Four million tons of human waste per year are dumped into Kenya’s waterways from informal settlements that lack access to hygienic sanitation. This waste pollutes drinking water and spreads disease far beyond the communities generating the waste.
Providing hygienic sanitation sustainably means more than setting up toilets: it requires collecting the waste efficiently and treating it properly. Current sanitation options available in Kenya’s informal settlements end up doing much more harm to the environment because the value chain is broken.
Pit latrines are often not lined, and waste seeps into the nearby soil and groundwater. These latrines are emptied infrequently, and the waste is often dumped – untreated – into rivers. Kenya’s infamous “flying toilets” are flung on the ground or into rivers without regard to what happens next, and these bags of fecal matter have a hugely deleterious effect on public health and the environment.
When my co-founders and I developed the Sanergy solution, we knew we had to figure out a process for the safe and complete removal of waste from the community in order to maximize our impact. This idea was the genesis of the three-step Sanergy model: build, collect, convert.
We construct toilets from locally sourced materials with labor from the communities we serve. Our toilets, branded “Fresh Life,” are urine-diverting dry toilets; the squat plate separates the waste into two separate containers – one for urine and one for feces. The collection containers sit in a lined retaining chamber beneath the toilet, ensuring complete containment of waste and zero environmental pollution from the toilets themselves.
In addition, our waste removal system is completely waterless, allowing for conservation of this precious resource in areas where water access is already strained. Sanergy toilets save nearly 100,000 liters of water each year compared to similar usage at a low-flush toilet. Water is only used at the hand washing station located outside each toilet, to help prevent the spread of bacteria.
Waste from each toilet is collected regularly by our trained waste collectors, who seal the collection cartridges before removing them to prevent spills or leaks and replace them with clean, empty cartridges. Because the interiors of informal settlements are often tricky for vehicles to navigate, the waste is transported via handcart to transfer stations on the perimeter of the community and then on to our central collection facility. Each day, we remove approximately 9 metric tons of waste from the communities we serve; this year, we are set to remove over 3,000 metric tons of waste.
At our processing facility, we convert the waste into a variety of by-products, including pathogen-free nutrient-rich organic fertilizer, which we sell to local farmers. The Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture recommends that farmers use up to 10 tons of organic fertilizer per hectare to combat the damage wrought by overuse of chemical fertilizer. There are 27 million hectares of farmland in Kenya, so there is an immense need for our product. And yet, there is very little domestically -produced organic fertilizer available to meet these recommendations. In trials, our fertilizer has been seen to restore soil health and increase crop yields by 30-100%.
At Sanergy, our commitment to a healthy and vibrant planet is integral to achieving maximum social impact. By containing waste and removing it from communities safely, we reduce the amount of untreated waste that would otherwise pollute the environments we serve. By providing much-needed organic fertilizer to farmers, we help restore soil health and encourage more sustainable agricultural practices in East Africa.
We strive to build healthy, prosperous communities by making sanitation accessible and affordable for everyone, forever. Working toward a clean planet is a vital part of that achieving that mission.