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Humanure as a Path Out of Poverty For Slum Residents

Scott Cooney | Monday March 26th, 2012 | 1 Comment

If you don’t know what a flying toilet is, consider yourself very lucky.

Slums around the world are largely lacking on sanitation. A 2006 UN report found that two-thirds of residents in one section of Nairobi use a plastic bag as their main disposal method. Many times these bags are heaved through the air, sometimes by passersby, into the slums. In addition to being what will hopefully be the grossest thing you hear all day, these flying toilets create real problems for human health both inside the slums and out, as diseases breed and spread.

Now, thanks in part to funding from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures fund, slum residents will soon have viable market-based solutions to these challenges. The answer is called Sanergy, a startup that grew out of a MIT business school class that has raised a total of $600,000 (including about $100,000 from the USAID’s DIV program).

The concept is to sell low-cost toilets to microenterprise entrepreneurs who will then collect the waste and bring it to central processing areas, where it will be broken down for energy and fertilizer. The entrepreneurs can either bring their own money (the toilets cost $450 each) to the table, or they can work with several microloan sites that have signed on to help out.

It’s the ultimate win-win situation, but that doesn’t mean it’s a charity, or that there isn’t profit motive. Sanergy expects Kenya alone to be worth $72M. The profit motive is a different approach, and might be sufficient to help a program succeed where traditional aid programs have failed.


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Photo courtesy of Sustainable Solutions on Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Jus Smith

    I have read about the flying toilets, I will be going to the Nairobi’s slums in September, I will be on the look out for these new toilets.It sounds like a great idea but the price of $450 sound way to high for people living in the slums.