A new kind of outback toilet gets a dry run, with ‘huge possibilities’ for remote tourism

Venture off the beaten track in Australia and you never know what you’ll find in the way of “facilities”, but a new toilet trial in remote Western Australia could help improve the safety and sanitation of outback loos.

For more than 25 years, volunteers from Track Care WA have put countless hours into manufacturing and installing toilets on the Canning Stock Route — an 1,800 kilometre stretch from Halls Creek to Wiluna.

What to do with waste

While a flush of the Royal Dalton in a city will spirit away waste into a well-crafted sewer system, the same luxuries are not available for remote toilets.

Working out what to do with the waste can be a challenge for those who manage them. 

Track Care WA’s Rod Durston said the first option was to burn the waste once it had dried out.

“But if you’re in a fairly fire-prone area, or the wind is up … it’s just too dangerous,” he said.

Track Care WA has been looking for a more sanitary toilet solution.(Supplied: Track Care WA)

Mr Durston said waste “doesn’t actually compost very well” and poses health issues when it can’t be burned, particularly during tourist season over the cooler months.

“Sometimes [the toilet] has been used just that day and you go along to empty it and of course all the waste is quite moist,” he said.

“You can’t do anything about burning it except for dumping it in the bush, and so all of that can lead to some health hazards.

“There’s been some issues in the past of people getting some nasty sores and so forth from the waste.”

A whole new system

Searching for a solution, the Track Care team came across community development organisation The Sago Network, which had faced similar challenges in Papua New Guinea.

Sago’s response was to develop the Sago Dry Toilet, a permanent and waterless above ground toilet, designed to last for at least 15 years.

Three men wearing hats have a conversation while standing on red dirt

Volunteers endured scorching temperatures during installation.(Supplied: Track Care WA)

The toilet uses a dual chamber system with two bins.

Waste collects in one bin and decomposes into safe material, with the dual system providing time to safely remove and swap the bins every six months.

A ventilation system also reduces smell and keeps flies away.

Track Care has brought the Sago Dry Toilet system to Australia and worked with masters students at Fremantle’s Notre Dame University to design the toilet for the Canning Stock Route.

Volunteers travelled from Perth to outback WA in October and braved 40 degree temperatures to install the first prototypes.

A group of people on a staircase leading up to a toilet block

Teams from Track Care WA, Notre Dame University and Troppo Architects came together for the project.(Supplied: Track Care WA)

Troppo Architects has been supervising the project, and founding partner Adrian Welke said if the toilets worked well on the Canning Stock route, they could be used at other locations across the country where water is scarce. 

‘Huge possibilities’

“We don’t have to pump water up, we don’t have to store water, we don’t have to flush it and then … treat the waste into a septic tank,” he said.

“This simplifies it all down to just the bin, where water is not an essential part of the process.

“That has huge possibilities for a vast number of locations around the country, particularly in remote areas.”

Track Care’s Rod Durston said the extra creature comforts in the outback would be a boon for anyone travelling along the Canning Stock Route.

“The health implications for all people, those that maintain the toilet systems and those that use it, should be a better experience,” he said.

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