Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums - project re.source (Stanford University, USA and SOIL Haiti)

  • kcrussel
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Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums - project re.source (Stanford University, USA and SOIL Haiti)

We are a group grown out of Stanford University funded by a GCE grant from the Gates Foundation. We aim to develop a low-cost sanitation service for the one billion (and growing) people living in urban slums. We seek to perfect the hardware and service model for this service in order to facilitate entrepreneurial franchises around the world. Our first pilot was in Shada, a community in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, in close collaboration with our friends at SOIL.

Lead contacts: Kory Russel and Sebastien Tilmans, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

We are developing a portable, low-cost household toilet and entrepreneurial service model to deliver a safe, dignified sanitation service in urban slums. We piloted a container-based system in Shada, a slum that has no sewers and no piped water supply. Our toilet is portable, with removable containers to collect and transport wastes safely from the community. Waste is being processed at SOIL's human waste composting facilities, generating fertilizer to improve Haiti's devastated soil resources. Our strategy is to enable local entrepreneurs to recover energy, nutrients, and material from the waste in order to subsidize the cost of the sanitation system, reduce user fees, earn a livelihood, improve the environment and boost agricultural productivity.

Since our toilets are portable, users do not need to make a large up-front payment to use our service. They subscribe for a small monthly fee, and receive the toilet as part of the service. If they terminate the service or are evicted without the option of continuing service elsewhere, they can return the toilet at no penalty.


Objectives / Activities / Key Components:
1. Design a modern, portable, affordable, and stylish container-based toilet that will appeal to urban customers who otherwise aspire to a flush toilet.

2. Develop business tools to foster the growth of sanitation service businesses around the toilets.

3. Pilot both the toilet and service in a rigorous, research based trial .

4. Integrate mobile waste tracking technology into the service to monitor performance, maximize efficiency, and minimize service costs.

5. Convert all collected waste into useful and valuable end products.

6. Produce rigorous research and business assessment tools to test and improve container-based systems ensuring that they can scale while protecting and satisfying their users.


Current state of affairs:
We designed and tested several generations of toilet models with users in Shada over 9 months.

We deployed the latest model in 132 households to conduct a successful 3-month service pilot.

We completed a rigorous baseline and follow-up survey to assess pilot performance.

SOIL is now working with local CBOs and entrepreneurs to transfer operation of the service to them and implement mobile-payment based fee collection.

We are now studying the performance of the pilot in order to assess its success, and applicability of this service in other contexts.


Main challenges / frustration:
Collecting small user fees from households carries high transaction costs. We are working to circumvent these costs by using mobile payments. Our biggest costs are waste transport and waste processing. We are eager to engage with new technologies and practices to reduce these.

Project start and end date:
We specifically began working in Haiti in late 2011 however SOIL has been working in Cap Haitien since 2006. The pilot phase of this project began in October 2012 and ran through February 2013. The intensive research phase has been completed, but the service is ongoing and efforts are being made to take the service to scale. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation GCE Phase 1 Grant period ends June 15, 2013.


Links to learn more or follow this project:

www.resourcesanitation.com
water.stanford.edu/resource
Follow the team on twitter: @resource_ful
Befriend the team on facebook: re.source
Learn more about our friends at SOIL: www.oursoil.org , @SOILHaiti

Kory C. Russel
PhD Candidate
Stanford University
jennadavis.stanford.edu/people/kory-c-russel
www.resourcesanitation.com
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  • F H Mughal
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Kory,

What were the reasons that motivated you (or forced you) to go for mobile toilets? Why not non-mobile toilets. Populations in urban slums are not, always, on the move. Here in Karachi, Pakistan, and probably in Manila, urban slums are there for the last many decades.

While mobile toilets are OK, I suggest, if there are no constraints, develop cost-effective, well-ventilated, mosquito-free non-mobile toilets. Their use will not only be restricted to urban slums, rural populations may also find it useful.

Good luck

F H Mughal
Karachi, Pakistan

F H Mughal (Mr.)
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  • christian.rieck
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Kory,

your approach reminds me about the MoSan or Ghanasan Projects. You can check out e.g. this thread on this discussion forum:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/52-mob...-mosan-toilet-design

It would be great to learn more about your project and how people in the target areas have reacted to the services. I personally think that renting out the toilets and services is a good and more affordable service to dwellers than expensive up-front investments into permanent structures which also do not provide the service of safe waste management.

Cheers
Christian

GIZ Uganda
Reform of the Urban Water and Sanitation Sector (RUWASS)
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  • kcrussel
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Mr. Mughal,

Thank you so much for question; it is a very important one. The choice to pursue mobility over permanence was a product of the constantly changing population with in slums. You noted very accurately that slums themselves are not on the move and in many cases are likely to persist for decades if not longer. This is the case in the areas we have been working in as well. While I cannot speak for urban slums in Pakistan or Manila; the populations living within the communities we have been working with in Haiti are very mobile, even if the actual structures are not. This creates a resistance to investment in permanent sanitation infrastructure for several reasons.

• Many slums are informal settlements and there are no land/property rights. That means owners of homes are constantly under the threat of the City, Provincial or Federal government declaring eminent domain and relocating parts or the entire population.

• In our context about 50% of the population are renters. This means they are at the mercy of landlords who are not looking out for their best interests. They may be evicted from their homes for any number of reasons at a moments notice with no legal recourse. If they invest in permanent sanitation infrastructure the landlord may demand higher rent or kick them out and rent it to someone who can pay more.

• Many times the local authorities are unwilling to invest in more permanent infrastructure because it legitimizes settlements that in most cases have not followed any type of systematic planning or city codes. Politically speaking slums are very difficult areas to start addressing from the governments perspective and so they often choose to ignore them. From a political standpoint they cannot afford to do anything with informal slums and from a public health standpoint they cannot afford not to do anything.

• Space was a major concern. Many times people do not have the space to put up permanent infrastructure. However, having a toilet that can slide into a corner or under something allows them to take the toilet out and use it when it is necessary and hide it when it is not in use.

• Cost is another major driver. We know we can produce toilets that cost less than $75 USD even before we have leveraged economies of scale. Our business model is that of a subscription based service. Much like a cell phone contract, you get the hardware at a greatly reduced price because the cost of the hardware is spread across the monthly fee. This means lower entry cost barriers. Permanent infrastructure often cost between $200USD - $700USD depending on the context and how well it is constructed. If you have invested a large sum of money and then are forced to move that is a significant loss.

• A non-mobile solution can potentially lock in a sub-optimal solution. We don't want to lock people into infrastructure when a significant upgrade may be available in the relatively near future. The planning horizon for permanent infrastructure is several years, while our toilets and service are much more dynamic.

If the above conditions change and there is less resistance to permanent infrastructure our toilet can be integrated into more permanent structures. Our toilets do include ventilation and are sealed to prevent access by vectors, but still preserve mobility.

We do not believe that our product and business model would necessarily be an appropriate solution for rural areas, which would require collection over a large area with fewer households, which could significantly increase the service costs. While there are situations that it may be appropriate, we believe that our work is most applicable to dense, urban slums.
Thank you again for your interest.
All the best,
Kory

Kory C. Russel
PhD Candidate
Stanford University
jennadavis.stanford.edu/people/kory-c-russel
www.resourcesanitation.com
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Mr. Kory,

Thanks a lot for your detailed, impressive response, which you have put in with high clarity. I appreciate.

As I understand, your research is specific to the Haiti situation. I'm sure, you must be putting in some sort of hygiene promotion and education programs, for the overal health improvements of Haiti slums; along with a M&E (monitoring and evaluation) component, to assess the percentage of use of your product across the slums in Haiti.

While your current research is Haiti-specific, if your advisor allows you, please develop one for rural areas -- non-mobile ofcourse. Don't forget to send me your dissertation (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), once it is done. I would love to look at your research work. Good luck in your doctoral studies!

Thanks again and kind regards,

F H Mughal

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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Mr. Christian,

The link is not working; and, probably, is not in English. Can you help?

Regards,

F H Mughal

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  • muench
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Mughal,

I have now corrected the link in Christian's post above.
Here it is again:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/52-mob...-mosan-toilet-design

Regards,
Elisabeth

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Sanitation Wikipedia project: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Thanks, Ms. Elisabeth. The link is now working.

Regards,

F H Mughal

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  • kcrussel
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Christian

Our efforts do indeed have common themes with MoSan and Ghanasan. We have been in contact with both projects and we think there is a lot to be learned from comparing notes. A special shout out to both Andy Narracott at WSUP and Mona Mijthab at GIZ. I would also recommend you check out the great work X-Runner is doing in Peru ( www.xrunner-venture.com/ ).

We are currently sifting through all the data collected during our research on our pilot. We hope to have a few publications ready in the near future that will give more complete information.

The toilets and service were received very positively. However, just because people like it does not necessarily ensure that it is a good idea, which is why we are being very careful to do rigorous research and evaluation of our toilet and service before scaling it up.

All the best,
Kory

Kory C. Russel
PhD Candidate
Stanford University
jennadavis.stanford.edu/people/kory-c-russel
www.resourcesanitation.com
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Mr Mughal

There are ongoing hygiene promotion and education programs in the community. Likewise everyone who was using one of the toilets was trained on how to use them hygienically and to wash hands after each and every use. One of the advantages of a collection service is that the collectors can give feedback to user on a regular basis, which could ultimately be a good way to improve hygiene education programs and sustain behavior change.

I appreciate your interest in my dissertation and assure you that I will send you information when it is ready.
Thanks again.

All the Best,
Kory

Kory C. Russel
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Kory,

Thanks for introducing your project to the Forum. The subscription based approach is very interesting since it is driven by demand. I am glad that the discussion kicked off already while we were still on holidays here in Sweden.

Your project is yet another urban sanitation project in Haiti being discussed on the Forum. The other project (User-interface category) is implemented by Andrew Larsen of Fontes Foundation. You can share experiences on waste transport and waste processing with Andrew. The discussion is available at: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/106-us...serve-areas-in-haiti

In Andrew's project, they use local lumber using reused vinyl billboard fabric as construction material for the toilet. Are your toilets also made of locally available material? Since your toilet is portable and i guess not heavy, what are the specific design considerations that makes this possible? Please share pictures of the toilet. How much is the monthly subscription fee? What is the level of acceptance of this subscription based service approach? What are the factors influencing acceptance? How often is human waste collected from households? How is human waste transported to processing site(s)? What composting methods are used? How is the composted human waste used? Does subscription imply that households get to receive the composted material? When did the project start and when is the expected to end?


Best regards,

Nelson

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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Nelson,
Thanks for your questions. We have been in contact with Andrew and have compared notes with him. His use of billboard tarp is especially innovative, and after discussing it with him we tested it in several models of our toilets. Andrew has been working in Port-au-Prince while we are working in the northern city of Cap Haitien. Our collaborators, SOIL, work in both locations and know Andrew and his work as well.

Are your toilets also made of locally available material?
For the pilot, all toilets were manufactured by local carpenters using locally-sourced wood, formica, waterproof tarp, and off-the-shelf containers. In the future, we aim to mass-produce the toilets out of plastic, thereby reducing manufacturing time and costs while improving durability and consistency. In this manner, we expect to produce a better toilet for a 1/3 the cost, improving the appeal of the toilet and minimizing costs for users.

Since your toilet is portable and i guess not heavy, what are the specific design considerations that makes this possible?
The toilet is rather lightweight, people carried them home on their heads. This is a result of our efforts to make the toilet as compact as possible, to fit in the tight spaces in homes. People in dense urban slums are often living in small one-room homes with tight corridors that are sometimes less than shoulder width. Our goal was to produce a toilet that is only slightly larger than the collection containers it holds. In many ways we imitate the look and size of a flush toilet. We learned from our very first interviews and conversations in the community that the aesthetics and ergonomics of flush toilets are highly appealing and aspirational, so we seek to emulate that experience with different materials and service.

Please share pictures of the toilet.
Pictures of the toilet and process can be seen at our website ( www.resourcesantiation.com ) and on facebook ( www.facebook.com/resource1111 )

How much is the monthly subscription fee? How often is human waste collected from households?
The monthly fee is currently set to equivalent of $5 USD per household per month, which includes the toilet, and twice-a-week collection of wastes and delivery of fresh cover material. However, as this is a service that needs to remain viable that price could change as the market changes. SOIL continues to work with local entrepreneurs to foster a sustainable long-term service. Part of our research is to produce an extensive analysis of the cost drivers of such a service and produce tools that make start-up analysis and appropriate pricing feasible in other locations.

What is the level of acceptance of this subscription-based service approach?
People understand that there cannot be a service without a fee. Several of our customers in the pilot specifically advocate for the fees because they see fees as a way to ensure the continuity of the service. That said, people will also want the lowest fee possible. From our experience and talking with others, specifically Ghanasan and X-Runner, we feel that a price in the range of $5-15 USD per month will be accepted. However, as with any market, attaining a 100% of households is not likely. There will be people who simply cannot afford the service, and there may be people who prefer alternative sanitation solutions. Our goal is to establish a viable, cost-recovering service that serves the vast majority of slum residents, and then to continuously seek innovative ways to expand access to our service.

What are the factors influencing acceptance?
In the dense urban slum we have worked in, where there are no options other than public toilets, open defecation, and “flying toilets", we have found that household-level sanitation is not only accepted but highly desired. Marion W. Jenkins and Sandy Cairncross published a very interesting article in the Journal of Water and Health about the drivers of demand for sanitation entitled “Modeling latrine diffusion in Benin: towards a community typology of demand for improved sanitation in developing countries.” Our experience in Haiti and other locations matches their observations.

The fact that the toilet is a urine-diverting dry toilet does take education. SOIL has well-established and long-tested programs to provide this education, and we know our friends at X-runner place similar emphasis on user outreach and education. We view these programs as a critical success factor for an effort like ours. A benefit of twice-weekly collection is that you have numerous interactions with your users in which you can provide additional outreach at minimal extra cost. That said, our toilet and service were very well accepted and we feel this is in part because we designed the toilet to appeal to our users aspirations rather than making something that was just better than the current situation.
The randomized control trial that was an integral part of this pilot should allow us to answer many of these questions in much greater detail in the future.

How is human waste transported to processing site(s)?
Human waste is sealed in a collection container and retrieved by a door-to-door collector. The collector uses a cart to transport the containers out to the edge of the community where there is vehicle access. The containers are loaded onto a truck and transported to the waste processing facility outside the city. Some of our blog posts on our website, resourcesanitation.com, show different elements of this collection process.

What composting methods are used?
Waste undergoes thermophilic composting by SOIL with sugarcane bagasse as a bulking material. The compost piles reach temperatures above 130 degrees Fahrenheit. For more information on the specifics of composting I would recommend you visit SOIL’s website ( www.oursoil.org ).

How is the composted human waste used? Does subscription imply that households get to receive the composted material?
Subscription does not imply that households will receive composted materials. Currently, SOIL has programs to use finished compost for projects within the community and has an extensive education program concerning the benefits of compost. Finished compost is being used for a number of agricultural studies as well as being sold to interested buyers. SOIL's website ( www.oursoil.org ) and staff can provide more detail.


When did the project start and when is the expected to end?
We specifically began working in Haiti in late 2011 however SOIL has been working in Cap Haitien since 2006. The pilot phase of this project began in October 2012 and ran through February 2013. The intensive research phase has been completed, but the service is ongoing and efforts are being made to take the service to scale.

All the best
Kory

Kory C. Russel
PhD Candidate
Stanford University
jennadavis.stanford.edu/people/kory-c-russel
www.resourcesanitation.com
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