Save the World! (With a Toilet)

Theodore Hogan, Northern Illinois University, Engineering Technology,

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Sanitation and the availability of safe water are closely allied. Access to safe human waste disposal is more than a human right. It can change the world for the better by reducing disease, death, and poverty.

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Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • Access and analyze information collected from a general web search and from research search engines (such as Google Scholar)
  • Consider the sociological factors affecting technology choices
  • Compare and contrast toilet designs and understand the ecological impacts
  • Build consensus with other students and present their team findings to the class

Context for Use

Both the poor and rich are affected by a lack of access to sanitary waste disposal. Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, did not have access to a sewage system when it was completed, which meant all of the wastewater had to be trucked away every day. See:

Inadequate access to toilet facilities impacts educational access for young women in developing countries. This has serious social impacts, as education of girls is one of the more important factors in reducing poverty. (World Toilet, 2014) That's why we can save the world (with a toilet).

Description and Teaching Materials

Save the World! (With a Toilet)

Students work as teams


Conduct research

  1. Research and summarize some of the health and water pollution problems associated with poor sanitationin developing countries. Search both Google and Google Scholar: Search patents, limit range of search from 2015-present. Suggested search terms: hygienic rural toilet
    1. What are some of the technological issues in toilet and sanitation design?
    2. What are some of the technological solutions being tried?
    3. Discuss the types of applications for two of the technologies and analyze the pros and cons of the two technologies.
  2. Research issues on toilet usage, including access, maintenance, and sociological factors. For example: Realizing the Right to Sanitation in Deprived Urban Communities
    1. What are some of the sociological factors affecting toilet use and design?
  3. What are some of the sanitation methods that might work?  See for example Dry-San Toilet System[CTech]1.pdf
    1. Compare and contrast two of the technologies and analyze the pros and cons of the two technologies. 
  4. Additional  analysis (optional)
    1. What are some of the potential Clean Water Act impacts of an "off the grid" home using a rural toilet option?

Present findings to the class

  • Focus your presentation on key points and lessons learned
  • Ask class for comments and questions

Teaching Notes and Tips

I usually show short videos (5 minutes or less) to provide context on the topic. Examples of local sanitation issues are helpful. See for example


Teams of students present their findings to the class, using the worksheet.

References and Resources

Included in the teaching materials