UCL Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering


CEGE Associate Professor Flush with Success at Compost Toilet Opening

20 May 2019

A new vacuum flush compost toilet has been unveiled at Spitalfields City Farm, the culmination of a two year project overseen by CEGE Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering, Dr Lena Ciric, and Lecturer at The Bartlett School of Planning, Dr Tse-Hui Teh.

Dr Tse-Hui Teh, from the UCL Bartlett School of Planning, Dr Lena Ciric, from UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, and Prof Jose Torero, UCL CEGE Head of Department, at the opening of Spitalfields City Farm's new compost toilet.

The day was an exciting one, with guests from Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE), other UCL Departments, and the local community gathering to celebrate collaboration and the success of the project – and of course, a chance to try the loo!

The team’s work on sustainable sanitation began in 2016, when they collaborated with a number of London allotment societies who had installed composting dry toilets.

Work at Spitalfields City Farm itself has included running a number of workshops with different groups, such as the local Bangladeshi community, city professionals, teenagers excluded from education and primary school children, helping Dr Ciric and Dr Teh to better understand views on composting toilets.

These perspectives inspired the artwork found inside the Farm’s composting toilet cubicle, which makes people aware how much water an ordinary flush toilet uses – this compost toilet will save over 5 litres with every flush - and what we should put down the loo (certainly no clogging wet wipes!).  

The composting toilet is now open to the public, and Dr Ciric and Dr Teh’s work will continue by gathering opinions and questions from toilet users, as well as making measurements of the compost quality, and feeding these back to both the farm and the public. The project will provide an interdisciplinary case study of sustainable sanitation, which is a global challenge for cities.

Dr Ciric, who is also the programme director for CEGE’s Environmental Systems Engineering MSc, said at the official toilet opening “Spitalfields City Farm’s new compost toilet saves loads of water – it only uses about 0.2 litres per flush, as opposed to the six litres a standard toilet uses. It will also recycle your waste into compost.”

Dr Teh added that the project “was created to make people think about how much water is used up by flushing toilets. We hope visitors to Spitalfields City Farm will enjoy the artwork in the cubicle, and appreciate the chance to see the composters, too! Thinking more about what happens with our waste when we use the toilet is vitally important. There’s an opportunity to save resources and repurpose materials and nutrients with every flush.”

Dr Ciric and Dr Teh were recently presented with a Provost’s Award for Public Engagement for their work with Spitalfields City Farm, plus other community engagement projects involving sustainable sanitation in urban environments. UCL CEGE Head of Department, Prof Jose Torero, who attended the opening, noted how interested farm visitors were in their new bathroom facilities, commenting that “it’s a pleasure to see how engaged and intrigued people are, from the young to the old. This project shows how engineering affects every aspect of our lives; likewise sustainability. It’s fitting that the compost toilet opening has occurred in the same week Lena and Tse-Hui received their thoroughly deserved Provost’s Award.”


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  • Credit: Emma Whitney