Container Based Sanitation Takes Center Stage at World Water Week

At World Water Week, the world’s largest annual gathering focused on water issues, it was actually poop that took center stage this year! The theme of this year’s conference was “Water and Waste: Reduce and Reuse” – and the buzz around SOIL and other Container-Based Sanitation (CBS) service providers was palpable. See for yourself: Devex reported that the innovation happening in CBS was one of the top five highlights of the conference!

Why all the excitement? As cities and municipalities work to increase access to sanitation, they have run up against significant limitations with the two traditional techniques: sewer systems and pit latrines. These technologies not only require water-intensive conveyance and treatment methods – a huge challenge when nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed conditions by 2025 – they are also often inappropriate to the conditions of dense urban areas where access to sanitation in most needed.

In a panel on increasing access to safely managed sanitation, SOIL’s Executive Director, Sasha Kramer, showed how CBS systems like SOIL’s address key sanitation challenges. For example, both individuals and government entities can be reluctant or unable to invest in costly sanitation infrastructure in informal urban settlements with contested land tenure, but CBS toilets require no such up-front investments. In addition, many of these communities exist on land that is undesirable for formal development, in large part because it is prone to flooding. CBS toilets have been intentionally designed for these environments, as was demonstrated once again during the passage of Hurricane Irma when families in Northern Haiti were able to remove and secure the containers to prevent environmental contamination – pit latrines offer no such option. Sasha also discussed how CBS providers are demonstrating the ability to transform waste into valuable end-products, like SOIL’s organic compost, Konpòs Lakay, which substantially improves financial viability.

In another panel presentation, I joined two other CBS providers to talk about the use of mobile tools in operating our sanitation services, sharing key lessons that SOIL has learned while piloting new technology. My fellow panelists and I discussed the impact of technology on everything from marketing, to collecting payments, to moving poop! While the Gates Foundation has tried to push for integrating new technology into the toilet itself through the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, SOIL and other CBS providers are excited to demonstrate how cool technology is revolutionizing sanitation – not only through high-tech toilets, but also by supporting the management of complex logistics, customer relationships, finances, and other needs for simpler container-based toilets.

These presentations alone were great opportunities to share not just SOIL’s work, but the broader impact of CBS services worldwide, but they were just the beginning! We also met with the Toilet Board Coalition and the World Bank who presented preliminary reports on their studies on the Circular Economy and Container-Based Sanitation, respectively, which will both be published later this fall. We’re not allowed to share anything yet, but rest assured we will circulate the finalized reports when they are published!

We’re so proud that CBS is starting to garner global recognition. A huge “bravo!” to our fellow CBS partners: Clean Team Ghana, Loowatt (Madagascar), X-Runner (Peru), Sanivation (Kenya), and Sanergy (Kenya). We are all hopeful that increased attention will pave the way for greater implementation – after all, since our goal is to see more than 4 BILLION people gain access to safe sanitation, there’s a lot of work to do!

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