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

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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums (Stanford University, USA)

Dear Kory,

Your prototype mobile toilet solution for urban slums is vey innovative indeed,but i have certian reservation which i would like some clarity with:

1. The level of payment for basic services like sanitation has been very low as you have experienced with your project since this services are presumed as basic rights and supported by MDG's,therefore do you think it is right to impose profit charges either than recouping operational cost of which majority of the population in African countries cannot even afford as we all know the prevailing conditions of poverty,therefore with your proposed costing structure do you think your technology is affordable? 2. Secondly are you proposing to provide the service on commercial basis?supply v.s demand? 3.The fact that there is lack of good governance strutures in African countries,does the World Community through UNEP support your efforts?
4. How will incidences be handled should there be any?
5.Is your technology supported by the current goverment of Haiti?


Lesego
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  • kcrussel
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  • I am an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon. I research water and sanitation solutions in resource-constrained environments. I am also the Chair of the Container Based Sanitation Alliance.
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums (Stanford University, USA)

Hi Gökce,

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.

As we discuss on our website, resourcesanitation.com, the business is based on two revenue streams- a monthly subscription from the user, and sale of recovered products at the treatment facility. The first step is to partner with an entrepreneur or local firm that has experience in sanitation and managing logistics. The steps thereafter are to help that firm assess the local market, obtain financing, and deploy the service.

The project in Haiti was a collaboration between us and SOIL. Broadly, we led the effort to design and build the toilets, we helped SOIL plan the operation and logistics of the service, and we developed and implemented an initial monitoring and evaluation program. Our research focuses on evaluating the impacts of household sanitation service on users' attitudes toward sanitation and on the proportion of waste that is safely managed in a community.

Thanks so much
Kory
Kory C. Russel
Assistant Professor | Landscape Architecture | Environmental Studies
College of Design | College of Arts and Sciences
University of Oregon

Chair of Container-Based Sanitation Alliance

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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums (Stanford University, USA)

Dear Kory,

Thanks for all the information, it is a very interesting project. I also have two questions for you.

How do you plan to develop a business on sanitation as you mentioned? What are your steps on this? Have you achieved any results on entrepreneurial service?

Also, I am curious on which part of the project are you responsible? I see that this is a big scale project and I am curious in which part you focus on your research.

Thank you in advance,

Gökce
M.Sc. Gökce Iyicil
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Technical University of Munich
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  • kcrussel
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums (Stanford University, USA)

Dear Christophe,

Thanks for your comment. As far as we can tell, MobiSan is fundamentally different from our system. Mobisan is a semi-mobile public/communal toilet with on-site feces dehydration. Our system provides household level toilets with a regular service that assures removal and transport of waste-containing cartridges to an off-site thermophilic composting facility. Our service integrates treatment into the entire supply chain and business model. In our view, it would be negligent to deploy toilets without a viable strategy for revenues, operations, and robust waste treatment. While it is true that the underlying idea of a dry toilet is present in both projects, we see little else in MobiSan that is comparable to what we are doing. That said, there can always be lessons learned from other projects and technologies. Addressing your specific points;

1) the conditions of informal settlement (with reference to density and land tenure) are not permitting the implementation of individual sanitation system (regardless of the technology)

We respectfully disagree with this generalization. The work that WSUP, X-runner, and we have been doing in Ghana, Peru, Haiti, and other locations shows that household-level sanitation in informal settlements can in fact be a viable solution that responds to the needs and aspirations of residents. Just as we do not claim that household-level sanitation is a panacea, we view blanket statements about the nature of informal settlements to be incorrect. We have deployed household-level sanitation in Cap Haitien because there is user demand for it, because we believe we can deliver it, and because there are numerous documented safety reasons why household sanitation is preferable to public facilities in Haiti. The very real and present plague of sexual assault cannot be ignored; forcing women to leave their homes at night to use a public toilet is not only sub-optimal but also flat out dangerous in many locations.
Let me be clear, we are not saying that public toilets should be excluded from the sanitation solution toolbox. Far from it, in a different context, the Sanergy team concluded that pay-per-use public toilets are more viable in their environment. However, each of these approaches must be driven by its context, and must incorporate a deliberate revenue and operations strategy.


2) The proposed treatment (if done on-site) may be another issues given the lack of space and inconvenience (such as odour etc.) it may cause. If off-site, access to the settlement, transport cost etc. may be another issue of concern

Our composting is not done on-site. If you are using composting as your primary method of treatment, then certain steps must be taken to ensure that the treatment facility is properly separated from the community, or that proper odor and hazard control is implemented. There are several examples where composting has been successfully deployed in urban areas. However, based on our and SOIL's experience in Haiti, as well as close collaboration with the Haitian government, the compost site is located outside of the urban center. Transportation is indeed a cost, so we focus efforts on maximizing efficiency. We use simple tracking systems to minimize trips and maximize the utilization of our equipment, lowering our unit costs as much as possible without compromising the quality of our service.

There are emerging treatment technologies that could enable treatment of larger quantities of waste on-site with minimal space requirements and no public nuisance. One of those that we are watching with interest is Biochar (www.susana.org/docs_ccbk/susana_download/2-1624-von-herzen.pdf). While biochar is a relatively old process that can be done with very rudimentary techniques, researchers are now finding ways to mechanize it for high-moisture substrates like fecal waste. The potential is substantial for reducing space and distance in treatment facilities.

3) Informal settlement dwellers (being categorised as poor of the poor) may not be able to pay any fee for the service;

This is of course true. However, the family expense associated with our system are often comparable or lower than other technologies such as composting toilets, pit latrines, and fee-for-use public toilets. Outside of major subsidization from governments and aid organizations, we believe it will be difficult to deliver any sanitation solution at a cheaper price. We also disagree with a broad categorization of informal settlements as too poor to pay. Wealth distribution within informal settlements is not homogenous and in the settlements we have been working in there is significant willingness and ability to pay for effective sanitation.

4) Reuse (of waste products) emerge as current trend in the sanitation field. Its acceptance should be carefully studied. In South African context, users are reluctant to use anything generated from human waste for cultural or any other reasons. Therefore, potential users of waste products should be identified.

We agree that proper understanding of the cultural context and demand for the end-products of resource recovery is paramount. In Haiti, we have found that thermophilic composting yields a sufficient transformation such that compost does not have the negative associations of human waste. To date, our friends at SOIL have sold compost in bags and in truckloads locally, such that currently the limiting factor on compost sales appears to be supply rather than demand.

5) Treatment technology for human waste should also consider operation and maintenance, skills of operators and related cost.

Absolutely. That is why SOIL implements Standard Operating Procedures at their compost sites including protocols for weighing the waste containers, emptying waste containers and building compost piles, checking compost pile temperature at multiple locations on regular time intervals, and cleaning the containers. All staff are trained, supervised, and required to wear proper personal protective equipment. Our research incorporates the costs associated with these necessary practices, and will be documented in future publications. You can follow our continued research @resource_ful and SOIL at @soilHaiti

Thanks so much and good luck with your work.
Kory
Kory C. Russel
Assistant Professor | Landscape Architecture | Environmental Studies
College of Design | College of Arts and Sciences
University of Oregon

Chair of Container-Based Sanitation Alliance

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  • muandac
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums (Stanford University, USA)

Thanks David and appreciate your reply
My main concerns are related to the nature of informal settlements. Because the model being developed is for replication to other slums (in India, America or Africa), the general charactristics of the slums (regardless of their geographical locations) should be be explored. As you know, the global trend is towards achieving zero waste while providing business opportunities to local...but the context of application of this model (sanitation as service and business) should consider the conditions of the slums in terms of density, level of awareness, constraints (access, topography, transport etc).
Prior to the piloting, I hope these issues were addressed, if so fine; but if not, I'm worried about working with business considering that collection, transport and even treatment (if done on-site)and other issues are not solved yet. I'm responding from my personnal experience with similar model.

Thanks
Chris Muanda
Christophe Muanda
Researcher & Lecturer
Centre for Water and Sanitation Research
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Cape Town, South Africa
Telephone: +27219596813
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums (Stanford University, USA)

Christopher, as some know we have been trialling a peri-urban solution using SPUs (semi-permanent units) for the past two years in Cuddalore, India. This involves a collection, storage and composting system, whereby the eventual sale of the compost generates enough income to pay for the workers involved and put a small amount into a maintenance fund. We have now expanded this to our rural 'fixed' units as well. In India we do not have a problem selling the compost and this model is proving very successful. In fact, we are just about to be given circa $100,000 to expand this trial by replicating it in another Indian State (this will enable us start from scratch and monitor far more closely). The eventual hope is that we can prove this could become some form of social enterprise that will attract investors rather than donors.

I think we also have to consider working with organisations who are not necessarily sanitation based, but agricultural-based. If we cannot sell compost on the open market, I believe we have to extend our involvement to perhaps take a share of a finished crop if we give the compost away. This is actually what Monsanto (the devil in disguise!) does – it gives away seeds to show an improved crop yield and once farmers see the benefit they then have to buy them. Many obviously cannot, but we could explore this possibility as becoming just a different investor.

It's a thought!

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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums (Stanford University, USA)

Very interesting project and appreciate much your contribution. In 2007 a similar technology called MobiSan was developed by a Dutch consortium and piloted in Cape Town and still working today. Few issues emerged from one of our research conducted around this type of saniation system and would like to provide few comments (see also a previous thread about the MobiSan here: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/52-mob...rom-the-mobisan#2749):

1) the conditions of informal settlement (with reference to density and land tenure) are not permitting the implementation of individual sanitation system (regardless of the technology)
2) The proposed treatment (if done on-site) may be another issues given the lack of space and inconvenience (such as odour etc.) it may cause. If off-site, access to the settlement, transport cost etc. may be another issue of concern
3) Informal settlement dwellers (being categorised as poor of the poor) may not be able to pay any fee for the service;
4) Reuse (of waste products) emerge as current trend in the sanitation field. Its acceptance should be carefully studied. In South African context, users are reluctant to use anything generated from human waste for cultural or any other reasons. Therefore, potential users of waste products should be identified.
5) Treatment technology for human waste should also consider operation and maintenance, skills of operators and related cost.

I still believe that what you are working is useful but should think carefully by looking at number of issues raised by colleagues in this forum. I would like to share our personal experience of the MobiSan if requested.

Regards

Christophe Muanda
Christophe Muanda
Researcher & Lecturer
Centre for Water and Sanitation Research
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Cape Town, South Africa
Telephone: +27219596813
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Re: re.source: Mobile Sanitation Services for Dense Urban Slums

Dear Kory,

It is good that you are addressing comfort, cleanliness and convenience which are universal aspirations. Thanks for the links to twitter and Facebook. I will follow the updates. Looking forward to reading the publication when it is out.

Best wishes,

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

Dear Nelson,

At present, the demand we have met is far greater than the scale can meet. Our research includes an effort to quantify that demand and enable a bottom-up market analysis, however that information is not ready for publication. We have found in Haitian cities that clean, effective toilets are a highly aspirational amenity to have. Our entire user experience is designed to cater to that desire. Time will tell how well we have succeeded, but our initial results are promising.

SOIL is committed to making sure there is a solid base and sustainable plan for the service before any scale-up is attempted. This is and will continue to be an evolving effort with community-based organizations and local entrepreneurs. It is important to remember that this service is still in its initial stages of development and many aspects are constantly being adjusted. However, as new information becomes available we will be sharing it, so I would recommend that you follow both re.source (@resource_ful) and SOIL (@SOILHaiti) on twitter and on facebook.

Thanks so much
Kory
Kory C. Russel
Assistant Professor | Landscape Architecture | Environmental Studies
College of Design | College of Arts and Sciences
University of Oregon

Chair of Container-Based Sanitation Alliance

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

Thanks for the detailed response Kory! I very much appreciate the way you discuss the issues. It is good that there is exchange between both projects in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien and that SOIL operates in both locations.

Following the approach of the project, scaling up services would depend on demand. Certainly, in this context, there are many people who cannot pay or refuse to pay for services such as those SOIL is offering and prefer different options. How large is the present demand for the services and what are the efforts SOIL is making to ensure that the current service delivery levels are maintained before scaling up?

Best regards,
Nelson
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  • kcrussel
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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
Assistant Professor | Landscape Architecture | Environmental Studies
College of Design | College of Arts and Sciences
University of Oregon

Chair of Container-Based Sanitation Alliance

korychristrussel.wixsite.com/mysite
on Twitter @korycrussel
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  • Ekane
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  • Nelson Ekane (PhD)
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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
Nelson Ekane (PhD)
Research Fellow
Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)
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