Editor’s Note: We pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector as part of our “5 Questions for…” series. In this post, David Auerbach, co-founder of Sanergy, shares his thoughts on the sanitation value chain, community ownership, and exciting innovations in sanitation in response to our questions.
1. What is the number one most critical issue facing the WASH sector today?
The most critical issue that the WASH sector faces is the lack of systems-based thinking. We need to go beyond simply providing a toilet. Although 2.5 billion people lack access to a clean toilet, 4.1 billion are at risk because sewage is not treated. At Sanergy, we take a systems-based approach that addresses the entire sanitation value chain. We provide clean toilets through a franchise network of local micro-entrepreneurs, collect the waste professionally, and treat it properly by converting it into useful byproducts, such as organic fertilizer. Failure to address the whole chain ultimately pushes the challenge further downstream.
2. Tell us about one collaboration or partnership your organization undertook and the lessons learned from that experience.
Sanergy sells Fresh Life Toilets to local micro-entrepreneurs. The franchise package includes installation, marketing, training and business support, and a daily waste collection service, and costs about $600 for the first year. In our work with the residents of Nairobi’s slums, we came across micro-entrepreneurs who were excited to launch Fresh Life businesses -- especially women and youth -- but who did not have immediate access to finance to start up their businesses. Kiva, an online micro-lending platform, partnered with us to provide 0% interest loans to future Fresh Life Operators. The partnership has led to 73 loans being issued and the construction of over 120 Fresh Life Toilets. Those operators serve 5,000 residents with hygienic sanitation daily. At the same time, Kiva gives us an incredible platform to share the resilient, compelling stories of our micro-entrepreneurs with the world.
By partnering with Kiva, we are overcoming an important hurdle -- access to finance -- and are creating a grassroots, sustainable solution to provide critical sanitation services.
3. How do you work with local communities to promote project ownership and sustainability?
All 161 of our Fresh Life Operators -- each of whom has invested their own savings in Fresh Life -- are from the Mukuru community. They are critical to the sustenance of our business and are key players in effectively tackling the sanitation crisis. One such operator is Agnes Kwamboka who has a remarkable story of the transformation that she was able to make as a partner with Fresh Life. Tired of having to bribe policemen so that she could run her unregulated brew business, she closed it down and had two Fresh Life Toilets installed. Now, she earns a good income, which enables her to sustain her family and no longer worry about the police. She has also reinvested the profits by purchasing additional Fresh Life Toilets and in literacy classes for herself. Testimonies like these show that we are positively changing the community and changing people’s mindsets about their role in society.
The other significant way in which we gain community buy-in is by hiring from the community. Sixty percent of our 135-person team is from the local community and over 60% of our staff is between 18 – 25 years old -- the age bracket with the highest unemployment in Kenya. The residents know how the lack of adequate sanitation can have disastrous effects on their lives and this makes them extra-determined to change their communities for the better.
4. Tell us about an emerging technology or solution that excites you and that you think will make a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5-10 years.
One great initiative to emerge is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Re-invent the Toilet Challenge (RTTC). Institutions and researchers have received generous grants to come up with innovative approaches for the hygienic provision, collection and treatment of waste. The initiative has really catalyzed the entire sector and, moreover, broken down taboos to bring the sanitation challenge to the center of any development conversation. Through the RTTC, Sanergy has benefited significantly. We have partnered with The Climate Foundation to develop biochar -- an organic soil conditioner. We have worked closely with Agriprotein in South Africa to develop a protein-rich animal feed made from maggots that consume only human waste. These technologies have the potential to be massively important for the agricultural input industries. In creating value from waste, we give incentive for everyone to participate in the sanitation value chain.
5. There are lots of great WASH resources, ranging from striking data visualizations to good, old-fashioned reports. What’s caught your eye lately besides WASH funders, of course?
Lately, we have read a couple of compelling papers from the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program about what a toilet’s worth, from ID Insight about IDE-Cambodia’s work with microfinance, and Dean Spears’ research on the effect a lack of hygienic sanitation has on children’s height.
Editor’s Note: This infographic illustrates the toll that Western toilets take on the world’s water supply, as well as the stark facts surrounding lack of sanitation in the developing world. It further showcases the innovations of the contenders of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The infographic originally appeared here.
Created by OnlineNursingPrograms.com.
The University of Toronto has announced a $2.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of ongoing efforts to design a waterless hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world.
Engineering professor Yu-Ling Cheng, director of the Centre for Global Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and her team, which includes researchers from Western University and the University of Queensland, placed third in the Gates Foundation's Reinvent the Toilet Challenge last August. Working with partners in Bangladesh, Cheng's team hopes to build an operational prototype by December 2013 that uses readily available materials and equipment that can be maintained locally.
The team's solution uses a sand filter and UV disinfection to process liquid waste and a smolder chamber — similar to a charcoal barbeque — to incinerate solid waste that has been flattened and dried in a roller/belt assembly. The team will work to further simplify the process, reduce mechanical complexity of the device, and minimize odor.
"I am very proud of our entire team and the work we have done up to now," said Cheng. "We have proven that our concept works technically; now we are going to get busy to make sure it will work for the users — some of the 2.6 billion people in the world who do not have access to basic sanitation."
Source: “U of T Engineers Awarded $2.2 Million Grant for Toilet Research.” University of Toronto Press Release 11/28/12.
For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on WASHfunders.org.
Editor’s Note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a press release announcing the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Over the course of a year, eight finalists were chosen and Bill Gates announced the winning team yesterday at the two-day Toilet Fair at the Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. Big congratulations to the winning team and to everyone who participated in this creative challenge.
Yesterday Bill Gates announced the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in Seattle — an effort to develop “next-generation” toilets that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have it. The awards recognize researchers from leading universities who are developing innovative ways to manage human waste, which will help improve the health and lives of people around the world.
California Institute of Technology in the United States received the $100,000 first prize for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity. Loughborough University in the United Kingdom won the $60,000 second place prize for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. University of Toronto in Canada won the third place prize of $40,000 for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. Special recognition and $40,000 went to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user interface.
One year ago, the foundation issued a challenge to universities to design toilets that can capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, and transform human waste into useful resources, such as energy and water, at an affordable price.
The first, second, and third place winning prototypes were recognized for most closely matching the criteria presented in the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.
Teams have been showcasing their prototypes and projects at a two-day event held at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle on August 14 and 15. The Reinvent the Toilet Fair is bringing together participants from 29 countries, including researchers, designers, investors, advocates, and representatives of the communities who will ultimately adopt these new inventions.
“Innovative solutions change people’s lives for the better,” said foundation Co-chair Bill Gates. “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest problems.”
Unsafe methods to capture and treat human waste result in serious health problems and death. Food and water tainted with fecal matter result in 1.5 million child deaths every year. Most of these deaths could be prevented with the introduction of proper sanitation, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene.
Improving access to sanitation can also bring substantial economic benefits. According to the World Health Organization, improved sanitation delivers up to $9 in social and economic benefits for every $1 invested because it increases productivity, reduces healthcare costs, and prevents illness, disability, and early death.
Other projects featured at the fair include better ways to empty latrines, user-centered designs for public toilet facilities, and insect-based latrines that decompose feces faster.
“Imagine what’s possible if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead,” said Gates. “Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world, but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations.”
Gates added: “All the participants are united by a common desire to create a better world — a world where no child dies needlessly from a lack of safe sanitation and where all people can live healthy, dignified lives.”
The Water, Sanitation & Hygiene initiative is part of the foundation’s Global Development Program, which addresses issues such as agricultural development and financial services — problems that affect the world’s poorest people but do not receive adequate attention. The initiative has committed more than $370 million to this area, with a focus on developing sustainable sanitation services that work for everyone, including the poor.
The foundation also announced a second round of Reinvent the Toilet Challenge grants totaling nearly $3.4 million. The grants were awarded to: Cranfield University (United Kingdom); Eram Scientific Solutions Private Limited (India); Research Triangle Institute (United States); and the University of Colorado Boulder (United States).
Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Diane Scott, senior communications officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and originally appeared on their blog, Impatient Optimists. Last year, the Gates Foundation issued a challenge to create a toilet without piped-in water, a sewer connection, or outside electricity for less than 5 cents per user a day. At this year’s Reinvent the Toilet Fair on August 14-15, eight finalists will display working prototypes and full scale models, and Bill Gates will announce the winners.
I’d like to think I’m beyond giggling when I see “Synthetic Feces Update” on a meeting agenda. But let’s face it, I’m not. At the foundation’s main campus in Seattle, Washington, we’re talking about “fake poop” quite a bit these days as we get ready to host the Reinvent the Toilet Fair on August 14 and 15. We’ll be featuring toilet prototypes created over the last year by our grantees, some of which will be vying for the coveted “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge Award.”
The reinvented toilet is the brainchild of our Water, Sanitation & Hygiene program that aims to bring sanitation (i.e. toilets) to those who don’t have it and must resort to extremely unsanitary means (open defecation — as in doing it out in the open) to relieve themselves. And, to give these newfangled toilet prototypes a test drive while at the fair, we need synthetic feces. About 50 gallons of it.
Why do we even need to reinvent the toilet? First, there hasn’t been much serious innovation in the flush toilet for nearly 200 years. In public health terms, the flush toilet has improved health immensely; it has done a phenomenal job saving lives by helping safely dispose of urine, feces and nasty pathogens. But, it uses a lot of water, and isn’t a realistic solution for people in the developing world, where pipes aren’t already under neighborhoods to carry away the water and sewage, and there isn’t the money and electricity needed to treat sewage properly. Too many people still do not have access to a toilet. How many people? We’re talking about 2.5 billion people.
Here’s the theory behind the “reinvent the toilet” initiative: Innovation in science and technology has done amazing things to help people lead better lives from the introduction of vaccines to prevent against deadly diseases, to the increasingly widespread use of mobile phones in remote areas of the world to share information, transfer money and even pay bills.
Why can’t that same creative thinking be used to solve the problem of dealing with human waste? We believe it can.
Imagine a toilet that isn’t connected to the sewer or electricity — one that takes waste and converts it to energy, is affordable for people in the developing world and is so fabulous that everyone will want to use it. These are the ideas the Reinvent the Toilet Fair is looking to highlight.
But I digress from the topic of synthetic feces (and yes, I did just write that without snickering). Researchers from around the globe are bringing their reinvented toilet prototypes to the fair, and we need synthetic feces for the demonstrations. (And no, we can’t use real feces). Figuring out how much to order is just one part. The other piece of the puzzle is answering questions from exhibitors who need to know all about the “fake poop”: What’s the density? What’s the recipe? What stool size will you be giving us? Does it contain the right amount of energy? (I’m not really sure what that means, but it’s somehow important.) And, finally, will it have an odor?
We know that these “commode creators” are hard at work right now. We’ll be writing blog posts at Impatient Optimists and at partner publications around the web over the next few weeks about the reinvented toilet to get the perspectives on this fascinating issue from environmentalists, social good-doers, technologists and others, so stay tuned.
And, for those inquiring minds, what are synthetic feces made of? The recipe for the fair is simply soybean paste and rice — there’s a more complex recipe for hard-core research and development work. Finally, no, the synthetic feces won’t be scented — even my great recommendation for rose-scented fake poop didn’t fly!