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Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti

by SOIL
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti
Expanding Climate-Positive Sanitation in Haiti

Since its pilot, SOIL’s EkoLakay service has been carefully designed as a holistic model that can offer benefits beyond a simple household toilet. Rather than thinking solely about EkoLakay’s potential for individual impact, we’ve used sanitation provision as a starting point for designing a solution that leverages the interconnection between sanitation, climate, and human rights. This is evident in SOIL’s waste treatment and composting facility, where we turn human waste from the EkoLakay toilets into regenerative compost that can stabilize Haiti’s fragile soils. More recently, a study conducted on SOIL’s composting facility offers groundbreaking insight into an additional avenue of positive ecological potential: climate mitigation. This research has re-invigorated SOIL’s deeply rooted ambition that there is potential for far-reaching impact in the sanitation sector through climate-positive solutions.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that for each person on the EkoLakay service, greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 126 kilograms of carbon dioxide (kg CO2e) can be offset per year (approximately 800 kg CO2e per household per year). We wanted to better quantify and understand what this could mean for individuals using the EkoLakay service, we reached out to a few greenhouse gas researchers to help us put into perspective the potential for carbon offsets per household.

The researchers noted that, remarkably, the amount of greenhouse gas mitigated by EkoLakay equates to almost half of the average per capita carbon dioxide emitted by Haitians in 2018, which is approximately 270 kg CO2e. [1] Where, carbon emissions per capita are measured as the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the country as a consequence of all relevant human (production and consumption) activities, divided by the population of the country.

Further, to put this in perspective, the emissions saved through EkoLakay per household per year roughly correspond to half of the overall emission of greenhouse gas produced by an average car in a year. For example, a Toyota RAV4 manufactured in 2006 with an average (tailpipe) greenhouse gas emission of 0.37 kg CO2e per mile that is used on average for 12 miles a day emits approximately 1,620 kg CO2e in a year (upstream greenhouse gas emissions not included). [2]

For SOIL, this is evidence of the important role that safely managed sanitation can have in providing an essential service that mitigates public health risk and potential environmental contamination; it also serves as a proof point that sanitation providers have a larger role to play in the climate solution. This is particularly true in densely populated and poor urban areas that are largely left out of the climate conversation. Access to safe sanitation is an essential human right, but it also has has increasingly greater potential to be an empowering mechanism for providing the world’s poor with a voice in the climate sphere.

We at SOIL are always fighting to find a voice for the communities and beneficiaries we serve. We are so thankful for our partners in this research and for our friends and supporters around the world who enable us to continue sharing the impact and potential of this work. This research represents an exciting breakthrough for both the sanitation sector and vulnerable communities in Haiti and around the globe that have access to container-based sanitation!

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions#co2-embedded-in-trade

[2] https://fueleconomy.gov/feg/findacar.shtml

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With more than four billion people still lacking access to safe sanitation globally, we know that it’s going to take a multitude of innovative solutions to successfully tackle a crisis of this proportion. Citywide Inclusive Sanitation–the idea that a variety of alternatives to traditional sewer systems will be needed to “genuinely deliver universal coverage across whole urban areas” – has been gaining strong momentum in recent years.

This notion that a one-size-fits-all solution to the global sanitation crisis is not realistic means that municipalities need comparative data on all sanitation solutions so that they can make the best choices for expanding access to safe sanitation in their local context. But, for so long, this data has been inaccessible, incomplete, and challenging to compare. It is essential that decision makers can assess how the safety and cost of container-based toilets like SOIL’s compare to pit latrines or a flush toilets. These factors can vary dramatically in different contexts, though. For example, a flush toilet with a septic tank in a densely populated settlement in Cap-Haitien will have very different construction and operating costs than one in Nairobi, Kenya, just like the safety of a latrine in low-lying Antanaviro, Madagascar may differ dramatically from one built in mountainous Lima.

Comparing Container-Based Sanitation Costs

While SOIL and our Container-based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA) partners all ensure full safety through the full sanitation value-chain, it’s clear from the World Bank’s case study from 2018 that cost drivers vary considerably among CBSA providers. For that reason, the CBSA, the Stone Family Foundation and the Osprey Foundation commissioned a team of consultants from EY (formerly Ernst & Young) to gather data comparing each of the six CBSA members to sanitation alternatives in their contexts. In most cities, this turned out to be easier said than done. Why? When informal laborers are digging pits for latrines or emptying their contents and they aren’t keeping accounting of their costs, as is frequently the case, it makes comparisons challenging. SOIL’s analysis was further complicated by the fact that our friends at EY were unable to travel to Haiti to do the assessment in person as they had done for the other contexts. But the EY team persevered, reviewing mountains of literature, interviewing CBS service providers, and consulting government partners and other stakeholders.

Efficient, Safe, and Durable Solutions for Rapidly Growing Cities

In the end, the data has yielded some fascinating findings! As SOIL works to sustainably expand access to cost-effective, regenerative sanitation solutions for some of the world’s most under-resourced urban communities, the results from this research will provide critical information to our government and donor stakeholders. While the summary report has yet to be released, the SOIL Cap-Haitien case study showed that when comparing direct operating costs, SOIL’s service is the lowest-cost safe sanitation option, costing 13% less than pit latrines, 40% less than septic tanks, and 69% less than sewers per household basis per year. While this affordability is certainly worthy of celebration, it also doesn’t take into consideration the upfront capital expenditures needed to install a sewer system or assess the feasibility of providing uninterrupted safely managed sanitation access in a city with limited space, unreliable energy and water inputs, contested land tenure, and high water tables.

What’s Next

In addition to proving to be the most cost-effective safe sanitation intervention in Haiti, SOIL’s sanitation service also provides a myriad of other positive externalities: preserving water and energy resources, releasing less greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon, increasing local food production, and creating dignified employment opportunities. SOIL’s revolutionary CBS solution has time and time again proven resilient to a high-risk environment, representing a significant breakthrough in the urban sanitation field and opening the potential of scaling rapidly in cities lacking sanitation services.

We’re looking forward to finalizing the case study for translation and sharing with Haiti’s water and sanitation authority, DINEPA, as well as local governments and other stakeholders. Once the full study is published, we’ll be sure to share it on SOIL’s resources page online and across social media @SOIL Haiti. Stay tuned!

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Last summer, SOIL began an experiment that evaluated the potential of another waste-to-resource technology at our compost site: flies! The study looked at breeding black soldier fly (BSF) larvae for use as chicken feed. The goal of the research was to determine whether we could successfully grow BSF larvae, which feed on waste, at our Cap-Haïtien waste treatment site. If successful, the production of BSF larvae to sell as chicken feed could become an additional stream of revenue for SOIL’s waste treatment operations. The research, led by SOIL Research Associate Michèle in partnership with visiting researcher Dani, has already yielded promising results! 

The Experiment

The questions we wanted answered were: Can we manage to grow larvae in captivity under the local conditions in Cap-Haïtien? Will the larvae like the waste? And lastly, can we successfully breed the larvae by growing them into adult flies to lay more eggs for future larvae?

Attempts to grow BSF larvae fed on 100% human waste is not always successful, so the experiment included tests of five different feed mixtures:

  • 100% human waste from SOIL sanitation service
  • 70% human waste + 30% food waste
  • 70% human waste + 30% peanuts
  • 70% human waste + 30% spent grain from Haiti’s famous Prestige beer brewery
  • 100% brewery waste

Promising Results

After a lot of hard work and patience, we are thrilled to share that all of the BSF larvae survived and grew in all five of the different feed mixes!

After this success, SOIL’s research team wanted to attempt breeding the flies to see if we could recreate the life cycle of the BSF in captivity.  We created a fly cage for the larvae and set up a place for the flies to lay eggs once they had grown into adult flies. Breeding is rarely successful during the first attempt, but with some perseverance, eggs emerged and we are now on our third generation of larvae! We have also done feeding tests with some chickens to see how they responded to the larvae. The chickens munched away, proving that BSF larvae are an excellent source for chicken feed!

The success of this experiment means that SOIL can potentially rear BSF larvae on the waste collected from our sanitation service to sell as chicken feed, providing resources for other important local sectors and supporting food security in northern Haiti.

We had the chance to present the findings from the research to Haiti’s water and sanitation authority in November and they were excited by the results. More specifically, they liked the concept of the technology and the potential it has for organic waste transformation. We will continue to meet with and present new findings to Haiti’s water and sanitation authority as the study progresses. 

Coming Up

One important parameter for analysis in the BSF larvae experiment is the moisture content in the waste feed for the larvae and we aren’t sure how a difference in moisture might have influenced the results. For round two of the study beginning this month, we plan to test various moisture levels of the waste, complete a market study on chicken feed, and keep the current BSF colony alive. In partnership with UC Davis, the team also plans to analyze the BSF larvae for potential contaminants and determine their exact protein and fat content. We’re not done just yet – stay tuned!

 

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Photo: Vic Hinterlang
Photo: Vic Hinterlang

SOIL's November 2019 Newsletter

“Despite the circumstances, SOIL’s doors are staying open” shared our sanitation coordinator Algate Joseph. While communities in Haiti continue to navigate a devastating economic and political crisis, another month has passed without significant improvement.

The majority of schools in the country have yet to reopen while many service providers, hospitals, and businesses have closed – in some cases, permanently. Fuel, power, and basic goods remain hard to come by and incredibly costly. In most of Haiti’s cities, protesters have stayed in the streets nearly daily to decry worsening living conditions, inflation, and allegations of government corruption. Insecurity is noticeably on the rise through much of the country and human rights organizations report that dozens have been killed and hundreds more have been injured since the beginning of this round of demonstrations.

It is in this challenging context that SOIL’s sanitation heroes have tirelessly worked through the past month to ensure that service continues for every family with a SOIL toilet in their home. In the majority of communities where SOIL works, EkoLakay collectors have been able to continue the service with adjusted schedules. In other neighborhoods, our teams have adapted the approach further by continuing collection by foot when motorcycles are not able to pass.

Ensuring basic service provision in periods of crisis is not just as important as ever, it’s actually more critical. When hospitals are less equipped to treat sick patients or the road to the clinic is not passable, it is even more urgent to stop the spread of waterborne illness. When the risks grow for women and girls trying to find a place to go to the bathroom at night, it’s even more imperative for families to have access to an in-home toilet. Sanitation is a human right, and it’s one we will keep fighting for regardless of what the weeks ahead hold.

As we fight to keep families safe and healthy, we thank you for being a part of our community and helping to ensure our doors stay open. Please keep Haiti in your hearts.

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Whether it’s using mobile tools to inform marketing or evaluating the optimal design of a compost bin, innovation is at the heart of everything that SOIL does as we provide our regenerative sanitation service in Haiti.

The Challenge

One of the biggest challenges we face in operating SOIL’s EkoLakay sanitation service is logistics and the costs of transportation. EkoLakay’s collection crew visits the houses of families on our household toilet service every week, collecting full containers of waste and leaving clean empty containers and cover material for next week’s waste collection. Our drivers face challenging and ever-changing road conditions as SOIL serves rapidly-growing informal communities. Beyond that, we have found that our vehicles aren’t always used at full capacity. Given these factors, it should be no surprise that transportation is actually one of EkoLakay’s largest cost drivers.

To help us improve our service and reduce our costs, we have been working with DataKind to assess SOIL’s vehicle capacity and collection routes to design the best way to use vehicle, collector, GPS, and GIS map data to tackle this challenge. DataKind is a global nonprofit that harnesses the power of data science and AI in the service of humanity, in a partnership funded by the 11th Hour Project.

Questions to Answer

How long does it take to get to each house and what’s the most efficient path between them? Is there one SOIL service zone that might work better broken down into two, or should we be combining two zones that we current service separately? What’s the fewest number of trips needed to service all of our customers when the number of containers might vary from house to house? Our team of researchers and data scientists have been asking these questions and building an open-source software that incorporates data like vehicle cost per mile and carrying capacity to calculate the best route. Once that’s done? It’s transformed into a map that our EkoLakay team members can follow as they head out for the day.

Beyond having an immediate payoff by helping us reduce costs and fuel use, we know that making these improvements to collection routes is essential as SOIL sets out to provide the service at a larger scale in the coming years. Every time a new family signs up to have a lifesaving SOIL toilet installed in their home, we have to quickly update our routes to adjust for the change. Given that we want to grow our service quickly over the coming years, we know we need to get this right!

Early Updates

After spending much of the winter gathering data, testing assumptions, and defining the desired outcomes, it’s been exciting to see the fruits of the team’s labor. Every few weeks, the DataKind team has sent updates of city, zone, and route-specific maps that we’re able to review and refine to help improve the way the model works. With just a few weeks left in our project, the DataKind team is putting the finishing touches on the model and preparing training materials to hand it over to SOIL.

Driving Forward

While the DataKind team’s work is nearing completion, SOIL’s work on the model continues. We’ll spend this summer testing routes, training waste collectors on using the maps to navigate ever-evolving collection routes, and adjusting some of our logistics protocols to prepare for fully implementing the new tools. Many thanks to our friends at 11thHour and DataKind (including the awesome volunteer team!) who have helped to make this route optimization possible in urban Haiti.

We never stop dreaming of ways to go further and we are already getting excited about the ways that this will vastly improve the efficiency of our EkoLakay service. We look forward to keeping SOIL’s blog readers updated as we make progress!

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Organization Information

SOIL

Location: Sherburne, New York - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SOILhaiti
Project Leader:
Leah Page
Sherburne, New York United States

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