Have you ever wondered what happens when you flush toilet in an aeroplane? I am sure some or the other time people on ground would have feared the falling of waste from aeroplane. If that’s not the case, then what happens to all the human waste in the plane? Does the pilot dump this human waste in mid-flight? The biggest question is where does all the flushed waste go?
Well, nothing to worry about. Thanks to the well-developed systems in aircrafts which have proper disposal procedures. The aircraft’s toilets have come a long way. There is no need for aircraft passengers to worry about ducking. The aircraft toilets donnot work like our land toilets. The toilets on land or known as gravity toilets, these toilets need force of water flush to push all the waste from toilet bowl to sewage pipe and finally to the sewage tank. But it does not work the same way in aeroplane toilets.
Just imagine, if the plane toilets too worked the same way and what would happen when there are turbulence? Then all the water stored would just slosh back and mess up the plane. Quite disgusting right!
Luckily, it does not happen this way!
There is a massive storage tank in the belly of the plane, under the cargo hold is the large container where all the human waste is stored. Every time you flush those toilets, you can hear loud sound which makes you feel that something in the engine exploded. This loud sound is due to the vacuum pumps which suck in all the waste dumped in the toilet bowl. All the waste sucked by the vacuum pump is stored in the large storage tank. The lavatory system has a compartment located behind the rear gallery panels of commercial airliner, these compartments are facilitated with levers for easy transportation. These tanks contain sensors to indicate when the tank is full and regulates the flush flow. These containers are emptied and thoroughly washed with around 10 gallons of water. Planes donnot take off till the entire cabinet and the waste storage tank is cleaned and replaced.
But this vacuum supported toilet system was not there in initial aeroplanes, that is till 1970’s. James Kemper then came up with an idea of this vacuum toilets and was first implemented in 1982 by Boeing. Prior to instillation of vacuum toilets, people would always face difficulty in planes especially during turbulence, it would create lot of discomfort to the passengers as well as the crew, and made plane journey no less horrifying.
Ever since 1982 the vacuum flush toilets have been embedded in every plane. And there is no much dramatic change after that, just that the aeroplane services are trying to make toilets smaller inorder to cram in more customers.
Toilets in Space
If this is the case with aeroplane toilets, then what would happen in space? How do astronauts deal with it? How do toilets work in space?
It is quite challenging for astronauts to poop in space. Due to microgravity, all the things tend to float. In such situation how disgusting would it be for an astronaut to clear up the mess.
In the initial space travels, astronauts were storing their poop and pee in the plastic covers which could be sealed later. But that was difficult too as there are chances wherein leakage may occur and as a result astronauts would have to encounter their own faecal waste.
Then they came up with a solution of having poop bags attached to astronauts. These bags where made up of plastic and was stuck to astronaut with the help of adhesive. Yet, there was a sought of discomfort caused to astronaut. So this was not the right solution. Eventually, a special space toilets were designed to overcome all these problems. Space toilets looked similar to land toilets, but speciality is that these space toilets are provided with suction pipes. Suction pipes work just like vacuum cleaners, which sucks up the waste material due to force created in it. The collected waste is then vacuum dried and stored.
The astronaut travelling to space has to undergo training in order to learn the correct position. Since even the astronauts are moving it becomes quite difficult for them to get the correct position above the suction pipe. In this training, cameras are fixed in the toilets, through which they get to know the correct position on the 10 cm suction toilet opening.