Water contamination is a massive issue in underdeveloped areas. Wastewater treatment plants and systems are scarce. In Nakuru, Kenya, only 27 percent of residents are connected to the town waste treatment system. The other 73 percent use outdoor, dug-in latrines, and nobody seems to know where the waste from these ends up.
A group of U.S. students from Georgia Tech came up with a solution. Sanivation is an innovative company that puts “blue box” toilets in homes, then collects waste from them and synthesizes waste into fuel. The result is briquettes that burn three times as long as regular coal and emit less carbon monoxide when burned. Creators Andrew Foote and Emily Woods originally came up with the idea for a research project, then presented it to Start-Up Chile, which helped them accelerate their business.
Sanivation handles the entire process from waste to fuel. The company installs private, container-based toilets in homes for $7 a month, collects the waste from the toilets and brings it to a parabolic treatment plant where it combines the excrement with biomass, such as rice husks and corn cobs. Sanivation heats the mixture until the harmful pathogens are neutralized, and the waste is transformed into a briquette of fuel.
“People always joke that we’re running not one business but 10 businesses,” Woods said in an interview with Business Insider. “As a startup, it’s complicated, it’s logistically difficult. But we haven’t found anyone to reliably source any one component of this to. Right now, if we want it done right, we have to do it ourselves.”
The waste briquettes are sold at a higher price than traditional charcoal, but they burn longer and have less smoke, so they end up saving clients money. Sanivation sells 7,000 kilograms of briquettes each month. While Sanivation is a small company, it has made a world of a difference in the lives of its clients.
“You could just see that the toilet had so much more impact than as a public-health thing,” Foote told Business Insider. “This lady typically had to squat over some feces and urine-laced slab, and now she has a nice, comfortable way to go to the bathroom. And she was so thankful for that.”
Sanivation currently operates 100 toilets in Nakuru, but it plans to expand to more than one million by 2020. It is also working with refugee camps to provide them with the Sanivation system and train residents to operate them. The company is an important step in securing public health in developing countries.