Human Waste for Sustainable Futures
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Schilling
Transformation has always been one of our core values – transformation of wastes into resources, of disempowered people into community advocates, of exploited landscapes into lush, productive gardens. We are a population of over seven billion people, living in a world with increasingly scarce resources. Yet, we at SOIL know that there is one resource – often overlooked – that is perpetually available: human waste. For us, human waste isn’t waste at all; it’s sustainability, it’s nutrients, its ecological power. We’ve been demonstrating the immense potential of human waste since 2006 and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!
For centuries, people have been using human waste as a precious commodity for soil fertilization around the world. In fact, night soil, the term given to the human waste product, has had entire economies built around it as a means for sustainable agriculture production from Asia to the Amazon. Human waste is not only extremely accessible and in abundance, it also harnesses immense potential for nutrient recycling. According to Borgen Magazine, on average, humans produce about 640 billion pounds (240 billion kilograms) of fecal matter and approximately 3.5 billion gallons (1.98 billion liters) of urine a year. This excrement contains valuable nutrients, and when safely treated, can be transformed into fuel, fertilizer and so much more. Waste-to-resource models, like SOIL’s, are becoming widely accepted in order to recycle local nutrients and utilize sustainable, ecologically-based models.
At Mulanje Prison in southern Malawi, gas stoves are being fueled by fecal matter, thanks to the installation of a biogas digester, “a system that converts organic matter – including human waste – into energy.” The biogas digester is made from plastic sheets and has an inlet that feeds the poop and other waste into a digester, where they are submerged in water. The water helps create an “anaerobic environment that allows bacteria to break down the biomass into methane, which is pushed through a piping system to the gas stoves in the prison’s kitchen” (BBC). At full capacity, the digester could process approximately 230 cubic meters of fecal matter a day.
In addition to providing fuel for cooking, the biogas digester also produces a by-product that is used as an organic fertilizer on the small farm at the prison. This technology, which has appeared in Kenya and Indonesia as well, is helping to address various environmental issues in the region. Similar to Haiti, Malawi suffers from deforestation, extreme weather events and food insecurity. This initiative is just one of many being implemented by the government to promote a more sustainable future in Malawi.
In Kenya, waste-to-resource technology has been adopted in a similar way, and is helping to provide an environmentally friendly and viable fuel source. An East African social enterprise (and fellow CBSA member), Sanivation, is creating charcoal briquettes out of human waste. In addition to creating less smoke than traditional charcoal, the poop charcoal also has no smell, burns longer than both charcoal and firewood, and is remarkably cheap. Through this incredibly innovative endeavor, Sanivation has transformed a human waste issue into a sustainable and accessible solution with the potential to be replicated on a global scale.
In Haiti, the SOIL team has spent more than a decade creating an ecologically responsible approach to sustainable sanitation using a waste-to-resource model for urban communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, natural disasters, and groundwater contamination. Our compost end product, 150 tons of which has been generated over this past year, will go on to increase local food production, support reforestation, sequester carbon, nurture soil stability, and support local climate resilience efforts. We’re working to transform world views around human waste and we’re proud to advocate for all of the other incredible transformative projects around the world!
SOIL depends on individual donations from people like you to fund our lifesaving, earth-restoring sanitation services in Haiti. Please consider supporting SOIL today.
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- Job Post: Engineering and Operations Senior Research Fellow Nov 26, 2021
- SOIL’s 2021 Annual Report Nov 19, 2021
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- SOIL at Expo 2020 Dubai Nov 10, 2021
- Final Earthquake Response Update Nov 9, 2021
- SOIL’s community-led earthquake response: Interview with Réa Dol Oct 27, 2021
- New Research on Container-based Sanitation Models Published in H2Open Journal Oct 19, 2021
- How Rapid Urbanization in Haiti can overburden fragile systems Oct 8, 2021
- The Challenges of Results-Based Financing for Sanitation: Shared Lessons Learned from Haiti Oct 5, 2021