[INDUSTRY INSIGHT] Turning sanitation infrastructure into a bathroom appliance | Infrastructure news

Generation 2 Reinvented Toilet (G2RT) builds on the exceptional innovations developed during the original ‘Reinvent the Toilet’ challenge programme. Without inlet water or output sewer lines, G2RT is designed to be a new, affordable toilet. Could this be the solution to the world’s sanitation problems?

The current industry gold standard of sanitation is the flush toilet connected to waterborne systems. The other extreme is the ventilated pit latrine, which conjours up images of bad odours and flies, and is the anthesis of aspirational. But we can imagine a new industry that takes the best of both worlds – a standalone toilet system giving you the convenience of the flush toilet.

A typical waterborne sanitation system uses flush toilets, kilometres of sewer piping, high-energy pump stations, and large wastewater treatment plants – requiring vast amounts of land, water and trillions of rand in infrastructure investment. The vision for G2RT is that it can essentially provide the same basic sanitation functions of those large, costly systems in a space no bigger than the toilet itself.

This innovative self-contained system that can treat human waste safely in a house provides empowerment and ownership for the household. This brings back dignity to sanitation and offers an alternative to sewered networks. Indigent communities with no sewer system will no longer have to use toilets that offer an undignified experience. They will have their own toilet, and a better sense of responsibility and ownership for that toilet.

This sense of ownership will shift the perception that government is 100% responsible for the provision of sanitation to a more shared responsibility between South Africa’s citizens, the government and the private sector.

At a municipal level, engineers will be able to offer an alternative solution to developers and investors interested in growing new economic zones and creating jobs. But the biggest opportunity will be for businesses and investors seeking the transformative ‘Sanicorn’ opportunity as toilets such as these will revolutionise sanitation in the future. 

The prototype

G2RT is the result of a global collaboration led out of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in the US. “We have gathered the best concepts from around the world and used expert engineering to integrate them into a single, standalone system,” explains Dr Shannon Yee, associate professor at Georgia Tech and lead on the G2RT programme supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to Dr Yee, finding the right collaborators and then wrangling them to make decisions collectively as a global team was the hardest part of this programme. “But without this type of collaboration, solving such a complex problem would have been impossible.”

There has been strong level of South African engagement from partners such as the Department of Science and Innovation, the Water Research Commission, eThekwini Municipality, Khanyisa Projects and the UKZN WASH Centre. Students that are part of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s WASH Centre travelled to Georgia Tech to assist in the development of G2RT and are spearheading prototype testing in Durban.

The concept of G2RT is based on the premise of creating a wastewater treatment plant in a box, which safely treats faeces and recycles the water. The G2RT prototype has two parts: a front end, which looks like a typical flush toilet, and a back end, where the waste and water is processed.

When the toilet is flushed (with a small amount of water), the urine and faeces are separated.

The urine and flush water go through a multistep liquid filtration process that produces clean water. This water is then recirculated to flush the toilet.

Here, the faeces will get pasteurised, killing off all pathogens and eliminating odours before being pressed into cakes, which are then dried. These faeces cakes then fall into a receptacle that users can dispose of in the trash or compost. The waste itself is odourless and pathogen free. 


One of the challenges facing G2RT is the high cost, but the team has set an aspirational affordability target that will make it economical for all communities – indigent, low- and high-income areas. A key goal is to continue to simplify the system and pursue economies of scale to eventually lower the cost.

“Together with research and development partners, we want to work alongside large manufacturing corporations to evolve the reinvented toilet design to make it less expensive, highly reliable, and adaptable to the diverse markets around the world,” Yee adds.

The G2RT prototype is remarkable, as it shows what is possible when a clear vision is set and global collaborative partnerships work towards solving the world’s sanitation challenges; however, it requires a few enablers, such as a visionary business with associated investors who transform the industry through mass production and supply models.

But for this to become a reality, demand must be created and this is where national and local government is encouraged to become early customers, and to put policies in place to accelerate local manufacturing and adoption.

So, what is the goal behind the new toilet challenge? “To build an industry and create a thriving market that delivers life-changing sanitation innovations to the billions of people who need them. To transform sanitation from an unreliable and unequal system that endangers the health and livelihoods of billions, into a valuable enterprise,” concludes Yee. 

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