You might not consider a toilet to be a luxury, and most people in developed nations probably don’t even think about their toilet and take for granted the benefits of having one. For 2.5 billion people in developing nations that lack sewer systems and central plumbing, however, a new product from Lixil, a Japanese toilet company, is making all the difference.
Lixil is well known for their opulent and automated porcelain thrones, with some even comparing them to iphones in terms of their engineering quality. For their new SaTo (Safe Toilet), though, the firm has stripped away all the fancy gadgets and used good old-fashioned ingenuity to help people in developing countries. So far, the company has sold over 1 million units, but it has its sights set on providing every person who needs a toilet with one of the SaTo units. They have even turned SaTo into its own division within the company.
The design is simple but effective. A counter-weighted trapdoor allows waste to be deposited below the main basin, and it then closes to prevent odors and germs from escaping. Users then add water to the main basin, which creates an airtight water seal. In places where wiping is common practice rather than water washing, the toilet can still be used as paper (or leaves) aren’t heavy enough to push down the door.
While Jim McHale, the general manager of SaTo, says that the health of people in poorer countries is an important part of the SaTo project, the project is also designed to provide economic benefits both to his company and to consumers. He expects that the new unit will start showing a profit within four or five years.
As for users, a report released by Lixil shows that it costs about $220 billion annually to deal with the consequences of the lack of sanitation around the globe. This money is spent treating disease caused by unsanitary conditions as well as the loss of productivity caused by such illnesses. McHale stated that there was clearly an avenue for his company to create easier access to sanitation products.