Waste not: How businesses can turn a profit from poo | Source: CGIAR, Mar 10, 2016 |
By Miriam Otoo, Krishna Chaitanya Rao, Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy, and Marianne Gadeberg
A clean and private toilet is something a lot of us take for granted, but for thousands of people living in the slums of Rwandan capital Kigali, safe sanitation was long a luxury out of reach.
In the past, these communities had no other option than to use either pit latrines, often full and overflowing, or flying toilets, essentially plastic bags serving as single-use toilets and then tossed to the wayside. Naturally, the absence of proper sanitation was a daily nuisance, causing both pollution and disease.
From sanitation challenge to business opportunity
Many megacities across Africa and Asia are bogged down by similar issues, and while proper sewage systems would be the ideal solution, there is virtually no chance of realizing such systems in the next few decades. But what if sanitation and waste challenges in urban centers could be turned into profitable business ventures?
In Kigali, Rwanda Environment Care (REC), now a privately owned company, recognized that the high demand for sanitation in cities coincided with an equally high demand for fertilizer among farmers throughout the country – and that the two could be combined to make up a viable business.
Now, REC builds and operates public ecological sanitation (eco-san) toilets and uses the collected fecal sludge to produce organic fertilizer and compost for sale to farmers. The revenue from sale of compost is complemented by fees paid for use of the public toilets, rental income from kiosks and shops nearby, and consultation services on how to construct eco-san latrines offered to other entrepreneurs. In total, the revenues are great enough to cover routine repairs and staff salaries.
REC’s new eco-san latrines in Kigali have not only improved quality of life for local people, they also contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment. As an added benefit, the increased supply of organic, environmentally friendly compost is expected to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, furthering sustainable farming.
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