On 2 October 2019, while on the way to drop my son to school, I saw three men relieving themselves on the streets. This, when the government has installed public toilets. This is certainly not an uncommon sight; whether in urban or rural India.
To address this issue, 28-year-old Ashwani Aggarwal, a Fine Arts graduate from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, came up with a workable and affordable solution–Basic Shit. Presently, the team also comprises Ashu, Aditi, Yuva and Sahaj.
What is Basic Shit?
Ashwani answers, “Basic Shit started as a college project in 2014. The aim was to find a viable, low-cost solution to urinating in the open.” When asked why he chose this space, he says, “I saw that the problem before us was huge and did not see much work going into finding solutions, so I decided to take it up.” Ashwani was 24 when he started working on this idea. Initially, he participated in awareness drives, where he met people and spoke to them about the perils of urinating in the open. However, he soon realised that the solution did not lie in the campaigns but in finding a way to address why people urinated in the open. The answer to that, he says, was in building toilets.
Speaking about his first toilet installation, he says, “It came into being after many rounds of interviews with people who were urinating on the streets. The prototype, PeePee, made from single-use plastic thrown into the garbage, was set up outside AIIMS Hospital.” Ashwani used 20-litre pet bottles to design the urinal. The response prompted him to get into it full-fledged. One of the key reasons that people refrain from using public toilets is their poor upkeep and low hygiene. Ashwani considered these factors while working on his model.
Plastic waste to make urinals
Using approximately 9,000 plastic bottles, which is 120 kg of plastic, Ashwani created one eco-friendly toilet. And the best part is that there is no foul smell or the need to be cleaned with water. One unit costs approximately Rs 12,000 and can be installed in about two hours. “I convert trash into urinals,” says Ashwani. He adds, “The toilets are two integrated urine carriages, each with a capacity of 200 litres. Each carriage collects 150 litres of urine per day on average. This is then later stabilised and purified with activated carbon to remove toxins from the urine.”
Because of this purification process, the urine does not contaminate the groundwater. But do the urinals need to be cleaned often? Ashwani says that the filter needs to be changed every six months or so, depending on the usage. He elaborates, “These are basic urinals which have a filter through which urine is passed and collected.”
The biggest challenge, says Ashwani, was convincing and getting the required permissions from the government bodies. In the same breath, he says, “It was also difficult to get people to use them. Given how accustomed they were to urinate in public, this was a big mindset change.”
To set up these urinals, Ashwani had to do several rounds of various government bodies. “Eventually, I realised that seeking permission was not an issue. I found that people were urinating in properties that did not belong to anyone, and therefore, I started placing them in such places.”
Basic Shit urinals are also installed in several police stations in the city. Ashwani says, “While all the police stations have a toilet, they do not necessarily have urinals, and so, we have been setting up PeePee at various stations. It is easier to do this because permission needs to be sought only from the Station House Officer (SHO) and not too many other channels.”
Also, the unit remains secure if it is within the station premise. Team Basic Shit identified almost 30 walls in Delhi on which more than 500 people urinate each day. With permission to cover almost 20 such walls, the team is busy installing these units across the city. With 30 of the PeePee units installed across India, Ashwani is hopeful of reaching many more cities soon. C
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(Edited by Shruti Singhal)