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TBI Blogs: How 13-Year-Olds from Tamil Nadu Designed Low-Cost Toilet Urinals Using Waste Plastic Bottles

Finding the stench that emanated from their school toilet unbearable, students at a government school in Trichy district designed low-cost urinals using 20-litre plastic bottles. The project won the ‘Boldest Idea’ award at the ‘I CAN Awards 2016’ organised by Design for Change.

At Panchayat Union Middle School, Kurumbapatty, a persistent stench invaded the classrooms every day. Students felt this to be the cause behind the many symptoms of fever, nausea, and stomachache that prompted students to take leave from school.

At first, they imagined that the problem would diminish if they bathed daily using soap, wore clean clothes, and kept their hair clean. But inspired by the simple 4-step formula of Feel-Imagine-Do-Share that has been developed by Design for Change – a not-for-profit organisation that challenges children to solve problems in their community – the students decided to actively investigate the matter.

They set up a five-member committee – comprising 13-year-olds Supikpandian, Santhosh, Dhiyanithi, Ragul, and Prabaharan – to identify the cause of the stench, and came to realise that the source of the problem was actually the school toilet. Being an ill-equipped toilet, the boys would have to urinate on the floor, causing their sandals and feet to be sprinkled by drops of urine. This transported the stench into the classrooms. Coupled with the toilet’s faulty drainage system, the issue was a cause for urinary infections.

As the cost of installing urinals was high, the boys came up with an imaginative solution. While drinking water from an upside down 20 litre plastic bottle, one of the boys imagined that the bottle resembled a urinal. Taking this thought further, under the mentorship of Kesavan D, the boys decided to cut the bottles longitudinally to generate urinals. To procure the bottles, they approached a seller.

Congratulating the students on their idea, the seller handed over used, damaged, and leaking water bottles free-of-cost.

Demonstrating how to cut a 20-litre bottle longitudinally.
The bottles, after they have been painted white.

Then came the task of setting up the toilet. Using funds collected from the students and teachers, the students purchased other necessary pipes and parts. First, they re-painted the walls of the toilet in a brighter green, and then they set up the drainage system in such a way that urine could easily exit through pipes connected to the necks of the bottles.

To flush the urinals after use, they set up a line of drip irrigation pipes above the urinals.

Students strategising how to set up the urinals.
The completed toilet, after the plastic urinals have been installed.

Low-cost, lightweight, and durable, the students imagine this product – which they call a ‘Safe Mode Pissing System’ – to be a scalable solution, easily implementable in places that have poor infrastructure. They have gone from school to school, creating awareness about problems that come with unsanitary toilets, and demonstrating how to implement the urinals. About the potential impact of their project, they say,

“We can implement this project not only in schools, but also in houses and public places. We can prevent urinary infections and stenches by implementing it. This will reduce the number of patients in the community. Through this project, we can make the country clean and hygienic…We can observe the motive of the scheme ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India).”

The students at PUMS went on to win the ‘Boldest Idea’ award from amongst 3,600 Stories of Change submitted for the ‘I CAN Awards 2016’ organised by Design for Change. The Village Education Committee also appreciated the project locally, and honoured the students with prizes.

See the full story here:

Be a part of one of the largest global movements of children driving change in their communities. Take up the ‘I CAN School Challenge’ in your classroom. Find out more online.

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Written by Niharika Sanyal

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Niharika Sanyal is a forager of meaning, architect by training, writer by instinct, and coffee-addict by habit.

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