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Introduction to the world of the Snake Oil Sales in the Portable Toilet industry

Otherwise known as the Portable Toilet Chemistry Additive industry.

We as Chembros have a history of over 14 years in the portable sanitation chemistry supply industry and in that time have found that the industry was plagued for years with the misconception that all we do in our industry is sell coloured water. While historically there was an element of coloured water being sold, what we will do through this document is outline, through our experience as a successful supplier of real chemistry additive solutions, exactly what the chemistry supply industry can offer, the pitfalls and the highly sophisticated options that do exist for the operator and end-user.

We will present our opinion in three distinct sections:

  1. The advantages and disadvantages of Non-Formaldehyde chemistry
  2. The advantages of portion control
  3. The impact of a drought on the Portable and Off-line sanitation industry

To set the scene, it is important to understand the Portable and Off-Line sanitation industry and some of the implications of the uses.

It is understood that the portable sanitation industry saves in the region of 200 Billion liters of water per annum World-Wide (Satellite Industries study). This is due to the fact that the portable toilet generally does not allow for complete wasting of every flush, rather that the toilet allows for a few hundred flushes with a 25 liter start – up water load, thus resulting in each flush only using approximately 100 ml of water.

It is also clear that the lack of proper sanitation in an African informal context can be directly linked to 3 out of 5 child deaths. This is due to the prevalence of illnesses such as Cholera, Hepatitis, Meningitis and others due to untreated human waste. (World Health Organisation). The result is that an additive is required to deal with the human waste to suitably address the concern of disease.

The primary concern of any operator or end user is that the waste looks acceptable (Blue) and the fragrance is good. The added capability of the chemistry to break-down the waste is obviously more of a technical concern, but in our minds is as important.

All of the applications for portable and off-line sanitation also require an additive to treat the waste and we review the primary options available below:

  1. Formaldehyde (Extremely effective in dealing with human waste and the cheapest solution):

The basis of Formalin is obtained from Pine Trees which is a poison and as it is a carcinogenic it can alter the genetic make-up of the human if exposure is not correctly managed. Historically Formalin was utilised for dealing with human waste, corpses, paper manufacture, Formica kitchen units and almost every day to day application.

More recently Formaldehyde has been banned in Europe and the USA, but as yet is not banned in South Africa. It is however becoming more of an issue with several municipalities in South Africa banning Formaldehyde use in their areas.

The reality is that once the Formaldehyde based product is used in a portable toilet, the actual Formalin will burn-off within 5 – 7 days and the waste will almost be inert thus not having too much of an impact on the larger waste water treatment plants (STP).

The dumping of this waste in smaller waste treatment plants is however problematic and has resulted in the complete shut – down of some STP’s in smaller towns around the country.

Formalin based waste can be pre-treated in a lime settlement tank and then put into STP’s however none of the STP’s have such a facility available.

Less effective in high – heat.

  1. Non-Formaldehyde (less effective than Formalin, slightly more expensive)

The non-Formaldehyde products are predominantly Glutaraldehyde based Biocides which are more recently being utilised in place of the Formalin based product. While being less-effective Biocides are actually worse for the STP and water system as the Biocide does not burn off and remains in our water. The only way to break the Biocide down is organically and once again larger STP’s can deal with them but the smaller STP’s cannot deal with Biocides. Pre-treatment along similar lines as Formalin can ensure the break – down of Biocides however none of the STP’s are geared for this.

Less effective in high heat.

  1. Biological (bacteria producing enzymes, not as effective as either of the above unless in hot conditions, most expensive option, most ecologically sound solution)

The most ecologically sound solution which treats the waste by breaking it down naturally with enzymes, to the extent that the waste would eventually be compostable if properly managed.

The enzymes actually pre – treat the waste for STP’s and French drains.

Can be utilised in French drains and STP’s

Likes high heat.

The usage of all the options above are accepted in South Africa, but as noted earlier, certain Metro’s are not allowing Formalin based product in their tenders. The use of the Biocides is however allowed, and while these are less harmful for humans, they have a larger impact upon the STP’s and possible the water system if not properly treated.

None of the products noted above can deal with Clorox and other disinfectant based products and unfortunately the adding of these products would completely negate the efficacy of the chemistry.

The other issue is the quality of the water in the start – up load, which must be almost potable quality with a neutral pH, otherwise the efficacy of the chemistry would be negatively affected.

Unfortunately, while there are effective chemistry additives being imported and manufactured locally, there is still a fairly high prevalence of Snake Oil Salesmen selling ineffective and sometimes poisonous coloured water in our industry.

We will address the importance of portion control and the impact of the drought on the industry in our next edition.