Capitalists taking the piss and making money, what’s new you may well ask? Well everything actually. It may just be what the environment and the slum dwelling poor need most. Let me explain.
Sanitation globally is a major humanitarian crisis, particularly in the developing world. One third of the planet – over 2 billion people live in the slums of our cities. In Nairobi 75% of the population lives on 5% of the landmass in its main slums. Mukuru and Kibera, along with Kenya’s others informal settlements which are home to over 8 million people.
One company is addressing the issue of sanitation in the slums and making a sustainable social enterprise out of it. This business demonstrates an excellent way to close a loop in the urban ecosystem and creating employment for the urban poor.
Sanergy builds and sells ‘Freshlife’ branded toilets to predominantly female entrepreneurs in the slums of Nairobi for $500. The toilet service has been defined from the ‘bottom-up’ as an aspirational user experience.
The toilets have a concrete base and sides with a fibreglass separator toilet inside and a plastic sheeting roof. All animals pee forwards and poo backwards, including humans. This enables the toilets to separate the wee and the poo. These are collected in two separate containers like milk churns – under the toilet’s concrete base. They are sealed and replaced by Freshlife operators for $100 a year as part of the franchise agreement.
The toilet entrepreneurs then charge local residents – again mostly women – 5 Kenyan shillings, or 3 US cents, to use them. Whilst this represents one and a half per cent of their daily income of $2, it is a manageable expense to access something we take for granted. The alternative is the flying toilet – a plastic bag filled and thrown over your roof onto a neighbour’s shack.
The toilet entrepreneurs earn up to $8 a day whilst proudly providing a sanitation service to their customers. At four times the slum average income they are toilet capitalists.
The waste is then removed to a central handling facility. The poo is composted, tested by third-party labs and sold as a healthy rich organic fertiliser that is high in both hydrocarbons and minerals. I have touched felt and handled the all-natural ‘MANure’ that comes out of the Sanergy process after just a few months. It is odourless, feels and looks like really good compost – well that is what it is!
So why am I excited by the business? Well here comes the clever bit. The urine collected is put into standard 1500 litre agricultural water tanks and allowed to settle. Urine is naturally up to 15% nitrogen by volume. The volatiles, alcohol etc., evaporate and any organic material is broken down by the nitrogen.
The wee is then balanced up with additional phosphates and potassium – the end product is a liquid NPK 3:2:1 fertiliser. This is sold to farmers using drip irrigation systems who plug it into their watering systems delivering the fertiliser directly to the plants. Sanergy compete directly with imported granulated fertiliser. It is a business making a profit taking the piss out of the slums.
The business creating environmental entrepreneurs, alleviates poverty and contributes to more sustainable agriculture.
There is no such thing as waste – just stuff in the wrong place. Sanergy is one of the new integrator businesses, working across waste streams, and aggregating them into valuable and sustainable agricultural products.
Let’s get busy repairing the future.