130617 Conversation in Shada 2 (VH) Kids MonikaWelcome to our Frequently Asked Questions page!  If you don’t find your question below or would like additional information, please check our Resources page or contact SOIL.

General Questions
EcoSan Questions
Toilet Questions
Compost Questions
Donation Questions
Employment/Volunteer Questions

General Questions

  • Where does SOIL work?
    SOIL focuses its operations in urban areas in Haiti, namely in Port-au-Prince and in/around the northern city of Cap-Haitien.
  • Who does SOIL serve?
    SOIL provides essential ecological sanitation services for people in some of Haiti’s poorest urban neighborhoods.
  • How many people work at SOIL?
    The SOIL team is about 80 people total, with a pretty even split between the Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien offices. The majority of our staff members are Haitian. Visit Who We Are: Staff to meet our employees. SOIL’s emergency public toilets are also maintained by paid toilet managers hired from within the communities that use them. Because we work 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 few years.
  • 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 providing direct services in Haiti, and we hope to increasingly offer educational and consulting services that help magnify the impact of our successes.
  • 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 northern Haiti – however, we want to do whatever we can to assist you as SOIL wholeheartedly supports the spread of EcoSan in Haiti and abroad. Please visit our Resources and Consultancy pages for more information on SOIL’s educational trainings, materials, and services.
  • Can SOIL train my organization to use EcoSan technology?
    Please see the Resources section on our website for further information on EcoSan and related topics. If you have further questions, please contact us.

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EcoSan Questions

  • What is EcoSan?
    Designed by Kate Williamson for SOIL.

    Designed by Kate Williamson for SOIL.

    Ecological sanitation (EcoSan) is a low-cost approach to sanitation where human wastes are collected, composted, and recycled for use in agriculture and reforestation. EcoSan 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.
  • Is there a problem with heavy metal contamination?
    We have had our finished compost tested for heavy metals and we 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?
    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.

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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 USD to build. SOIL’s communal toilets (shared by up to 4 families) use a household toilet model ($50), with a superstructure (or toilet house) that can be locked from the outside, only accessible to the designated families. The superstructure can range from $0-$100, depending on materials. SOIL’s household toilet model costs approximately $35 USD to build.

    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:

    1) Reduced volume of material requiring sanitization and transportation. In urban contexts, where offsite composting is necessary, urine diversion can significantly reduce transport costs.

    2) 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 easily 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 page for further information and resources on building EcoSan toilets and waste treatment sites.
  • What does SOIL use as cover material and where does it come from?
    SOIL uses bagasse, a by-product of rum production, and ground peanut shells from a peanut butter factory.
  • 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:

    1) The material should be as fine as possible to ensure that it covers the poop completely, reducing access for disease vectors such as flies.

    2) Cover material should have high carbon content and decompose quickly for production of high quality compost.

    3)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.

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Compost 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 the full paper 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 farmers, gardeners, local community groups, agricultural enterprises, and international organizations. We also regularly use our compost 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?
    Three things are required to start a fire: 1) Fuel (i.e. methane or dry compost), 2) Oxygen (present in air), and 3) an 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). But due to the lack of ignition sources at our site and the ventilation around our compost piles, the risk is minimal.
  • How does SOIL monitor that users deposit the right amount of cover material for ideal composting conditions?
    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 in Northern Haiti are constructed so that piles rest on a cement foundation, and any runoff from the piles is collected and added back to recycle nutrients and keep pathogens from leaching into the groundwater system. SOIL’s Port-au-Prince compost site is currently located within the city dump at Trutier. This site was heavily contaminated with wastewater after the earthquake and prior to SOIL’s use of the site. We currently compost directly on the ground, as the risk of groundwater contamination by composting activities (relative to any contamination that has already occurred there) is very slight. That being said, we are working on an Environmental Impact Assessment to quantify this risk, and have plans to upgrade the site in the near future.

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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. Learn more on our Financial Stewardship page.
  • I would like to make a donation. What forms of payment does SOIL accept?
    Wonderful! SOIL relies on the support of friends and donors worldwide to continue maintaining our impact. You can donate online through our Donations page, or by sending a check to SOIL at 124 Church Road, Sherburne NY 13460.
  • 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. Join us by visiting our Donations page 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 production. We also purchase supplies locally and use local 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. Learn more on our Financial Stewardship page.

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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 even the most well-intentioned short-term volunteers are more effort than help. When we do consider potential volunteers, it’s typical that the volunteer has a specific project or skill that is relevant to our work and has secured funding in order to accomplish the research or project. We also do not use volunteers in situations where we can employ Haitians. 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. Please visit our Take Action page for ideas on how you can get involved.
  • 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 our Take Action page. There is a form on the bottom of this page to sign up for our job announcements email list.
  • 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 or visit our Take Action page for ideas on how you can get involved.
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