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UCLoo Festival 2013


Remembering the 2013 festival of technologies, ideas and debate about sanitation in London


Archive for November, 2013

Time Out featured post

By ucesbar, on 21 November 2013

Do you know your shit? UCL sets bog standards at UCLoo Festival

Time Out has featured our Festival on their ‘blog. Read on for their view:

“Warning: if you are not a fan of toilet humour, look away now. Still here? Great. We knew you wouldn’t wash your hands of us (strap in – it gets much worse).

This week, UCL becomes the UK’s first loo-niversity as it celebrates World Toilet Day, Tuesday November 19, with a festival of poop culture (slogan: ‘Do you know your shit?’). Partly it’s to highlight the inequality of a world divided into the lavs and the lav-nots, so that the 2.5 billion people without sanitation no longer get a bum deal. But the environmentally concerned organisers say they’d also like us to ‘consider our own “flush and forget” mentality more critically’. Which we guess you’d call wee-cology.

Even better, you won’t have to spend a penny. Free events include a toilet exhibition showcasing radical new commode designs, such as one model where tiger worms dine on your droppings. Kids will be shown different kinds of crap-loving microbes. People can sign up to join a group in UCL’s ‘Makespace’ lab, where they’ll be given loads of design kit and six hours to create a brand new convenience. Visitors can trial-run an eco toilet. And… actually, we’ll stop there. There’s a limit to how many details we should give out. After all, what do you think we are? A toilet paper?

More details at cege.ucl.ac.uk. Here are three futuristic toilets and our top 10 London loos.”

The toilets are gathering…

By ucessjb, on 13 November 2013

The first one arrived by aeroplane, in three boxes, from across the Atlantic from Canada. The second will come in a taxi from Battersea. The third is patiently sitting in three timber crates in the bowels of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, waiting to ride down the road to UCL on a forklift. The final toilet will be hand delivered by its loving owner on Saturday. The toilets are coming from near and far. UCLoo Festival is about to launch!

We have toilet attendants, we have makers of toilets, we have plumbers, we have toilet paper, and the toilets are on their way. Thanks to the support of our donors and a cast of thousands across UCL and our network of friends, we are almost ready to open the festival.

The UCLoo Festival will open on World Toilet Day, 19 November. The Festival will run for 2 weeks with a working ecological toilet in the UCL quad, an exhibition of prototype toilets, a make-a-thon and other events. UCLoo Festival will build on UCL’s pioneering efforts to advance sanitation technologies with a new emphasis on sustainability and urban waste management.  We would be very pleased if you could join us for our main events (detailed below), visit the exhibitions and go to our loo! Please bring your family and friends, and promote the festival through your networks.

We can wait to meet you to talk shit!

Festival Opening

  • 19th November
  • 2:30pm The North Observatory, UCL Main Quad
  • Celebrate World Toilet Day by joining the queue outside our newly installed ecological toilet in the middle of the UCL Quad, to be opened and ‘christened’ by Provost Michael Arthur.


Meet the Makers


Rose George Keynote Lecture

  • 22nd November
  • 4:00pm **Please note room change: Roberts Building, Room 508, UCL (followed by a drinks reception in Chadwick G04)
  • Free public lecture by author of ‘The Big Necessity’ Rose George. The lecture will discuss how to talk about something that is considered unmentionable. She’ll describe her writing process for The Big Necessity, and explain how she addressed the problem of ‘the world’s biggest unsolved public health crisis.’ The talk will look at efforts that have been made over the last five years since her book was published, and consider whether sanitation is still a dirty subject, and whether frankness has any effect on policy or practical change. Please book via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/speaking-about-the-unspeakable-rose-george-public-lecture-and-reception-tickets-9047518371

UCLoo Festival Website, including the programme and details of the venues www.cege.ucl.ac.uk/ucloofestival

Twitter @UCLooFestival

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ucloofestival

“Honeysuckers” – an elegant name for a system that doesn’t work

By ucesbar, on 6 November 2013

This week’s post is by Philippa Ross, an Engineering student at UCL who is undertaking fieldwork in Africa.

Most people come to Uganda to see rare gorillas, take a safari or visit Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the largest tropical lake in the world. But I’m here for a far more exciting reason: to look at toilets. 160 toilets to be exact, and maybe a couple more for good measure!  As part of my EngD research in the Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience at UCL, I am in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to study the risk to health posed by poor sanitation systems. I’ll be working in some of the poorest areas in the city, where many people live on less than US $1 per day. It’s not just toilets I am looking at; I’m interested in the whole sanitation system including hygiene, drains, solid waste and pit emptying, among other things.

Narrow streets make access difficult for pit emptying vehicles

Narrow streets make access difficult for pit emptying vehicles

In the UK we just flush and forget when we go to the toilet, but in the slum areas of Kampala people have very small income to build flushing toilets, water for flushing is scarce, and there are no sewer systems to flush into! Most people in the slum areas of Kampala use a pit latrine. But what happens when the pit is full? Space is expensive in these over-crowed areas and people can’t just dig another pit when one gets full – so they must empty the pit. De-sludging trucks (beautifully named honeysuckers!) do exist but they are expensive and cannot access many of the narrow streets in slum areas, so many pits are bucketed empty by hand and the waste is often thrown into the drainage systems – which are open and where children often play. These drains also overflow in heavy rain, spreading highly concentrated faecal matter into the local area – this practice makes me question if it was worth going in the toilet in the first place!

1. Community-made drainage  2.Woman digs drainage channel to avoid water entering her home 3. Drainage system blocked with solid waste

1. Community-made drainage
2.Woman digs drainage channel to avoid water entering her home
3. Drainage system blocked with solid waste

So what’s the big deal? Well, over 2000 children die every day due to diseases caused by poor sanitation – that strikes me as a crisis and it certainly is a chronic disaster, which can be solved simply with good sanitation systems. It is interesting that these issues are very similar to those faced in London in 1840 when cholera was widespread, people collected water from the river or shallow wells and human waste was contained in cesspits which frequently over flowed into the drainage systems – turning the river Thames into a sewer! In 1858 the stench of the Thames was so bad in London that the Houses of Parliament were forced to close and made politicians take notice.  It was gaining political support for the cause that led to the building of the sewer system in London as we know it.

Raised toilets in slum communities in Kampala – these are normally shared between 4 or more families

Raised toilets in slum communities in Kampala – these are normally shared between 4 or more families

Kampala has a population of 1.5 million and it is estimated that 60% live in slum areas, which make my 160 toilets a drop in the ocean. Looking at toilets all day isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, which is exactly the problem for Kampala City Council, responsible for sanitation in the city. They have no idea about the current sanitation situation in the slum areas, and the poor people living in these areas do not have a voice politically and cannot afford to improve their situation.

I am working in two slum areas: Bwaise III and Katwe III. Both areas are located in low-lying marsh areas, where no one else wants to build houses. They experience frequent floods and have a high water table. You can actually see where houses are sinking! The high water table adds an extra problem for building latrines – they have to be raised as a pit would collapse and contaminate the ground water. This makes building a latrine unaffordable for an individual family and therefore often 4 -6 families share latrines or use public latrines. I was surprised about how clean the shared toilets were as they are currently not recognised internationally as improved sanitation but many were in better condition that the household latrines I observed in the slums areas of Maputo, Mozambique (the other location of my research). At night time however, things get difficult if you share or use a public latrine. It is often not safe to go out at night and as a consequence people use ‘flying toilets ‘ – plastic bags or potties that often get emptied into the drains.

1. Workshop participants discuss score sanitation indicators in their area  2. Workshop group photo

1. Workshop participants discuss score sanitation indicators in their area
2. Workshop group photo

I have developed a participatory workshop that aims to collect data about the communities’ sanitation issues. The idea is to develop a link between local government to give poor communities a voice to raise their issues and to collect data which highlights poor sanitation ‘hot spots’ and can form a basis for city-wide sanitation planning. In the workshops, participants score their area based on a number of sanitary related indicators. The workshops have been great fun and the participants have been engaged and insightful. The results are triangulated and validated with results from a household survey (as mentioned earlier, my visit to 160 toilets!) which is a more traditional data gathering technique. The results are yet to be analysed, but the community commented that they thought the workshop would be more accurate as a household survey as the questions are very personal and people are embarrassed to say if they don’t use a latrine or don’t wash their hands. This supports my view that the technical engineering side of sanitation is the easy bit! Sociology, psychology and behaviour changes are the massive challenges.

So all that’s left to say is that after two weeks in Kampala I am also suffering from sanitary-related issues… Let’s just say I am appreciating the good toilet I have at my guest house. Not a good advert for a sanitation engineer!