PSAI Marks World Portable Sanitation Day

Portable Sanitation Association International’s Karleen Kos reflects on the importance of portable restrooms and the future of the industry

PSAI Marks World Portable Sanitation Day

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Many of us take toilets for granted, but up to one in three people around the world struggle because they lack access to one. This can lead to poor health, absenteeism from work and school, lack of privacy and safety, reduced concentration and exhaustion. In fact, loss of productivity from poor sanitation and hygiene is estimated to cost many countries up to 5% of their gross domestic product, according to the United Nations. International Organization for Standardization standards can help reverse this trend and improve the quality of life and dignity of 2.4 billion people.

World Toilet Day and World Portable Sanitation Day, Nov. 19, draw attention to the importance of sanitation in creating a strong economy, improving health and protecting people’s safety and dignity. Ensuring access to toilets for everyone everywhere by 2030 is a global development priority included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Many people around the world, especially in rural areas, rely on basic onsite sanitation systems like outhouses and latrines. This is true even in developed countries. For example, the New York Times reported in 2016 that U.S. Census data shows nearly half a million homes in the U.S. lack “the basic dignity of hot and cold running water, a bathtub or shower, or a working flush toilet.” Onsite systems, where the wastewater treatment is done locally rather than offsite through use of a sewage system, can be a hygienic, low-cost solution when implemented correctly and the waste is disposed of safely. However, many local communities lack the necessary knowledge and resources, so the services are either set up poorly or don’t exist.

Karleen Kos, Portable Sanitation Association International executive director
Karleen Kos, Portable Sanitation Association International executive director

Current technologies are failing to address underlying challenges behind lack of sanitation including poverty, infrastructure and resources. To help address this issue the ISO created a project committee to develop a standard focusing on product features and criteria for new technologies, and the Portable Sanitation Association International was at the table. We participated in the U.S. Technical Advisory Group, or TAG, which had a voice in the development of the standard published late last year. ISO 30500 guides product developers looking for solutions so they can save time and resources. When governments and nongovernmental organizations adopt the new standard, they can have confidence that these new units meet their requirements and are suitable for local conditions.

The 30500 standard reflects the innovation that results from the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge introduced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011. It addresses recycling and resource recovery within the unit, safe treatment, positive user experience and affordability.

The PSAI is also involved in the U.S. TAG on another international standard that is currently being developed. It addresses managed sanitation systems (i.e., those without interconnected sewers known as nonsewered sanitation systems). Beginning in 2017, the international community formed a project team to develop an International Workshop Agreement (IWA 28) for community-scale systems that can treat the waste from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people using stand-alone waste processing systems that function “off the grid.” The PSAI participated in the creation of the IWA, which specifies requirements for the design, performance, testing, certification and operation of independent, self-contained and energy self-sufficient units known as fecal sludge treatment units. We are now represented on the U.S. TAG as IWA 28 is used as the basis for a new standard, which will be designated as ISO 31800.

You may wonder what these projects have to do with the PSAI’s more well-known purpose of promoting the portable sanitation industry. Well, if there is one thing for sure, it is that no one sanitation solution will meet the needs of everyone. Portable sanitation is a necessary part of the mix — and we need to be at the tables where the rest of the mix is being discussed. The technologies these new standards address will affect portable sanitation equipment and operations, and we are proud to take part in this important work.

Closer to home, the PSAI holds an annual fun run in conjunction with its Nuts and Bolts Educational Conference to honor World Toilet Day and World Portable Sanitation Day on Nov. 19. Funds that result from this event are donated to Karibu Loo, a nonprofit member portable sanitation company in Kenya that employs students whose families that have been affected by AIDS. We also donate to a U.S.-based charity that is closely associated with first responders. This year our U.S. recipient was the Houston Food Bank.

The PSAI believes that by being involved in sanitation issues on the global and national stages, by helping our members be more effective companies, and by putting our money where our mouth is, we are doing our part to improve sanitation for everyone. Won’t you join us?

For more information about the PSAI, visit


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