How can we unlock the full potential of CBS?
The benefits of CBS are becoming recognized. Overcoming misconceptions that it’s expensive can pave the way to greater scale.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides a stark reminder of the critical importance of safe sanitation, in or close to homes, and has amplified concerns about the spread of disease, particularly in densely populated areas. This basic need is still denied to 4.2b people today,1 contributing to 432,000 diarrheal deaths annually,2 even before the pandemic struck. With sewerage not always feasible or cost-effective in urban slums, the need to scale CBS is more urgent now than ever.
CBS is a service-based business model built around standalone toilets that store waste in sealable, removable containers. These toilets may be provided in people’s homes (household-level CBS) or as facilities used by multiple households (shared CBS). In both cases, CBS enterprises provide the toilets and maintain a managed service for collection of full containers, their replacement with empty ones and the transport of full containers to facilities for safe treatment, disposal or reuse of the collected waste. CBS is well suited to areas that are densely populated, suffer from flooding, have high water tables or rocky terrain. As a result, it has huge potential to ensure safely managed sanitation access for some of the world’s least-served populations.
While CBS has gained high-level recognition as being essential to addressing the global sanitation crisis, it’s often perceived as more expensive or less effective than other options, such as sewers, pit latrines and septic tanks. Many governments, funders and investors still think of sanitation in the same way as they think of traditional public infrastructure investments and their investment structures are wired accordingly — i.e., based on high upfront capital outlay, with smaller ongoing costs for operation and maintenance, which are often not fully funded. With CBS models typically the exact opposite, and their cash flows very different from traditional sanitation infrastructure, this can lead to the perception that they are more expensive over the long-term, hampering investment in the approach.
A lack of clear cost comparisons has inhibited investment, and the adoption of policy and regulatory environments conducive to fostering CBS. So, working with the Container-Based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA), an EY team set about answering a very simple question: how do the costs of CBS compare with other sanitation options?
In 2019, the World Bank published Evaluating the potential of Container Based Sanitation. Emphasizing CBS’ affordability, safety and resilience to climate variations, this report concluded that CBS should be considered as part of city-wide inclusive sanitation options, and laid out important lessons for governments and external funders.
In the same year, CBS was formally recognized as improved sanitation — and household-level CBS models as “safely managed” — by the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, the official UN body for monitoring progress toward the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of adequate, equitable sanitation and hygiene for all.
These developments followed on from The world can’t wait for sewers (pdf), a 2018 report published by EY and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP). This report made the case for advancing CBS as a viable solution to the global sanitation crisis, and provided a clear blueprint for helping CBS enterprises achieve scale and sustainability.