Also in Kenya, Sanivation is transforming toilet resources into fuel briquettes, extruded from fecal sludge that has been heat-treated to inactivate pathogens. It built its strong customer base by initially providing free samples, so that people could see for themselves not only how the product is odorless, but also emits less smoke and burns longer than traditional biomass, such as firewood or charcoal.
In Cambodia, ATEC produces, sells and distributes pre-fabricated biodigesters that turn kitchen, farm and human waste into biogas and organic fertilizer for rural farming households. While those biodigesters offer huge benefits for customers — including an average saving of US$521 a year vs. purchasing LPG gas and chemical fertilizers — the upfront cost of owning one can be prohibitive. So ATEC has adopted a pay-as-you-go financial model, allowing customers to pay for biodigesters in instalments, using the savings they generate.
These steps are helping to dramatically increase demand for toilet resources — to the extent that ATEC is now targeting installation of one million of its systems by 2030; Sanivation is receiving inquiries from much larger customers, such as tea farms and pharmaceutical companies, interested in switching to more sustainable fuels; and Sanergy is building a new facility, capable of treating and processing 200 tons of sanitation and organic waste a day, in order to meet demand for its products.
4. Recognize there’s more than one way to ‘close the loop’
While the likes of ATEC, Sanergy and Sanivation have all demonstrated that it’s possible to “close the loop” on material flows by identifying and creating demand for toilet resources, they also show that unlocking and meeting this demand can require different approaches in different settings.
On the one hand, there are those, such as ATEC’s, that are designed for the processing and productive use of toilet resources to occur on-site. On the other, there are those typified by Sanergy and Sanivation, which, in their use of offsite processing and reselling of end products, are more heavily reliant on integrating different parts of the sanitation value chain.
In the latter case, a supportive enabling environment is vital, to which end Sanergy has participated in the development of various policies, including Kenya’s national waste management bill, as well as working with the Kenya Bureau of Standards to help formulate appropriate legal and institutional frameworks for the efficient and sustainable treatment and upcycling of waste.
5. Make full use of sanitation data
The principle of “waste to resource” applies to far more than just physical resources. It also applies to the vast amounts of information and insight that can be gleaned from people’s use of sanitation facilities and how that can be put to productive use — not only in the service of sanitation enterprises fine tuning their strategies and operations, but also of cities, municipalities and governments implementing more integrated waste management strategies and more effective public health campaigns.
In India, GARV’s integration of smart technologies, such as sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, into its vandal-proof, stainless-steel restrooms, means it can gather a wealth of data on customer behavior, including how many times they flush and use the soap dispensers. For example, when data from one school project revealed that fewer than 10% of children were washing their hands, it was uncovered that they weren’t adapting to touch-free, sensor-based soap dispensers. This led to development of specific training, resulting in handwashing rising to more than 80%.
Of course, GARV can also use this data to inform decision-making and drive all manner of strategic and operational improvements. For example, GARV’s service operations team has been able to improve efficiency by around 35%, as they’re able to track any malfunctions in real time and provide required service on-site. Service turnaround times have also improved, resulting in an increased number of functional toilet facilities for users.