New Research on Container-based Sanitation Models Published in H2Open Journal

Traditional sanitation models – flush toilets – require a reliable water source and sewage infrastructure, both of which can be cost prohibitive and infeasible to build in urban settlements with contested land tenure. The usual alternatives, like pit latrines and septic tanks, are also infeasible or unsafe in many urban areas due to space limitations, high water tables, and population density. With the population of urban areas set to double by 2050 and one in three people still lacking access to a toilet worldwide, interest in container-based sanitation models (CBS) as a viable sanitation alternative for cities is rapidly growing.

Container-based toilets, like SOIL’s, capture human waste in sealable containers that are then transported to off-site waste treatment facilities. This enables the provision of dignified and safe sanitation to vulnerable urban communities across the world, regardless of the presence of a water source or municipal-level sanitation infrastructure.

At SOIL, we believe that by using extremely low-cost environmental technologies paired with simple and streamlined operational logistics, we can create a service that provides dignified, affordable household sanitation services with the potential for global replication. While we continue to refine our model, SOIL’s aim is to help make the CBS service model sustainable and scalable on a global level to facilitate the expansion of providers around the world.

With that objective in mind, SOIL’s research team has been working alongside other CBS providers around the world to share research, data and tools to refine models and analyze components of the service for increased efficiency. This collaboration recently resulted in a new paper published in H2Open Journal  evaluating collection route strategies for the provision and scaled-up container-based sanitation around the world, with contributions from SOIL’s Research and Development Director, Erica Lloyd and Deputy Director of Research and Innovation, Claire Remington.

The Study

The paper evaluates three separate collection strategies from neighborhoods in Cape Town, Lima, Nairobi, and Cap-Haitïen in order to better understand “the ability of CBS providers to efficiently navigate the road networks of neighborhoods they serve as their service goes to scale” using a hypothetical scenario-based approach. All of the neighborhoods have existing CBS services, and the researchers were interested in investigating the mechanisms by which the process of collecting household containers and emptying can be achieved efficiently across the different collection strategies.  

Figure 2: Maps showing the study areas within the neighbourhoods of (a) Pamplona Alta, Lima, (b) Fosen Michel, Cap-Haïtien, (c) Mukuru, Nairobi and (d) BM Section, Cape Town. Photo Courtesy of H2Open Journal.


Across all three strategies, the results of the study emphasized the dependency of CBS provision on the capacity of the collection vehicles. The results suggest that economies of scale in the requisite routing for CBS provision will largely depend on greater collection capacity, rather than any particular provision strategy. Although setting up transfer stations and depots within neighborhoods may reduce the required drive time, enlarged vehicle capacity offers the greatest reduction in collection routing.  

Further, this paper highlights the dependency of efficient service provision on the road networks and reliable road access in low-income urban environments in order to meet the needs of the population. Collection vehicles require access to road networks that can reach households for the greatest efficiency. This research brings to light the need for inclusive urban planning to provide essential services for rapidly expanding urban areas.  

We feel that there is enormous potential for sanitation social enterprises to disrupt traditional models for sanitation provision globally in order to meet the vastly unmet need of safely managed household sanitation. We feel honored to work alongside other CBS providers to further expand the research on alternative sanitation models in order to promote global replication of the service. If you are interested in reading the full paper in H2Open Journal, you can access it here.  

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