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CLIVUS MULTRUM
Rikard Lindström, Tyresö, Sweden, 1964

 

WHAT GOOD IS A TOILET WITHOUT A FLUSH?  

 

Rikard Lindström first designed the Clivus Multrum in the late 1930s, but did not patent the design until 1962. Two years later, the first Clivus Multrum was created out of fiberglass, and soon the machine spread to other parts of Europe and the United States. Some instances of the Clivus Multrum appeared in significant experimental ecological habitats, such as the Integral Urban House from the Farallones Institute in Berkeley, California. The word ‘clivus’ comes from the Latin word for “incline”, and ‘multrum’ means ‘compost room’ in Swedish. It is also called the Clivus toilet, which usually denotes any composting toilet that operates with an inclined chamber.


Clivus Multrum implements an aerobic (oxygen-based) processing system to transform human excrement into organic, pathogen-free fertilizer without the use of additional water or energy. The principle advantage of the arrangement is that it can operate “without the use of any mechanical auxiliaries and without the addition of chemical preparations or water” (Lindstrom, US Patent #3136608, 1964). The process encouraged the integration of the more expensive system (the Clivus Multrum), which would reduce operational costs, ‘post-energy’, as is the case with the conventional toilet. Despite its U.S. patent of 1974 and additional funding from Abigail Rockefeller, which allowed Clivus to become a corporation, the Multrum has not yet reached the level of use and satisfaction of the conventional toilet.


The Clivus Multrum may never be an effective replacement for the plumbing-based toilet, but the ecological answers to waste disposal may lie in upgrading existing systems and infrastructure. For instance, some urban municipalities have implemented large composting centers to supply nearby exurban agricultural applications. The Clivus Corporation is aware of the marketability of their product: park and forestry services, which are uneconomical in tapping into plumbing and sewage infrastructures. The Clivus toilet is purpose-built for these cases where a structure seeks or is forced to exist autonomously from outside networks. This contextual constraint is not, however, a guarantee of environmental efficacy.

 

KEYWORDS: Aerobic processes, Composting

KEY FAILURES

LARGER SPACE DEMANDS: The Clivus Multrum requires more space, making it especially challenging to implement in dense building programs (namely multistory structures).

UNADOPTED PRACTICES: Composting (the telos of the Clivus) is still not a widely adopted practice. The benefits of reusing biological waste is often unknown or not valued, especially in dense urban contexts.

CULTURAL BARRIERS: Cultural perceptions of handling human excrement provide a tough barrier to integrate the practice into households.