What is the social and/or ecological challenge?
Despite billions of dollars spent on sanitation and agricultural interventions, the global population suffers from a lack of access to safe sanitation, and agricultural ecosystems continue to deteriorate from pollution and nutrient deficiencies. Over 2.5 billion people – a third of the global population – have no access to safe sanitation. This crisis is particularly evident in Haiti, where diarrhoea accounts for 16% of deaths in children under five. In fact, Haiti has the highest childhood diarrhoeal incidence rates in the world. The country is also currently battling one of the largest and most virulent cholera epidemics in recent global history, with nearly 10 000 fatalities and more than 7.5% of the population sickened. Attempts to create a functional sanitation system to solve this health crisis are often ineffective, focusing only on the provision of toilets and neglecting waste treatment. A toilet without a waste treatment system merely displaces the problem, cleaning up one local environment while polluting another. As a result, the wastes of 4.2 billion people in the world are dumped directly into waterways or sit untreated in underground reservoirs where they often leach into groundwater. Where waste treatment systems do exist, the processes for disposing of wastes also remove valuable nutrients instead of harvesting them for reuse. In Haiti, where agricultural production is rapidly declining, erosion rates are among the highest in the world and 45% of the population is malnourished, restoring soil fertility is a critical intervention for food security and environmental rehabilitation. SOIL believes that access to a safe, dignified, sustainable sanitation system is a basic human right. By affordably and safely transforming human waste into agricultural-grade compost, the organisation says it is proving that it is possible to build a sanitation system that simultaneously restores the environment to its life-giving potential and promotes the growth of local economies by creating meaningful livelihood opportunities throughout the ecological sanitation cycle.
The social entrepreneurial approach
In SOIL's social business model, customers rent a SOIL EkoLakay toilet for approximately USD 3.50 a month. SOIL sanitation workers visit each household weekly to collect the toilet wastes and deliver a fresh supply of carbon material (used for "flushing"). The collected toilet wastes are then transported to a SOIL waste treatment facility for composting. Wastes are safely transformed into agricultural-grade compost that is used to restore health to Haiti's soils. In addition to providing dignified access to in-home sanitation services, this initiative creates jobs throughout the sanitation value chain and increases incomes for rural farmers. EkoLakay is one of the only successful models for providing low-cost, dependable and environmentally sound household sanitation in informal urban settlements, where worldwide over 3 billion people are expected to reside by 2050. In addition, EkoLakay represents an elegant public health and environmental intervention for the vulnerable base of the population pyramid. Given the sheer number of people requiring access to these services, there is significant demand to drive large-scale replication globally. In Haiti, SOIL has already expanded EkoLakay to the two largest cities in the country, Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince, and demand for toilets continues to outpace installation. SOIL believes that much of its success is attributable to the fact that its staff live and work in the communities it serves and that it strives to be responsive to customer requests and complaints at all times. SOIL's current toilet design costs less than USD 30 to make locally and is durable and user-approved, having been developed through an iterative process that incorporated customer feedback at every step. SOIL is also dedicated to rigorously evaluating results, sharing lessons learnt, and operating with transparency and integrity. Moreover, SOIL has partnered with a range of institutions to achieve these goals. Current research partners include Stanford University, EAWAG, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies, the University of Hawai'i, and the Ashoka and Schwab Foundations. SOIL is also a founding member of a container-based sanitation alliance, bringing together similar innovators globally (Sanergy, X-Runner, Clean Team etc) to share designs and outcomes. In addition, SOIL works closely with the Haitian government's sanitation authority, DINEPA, as they begin to scale up their own waste treatment interventions around the country. All of SOIL's work is open-source and freely shared, and SOIL is eager for other organisations and enterprises to replicate its technologies and business models. SOIL believes that its success is the result of these commitments to cultural fluency, local sourcing, inclusivity, innovation and expertise.
Goals and expected impact
By December 2019, SOIL will be providing dignified sanitation access to over 12 700 people, employing more than 200 people in the sanitation sector, and producing and selling more than 230 tonnes of compost annually to increase food production and agricultural incomes throughout rural Haiti. At this point, SOIL anticipates that the household toilet social business enterprise will cover its costs, and is poised to scale up while leveraging economies of scale to continue minimising costs. In addition, SOIL expects that the waste treatment operation will provide safe, effective waste treatment at minimal cost and recoup a significant percentage of costs through waste treatment fees paid to the business operation and also through compost sales. The remaining financing for this service could be provided through PPP financial instruments, such as payments for results (PFR) mechanisms, developed in partnership with multilateral financing institutions and the Haitian government, or carbon credit revenue.