FAQs

General Questions

Where does SOIL work?

SOIL has offices in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, as well as composting sites at Trutier, the Port-au-Prince dump, and Limonade, outside of Cap-Haitien.

Who does SOIL serve?

SOIL provides essential ecological sanitation services for people in some of Haiti’s poorest neighborhoods, along with hundreds of people living in camps throughout Port-au-Prince who still lack permanent housing following the 2010 earthquake.

How many people work at SOIL?

The SOIL team is about 70 people total, with a pretty even split between the Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien offices. The majority of our staff members are Haitian nationals and all of our staff speak the local language, Haitian Creole.

SOIL’s public toilets are also maintained by paid toilet managers hired from within the communities that use them. Because many of the committees at the Port-au-Prince camps work with us to spread these few employment positions to as many vulnerable individuals and families as possible, SOIL’s public sanitation program has provided short-term employment for at least 350 individuals over the past year and a half.

What are the organization’s long-term goals?

Broadly speaking, we hope to assist in realizing 100% sanitation coverage in Haiti, and we hope that goal can be accomplished in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. SOIL also recognizes that our success lies in our own gradual exit from sanitation work in Haiti. We hope to transition into a primarily consultant-based organization, providing assistance and education as needed, but turning sanitation into work that is primarily performed by small, local Haitian businesses.

Will SOIL build a toilet for my organization?

Unfortunately, SOIL does not have the capacity to build toilets around the country – our operations are solely focused on Port-au-Prince and in several northern communities, including Cap Haitien, Milot, Limonade, and Borgne – however, we want to do whatever we can to assist you; SOIL wholeheartedly supports the spread of EcoSan in Haiti and abroad. In 2011, SOIL published The SOIL Guide to Ecological Sanitation; we worked very hard to include as much information as possible on our toilet designs, compost techniques, lessons learned, and best practices, so that your organization has the tools to develop its own EcoSan project.

We also welcome you to come see one of our toilets in person. If your organization is based in, or will be traveling to, one of our project areas, feel free to contact us at info@oursoil.org for a toilet tour.

Can SOIL train my organization to use EcoSan technology?

SOIL conducts regular one-day workshops on how SOIL’s use of ecological sanitation (EcoSan) technology in Haiti. This workshop includes an overview of SOIL’s programs, technologies used, lessons learned, and implementation suggestions. On special request, SOIL will also prepare and deliver trainings tailored to the needs of your organization, group, or project. Past trainings have covered topics such as disaster risk reduction, environmental sustainability, agriculture, and sustainable sanitation. SOIL also provides fee-based consulting services on a case-by-case basis to organizations implementing sustainable sanitation technology projects. Please contact SOIL at info@oursoil.org to learn more.

Over 800 people from around the world have also used the SOIL Guide to EcoSan, a comprehensive document compiled and published by SOIL, offering a step by step guide to constructing an EcoSan toilet and composting facility in order to inform the design of their sanitation projects. The Guide is available for download on the Resources page of the SOIL website, at http://www.oursoil.org/resources/

Where can I find more information?

Please see the Resources section on our website for further information on EcoSan and related topics. If you have further questions, you may email us at info@oursoil.org.


EcoSan Questions

What is EcoSan?

Ecological sanitation (EcoSan) is a low-cost approach to sanitation where human wastes are collected, composted and recycled for use in agriculture and reforestation. It simultaneously addresses many of Haiti’s most pressing issues: improving public health, increasing agricultural productivity, mitigating environmental degradation, and providing low-cost sanitation.

Is EcoSan safe?

Yes. According to World Health Organization standards, fecal pathogens are killed after one week at a sustained temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit. When collected and composted properly, human feces contain no harmful organisms and are an excellent method of returning nutrients to the soil.

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta conducted a study on SOIL’s composting process and found that all pathogens were killed within the first 3.5 months. Read full report here.

Is there a problem with heavy metal contamination?

We have had our finished compost tested for heavy metals and found that we’re far below the limits set in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency (data available upon request). This was the expected finding as heavy metals come primarily from the mixing of waste streams (they are found in household cleaners and other chemicals that go down the sink). Since SOIL’s toilets are pure human waste with no chemicals mixed in we thankfully don’t have to worry about this potential problem in our sanitation systems.

Doesn’t it stink?

No. If a carbon source is properly added to the toilet and to the compost pile, there should be little to no smell.

Will EcoSan work anywhere in the world?

Yes, but each location will have different resources and challenges. Materials, approach to education and management strategies may vary greatly while the principles remain unchanged.


Toilet Questions

How much does it cost to build a SOIL toilet

A permanent, two-room SOIL public toilet built from cement blocks costs about $3,500 to build. SOIL’s communal toilets (shared by up to 5 families) cost approximately $150 to build, and we’re working on getting our household toilet model costs down to $60 per toilet. It should be noted that these costs are based on the prices and availability of materials in Haiti as SOIL is committed to constructing toilets locally from 100% locally-available supplies.

What are the advantages of urine diversion?

Urine is an excellent source of plant nutrients, however it is extremely heavy and difficult to transport. Mixing urine and poop also leaves toilet contents wet, which can cause increased smell and odors unless carbon cover material is significantly increased as well. For ideal composting, urine should be integrated into the compost pile to increase the final nutrient content, however it is often advisable to separate the urine from the poop in the toilets themselves to meet the following objectives:

o Reduced volume of material requiring sanitization and transportation. In urban contexts, where offsite composting is necessary, urine diversion can significantly reduce transport costs. o Less carbon cover material required to reduce odor and flies.

SOIL has built and continues to build non-separating ecological toilets (such as humanure toilets and arborloos). These toilets are built alongside the traditional urine diversion toilets, and are primarily used by children (as their anatomy doesn’t allow them to properly utilize a urine-diversion toilet) and those unable to climb the steps up to a urine-diversion toilet.

Can I do this at home?

Absolutely! Please see our Resources section for further information on building a household EcoSan toilet. As well, SOIL is presently working on household toilet designs and we hope to add this information to future versions of the SOIL Guide to EcoSan.

What does SOIL use as cover material and where does it come from?

SOIL currently uses bagasse, a by-product of sugarcane production. Haiti produces an enormous amount of sugarcane and therefore we have an ample supply of a local and free cover material.

We are also experimenting with peanut shell husks, as they are also a locally abundant and free material. The husks are lighter and finer and thus a better cover material.

Is there an ideal ratio of cover material to poop for dry toilet composting?

Cover material is added to the toilet at about a 1:1 ratio with feces. This amount may vary depending on the amount needed to sufficiently cover and suppress odors.

What if I don’t have access to bagasse or another carbon source?

Having a carbon source is key to successful composting. Additionally, the use of carbon materials greatly reduces odors and makes the toilet and compost much less attractive to flies. Carbon sources will differ from site to site, but the following criteria are important to maintain a properly functioning toilet and compost system:

o The material should be as fine as possible to ensure that it covers the poop completely, reducing access for disease vectors such as flies. o Cover material should have high carbon content and decompose quickly for production of high quality compost. o Material must be locally available in quantity.

Good choices are ash, shredded leaves or corn cobs, shredded cardboard or paper, sawdust and wood chips (though some wood products can be very slow to decompose). Soil may also be used if nothing else is available and soil is locally abundant.


Composting Questions

How long does the composting process take?

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta conducted a study on SOIL’s composting process and found that all pathogens were killed within the first 3.5 months. Read full report here.

SOIL chooses to compost wastes for 6+ months to ensure that all organic matter is well broken down and that the nutrients contained are readily accessible for the plants that it’s used on.

What happens to SOIL’s finished compost?

We sell our finished compost to our friends, neighbors, local community groups and international non-profit organizations. We also regularly use it in our two experimental gardens.

What is the difference between SOIL’s compost and fertilizer?

Chemical fertilizers add nutrients to the soil and are higher in N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) values than compost. However, the ingredients of chemical fertilizer are focused on meeting the immediate needs of the plants for that season, and not on long-term soil health. Commercial fertilizers have been shown to actually prevent the growth of microbes needed to keep the soil healthy. This throws the soil’s chemistry out of balance and can actually lead to breakdown of the soil food web, especially if used year after year, without giving the soil time to recover after seasons of nutrient-demanding crops. Compost, unlike fertilizers, promote healthy microbe growth within the soil which increases the health of the natural soil. Over time, this creates a more nutrient rich soil that is beneficial for plants and vegetables. Compost is also a very important source of organic matter. Organic matter binds with soil particles (sand, silt, and clay) to form aggregates which create good structure for water-holding capacity and creating interstitial spaces allowing oxygen to access plant roots.

Is there a possibility that SOIL compost piles could explode, given all the methane produced?

Great question. The answer is ‘no, we’re not worried’. Three things are required to start a fire:

  1. Fuel (i.e. methane or dry compost)
  2. Oxygen (present in air)
  3. Ignition (e.g. a cigarette butt tossed on the compost pile, or an electrical spark from a pump starter switch) 

In theory, methane could combust (not explode).

In reality, due to the lack of specific ignition at our site (we have posted “No Smoking” signs around the site) and the ventilation around our compost piles, the risk is minimal. The risk of compost piles burning in the summer heat is much greater—we observed smoldering compost piles at the Delmas 33 site in summer 2010.

How does SOIL monitor that users deposit the right amount of cover material for ideal composting conditions? How does SOIL remedy off-balanced ratios?

SOIL staff conducts trainings for communities and employs toilet managers, who ensure that the cover material is properly applied. Upon reaching the composting site, if the drums are lacking enough cover material, we have a ready supply of bagasse to add to the pile as needed to maintain the ideal ratio of carbon-rich material (bagasse) to nitrogen-rich material (feces).

Does SOIL composting happen directly on the ground? How do you prevent groundwater contamination?

Our composting facilities are constructed so that piles rest on a cement foundation, and any runoff from the piles is collected and added back to keep all nutrients in the piles and pathogens without the possibility of leaching into the groundwater system.

SOIL’s Port-au-Prince compost site is currently located on the city dumpsite at Troutier. This site was heavily contaminated with uncontrolled discharges of wastewater for up to 2 years after the earthquake. At Troutier, we compost directly on the ground, and assume that the risk of groundwater contamination by composting activities, relative to any contamination that has already occurred here, is very slight. However, an EIA is currently being undertaken to assess and quantify this risk.


Funding/Donation Questions

Where does SOIL get its funding?

We receive funding from a variety of sources: individual donors, foundations, religious or civic organizations and partner organizations that collaborate with us to increase access to EcoSan across Haiti. The past few years we’ve also seen a steady increase in the percentage of our funding that comes from earned income (compost sales, conference and seminar fees, toilet payments, consulting fees, etc). We’re proud of these income-generating activities because it means that our products and services are desired and that we are successfully moving towards becoming a more financially sustainable organization. For more details on SOIL’s finances please check out our Financial Information and Annual Reports page.

I would like to make a donation. What forms of payment does SOIL accept?

Wonderful! We love donations. SOIL relies on the support of friends and donors worldwide to continue maintaining our high level of service. We will happily accept donations in the form of cash, check (made out to SOIL), or online through this website. Cash and check donations can be mailed to SOIL at 124 Church Road, Sherburne NY 13460. To donate online, visit http://www.oursoil.org/you-can-help/donate/

Do individual donations help?

Absolutely! Individual donations make up almost 15% of our total funding each year. We rely on donations, large and small, from our friends and from people around the world who learn about SOIL and want to support an innovative organization making a positive difference in Haiti. We ask you to join us by visiting http://www.oursoil.org/you-can-help/donate/ and making a contribution of any size.

How much of my donation will go directly to SOIL programming?

SOIL gets a lot done on very little money. SOIL has no US office and over 93% of every dollar goes straight to Haiti to support critical programs to increase sanitation access and improve agricultural output.

SOIL also uses locally purchased supplies and locally sourced labor, thereby creating more impact per dollar donated than NGOs using imported goods and labor. We also aim to expand our revenue generating activities, allowing us further flexibility in creating more jobs and opportunities to stimulate the local economy. Visit our Financial Information and Annual Reports page to learn more.


Employment/Volunteer Opportunities

I’m interested in volunteering for SOIL. What kind of volunteer/internship opportunities do you have?

SOIL generally does not have the capacity to host in-country volunteers, and we often find that short-term volunteers are more effort than help. When we do consider potential volunteers, it’s typical that the volunteer has a specific project in mind that is relevant to our work, and that they have secured funding in order to accomplish the research or project. We also will not take volunteers in situations where we can employ Haitian people. When we build a toilet or a compost structure, we also build community and sustainability by training and employing Haitian people from the communities we serve.

Where can I find SOIL job listings?

Although openings are infrequent, SOIL will post any new job opportunities on our blog, as well as on http://www.idealist.org/.

Can I volunteer for SOIL from home?

That depends entirely on your skill set! We are usually looking for help from skilled graphic designers, web programmers, and people with IT experience. Feel free to email volunteer@oursoil.org with questions or proposals about assisting SOIL from your home country.

Drums from SOIL toilets lined up waiting for pickup and replacement at the Dotwa tent camp in Port-au-Prince. Photo credit: Vic Hinterlang