Photos: Emerging Toilet Technology in Nairobi
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Nearly half of Kenya's population lacks access to proper sanitation; almost 70 percent of the other half rely on the crudest option available: a hole in the ground.
Sanergy ("sanitation" plus "energy") began in a Massachusetts classroom as an idea to decentralize waste collection and processing, then blossomed into a practical way of bringing toilets to Kenya’s slums.
Sanergy's pay-per-use "Fresh Life" toilets collect waste in air-tight containers. The biomass will eventually feed a centralized biogas digester, converting it into methane gas to produce electricity and nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be sold on market.
Sanergy could have been launched anywhere in the world, but one founder says Nairobi made sense because when it comes to sanitation in Kenya, consumers seem to be “hacking together solutions like flying toilets.” That showcases a market opportunity for solutions. Contrary to what many people may think of when they imagine African slums, businesses are thriving.
Ecotact, a homegrown social enterprise, works with municipal governments to install pay-per-use toilets and showers. Forty facilities serve more than 30,000 people a day.
Ikotoliet's provide more than sanitation; they also offer jobs. One cashier, Jane Wangu, says she sees her job as community work and that residents in surrounding neighborhoods will instruct their guests to use the Ikotoilet facilities instead of rudimentary facilities at home.
PeePoople, a Swedish social enterprise, sells single-use bags that turn human waste into fertilizer. The bags are sold for three Kenyan shillings, about three cents, and are returned to drop off points after use for a one-shilling refund. While some may protest the idea of using nothing more than a chemically treated doggy bag as a "sanitation solution," consider the alternatives: The “flying toilets” and communal pit latrines leave much to be desired.
These projects aren’t only important to Kenyans. Some 2.6 billion people around the world lack access to proper sanitation. World Toilet Day, on Saturday, November 19, is meant to turn the world’s attention to a problem that isn’t talked about enough. Beyond offering a sense of dignity and major public health advantages to citizens, a toilet can create energy for a city, fertilizer for the farms, and employment for youth and disadvantaged.