The pandemic period, when bars and restaurants were closed, reminded us of the importance of public toilets. There is no lack of stakes between cleanliness, vandalism, economic and ecological aspects. The magazine 15 Minutes made the rounds around small corners.
Some prefer to avoid them, for others they are sometimes life-saving: public toilets do not leave you indifferent. It is a definite investment for the public sector. In Lausanne, for example, maintenance costs more than 600,000 francs a year.
Municipal strategies differ. The Vaud capital recently invested around six and a half million to renovate twenty-seven toilets and build two new ones. Some are now self-cleaning, a way to improve hygiene.
They are also equipped with different devices: “Friendly toilets are the hallmark of a city,” says Gaëtan Macheret, head of the companywho designed the new devices in Lausanne. “The bin has a flap to prevent it from being set on fire and we use anti-theft screw systems to prevent any act of vandalism in the toilet.”
Other places like Biel are instead trying to reduce the number of public toilets. To round off the offer, the city has decided on partnerships with cafés and restaurants: for a fee of CHF 1,000 per year, the companies will open their toilets to the public.
“Before this concept of the welcome toilet, we talked about 300,000 francs a year for maintenance, handling and operation,” says Yanick Jolliet, architect of the city of Biel and file keeper. “We were able to reduce it by almost half”. In several places contacted by 15 Minutes, the trend is more towards a decreasing number of public toilets per person.
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In addition to the economic question, the ecological question is currently being pushed to the fore. “Each flush to direct our needs to the sewage treatment plant uses five to ten liters of water: that’s about forty to fifty liters per person per day,” says environmental engineer Bastian Etter, director of. He has been researching toilets for ten years; among the options mentioned, reuse water once it has been filtered, or forgo it, with dry toilets.
But the latrines of tomorrow will also sort for him at the source: urine can then be used as fertilizer. This already exists in Dübendorf near Zurich on the premises of the Swiss Federal Institute for Water Management and Water Management (). In a room intended for this purpose, a tank with three hundred liters of urine: “There are bacteria in there that convert nitrogen. Others take medication,” the researcher specifies. Almost no smell when lifting the lid: “This shows that our bacteria are working”.
Bastian Etter shows a half-litre bottle filled with a dark liquid: stabilized, filtered and concentrated urine. The product, obtained from ten liters of human urine, has been approved by the Federal Office for Agriculture as a fertilizer for all crops: “It’s liquid gold!”
The researcher believes that because it’s a taboo subject, little is said about it: “It’s just a necessity, so we’re installing toilets because we need them; but we don’t think much about how to improve them.”
However, he believes that the approach is changing: “I am convinced that we can speak of a revolution: the concept of the toilet has hardly changed since the 19th century, but in recent years there have been more and more ideas, research groups, companies that are working on it,” he says happily.
Various places are attracted to these solutions: Zurich is already conducting tests with this local fertilizer. The EPFL and housing cooperatives in Geneva have already planned to install this sorting system at the source.
Paris is also interested in it abroad: this innovative technology could even help to clean up the Seine. The French capital has set itself a goal: to be able to swim in the river at the 2024 Olympics.
Radio contribution: Katia Bitsch & Guillaume Rey
Web article: Stephanie Jaquet
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