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.
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!
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.
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!