Food Tank: EcoSan Toilets Transform Human Waste into Compost in Haiti

By Melody Ng in Food Tank: The Food Think Tank

Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods‘ (SOIL) EcoSan toilet allows Haiti to turn its human waste disposal problem into an opportunity to address both public sanitation and hunger.

In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, displaced Haitians began setting up camps throughout Port-au-Prince that were near to high groundwater— the camps lacked latrines and public sanitation, threatening public health. It was then that SOIL partnered with Oxfam Great Britain to pioneer the EcoSan toilets in Haiti.

According to SOIL, Haitians commonly use plastic bags to dispose of their waste into rivers and the ocean. Combined with a lack of adequate public infrastructure, this method of waste disposal contributes to the contamination of communal groundwater with waterborne diseases, like cholera.

Decades of destructive land use policies in Haiti—including reliance on charcoal (converted from timber) as its primary energy source— have left soils bare and devoid of nutrients. Only about two percent of Haiti’s original forests remains today.

The EcoSan toilet is providing a way for Haitians to transform their waste into a renewable supply of compost that can be sold to nurseries, garden stores, and NGOs to promote local agriculture and reforestation. Most SOIL toilets are designed with special toilet seats and urine diversion technology that separate liquid from solid waste. In addition to preventing odor, the technology reduces the weight of the waste buckets that will be transported to composting sites, where they undergo a six-month treatment to eliminate pathogens.

SOIL has partnered with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to create a portable DNA testing kit (DNA Everywhere) that is vital to analyzing the waste to ensure that it is pathogen-free.

In an article by The Guardian, Dr. Sasha Kramer, co-founder of SOIL, said, “If we can take all the poop that’s making people sick right now and turn it into this really valuable resource that could be used for reforestation or for increased agricultural production, then you really take a problem and turn it into a solution.”

Haitians purchase individual EcoSan toilets and pay a monthly waste collection fee. The fee costs less than US $5 a month— an improvement over the roughly US $15 a month that it costs to purchase the plastic bags they would ordinarily use to dispose of the waste. Haiti’s lack of public infrastructure makes this a more sustainable economic model for producing and implementing the toilets, since the cost of building and maintaining a modern sewer system would be prohibitive.

SOIL’s EcoSan toilet has been vital to the emergency disaster response efforts in Haiti. According to a paper SOIL presented at the 36th Water, Engineering and Development Centre International Conference, over a two year period, EcoSan toilets have served over 20,000 people and treated and converted over 400,000 gallons of human waste into compost.

“The burden of not having access to sanitation falls most heavily on women,” Dr. Kramer said. “Women are the ones most responsible for their families and they take on a disproportionate amount of risk when it comes to sanitation.”

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