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

At SOIL we’re growing a sanitation service in urban Haiti that is setting a global example for how to affordably and sustainably provide safely managed sanitation in rapidly growing urban communities. In Haiti, over 70% of the population lacks access to improved sanitation and only 1% of all waste is safely treated. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Haiti however, as over 4.5 billion people across the globe lack access to improved sanitation facilities.

While SOIL’s contribution to mitigating this problem sometimes feels like a drop in the ocean in the context of this staggering data, the fact still remains that approximately 9,000 Haitians are currently benefiting from SOIL’s household sanitation services. Now more than ever it is critical to identify innovative technological solutions and services to meet the sanitation needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations. 

What is Improved Sanitation? 

According to the CDC, basic sanitation is described as “having access to facilities for the safe disposal of human waste, as well as having the ability to maintain hygienic conditions, through services such as garbage collection, industrial/hazardous waste management, and wastewater treatment and disposal.” The distinction of improved sanitation facilities refers to technologies such as flush (or pour-flush) toilets to sewer pipes, septic tanks or pit latrines, ventilated improved pit latrines, composting toilets, and container-based toilets where waste is safely collected and treated. Access to improved, safe, and reliable sanitation services plays a critical role in advancing human rights, promoting equality and achieving sustainable development goals.

Disparities in Sanitation Access

One of the greatest barriers in accessing sanitation services, especially in low and middle-income countries is affordability. However, there are numerous factors that affect one’s ability to access sanitation services, including socioeconomic status, sex, gender, disability, health, geographic location and livelihood status.

The lack of access to sanitation services can be devastating for marginalized communities, further exacerbating pre-existing disparities. For example, due to the fact that many schools in Haiti, and elsewhere in developing countries, lack safe, private places for students to go to the bathroom, many girls miss school during menstruation, disrupting their educational development and further limiting their livelihood opportunities. Additionally, in some countries, indigenous peoples and religious minorities lack access to safe water and sanitation in disproportionate numbers. Meanwhile, universally, people with disabilities lack access to adequate sanitation services,  “as public water and sanitation facilities are often not designed to meet their needs.”

Inclusive Sanitation as a Human Right

At SOIL, we believe access to a toilet and a safe, healthy environment are basic human rights, and we are collectively working as hard as we can to create a world where these basic human rights are ensured for everybody.

To tackle the global sanitation crisis also means tackling systemic inequalities and, forms of discrimination that perpetuate disparities and prevent access to basic human rights, like sanitation. We know that it’s going to take innovative solutions to do this and a one-size-fits-all solution to the global sanitation crisis is not practical. We’re proud to be able to work in Haiti to build a model for expanding access to sanitation that meets the needs of marginalized and vulnerable communities. And, we are thankful to have a community of supporters that are able to advocate globally for a more equitable future.      

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SOIL's public toilets in Cap-Haitien market
SOIL's public toilets in Cap-Haitien market

In addition to SOIL’s household sanitation service, over this past year – in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – we’ve partnered with local authorities to provide safe sanitation access to public areas around Cap-Haitien, including public toilets at the very busy central market.  Responding to the pandemic in communities with low-resources is complex, particularly when it comes to shared public facilities. However, it is evident that not having access to any sanitation option can be more harmful for spreading infectious disease and potentially contaminating scarce water resources. SOIL is proud to provide access to safe and dignified sanitation to mitigate public health crises during these uncertain times. Our public toilets are carefully managed with on-site staff that ensure that toilets are cleaned and sanitized and that users have access to hand-washing stations.

According to Louis, one of SOIL’s public toilet managers, “customers are happy to have toilets in the market and they give lots of positive comments about the quality of the service.” SOIL recently conducted interviews of market-goers to gather feedback so that we can better meet the needs of communities we serve.

SOIL’s Executive Associate, Carine, sat down with Pierre, a public toilet customer and merchant, who offered great feedback. Check out the interview below!

Carine: How did you hear about SOIL?/Did you know about SOIL’s in-home toilets?

Pierre: I heard about SOIL from other merchants and the news of the installations of the in-home toilets is spreading by word of mouth.

Carine: What do you think about the public toilets?

Pierre: Having public toilets is essential for the market. They are different from the type of toilets I am familiar with, but they are clean and don’t smell, just like flush toilets.

Carine: What is the impact that you see EkoLakay (SOIL's toilet) is having in the market and in the city itself?

Pierre: I used to take a taxi to go home when I needed to go to the restroom during the day, or I would go to a friend’s house in the area if it was more urgent. Now I can use the EkoLakay toilet as much as I need during the day. EkoLakay allows people who live further away and who don’t have other options to defecate properly so not to harm the environment.

Carine: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Pierre: If SOIL could add more toilets, it would be beneficial so that people don’t stay away from their business for too long while queuing to use the toilets.

While we continue to grow our household sanitation service, we recognize that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and providing urban sanitation coverage requires innovation and complimentary safe sanitation options. SOIL is proud to be making strides towards providing much-needed safe and dignified sanitation services in urban Haiti and we will continue to work to fulfill our commitment to the communities we serve; one toilet at a time.  

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We at SOIL are always working to develop innovative approaches to support our growth strategy and further expand our reach to provide accessible, sustainable and reliable sanitation to those that need it the most. Research plays a critical role in SOIL’s efforts to achieve strategic goals and advance knowledge in the sanitation sector. This year has started off very busy for SOIL’s Research team, as we are working on a number of ongoing research projects including; small-scale black soldier fly larvae experiments, improving collections with human-centered design and utilizing aeration to make the waste-to-compost process more efficient. We’re pleased to introduce our latest research project: windrow composting!          

One of our goals this year is to make the composting process faster, so that we can treat and transform more waste in order to accommodate more customers and growth. However, finding land for waste treatment is difficult, so as much as possible we want to grow within our existing site. This means we need to be able to treat more waste in the same space we currently use, so we have to get creative! In order to do so, the SOIL team is testing different composting methods that could potentially transform waste into compost faster, thereby increasing the rate of turnover. Windrow composting involves emptying containers into a pile on the ground (and elongating it into a row), as an alternative to the bins we currently use for composting. Then, the pile must be turned at least once a week to increase aeration and decomposition. Improving the efficiency of the composting process will help us to accommodate more waste and help us decrease operational costs, moving us closer to a financially sustainable business model!

In collaboration (and solidarity) with the Operations and Research teams, SOIL’s Human Resources Director, Wisner and Director of Operations, Djimitri, partook in the experiment and helped empty 500 containers! The waste treatment team at our composting site in Mouchinette really appreciate when managers and other SOIL employees come to the site, because they are proud of their work and how much physical strength it requires. Knowing that the managers value their work is always a great moral booster and makes for a happy and efficient operational team!

The team will continue to monitor the pile daily and turn it following a specific schedule, designed to maximize aeration at the beginning of the process, when the microbes require the most oxygen to work. We’re hoping to bring the managers and office teams to the compost site more often to take part in operations as part of an exercise to increase understanding of SOIL’s work across teams and build up enhanced collaboration throughout the organization. Stay tuned for more updates on our compost research!

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As we continue to grow and expand our services in Haiti, we recognize the need to keep improving our operational efficiency. The SOIL team is continuously researching and testing new ways to provide better and more efficient sanitation solutions. Covid-19 created unprecedented challenges to organizations like ours, that rely on community field agents to provide goods and services to vulnerable populations in emerging markets. Thanks to the TaroWorks mobile field service app, we’ve been able to provide uninterrupted sanitation services to the communities we serve in Haiti during these uncertain times.

SOIL began using TaroWork’s digital tools in 2016, to collect payments, manage customer accounts, conduct research, and test marketing strategies. Since then, we’ve been using the data collected to optimize our logistics and make refinements to EkoLakay, like rolling out a mobile payment collection service. When the pandemic began, SOIL anticipated having to bring in temporary waste collectors to supplement field agents who might fall ill. While full-time staff had memorized collection routes, these fill-in team members needed a way to navigate collection routes quickly and efficiently.

According to Erica, SOIL’s R&D Director, during that time, we were also working with DataKind to develop software that would optimize collection route efficiency to allow for future expansion. The DataKind software, along with the TaroWorks app, gave the fill-in waste collectors access to turn-by-turn directions, allowing them to complete collection regardless of their knowledge of customers or neighborhoods. At the same time, this approach reduced collection time and lowered transportation costs.    

In addition to helping the waste collectors quickly learn their collection routes, the TaroWorks app also increased our operational efficiency by decreasing overall mileage by 5%, even while the service grew by over 100 households. At SOIL, we are very conscious about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and our Research team continuously works to analyze and reduce the GHGs emitted from all of our processes, from composting human waste to driving vehicles. By working to improve the efficiency of our collection routes we are cutting down any unnecessary emissions from our vehicles.  

We’re honored to work alongside innovative and collaborative organizations like TaroWorks and DataKind, that are equally driven to provide meaningful solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges and are extremely thankful to have these tools on hand as a critical component of our COVID-19 response plan.

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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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Organization Information

SOIL

Location: Sherburne, New York - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @SOILhaiti
Project Leader:
Eliza Parish
Sherburne, New York United States
$53,463 raised of $75,000 goal
 
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