A Portable Kit Relies on Everyday Items to Bring Toilets to Disaster Zones

Carl Court/Getty Images
Carl Court/Getty Images

If you look at the minimLET, you probably don't immediately think “toilet.” The kit, made by the Japanese design firm Nendo, consists of a piece of white, curved plastic, a sheet of fabric, a segmented aluminum pole, plastic bags, and tissue paper. But to survivors of natural disasters, the device may be the closest thing they get to an actual toilet while living in an emergency shelter.

As Co.Design reports, the minimLET addresses a major issue faced in disaster zones that often goes ignored: the lack of flushing toilets. Earthquakes and hurricanes can leave communities without power and clean drinking water for extended periods of time. They're also capable of destroying sewage systems. But because people can survive without private bathrooms, in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, the lack of toilets doesn't usually get top billing.

There are portable toilets designed for such situations, but most of them are big and bulky, making them hard to deliver to affected areas. In response to disasters like Japan's Tōhoku earthquake in 2011, Nendo devised a better solution: a portable, minimalist toilet that can be set up anywhere.

A plastic toilet seat stands on four aluminum legs.
Nendo

The minimLET toilet is compact enough to slide into a small bag, making it easy to transport and store. To set it up, you just need to secure the plastic seat to the four aluminum legs and attach a plastic bag underneath to act as the toilet bowl. The nylon cloth included in the kit works like a poncho to provide privacy in open areas.

The product is adaptable depending on the needs of the user. For added seclusion, you can also set the seat on plastic water bottles or metal cans weighted down with sand, allowing you to use the aluminum pipes as a tent pole instead of legs for the toilet. Then you can attach a cheap umbrella to the pole and drape the nylon cloth over it to form a makeshift outhouse, as you can see in the video below. The kit’s carrying case doubles as a waterproof pouch that can transport more than 4 gallons of liquid at a time.

That adaptability was a major goal for the design firm. “When living in evacuation shelters in contemporary urban spaces, various everyday items and waste materials are available" like umbrellas and 2-liter soda bottles, as Nendo writes on their website. "It was possible to appropriate such everyday items, due to the fact that these external dimensions, cap sizes, screw shapes, etc. are standardized to some extent to fit the shelves and vending machines in retail stores."

The minimLET is set to make its commercial debut in Japan sometime next year.

[h/t Co.Design]

The 10 Best Memorial Day 2020 Sales

iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth
iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth

The Memorial Day sales have started early this year, and it's easy to find yourself drowning in offers for cheap mattresses, appliances, shoes, and grills. To help you cut through the noise and focus on the best deals around, we threw together some of our favorite Memorial Day sales going on right now. Take a look below.

1. Leesa

A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
Leesa

Through May 31, you can save up to $400 on every mattress model Leesa has to offer, from the value-minded Studio by Leesa design to the premium Leesa Legend, which touts a combination of memory foam and micro-coil springs to keep you comfortable in any position you sleep in.

Find it: Leesa

2. Sur La Table

This one is labeled as simply a “summer sale,” but the deals are good only through Memorial Day, so you should get to it quickly. This sale takes up to 20 percent off outdoor grilling and dining essentials, like cast-iron shrimp pans ($32), a stainless steel burger-grilling basket ($16), and, of course, your choice of barbeque sauce to go along with it.

Find it: Sur la Table

3. Wayfair

KitchenAid Stand Mixer on Sale on Wayfair.
Wayfair/KitchenAid

Wayfair is cutting prices on all manner of appliances until May 28. Though you can pretty much find any home appliance imaginable at a low price, the sale is highlighted by $130 off a KitchenAid stand mixer and 62 percent off this eight-in-one GoWise air fryer.

And that’s only part of the brand’s multiple Memorial Day sales, which you can browse here. They’re also taking up to 40 percent off Samsung refrigerators and washing machines, up to 65 percent off living room furniture, and up to 60 percent off mattresses.

Find it: Wayfair

4. Blue Apron

If you sign up for a Blue Apron subscription before May 26, you’ll save $20 on each of your first three box deliveries, totaling $60 in savings. 

Find it: Blue Apron

5. The PBS Store

Score 20 percent off sitewide at Shop.PBS.org when you use the promo code TAKE20. This slashes prices on everything from documentaries like Ken Burns’s The Roosevelt: An Intimate History ($48) and The Civil War ($64) to a Pride & Prejudice tote bag ($27) and this precious heat-changing King Henry VIII mug ($11) that reveals the fates of his many wives when you pour your morning coffee.

Find it: The PBS Store

6. Amazon

eufy robot vacuum.
Amazon/eufy

While Amazon doesn’t have an official Memorial Day sale, the ecommerce giant still has plenty of ever-changing deals to pick from. Right now, you can take $100 off this outdoor grill from Weber, $70 off a eufy robot vacuum, and 22 percent off the ASUS gaming laptop. For more deals, just go to Amazon and have a look around.

7. Backcountry

You can save up to 50 percent on tents, hiking packs, outdoor wear, and more from brands like Patagonia, Marmot, and others during Backcountry's Memorial Day sale.

Find it: Backcountry

8. Entertainment Earth

Funko Pops on Sale on Entertainment Earth.
Entertainment Earth/Funko

From now until June 2, Entertainment Earth is having a buy one, get one half off sale on select Funko Pops. This includes stalwarts like the Star Wars and Batman lines, and more recent additions like the Schitt's Creek Funkos and the pre-orders for the upcoming X-Men movie line.

Find it: Entertainment Earth

9. Moosejaw

With the promo code SUNSCREEN, you can take 20 percent off one full-price item at Moosejaw, along with finding up to 30 percent off select items during the outdoor brand's summer sale. These deals include casual clothing, outdoor wear, trail sneakers, and more. 

Find it: Moosejaw

10. Osprey

Through May 25, you can save 25 percent on select summer items, and 40 percent off products from last season. This can include anything from hiking packs and luggage to outdoorsy socks and hats. So if you're planning on getting acquainted with the great outdoors this summer, now you can do it on the cheap.

Find it: Osprey

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Sara Little Turnbull, Who Designed the N95 Mask Using a Bra Cup

An N95 mask.
An N95 mask.
RightFramePhotoVideo/iStock via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has made something of a celebrity out of the N95 mask, a particle-filtering face covering that’s long been used to protect wearers from inhaling or exhaling pathogens. (The “95” refers to the fact it can block 95 percent of airborne particles.)

Like most nondescript and pervasive products, not many people stop to think about where it came from. Now, owing to the attention placed on it as a key tool in the health care professional’s fight against coronavirus, the woman behind the mask has come to the forefront. Her name is Sara Little Turnbull, and she designed what would become the N95 based on the shape of a bra cup.

A design consultant, Turnbull was working with the 3M company in 1958 in their gift wrap and fabric division when she was exposed to Shapeen, a non-woven material made of polymers and used for decorative ribbons. Turnbull was fascinated by the molded version of Shapeen and devised the first-ever pre-made bows for gift wrap.

Turnbull didn’t stop there. She saw endless potential in Shapeen and assembled an audience of 3M executives to present a number of ideas she had for products—more than 100 in all. The gathering was brought on by Turnbull’s fascination with a molded material that held its shape. At the presentation, which she titled “Why,” she impressed 3M with the scope of potential for the material. The company quickly enlisted her to work on a design for a molded bra cup.

But Turnbull had another, arguably more important notion. At the time, she was taking care of three ailing family members who were under the care of doctors. Turnbull was often in a medical setting and noticed health care workers were constantly adjusting thin masks that tied in the back. She returned to 3M with the idea of using that same molded material to make a mask that would fit more comfortably on the face.

Again, 3M saw potential in Turnbull’s idea. By 1961, they had patented a lightweight mask based on her concept, with elastic bands instead of strings and a form-fitting shape. It hit the market in 1972 and was suitable for industrial use. As the mask’s filtration evolved, so did its uses. In 1995, the N95 mask was introduced in the health care field.

Though Turnbull had been relegated to a nondescript part of 3M, she had an extensive background in design, graduating from the Parsons School of Design in 1939 and later becoming the decorating editor of House Beautiful magazine. After Turnbull wrote an article taking companies to task for not designing products suitable for the end user, she was hired by 3M. As a consultant, she also collaborated with Corning, Revlon, General Mills, and Ford, among others.

After Turnbull died in 2015, the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation was formed, which supports women in the design field and offers access to Turnbull’s vast library of work. The “Little,” incidentally, was in acknowledgment of her height. At 4 feet, 11 inches tall, Turnbull wasn’t terribly physically imposing. But her contributions were gigantic.

[h/t NPR]