Re-open public toilets! The pandemic’s effect on sanitation in the UK.



Toilets are a basic human right. This is an opinion piece, written by a member of our team, intended to communicate the official guidelines. Ensuring that toilets are kept open during the Covid-19 pandemic.   

A note from the writer: In the lead up to International Women’s Day, I wanted to share my observation that people who menstruate, those with female genitalia as well as lots of underrepresented groups in the UK are being let down. Please get in touch if you want to share how you’ve been affected. (kimberley.dobney@wase, 

Organisations from all over the world, are developing decentralised solutions to serve the 4.2 billion people globally that don’t have access to safely managed sanitation (UNICEF, 2019). Treating sewage and faecal waste is just one part of the story. Menstrual care and management are often overlooked when it comes to sanitation and the UK is no exception.

There has been mass confusion regarding the guidelines on the opening of public toilets during the national lockdown. Venue owners and local authorities have not received clear instruction on how to safely open toilets. As a result, the majority have remained closed.

 The toilet closures have been devastating for many different people, for example; those experiencing homelessness who may have been relying on public facilities as their only toilet, those who suffer from illnesses which means they require constant access to toilets, key workers who are out of their home for long periods of time, the elderly who may have incontinence issues, those with smaller bladders who need to go more frequently, or people who are menstruating.

How does this disproportionately affect the menstruating sections of society and those with female genitalia?   

Those with female genitalia are more likely to experience Urinary Tract Infections than those without. If left untreated, the infection can spread up to the kidneys and bloodstream and become life-threatening. Holding in urine is one of the leading causes of UTI’s (NHS,2020).

During pregnancy, the need to urinate occurs more frequently because the growth of the baby puts additional pressure on the bladder (Pampers, 2021). One woman spoke to the guardian and recalled being pregnant during the summer when socialising in small groups outside was allowed (Guardian, 2020). She spoke of how she was essentially housebound because she knew there would be no toilet for her to use. Sadly, this is a common story.

As well as needing the toilet more often during pregnancy, four in ten experience urinary incontinence after giving birth. It can take between three to six months, sometimes even a lifetime, to regain complete bladder control (University of Colorado, 2019). This means that at any one time, a large proportion of society will be suffering this condition, and need frequent access to a toilet.

Menstrual care products must be changed at regular intervals to avoid illness such as Toxic Shock Syndrome, which in severe cases can kill. The frequency of changing products varies from person to person. Chronic illness, birth control and some medication can make it very frequent. Menstruation is a natural cyclic function, nobody on their period should be made to feel shame because their bodies have not been considered.

 Menstruation and pregnancy make a lack of access to sanitation facilities a big obstacle. In low- and middle-income countries, menstruation is often even more stigmatised, and the repercussions can be far more severe (Binti period, 2018). Menstruation can be the end of education if the school lacks basic menstrual care and sanitation resources (Lifewater, 2019). This means that the menstruators livelihood and prospects are directly affected. The significance of sanitation is evident globally. There are some great initiatives such as the Toilet Board Coalitions global ‘Women in the sanitation economy’ programme, which is accelerating solutions to tackle these issues.  It should be a question of serving everybody’s needs equitably and a realisation that not everyone’s needs are the same.

Example of sign present in many parks across City's in the UK that reads 'It's a park not a toilet, go home if you need to go'.

Example of a sign present in many parks across City’s in the UK

In summer in the UK, open spaces were one of the only places people could socialise. Thousands fled to parks, beaches and national heritage sites. When faced with no toilets in these places many turned to open defecation. Signs were erected in many public spaces stating that people should ‘go home if they need to go’ or words to similar effect. Open defecation is a serious issue all over the world as it spreads disease and negatively affects the surrounding communities. However, some may say this was an aggressive tone to take, especially to those excluded by toilet closures. It could be argued that a better solution would have been to re-open public toilets in a safe and controlled way. Therefore, ensuring that no sections of society were forced to ‘go home’.

So, what are the actual rules now?  

The government issued new ‘Guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities’ on the 5th of January 2021. The guidance states that ‘Public toilets, portable toilets and toilets inside premises should be kept open and carefully managed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19’. A list of these measures to reduce the risk of transmission can be found here.

The question is, will people know these are the rules and will this be enough to reassure them that they can safely open their toilets?  

For this to be a yes, we all need to put pressure on local authorities and venues, ensuring that if they can, they abide by these guidelines. Nobody should be disadvantaged because of a lack of sanitation.

WaterAid does fantastic work globally, helping ensure that everybody has access to clean and safe sanitation. If you can, donate to help them transform millions of lives by improving access to clean water, toilets and hygiene. Follow the link to donate.


I wrote this piece to bring awareness to the state of sanitation in the UK during the pandemic. It’s an opinion piece reinforced with information found in my wider research. I am constantly relearning how to address social issues such as this in a way that is inclusive and fair. If you’ve found anything offensive or problematic, please message me and I’m ready to learn a better approach.  

Sanitation and its implications on society are central themes in my work. Firstly, in my role as Marketing and Communications Designer at WASE where we capture the power of waste. Then also in my role as Co-founder at Turn and Flow, where we are creating a new circular approach to menstrual waste disposal. Thank you so much for reading.  

26.02.2021 | Kimberley Dobney


Electromethanogenic Reactors: The new waste treatment technology giving Anaerobic Digestion a run for its money.



In this month’s blog post, WASE Bioelectrochemistry Researcher Isabella Bulmer explains Electromethanogenic Reactors so that we can all get excited about this technical-sounding scientific breakthrough.   

You might have heard of Anaerobic Digestion (AD) which breaks down organic waste to produce biogas. But have you heard of Electro-Methanogenic Reactors (EMRs)? EMRs treat waste more efficiently than AD by combining the biological reactions in AD with bioelectrochemical processes.   

EMRs fall into an emerging category of waste-to-energy technologies called Bio-Electrochemical Systems. Bio-Electrochemical Systems use electrodes to enhance the biological processes by utilising electrically active microorganisms. Having these two processes working together allows EMRs to accelerate the breakdown of waste and production of bioenergy. The increased digestion rate can be up to ten times faster than AD allowing smaller compact waste to energy systems.   

As the diagram shows, organic compounds are broken down by electrically active microorganisms on the anode producing hydrogen ions and carbon dioxide. The methanogenic microorganisms on the cathode reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) to produce methane. Unlike biogas produced from AD, EMR produces biogas with higher methane content increasing the energy recovery.   

EMRs are one of the ground-breaking innovations inside all of our biocentres, allowing you to unlock the power of waste. Our three biocentres are all engineered to serve three different sectors.   

  • industriWASE provides onsite waste-to-energy solutions for food and drinks manufacturers.   
  • agriWASE provides efficient energy and resource recovery within the agricultural sector.  
  • saniWASE provides onsite safe treatment for black water and faecal sludge providing municipal waste treatment to underserved communities.   

We specialise in decentralised waste and wastewater treatment solutions. Our circular approach to waste management makes EMR one of the most sustainable options for treating a variety of waste streams. We fully believe that Bioelectrochemical Systems are the future, they transform waste from a toxic burden to a sustainable supply of energy and nutrients that can enable communities to flourish.  


We hope you feel a bit more enlightened about the incredible world of EMRs. If you want to find out more about how this technology could help you, please contact us and chat with someone from the team by emailing    

22.01.2021 | Isabella Bulmer 





World Toilet Day and The Sanitation Economy: An interview with Venugopal Gupta 



Welcome to our new series of blog posts and happy World Toilet Day! We’ll be sharing with you monthly interviews with all sorts of influential people. To kick things off, we spoke with Venugopal Gupta, the Accelerator Director of the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) to find out more about the sanitation economy and how TBC are addressing the challenges brought by a lack of global sanitation.

Can you tell me a bit about your background, where are you based and how you know WASE Yes so, I’m based in Delhi and I’m the accelerator director at the TBCWASE was part of our accelerator program in 2020. Weve been working on the business model side of WASE this year.  

Sounds brilliant, can you explain your role at the TBC accelerator a bit furtherwhat do you do there So, the program was set up in 2015 and the idea was to see if business approaches are possible in sanitation, we’ve come a long way since that point. That question has been answered overwhelmingly [yes], the next question before us is what does it take to scale enterprises to the next level. Therefore, my work with the cohort is to focus on business models, the features that can scale and the bottle necks that may be a problem in scaling. I also lead investments for TBC so I talk to investors quite a lot and encourage them to invest in the sanitation sector. Walso run the investment committee to facilitate investment capital into sanitation SME’s.  

How does this all relate to World Toilet Day?   World Toilet Day is a great opportunity for all of us who are interested in sanitation to come together, November is a great time to take stock of what has been achieved and to think about what more needs to be done. So, World Toilet Day brings together multiple stakeholders with an opportunity to talk to investors, corporates, entrepreneurs and not for profit organizations that work in this area to exchange ideas and discuss what 2021 should look like.  



To you, what aspect of global sanitation is the most important and why?  Sanitation is very powerful from many perspectives, especially looking at it from a business model perspective. The first aspect is that there are billions who are outside the scope of sanitation currently, as we widen the net of sanitation and as we bring those people who have been traditionally unserved into the service envelope, I think the sort of impact we can create is amazing. The health risk, disease avoidance you know, economic opportunity… I think there are phenomenal impact areas for people.  The second point is that sanitation reaches the last mile, it’s a great way to reach the absolute last person. You know, sanitation in a way unites us, regardless of our geographical location, regardless of our culture it’s something that we all have in commonSo, bringing sanitation is a great way to reach those communities that are marginalized and have not been served so far. I think that really excites me. And finally, the most exciting part of a sanitation business is that it meets its customers every day, there are very few businesses that can boast of that kind of reach or that kind of engagement so it’s very powerful. 

Absolutely I hadn’t thought of it that way, it does meet people every single day. From what you just said do you think there is a group or a demographic that’s sort of left behind or disproportionately affected by a lack of sanitation?  I would say women, women are definitely a group that’s disproportionately affected by [a lack of] sanitation. If you look at the rural areas across the world, we just don’t have the right facilities and women find this really difficult, unsafe, undignified you know, [facing things such as] open defecation or open sanitation. Even in urban areas sanitation facilities are perhaps not designed in a way for women, they’ve been traditionally designed for men. From a design perspective as well as from an availability perspective, Women have been disproportionality affected.  

Wow, shame, yeah that’s such a shame.  


WASE Circular Economy Model


Just in case some of the readers don’t know, can you define the term sanitation economy and how we can increase its value?  Yeah, absolutely. The sanitation economy finds its origin [from the] TBC which was set up in 2015 and the idea was to figure out how we could set up sanitation from an unaffordable public cost to a business opportunity.  We thought about how to unlock the value in sanitation and in thinking about that we realized that sanitation is actually a market place. Where lots of products are being soldservices are being consumed and lots of economic value is being created of all kinds I would say the sanitation economy is this market place that is A, creating economic value and Bprincipled you know. It engages in circular model principles and it looks at sustainability as one of the guiding principles. So it’s kind of a sustainable, responsible sanitation market place.  

Thank you that’s great. Finally, as you know WASE quite well, what impacts do you think WASE will have on the sanitation space?  I think tremendous impact, I’m a big fan of what WASE is doing. The whole decentralized approach is something that I find really exciting. Circular economy and water treatment in a decentralized way is very powerful. I do also think that WASE technology can go really far with the right kind of product development and go to market strategy. There’s a very compelling case for technology in what WASE is doing and if the wastewater treatment to energy solution can be fitted with cloud technology then we are talking about a really powerful system. It’s a very powerful model that they are developing, I’m a big fan of what they’re doing.  

Yeah, I definitely agree, I’ve not been part of WASE too long, about 3 months now but it’s a really really great team.  And it’s nice to be near the labs so that I can actually see the tech being developed at the same time as all the branding and communication stuff. Thank you so much for your time, all the best in the lead up to World Toilet Day.  


19.11.2020 | Kimberley Dobney