first row of blocks is placed in a circle on the ground, the builder slices a section of the blocks to create a slope. Each row that's placed on this foundation will spiral upward, creating a shape in which the blocks support their own weight. By the time the keystone block is fitted into the top, the igloo is strong enough to support the weight of a man.

The final steps are carving a doorway out of the bottom of the structure and plugging up the cracks with additional snow from outside. Even on a frigid Arctic night, the temperature of a well-insulated igloo can reach 40 degrees above the temperature outside. And the warmer the igloo gets over time, the stronger it becomes: The heat from the Sun and the bodies of the inhabitants melt the outer layers of the blocks, and that water eventually freezes to ice, giving the home more insulation and structural integrity.

If you aren't ready to build an igloo, here are some less intimidating snow projects to tackle this winter.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

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