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.
Another blog post on the Peepoo bag system – the biodegradable toilet bag system for use in places where there are no toilets available. A single-use, self-sanitizing, biodegradble system that turns into fertilizer after use.
I also think that there’s no single truth on this subject – something I’ve learned from blogging on Afrigadget.com where we often cover gadgets that may appear to be very simple, but also still do the job.
Systems and technologies do not have to be perfect in order to work, and what is sponsored by dev aid orgs and private individuals may not necessarily be appreciated by the recipients (who will accept it anyways when it comes for free). Rather, a lot of different technologies may coexist – may also compete with each other – but to condemn a system just because it isn’t 100% sustainable isn’t too fair, I think.
In my books, a system that tries to close the loops on nutrients and is accepted by its users, is of much greater value than a traditional flush toilet. But that’s just me. And again, it’s not just a matter of provding toilets and basic hygiene standards, but instead so much more that can not be changed in one go. Urbanisation may be one core problem, or the question of land ownership which often results in slum dwellers having a greater interest in getting their hands on a TV set + VCR instead of a clean & secure toilet. The list of reasons is probably endless, and the following list also can not include all criticism and truth, so please free to add your own thoughts about the Peepoo system. Thank you!
not free (costs vs. convenience, but also future value from fertilizer which could be set off against the price of these bags?)
bags may be too thin and too small for some users
higher risk of users getting in touch with their faeces (=> hygiene standards)
difficulties in using the bag when defecation is accompanied by urination (for women)
ammonia gas may leak from torn bags & will become an immediate public health problem // oduor problems when many filled Peepoo bags are stored together during collection and transport
the bags should be more durable, stay intact and gas tight long enough for the ammonia to have time to kill off all the possible pathogens (thx, Håkan!)
the composting part could still be improved, e.g. store them in tight containers for maximum ammonia retention & then plow them down into the soil before the cropping season (thx, Håkan!)
may degrade too slowly (bioplastic bags used in many modern households today for compost are often removed on compost plants because their plastic requires a temperature of about 60°C or higher which may not always be achieved within the given time frame)
bag system is patented => how do you prevent fake (= non biodegradble) bags from being sold on the market?
requires a shielded space / privacy => question of dignity (where do you defecate? and where have the Flying Toilets 1.0 users previously defecated?)
requires a handling & reuse concept, preferably in the vicinity, but this actually applies to almost all waste stream
risk of losing political responsibility for a better sanitation concept
According to the BASF Sustainability Newsletter 5/2009 – manufacturers of the bag material – the “bags (are) made of BASF’s biodegradable plastic Ecovio. The plastic Ecovio consists of Ecoflex and of polylacticacid (PLA), which is obtained from corn. Ecoflexis a petrochemical-based polyester and is completely biodegradable. Eco-flex makes the bag flexible, tear-resistant, waterproof and suitable for printing”. (Thx, HPM!)
Also, what works in Africa will also work anywhere…? That’s one of our slogans on AfriGadget, but the reality of course is that each community has its own habits. Here’s another blog post by someone who tried to brake it down for India (with additional comments by Elisabeth von Münch, GTZ sustainable sanitation & ecosan team leader).
I am actually quite happy about the good media coverage that Peepoo(ple) has received lately. From a scientific perspective, things may not always be that clear and there’s always room for constructive criticism. From a blogger, user, km4dev and watsan worker perspective though, any media coverage for sanitation in urban slums is highly appreciated and still needed (one of the reasons for this blog on sanitation).
What I really like about the Peepoo system is that it doesn’t require much behavioural change and adds value to something that is often only regarded as waste. Maybe it takes such an extreme low tech approach to get the message of “closing the loops on nutrients” across.
And you? What do you like or dislike about these bags? Please feel free to share your comments with us. Asante sana!
1. UPDATE (from the Sept. 2010 GTZ newsletter on Sustainable sanitation & ecosan):
Sweden, Kenya, Haiti Peepoo bags: Semi-manual production started in Kenya, and trials in Haiti after earthquake (Oxfam) – Aug. 2010
A semi manual production of Peepoo bags is currently being set up in Nairobi, Kenya with the aim to provide Peepoo toilets for field tests and pilots. The company Peepoople is now ready to start taking orders (send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org) from the small scale production unit until the high speed production plant is up and running in mid 2011. The Peepoo is a single use, self-sanitising bio-degradable toilet in the form of a bag that after use turns the human waste into valuable fertiliser in 2-4 weeks. The Peepoo toilet has been tested in Kenya, Bangladesh, India and Haiti since 2008 with very positive user results.
“Dear all, just want to let you know that the Peepoo is being sold, used and collected in Silanga village in Kibera [Nairobi, Kenya] since 23rd of October…..the women micro entrepreneurs are selling the Peepoo for 0.03 EUR and a refund of 0.01 EUR is payed at the collection point” (100 Kshs. = ~ 1 EUR in late 2010/early 2011).
That’s 0.02 EUR consumers are willing to spend on bio-plastic bags a.k.a. portable toilets! People willing to pay for improved sanitation (as opposed to a non-existing one, or just flying toilets) imo already is great news. Yes, the bags (and probably also micro entrepreneurs) are still subsidized and the system may not be that sustainable to some experts (even though the bags are now manufactured in Nairobi),BUT! – forget about all expert knowledge if your business tells you your heading in the right direction. Success still is the best argument, especially when it comes to questionable new approaches in sanitation in highly populated urban areas.
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