open_resource : ideas, points of view
and solutions from the actors of the resource revolution

← Back Solutions  

A circular solution to the sanitation crisis


Created by the company Sanergy, Fresh Life Toilets are used 50,000 times a day in Kenya’s urban informal settlements. They are prefabricated and made from high-quality materials. They are bought and operated by local entrepreneurs who run them, which are profitable. Since its creation, the model designed by the North American entrepreneur David Auerbach has already enabled 11,000 tons of human waste to be collected and converted, mainly into agricultural fertilizer. Now, David has ambitions to roll-out the Sanergy model in cities with similar sanitation issues.

SUEZ went to meet him.

Step 1: building Fresh Life Toilets, Nairobi, Kenya

Step 1: building Fresh Life Toilets, Nairobi, Kenya – Credits: Sanergy

You believe that Kenya’s sanitation crisis calls for a “systemic” approach. What does this involve?

The idea came from a class my co-founders and I took at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where we had to find a solution to a social problem affecting over a billion people. And what we noticed was a widespread sanitation crisis throughout some of the world’s continents. In 2015, 4.1 billion people worldwide still did not have access to holistic sanitation.

The traditional response to this problem is to supply sanitation facilities without considering their long-term impact or take-up by local residents. But it is not simply a case of providing facilities.

We also have to ensure that the toilets are accessible to everyone, that people operate them correctly and that waste is collected and then treated and then disposed of or reused. When it comes down to it, only an integrated full value chain approach can guarantee a global, sustainable impact on the environment.

Step 2: emptying the Fresh Life Toilets, Nairobi, Kenya

Step 2: emptying the Fresh Life Toilets, Nairobi, Kenya – Credits: Sanergy

How do we create such an integrated value chain?

Sanergy runs a franchise model where local residents buy and manage Fresh Life Toilets; these are the sanitation facilities we design. These residents are the people who set the chain in action. They form a network of local operators who play a fundamental role in our model. We work on the principle that the best way to bring about change in behavior is to invest in the local community–this sends a credible and justifiable message. By creating job opportunities, we boost local employment. Since 2011, over 800 jobs were created in Kenya. The Sanergy team ensures that the entrepreneurs keep the toilets clean, that service to customers is of good quality, that waste is collected on a regular basis and converted into safe, valuable end products. We have built a model that can be replicated in any fast-growing city. The idea is to be able to show governments that it is a profitable model so that we can provide Fresh Life Toilets in regions that currently have no suitable sanitation solutions.

Step 3: stocking the human waste before its transformation, Nairobi, Kenya

Step 3: stocking the human waste before its transformation, Nairobi, Kenya – Credits: Sanergy

Your model embraces the principles of the circular economy. Why did you make this choice?

The notion of sustainability is extremely important for us. By using the principles of the circular economy, we are showing that there is value in waste, even human waste. Our solution becomes a genuine economic model by converting waste into different by-products, which we then sell. Using composting processes, we produce organic fertiliser that we sell to farmers. We are also growing a colony of Black Soldier Flies; we rear larvae that feed on organic waste to produce a high-fat, high-protein animal feed. The feed is then sold to livestock feed factories where it is packaged according to requirements.

All this ensures that we create value by using available resources in the best possible way. It also helps us innovate; we are constantly designing new products and services. For example, we are currently working on a pilot scheme to produce biogas from organic waste. This will enable us to supply the energy for our own facilities.

This article was published in the fourth issue of open_resource magazine: “The circular economy era

You may also like