Google and Indian government partner for toilet-finder tool

by Matt Hickman

World Toilet Day, an annual United Nations-sanctioned day of observance drawing attention to the 2.4 billion people around the world without access to clean and safe sanitation, dropped this past weekend in typically splashy fashion: a Coldplay and Jay-Z concert, the unveiling of a Gates Foundation poop smell-blocking perfume and enough well-meaning potty puns to last well into the new year.

While World Toilet Day is global in scope, much of the awareness-raising, activism-inspiring action this year — aforementioned Coldplay and Jay-Z concert included — was centered around India, a country where an estimated 70 percent of households in both rural and urban areas don’t enjoy the luxury of having a functioning commode. For a majority of India’s 1.2 billion citizens, defecating and urinating in the open is the norm.

Similar to other developing nations, cellphones are far more prevalent than toilets in India. As backwards as this may seem to Westerners, it’s a reality for millions of Indian households. According to a 2012 census, 60 percent of Indian households surveyed have one or more mobile devices while only 36.4 percent of households have a toilet.

Given these statistics, a new partnership between Google and India’s Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) seems like a match in clean sanitation heaven: the introduction of a Google Maps tool that points users in the direction of toilets that are clean, safe and open for public use. As reported by the International Business Times India, the toilet-finder tool is due to launch this month in Delhi, India’s second most populous city, before potentially becoming available in other major population cities, although the timeline is unclear.

How the app works

Of course, the tool, dubbed Google Toilet Locator, won’t solve India’s underlying toilet shortage problem or reverse cultural attitudes regarding al fresco urination. However, it does help on-the-go Delhi residents more easily find somewhere to go if need be. While we’ve written about urban toilet-finder apps in the past, those have been more or less spurred by convenience (and excessive drinking). Google Toilet Locator, piloted in a city of 25 million where public toilets are far and few between, is more driven by necessity

An unnamed official with the MoUD explains to the IBTimes India that the Google Toilet Locator will pull up all known public lavatories — sulabh shauchalays — across the National Capital Region along with harder-to-find loos located inside of shopping malls, gas stations, hospitals, etc. Listing both deluxe flush situations and standard no-frills squat options, the tool itself is integrated into Google Maps. Mobile users simply must open the app and enter one of numerous keywords in English or Hindi — “toilet,” “restroom,” “lavatory,” “swachhata,” “shauchalay,” etc. — and they’ll be directed to the nearest option based on their location.

Just like a restaurant or retail establishment, Delhi residents — and visitors — can use Google Toilet Locator to rate and comment on specific public restrooms, either providing a glowing recommendation or warning others to stay away.

Explains an official with the MoUD: “The system being put in place relies heavily on crowdsourcing, with people’s feedback helping fuel it. Therefore, if a person finds that a toilet is not clean, he or she can give it a bad review or rating, the facility for which is available on Google Maps.”

Considering that many Delhi residents who will be potentially using the app don’t have a toilet of their own at home, knowing if a public restroom is clean — or even open — is all the more important. Foreign tourists aside, for a large majority of folks using Google Toilet Locator, there isn’t the option of “holding it until I get home.”

Google Toilet Locator is just one of many events and initiatives launched in conjunction with World Toilet Day, which as is tradition, boasts an annual theme. This year, in order to spotlight the oft-overlooked link between economic livelihoods and sanitation, the theme is “Toilets and Jobs.”

For most, the topic of toilets and jobs usual revolves around ill-timed toilet paper shortages, privacy peccadilloes, rude noises or knowing to avoid the men’s room for at least 15 minutes after Ron from accounting goes in. For others, the workplace — and perhaps home, as well — might completely lack a clean, safe bathroom option. Poor sanitation has a direct link to economic well-being — that is, things like absenteeism, exhaustion and decreased productivity rise when employees don’t have access to a toilet at work or at home. In addition to impacting performance, the illnesses associated with poor sanitation keep workers off the job, sometimes temporarily and sometimes for good.

As the World Toilet Day website stresses, providing women with adequate and private bathroom facilities is of particular importance in developing areas.

And because it just wouldn’t be World Toilet Day without a video featuring dancing animated poos, here’s this year’s offering, which in keeping with the jobs theme, also features a variety of hard-working, life-saving “professional” toilets.

Bewildered Littleton, Colorado residents wonder why toilet paper is being spread all over town

At first glance, Littleton looks like ground zero for Halloween pranksters this year — toilet paper is strewn across street after street and block after block.

The messy look prompted a few irritated inquiries from residents on the city’s Facebook page this week, like this one from Madison Lucas: “This is UGLY!! All over Littleton!!” Or from Stephanie Gregory : “My kids and I thought it was vandalism.”

But the TP’ing scheme is actually the work of the city itself. Littleton is using bathroom tissue as part of an effort to seal the myriad cracks that plague road surfaces in this city. It is tackling 120 streets with this bottoms-up tactic.

“I was trying to decide if there was a homecoming parade and wind had blown decorations off a float,” said Nancy Worthington, who noticed the paper all over a street near Broadway and County Line Road the other day.

Once she got an explanation from the city, she determined that the pavement patching process is a “brilliant idea.”

The TP, applied with a paint roller, absorbs the oil from freshly laid tar as it dries, keeping it from sticking to people’s shoes or car and bike tires. With the paper’s protective abilities, asphalt isn’t tracked all over the city or splattered on wheel wells. And the biodegradable paper breaks down and disappears in a matter of days.

“Since my car is new, I didn’t want it to get damaged,” Worthington said.

Kelli Narde, a spokeswoman for Littleton, said the real benefit of using toilet paper is that it allows traffic to retake the road right after a crack is filled.

“It means traffic has better access because we don’t have to close down a street to do the sealing,” she said.

Littleton is not the first to take this approach to wiping out cracks on its roadways. Lincoln, Neb., is one of a number of cities across the United States that have already spun the center roll to address deteriorating asphalt.

“We use it so we can keep moving and get more done,” said Clay Engelman, a district supervisor in the city’s street and traffic operations division.

He said the tar sets in about 40 minutes but that with the paper in place as a protective and absorbent cover, traffic can hit the street right away. The one big lesson learned by Lincoln: don’t use two-ply bath tissue. Engelman said the upper ply doesn’t absorb the oil and ends up blowing into people’s yards.

Lincoln has used toilet paper in its crack-closing campaign since 2014; Littleton began using it last month.

It’s not clear how many communities in Colorado rip from the roll when it comes time to blot the crack. The state’s largest city doesn’t resort to toilet tricks for its road repairs, according to Denver Department of Public Works spokeswoman Heather Burke-Bellile.

“We’ve never used toilet paper for crack sealing!” she wrote in a particularly declarative e-mail.

Amy Ford, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said she hadn’t heard of the practice being used in the state before. But she was more than willing to express her feelings about Littleton’s lavatory-linked labors.

“CDOT feels that clean cracks help improve the smoothness of everyone’s experience (on our roads),” she said.

The agency actually includes TP in its list of “blotting” materials for sealant application. According to the 2014 “CDOT Hot Mix Asphalt Crack Sealing and Filling Best Practices Guidelines,” a material may be needed to “reduce or minimize tracking of the sealant by vehicle tires. Common blotting materials include toilet paper, talcum powder, limestone dust, sand, or proprietary, spray-applied detackifiers.”

Narde said Littleton had been pitched a number of expensive blotting products but that toilet paper — single-ply, mind you — works best.

“Even though it looks like a Halloween prank, it works and it’s very inexpensive,” she said.

Littleton TP’s its own streets as a way to fill its cracks — single-ply only

Montana trying to dispose of Cold War commode kits

A Montana county plans to dispose of more than three dozen Cold War-era sanitation kits meant to provide makeshift bathroom facilities for fallout shelters.

Forty-two fiberboard drums labeled “SK IV Sanitation Kit” were shipped to Gallatin County in January 1964, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle ( reported.

The kits contain a toilet seat, commode liner, 10 rolls of toilet paper that people were cautioned to “USE SPARINGLY,” along with commode chemical. The seat fits on top of the lined drum.

The kits are a reminder of “the subtle but real fear of a nuclear World War III,” said Shane Hope, an archaeologist in the county’s Historic Preservation Board.

After county officials determined they didn’t need the kits any more, they found out the Department of Defense didn’t want them back. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had no use for them, either.

The county has offered some of the kits to museums. The rest may be sold at auction. A value and date haven’t been set.

The kits include instructions for setting up and using the commodes. When the waste reaches “the level of the sanitary fill line on the drum,” users are instructed to put on the included rubber gloves, use the included wire tie to close up the liner and put the lid back on the drum.

“DO NOT REMOVE THE FILLED BAGS FROM THE DRUM,” the instructions caution. And if you need to move the drum, it is preferable to slide it across the floor instead of tilting or lifting.

The drums, which were furnished by the Office of Civil Defense, also included drinking cups and a can opener to open metal cans of food or to pry lids from water-storage drums.

World’s oldest prehistoric toilet unearthed in Argentina


A giant prehistoric ‘toilet’ has been unearthed in Argentina after scientists uncovered thousands of fossilised feces deposited 240-million-years ago.

The dung deposited by rhino-like megaherbivores was clustered together, suggesting for the first time that ancient reptiles shared collective dumping grounds.

The communal latrines are now being described as the world’s oldest public toilet.

Many modern animals defaecate in socially agreed spaces for social and biological reasons, such as to mark territory, as a defence against predators and to prevent intestinal parasite re-infestation.

The fossil ‘coprolites’, which were up to 40cm wide, were discovered in patches across the Chanares Formation in La Rioja province. These dung piles were deposited there by the Dinodontosaurus, an eight-foot-long ancient animal similar to the rhino, common in the Triassic period.

The researchers recorded a density of 94 poos per square metre, spread across patches 900 square metres in size and preserved by a sheet of volcanic ash, lead researcher Dr Lucas Fiorelli told the BBC.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, could provide more information on diet and diseases.

“When cracked open they reveal fragments of extinct plants, fungi, and gut parasites,” Martin Hechenleitner, a fellow author on the study said.

“Each poo is a snapshot of an ancient ecosystem – the vegetation and the food chain.”

The authors concluded: “This is the first evidence of megaherbivore communal latrines in non-mammal vertebrates, indicating that this mammal-type behaviour was present in distant relatives of mammals, and predates its previous oldest record by 220 Mya.”

Thanks to Dr. D for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Thailand to Remove Squat Toilets To Reduce Arthritis Cases

The Thai government has decided to discard the squat toilets prevalent in the country to mitigate the number of people suffering from squat-related arthritis.

The move comes after the government realised that people were suffering from arthritis due to squat toilets, which are present in 85 per cent of households and public facilities in the country.

The Public Health Ministry revealed that around six million natives, including expats, were suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee due to the bog-standard toilets. The ministry plans to replace them these with sit-downs, which are far easier on the knees.

The Deputy Minister of the concerned department, Cholanan Srikaew, suggested that the scrapping of the squat toilets will not merely help control arthritis cases in the country but will also generate more money via the tourism industry. The tourism industry accounts for seven percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

An unnamed source said, “Prolonged periods of squatting have been found to cause arthritis. It is hoped the new toilets will save a few more knees and boost tourism.”

With regards to Thailand’s tourism, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) expects tourism revenue from the European segment to increase by five to six percent this year.

Thailand receives 22 million tourists last year, according to a Ministry of Sports and Tourism report- a substantial hike of 16 percent over 2011. The European market saw an increase of 10 per cent in the same time period.

Squat loos are common in Asia and made headlines during Beijing 2008 when 500,000 foreign Olympic visitors and athletes complained that venues only had squat toilets.

Left Party in Sweden wants men to sit down to urinate


Left Party members of a Swedish county council  said they want to encourage men using the council’s toilets to sit during  urination.

The Left Party in Sormland said it wants the Sormland County Council to pass  a motion requiring toilets reserved for stand-up urination to be labeled,  Swedish news agency TT reported Monday.

The party said sit-down urination is more hygienic and reduces the risk of  bathroom users having to negotiate their way around puddles en route to the  toilet.

The supporters of the motion said sitting during urination also has medical  benefits, including reducing the risk of prostate problems and leading to a  healthier and longer sex life.

Viggo Hansen, a substitute member of the council and author of the motion,  said he wants it to eventually lead to sitting-only bathrooms.

Read more:

Japanese Scientist Invents Safe Edible Burger From Human Feces

Mitsuyuki Ikeda, a researcher from the Environmental Assessment Center in Okayama has developed a new artificial meat burger made of human feces.

Ikeda has gathered sewage mud (which contains human feces) and has developed the artificial meat by adding fecal extracts, soy protein and steak sauce essence. Artificial food coloring to added to it to give it the same look as red meat. It is composed of 63 percent protein, 25 percent carbohydrates, 3 percent lipids and 9 percent minerals.

Protein is extracted from the sewage mud first. After the protein is extracted, “reaction enhancer” is added to it and it is then put in a machine called the “exploder” which produces the artificial meat. During the entire process, the bacteria in the sewage mud is rendered harmless as it is killed by heating.

The scientist is hoping that the new type of meat will one day replace real meat, which is more expensive to produce. He claims that the new feces burger is actually healthier than real meat (fecal meat has less fat and hence less calories) and is more environment-friendly (cows supposedly contribute around 18 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions).

Currently, fecal meat costs 10-20 times more than normal meat because of the cost of research, but ultimately Ikeda plans to bring the price down so that people can switch to feacl meat one day.

Ikeda did not say whether his “poop meat” is as tasty as real meat and he has acknowledged that few people would be keen to eat it.


Chinese Toilets Recycled Into Desks for Kids

Scientists claim there is a fine margin between genius and madness and this is one invention which surely proves that theory.

Loo manufacturer Gao Jianguo discovered a way to transform these bog standard unused toilets into fully functional desks by turning one lavatory’s cistern lid into portable lap desks.

Alternatively students can sit on top of the toilet seat backwards and work from a fixed position.

Gao, from Shijiazhuang, northern China, has now donated hundreds of the wacky toilet desks to local schools in the area.

While most critics believe his invention stinks, the inventor says his unique idea will stop hundreds of loos being thrown away every year.

‘We have lots of toilets that we would otherwise throw away,’ said Gau, responding to critics who have poo-poohed the idea.

‘It is wasteful and if we can find a use for them we should.

‘They are brand new and have never been used so there is no hygiene issue.’

Read more: