So much more than a toilet: ISO standards help transform lives on World Toilet Day

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By Clare Naden
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More than four billion people in the world live without safely managed sanitation, impacting not only their health but their dignity. Recognizing the critical need for new and accessible technologies to remedy this situation, ISO has a number of International Standards to support innovative solutions and truly transform lives.

“Leaving no one behind” is the theme of this year’s World Toilet Day, an annual global event organized by UN Water on 19 November to raise awareness and inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. It is also a key objective of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This year’s theme aims to demonstrate that a toilet is not just a toilet, but can save lives and dignity and provide opportunities. 

Universal sanitation is also the intention of a number of ISO standards, recently published or in development, which play a crucial role in enabling new sanitary solutions to flourish. These include revolutionary new technologies such as stand-alone sanitation systems that safely treat waste without the need to be connected to a traditional sewerage system. They provide the solution for safe and hygienic toilets where they are needed most.

ISO 30500, Non-sewered sanitation systems – Prefabricated integrated treatment units – General safety and performance requirements for design and testing, supports the development and growth of this technology. Use of the standard helps to demonstrate to manufacturers, governments, regulators and end users of non-sewered facilities that they are safe, reliable and of good quality, thus encouraging further investment in the development of even better toilets.

Another solution for clean sanitation in places that lack traditional water utilities and sewerage systems is the use of on-site domestic wastewater treatment systems. Installed and managed correctly, they can be a hygienic, low-cost way of disposing of wastewater. However, many local communities lack the necessary knowledge and resources to set this up.

ISO 24521, Activities relating to drinking water and wastewater services – Guidelines for the management of basic on-site domestic wastewater services, offers the practical guidance required for designing and building such facilities as well as training up the people who are destined to use them.

Work is also underway on a standard for prefabricated systems that can not only treat human waste, but turn it into useful resources such as clean drinking water. ISO 31800, Faecal sludge treatment units – Energy independent, prefabricated, community-scale, resource recovery units – Safety and performance requirements, specifies requirements and test methods to ensure the performance and safety of units that can serve up to a hundred thousand people. Developed by an ISO expert committee in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it is due to be published sometime next year.

These are just some examples of where international expertise has come together to develop best-practice guidelines supporting solutions to the toilet problem. They also contribute directly to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 for clean water and sanitation, ensuring everyone has access to basic hygiene facilities by 2030.

Find out more about World Toilet Day on UN Water’s dedicated Website.

For more information about ISO standards for safe sanitation, contact your national ISO member or visit the ISO Store.

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