Integrated Mobile Sanitation Solutions in Urban Settings: Haiti
2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to safe sanitation. One billion people live in urban slums, and that number is growing. Slum residents currently have a lose-lose choice between overcrowded public toilets, open defecation, and private latrines that are expensive to build and maintain. Few squatters and renters can invest in an immobile asset like a latrine. Narrow alleys make it difficult and unhygienic to empty the latrines that do exist. This results in dangerous and undignified living conditions and significant environmental degradation.
We are developing a portable, low-cost household toilet and entrepreneurial service model to deliver safe, dignified sanitation to the urban poor. In collaboration with the NGO SOIL, we have piloted this environmentally sustainable, container-based system in Shada, a slum in Cap Haitien, Haiti that has no sewers and no piped water supply. Our toilet is portable, with removable containers to collect and transport wastes safely from the community.
Waste is being processed at SOIL's existing human waste composting facilities, generating valuable fertilizer to improve Haiti's devastated soil resources. Our goal is to enable local entrepreneurs to recover energy, nutrients, and material from the waste in order to subsidize the cost of the sanitation system, earn a livelihood, improve the environment and boost agricultural productivity.
We used a user-centric design approach to build a toilet that meets the needs and appeals to the aspirations of our target customers: the residents of Shada. We know from many conversations with residents of Shada that a good toilet is a symbol of cleanliness and modernity. Beyond being odorless, hygienic, and vector-free, our toilet needs to be elegant, modern, and pleasant to use. It must also be extremely affordable, enable easy and hygienic emptying, and backstopped by a reliable supply chain. In order to fulfill these requirements, we are iterating prototypes that combine a 20-L solid waste container, a liquid container, and a western-style toilet seat into a sealed, portable, urine-diverting toilet.
The prototype continues to evolve as we test it and iterate. Beyond the baseline toilet, we envision a number of add-ons and accessories that can appeal to different users according to their needs.
Our first strategy for Haiti is to collect and deliver the waste to SOIL's existing compost sites, where the waste will be converted to valuable compost for sale to agricultural and reforestation customers. Since Shada has limited road access and is too dense for on-site treatment, we are developing a two-step collection process. First, full containers are removed from the homes and replaced with clean ones. The containers are transported in carts or dollies from homes to collection centers, where they are then transferred to trucks for transport, processing, and cleaning at the compost site.
As we develop this operation, we will explore various incentives programs in order to harness local entrepreneurial activity to collect the containers in the most efficient manner that still protects public health and the environment. Our objective is to maximize revenues from compost sales while minimizing collection and treatment costs, such that we can deliver the service to the residents of Shada at the least cost to them. Our operations will enable us to try various different service models beyond the fee-for-service approach that has traditionally dominated sanitation. Our customers in Shada may ultimately subscribe to a toilet instead of buying one, assuring sustained service while avoiding the up-front expense that can be a large barrier to entry.
We are examining the drivers that not only encourage toilet usage but also enhance isolation of the user from disease-causing vectors in dense urban condition. Ultimately, we hope that this leads to a more complete understanding for what defines improved and unimproved sanitation solutions.
We seek to develop modeling and assessment tools that will facilitate the scaling of operations within Shada and to other communities in Haiti and around the world. As part of this effort, we seek to identify the key cost and revenue drivers of household container-based human waste collection systems, as well as the data that are necessary to assess the system feasibility and plan in new locations.
re.source is a start-up team based out of Stanford University funded by a Grand Challenges Explorations Phase 1 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Kory Russel and Sebastien Tilmans are PhD students in Environmental Engineering, leading a multi-disciplinary, multi-national team with years of experience living and working on water and sanitation challenges in Panama, Mozambique, India, and Ecuador. They were inspired by the Fertiloo, a project developed at Stanford's d.school by a team of students in the Design for Extreme Affordability course, to harness container-based toilets to address the challenges of sanitation in urban slums. re.source's mission is to leverage new sources of revenue in order to deliver viable and hygienic household sanitation to unserved communities. Click here to learn more.
Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) is a 501 C3 non-profit founded in 2006 with the mission of transforming wastes into resources in Haiti. Since its founding, SOIL has constructed over 50 public EcoSan toilets in northern Haiti and 200 in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps of Port au Prince. SOIL’s vision is to provide a model for ecological sanitation services that can support the communities in which SOIL works and serve as an example for business development in the sanitation sector in both Haiti and other impoverished urban communities around the world. Click here to visit SOIL's website.