Toilets and Sanitation: An Innovative Approach


Ever since Design!publiC II, we’ve been thinking a lot about toilets, and the many different aspects to the large, ever-looming problem of bringing proper sanitation to the millions of urban and rural Indians who defecate in the open everyday. This makes the surroundings unpleasant, breeds disease, and is also a great waste of what could be valuable fertilizer.

The brainstorming session at the conclave barely grazed the surface of this massive issue, but even so, the need for recycling and reusing this inexhaustible source of energy emerged as one of the foremost considerations when designing toilets for mass usage. Another interesting suggestion for encouraging use was to develop a business model around toilets, so that it actually generates income and supports livelihoods, and even becomes a profitable business.

A team of young social innovators from MIT’s Sloan School of Management designed a system that incorporates both these great ideas in a startup business called Sanergy. Ben Schiller of Fast Company writes:

Their idea… is to franchise out low-cost toilet units to on-the-ground entrepreneurs, and then collect the waste for conversion to fertilizer and electricity. By taking a market-based approach, they reckon they can create a sustainable development model that will not only make a dent in the sanitation problem, but also generate income and jobs for local people.

Sanergy’s approach is well thought out and holistic, integrating sanitation, waste management, clean energy, recycling, organic fertilizer, job opportunities and more:

The long term objective is to build and scale viable sanitation infrastructure in the slums of Nairobi. The model involves four parts: (i) building a network of low-cost sanitation centers in slums, (ii) distributing them through franchising to local entrepreneurs, (iii) collecting the waste produced, and (iv) processing it into electricity and fertilizer. At each step, this model creates jobs and opportunity while simultaneously addressing serious social needs.

Sanergy is currently being implemented as a pilot project in selected urban slums of Nairobi, and has just recieved a $100,000 grant from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures program. If the company hits its targets, this will be followed up with grants of $1 million and $3 million to encourage them to scale.

This entry was posted in Design!publiC. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Toilets and Sanitation: An Innovative Approach

  1. Arif Mohiuddin says:

    Except for usage of waste economically there is nothing drastic in this desin, most important issue is water wasted in flushing which needs to be mitigated, further collection of waste seems to be less efficient involving two phases manual stacking in intermediate storage plus transportation using trucks (energy intensive); though I do not have drastic suggestions for my self a few cost cutting suggestions would be to use GRP cabins instead of heavy RCC cubicles, elimination of water for flushing by use of plastic sheet (reel) which keeps rolling through the pan discharges waste in collection tank cleaned by a brush in detergent/chlorinated water and returns fully cleaned eliminating flush water – solar power panel may be required to rotate mechanised sheet. Please give feedback if my suggestion seems to be appropriate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *