No toilet, no wedding

Kenya-based video journalist Ruud Elmendorp recently produced this short trailer (on behalf of Waste.NL) on a young woman that refuses to marry her boyfriend – until his family builds a proper toilet:

The story is about a boy who is in love with the daughter of a school teacher. Much to the dismay of his father, she refuses because she finds their toilet unusable and refused to have to go to the bush for defecation.

The women’s group has filed a number of complaints due to poor sanitation and present this to the village chief, incidentally the uncle of the boy. He is quite amazed by this and decides to call the government sanitation adviser.

After an animated session with the villagers and the chief, many decide to go for suitable toilets. The film ends happily with the girl accepting the marriage proposal as the sanitation issues have been solved.

Ruud regularly produces interesting video material from East Africa that we have also featured on AfriGadget, btw.

Fecal Sludge Management in Africa and Asia

The following post by guest blogger Pascal Garde on behalf of Doulaye Koné of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) refers to a recently published study on Fecal Sludge Management in Africa and Asia.

Non-sewered, or “on-site sanitation” is the main technological approach used in most urban areas in Africa and Asia. Use of this technology requires regular provision of human waste collection and transportation services, which are generally unregulated and usually provided by private operators.

There are currently huge information gaps on how collection and transportation of human waste is organized. Decision makers, entrepreneurs and investors often lack important information (e.g. market size, business opportunity, profitability) to make Fecal Sludge Management (FSM) a functional component of the sanitation value chain. However, providing safe emptying, transport, and treatment of human waste is critical to ensure healthy urban environments. In order to better understand the types of FSM services offered in two different regions, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a study , entitled “Landscape and Business Analysis for FSM Emptying and Transportation in Africa and Asia” that analyzes these business segments in 30 cities across Africa and Asia.

The 30 cities were selected according to their size, geographic location, and the type of business models used in each. The findings of the study provide valuable insight into the urban FSM services (or lack of services) provided to over 67 million people (or over 12 million households). The comparison between the different cities was based on factors related to supply (e.g. business size, number of trucks, truck capacity), and demand for services (e.g. size of the city, household income, household occupation, etc.).

Fecal sludge emptying and transportation service providerFecal sludge emptying and transportation service provider

The information used in the study was obtained by conducting detailed surveys in 13,000 households and with 150 fecal sludge emptying and transportation service providers. The findings of the study are intended to guide donors, investors and policymakers to enhance sustainable sanitation service provision in Africa and Asia.

The study highlights common practices and interesting differences between Africa and Asia. For example, the waste transport trucks used in Africa are second-hand (sometimes more than 30 years old) and imported from Europe, whereas in Asia trucks are 5 to 10 years old on average. The cost of a truck in Africa is almost three times higher than in Asia. Thus, reducing capital investment costs is critical to ensure the profitability of FSM service business in Africa.

Waste transport truck in SenegalWaste transport truck in Senegal

The operating costs of collection and transportation business services are also three times higher in Africa than in Asia — 76% of total costs are for fuel and maintenance. This may be due to a difference in truck size — truck capacities in Asia are just over 3m³, whereas in Africa trucks have about 10m³ capacity and therefore require more fuel. Despite the higher investment costs per truck in Africa, the average annual profit per truck is US$ 12,000, twice the profit in Asia.

In contrast, in Asia, fixed costs like salaries represent the majority (62%) of costs. With regard to fees for services, the average fee charged in Africa is US$ 60, compared to US$ 28 in Asia. The annual per truck profit is also higher in Africa because operators undertake twice as many trips to dumping sites or treatment plants than Asian ones. The best performing companies showed annual revenue ranging from $40,000 up to $2,000,000 per truck per annum, and a return on investment higher than 30 % for companies operating more than 2 trucks. The overall market size for fecal sludge emptying in the majority of the capital cities studied varied from $2.5 up to $43 million.

A large number of households surveyed (34 %) still use manual emptying by family members or paid laborers. This is a common practice in poor communities in Africa and Asia and is most often used when mechanical emptying fees are too expensive for households. Pits are generally emptied several times a year, or when the sludge in the pit is too thick or dry to pump. Manual pit emptying occurs also when access to pits is too difficult for mechanical emptiers due to truck size or bad road conditions The sludge emptied manually is often dumped or buried in the vicinity of the households while mechanically emptied sludge is discharged in most cities in open fields, in bodies of water, or used untreated for fertilizer or aquaculture. Hence, the uncompleted value chain in the current FSM scheme contributes to a high toll of preventable disease in poor communities.

Mechanical emptying of sludgeMechanical emptying of sludge

Based on this analysis, the study made a number of recommendations for how to improve the business environment for FSM, including creating transfer stations across the city to lower distance and therefore lower fuel costs, which make up to 40% of the variable costs of service providers in Africa. This would also increase the number of trips per day to collect sludge from households and generate more revenue. By reducing distances, transport costs decrease and more income is generated. As an example, the map below illustrates the impact that locating disposal sites based on the viability of the service in Phnom Penh could have.

The report also recommends:

  • Encouraging formal registration, licensing and regulation of businesses by local authorities;
  • Finding ways to scale up single trucks operators;
  • Improving access to finance to purchase trucks;
  • Encouraging scheduled desludging;
  • Improving the local sourcing of trucks and the supply chain for parts and repairs;
  • Increasing the number of sludge treatment plants
  • Reducing access fees to sludge treatment plants; and
  • Establishing re-use facilities.

Fuel costs increase with distance of dumping site in Phnom Penh.Fuel costs increase with distance of dumping site in Phnom Penh.

The study demonstrates that, with the support of local authorities, the market for sludge collection and transportation has great potential for investment and development of a healthy business environment, which would also indirectly contribute to better urban health and welfare in Africa and Asia.
In response to these challenges, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is currently developing a set of technologies to make fecal sludge emptying easier and safer for operators, and increase their profitability. A technology called the omni-ingestor, is being developed to service the existing infrastructure (2.1 billion pits, cesspools, and septic tanks that require immediate servicing and/or maintenance). The Omni-ingestor will be safer, more affordable and amenable to users, and more sustainable for utilities, private companies, and municipalities by achieving the following goals:

  1. Lowering mechanical emptying prices for customers across the world to less than $5/ emptying cycle – 4 m³
  2. Improving access capabilities for mechanical emptying technologies
  3. Improving operator economics to ensure service continues and grows
  4. Reduce capital and operating cost to less or equal to current vaccuum trucks service
  5. Designing hand-operated, portable systems to provide current manual emptiers with adequate tools and the opportunity to become formal service providers

The foundation is also developing cost-effective and sustainable solutions for the processing or combined processing of fecal sludge and urban organic waste (omni-Processor). The omni-processor would support 1,000-5,000 people (or less) in an urban setting and have a capacity of 0.5-5 tons of waste per day. Ideally, processed waste will be converted into products that can be re-used such as electricity, biochar, gas, water or fertilizer and therefore generate revenue. This will offset waste collection costs, encourage technology acceptance and use, and increase the countries’ standard of living.

These types of innovations will begin to solve some of the complicated challenges that the fecal sludge management study highlights and, hopefully over time, reinvent the sanitation industry to make it more profitable for service providers and more accessible to everyone.

Global Handwashing Day 2012

Only one third of all people wash their hands with soap after using the toilet or before
eating. The consequences are fatal. Each day, about 3,600 children under five die from diarrhea.

Diarrheal diseases in children are still the second most common cause of death. Medical studies show that regular hand washing with soap can prevent half of all diarrheal.

In Europe alone, the annually recuring influenze epidemics or severe virus epidemics could be tackled through improved hygiene. The EHEC epidemic in Germany in 2011, or the recently imported Noro virus from China which paralyzed many students in German primary schools, clearly demonstrate the need for regular handwashing with soap. It’s so easy, yet often neglected.

GTO World Hand Wash Day 2012

To raise awareness for the need of regular hand washing with soap, the German Toilet Organization e.V. will today celebrate Global Handwashing Day 2012 at Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin – along with students from four schools in Berlin. The art installations by the students will show the importance of hand washing with soap and also demonstrate why toilets are an integral part of healthy living.

Around the world, over 200 million people are involved in celebrations in over 100 countries. Global Handwashing is endorsed by a wide array of governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, NGOs, private companies, and individuals.

So, what is your local community doing on Global Handwashing Day 2012?

EUR 50k award up for grabs in international appropriate tech competition

With the “empowering people. Award”, the Siemens Stiftung (Siemens Foundation) would like to identify efficient technical solutions which empower people in developing and emerging countries to independently combat existential problems in basic supply.

“empowering people. Award”

The Stiftung is calling out to inventors and developers from all regions worldwide and invites them to enter simple and appropriate technical products and solutions in the categories Water & Waste Water, Energy, Waste Management & Recycling, Health, Food & Agriculture, Housing & Construction, and Information & Communication Technology.

Water & Waste Water 
The entries should enable individuals or communities to create, maintain and manage their water supply and/or their waste water treatment. Entries can range from less complex solutions such as a clay water filter to solutions such as UV Waterworks which uses ultraviolet light to quickly, safely, and cheaply disinfect water of the viruses and bacteria that cause severe diseases.
(src)

Water & Waste Water may not be the smartest name for a category that will certainly also include solutions that a) try to avoid conventional waste water in the first place and b) ultimately have to deal with sludge treatment which will rather be covered by the “Waste Management & Recycling” category. Hence, an interdisciplinary approach will be most likely. I take it though that most classifications in categories are meant to help inventors only, and not to limit them.

“The project also aims to build up a database of inventions that is accessible to actors in developmental cooperation.”, the FAQ go on explaining. This actually really is the sweetest part next to the 50k EUR prize for the 1st winner, because such a database on inventions is often asked for. Here’s a good example of such a database, initiated by Engineering for Change (E4C). Let’s hope they’ll also open it up to the public and do not keep it accessible to dev aid coops only.

Deadline for entries is 31st December 2012 and the best entries will be honoured in an Awards Ceremony in Summer 2013. Good luck!

(disclaimer: I also cross-posted parts of this on afrigadget.com)

“Next-generation” toilets showcased at Gates Foundation

In June 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded eight universities grants of approximately $400,000 to leverage, in one year, advances in science and technology to create a waterless, hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world.

Bill Gates with a researcher from California Institute of Technology at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Seattle on August 14, 2012. (src: http://www.gatesfoundation.org)

On August 14th and 15th 2012, the Gates Foundation hosted the Reinvent the Toilet Fair to showcase the work of these teams and awarded the first winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge:

1st prize:
A team from the California Institute of Technology won the top prize of $100,000 for a self-contained, solar-powered toilet and wastewater treatment system.

In this system, a solar panel produces power for an electrochemical reactor that is designed to break down water and human waste into hydrogen gas. The gas can then be stored for use in hydrogen fuel cells to provide a backup energy source for nighttime operation or use under low-sunlight conditions. (src & image credits)

Update: a video is available that describes how this “Self-Contained, PV-Powered Domestic Toilet and Wastewater Treatment System” works:

“They would repurpose the solar panels and batteries to powering TVs and charging cell phones and go back to shovels for their sanitary needs”, says one commentator on YouTube.

2nd prize:
A group from Loughborough University in the U.K. took second place for a toilet that transforms faeces into a biological charcoal (biochar) through hydrothermal carbonization (decomposition at high temperatures without oxygen and in water) of faecal sludge.
The proposed system will be powered from heat generated by combusting the produced biochar and will be designed to recover water and salts from faeces and urine. (src & image credits)

3rd prize:
A group of chemical engineers from University of Toronto, Canada developed a system which sanitizes waste within 24 hours:
It’s a technology for treating solid waste streams through mechanical dehydration and smoldering (low-temperature, flameless combustion) that will sanitize faeces within 24 hours. Urine will be passed through a sand filter and disinfected with ultra-violet light. (src & image credits)

The press release also included the winners of round 2 – a much debated challenge as it included a requirement for “prototyping and testing entirely stand-alone, self-contained, practical sanitation modules which intake bodily wastes and swiftly dispose of them without any incoming water piping, outgoing sewer piping or electric or gas utility services”.

Reinvent the Toilet Challenge Round 2 Winners

Cranfield University
This nearly $810,000 grant will help develop a prototype toilet that removes water from human waste and vaporizes it using a hand-operated vacuum pump and a unique membrane system. The remaining solids are turned into fuel that can also be used as fertilizer. The water vapor is condensed and can be used for washing, or irrigation.
Contact: Fiona Siebrits/ +44 (0) 1234 758040 / f.c.siebrits at cranfield.ac.uk

Eram Scientific Solutions Private Limited
A grant of more than $450,000 will make public toilets more accessible to the urban poor via the eco-friendly and hygienic “eToilet.”
Contact: Manohar Varghese / +91 9747060700 / manohar at eramscientific.com

RTI International
This $1.3 million grant will fund the development of a self-contained toilet system that disinfects liquid waste and turns solid waste into fuel or electricity through a revolutionary new biomass energy conversion unit.
Contact: Lisa Bistreich-Wolfe / +1 919.316.3596 / lbistreich at rti.org

University of Colorado Boulder
A nearly $780,000 grant will help develop a solar toilet that uses concentrated sunlight, directed and focused with a solar dish and concentrator, to disinfect liquid-solid waste and produce biological charcoal (biochar) that can be used as a replacement for wood charcoal or chemical fertilizers.
Contact: Karl Linden / +1 303 302 0188/ Carol Rowe / +1 303 492 7426 / Carol.Rowe at colorado.edu

Also, an interesting comment on Bill Gates’ blog post “Inventing a Toilet for the 21st Century” caught my attention as it has some interesting arguments:
“…(…) the challenge is more about planning, management, planning, financing, energy use/sourcing (…), costs, implementation, and, in more developed regions, dealing with tech verifications costs and regulatory issues. Technology is not the first deficiency in promoting effective sanitation. (…) many toilet innovations do not make it to market because the tech verification costs (NSF, etc.) costs $40,000+ and testing programs either do not address new configurations (such as 2-drain toilets) and are too expensive. Add to that arbitrary conventions, such as the illogical traditional siting of the toilet drain pipe in the U.S., which forces the use of higher flush volumes, and you get a stalled innovation market. (…).”

So, obviously, there’s much more to the picture than a reinvented toilet system alone. “A big part of the challenge is technological.”, writes Bill Gates on his blog. And the publicity the BMGF has brought to the sanitation sector in the past few years is truly immense. “We also have to work closely with governments, businesses, and communities to stimulate demand for better sanitation, encourage investment, and create supportive public policies that will allow these innovative solutions to succeed.”, he argues. Well, exactly.

And the best part? All of the future technologies aren’t limited to some “developing” countries only. It’s a global issue, and I am glad that someone as prominent as Bill Gates or Prince Willem-Alexander are promoting our core issue here. Great stuff!

Update: here’s a full list of all exhibitors during the Reinvent the Toilet Fair (thx, Carol!).