By Greg Gelpi
A smack in the face of the grossest kind led Jim West, 60, to become an inventor.
While water skiing on Lake Lanier, a "big old blob" of human waste smacked him in the face and initiated decades of searching, researching and inventing.
"It made me sick (for) three days and got me working on this," said West, a Jonesboro resident and former state representative.
The "blob" helped West discover the need for a better system of dealing with human waste n burning instead of flushing and from that came the Eliminator.
"This is going to blow your mind," he said showing a recent visitor how the invention works.
The self-contained toilet separates liquid and solid waste. It purifies the liquid and breaks down solid waste before incinerating it. The burned waste becomes a powder that is then blown into a bag similar to a vacuum cleaner bag. The purified urine is used to "steam clean" the incinerator chamber. The ash is sterile and can be thrown away.
"That three minutes can burn some of the biggest excrements you can have," West said.
The Eliminator is good for the environment, public health and the economy, West claims.
"Though traditional water-flushing toilets are widely used throughout developed regions of the world, their use is not always feasible," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which listed many instances in which burning waste would be better suited than flushing it. Among those are rural settings with no sewage system, areas where water is scarce and places where there is a possibility of raw sewage leaking into drinking water.
According to the EPA, the disadvantages are that they require an energy source, they aren't entirely pollution free and they can't be used while incinerating is taking place.
Burning human waste is one of a few "alternatives" to the traditional water toilet, according to research conducted by Michelle Moore, an editor with the National Environmental Services Center.
"Alternative toilets are something they look at as a way to save water," Moore said, adding that there are several alternatives to the traditional water toilet being considered. Among them are toilets that use less water, toilets that compost waste and toilets that burn waste.
Although she was unsure how mainstream the alternatives are becoming, she said alternative toilets are particularly suited for rural areas that lack a sewage system.
Storburn International boasts selling 10,000 gas-fired incinerating toilets since opening for business in 1976.
Several patents issued for the Eliminator and parts of the Eliminator make it unique, though, including its design to separate solid and liquid waste.
"Definitely, water conservation is a good thing," said Navis Bermudez, the Washington D.C. representative for the Sierra Club, adding that as populations increase, so does the need for water conservation.
The toilet is the highest water-consuming device in the home, making up about 27% of indoor water use.
If your home is older than 1992, chances are your toilets use between 3.5 and 5 gallons of water per flush. Some older toilet models even use as much as 7 gallons per flush. Since 1992, all residential-type toilets manufactured in the U.S. use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush.
West said that the nation's handling of sewage is getting worse, since proposed changes to the federal Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. The proposed changes would allow the dumping of partially treated human waste into waterways during times of heavy rains, something that Sierra certainly opposes, Bermudez said.
She said the best thing to do is to protect the water we have and that innovation and technology will play "very important" roles in the future of clean water.
West said that he has already spoken with representatives of foreign countries about placing large orders for the Eliminator.
Start-up money is the only obstacle holding the Eliminator from being mass-produced and revolutionizing the world of toilets, he said.
"Don't want your money," West said. "What I want is for every family to have one of these and to stop the pollution. It's not a monetary thing. It's a people thing."
Mapping out his vision, West said a plant would be built in Georgia, so that the local and national economy would benefit from his invention.
Until then, West continues to seek seed money as he perfects his Eliminator in his RV-turned invention room.