Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, with the support of UKZN’s Pollution Research Group (PRG) and Khanyisa Projects (an engineering consulting company) launched Africa’s first recycled water handwashing station prototype at the Howard College campus at the end of March.
The 2011 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge aimed to trigger the development of technological solutions to bring safe and affordable sanitation to the most vulnerable communities in the world. The call attracted many institutions, including UKZN and Eawag.
Eawag researcher, Dr Eva Reynaert, said that the Autarky Handwashing Station – so-named to reflect its self-sufficiency – takes water from hand washing and treats it through a number of steps to provide high quality clean water, which is then reused. ‘This means you need to fill the system with water only once, when starting it, and then continue using the same water again and again’, she said.
‘Having the handwashing station on campus allowed us to test it in a relatively controlled environment,’ said Reynaert. She added that it serves a need in public spaces like university cafeterias where there is nowhere to wash one’s hands before eating.
‘Researchers from Eawag have been working on the development of this on-site water treatment system for eight years. We have extensively tested our prototypes in the laboratory and shown that they reliably removed pathogens, malodor and colour from the recycled water. Last summer, we tested a similar handwashing station in a public park in Zurich (Switzerland), where we verified that the water was safe for handwashing at all times,’ said Reynaert.
In April, the handwashing system was moved to an informal settlement that has limited access to piped water where it will be tested for three months. Reynaert said that the ‘goal is to show that the station works reliably when it has high usage and to find out whether people are willing to use the recycled water. In the long term, we would like to collaborate with an industry partner that will build and market the handwashing station’.
Eawag is not only leading the development of Africa’s first handwashing station prototype that works without water and sewerage connections, but is also conducting groundbreaking research on a complete toilet system that treats all the waste on-site.
Go to www.autarky.ch for more information on these projects.
Words: Christian Ishimwe