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Meet Kenyans Who Are Turning Human Waste Into Valuable Byproducts

Nyamweya is a journalist currently attached to a leading Kenyan media

A worker safely removing human waste from portable toilets

A worker safely removing human waste from portable toilets

Who knew that anybody can make use of human waste? Well a group of entrepreneurs under the name Sanergy Kenya have done the unthinkable; actually turning human waste into gold.

They have managed to use this product as a key raw material in making such products as insect-based animal feed, biogas, organic fertilizer and renewable energy. The team has been able to rake in a commensurable amount of returns out of selling these products to consumers.

Indeed, for this team whose business is based in Mukuru Slums Nairobi, human faces is a “secret gold” which they are fully exploiting, not only for their own benefit but also that of the community.

Sheila Kibuthu, the group’s spokesman says that their group (Sanergy) is a social enterprise that focuses itself on providing non-sewered sanitation solutions in Nairobi Slums

Currently, the organisation whose headquarter is based in in Mukuru kwa Njenga has extended its operations in various other estates. Its operations are also visible in Viwandani, Kayaba, Kiambiu, Mathare (Mabatini Ward, Hospital Ward, Mlango Kubwa Ward, Ngei Ward, Kiamaiko Ward, Mathare 4a, and Huruma) Makadara, City Cotton, Shauri Moyo, Muthurwa, and Gikomba.

How do they collect the human wastes from the residents?

Well, in ensuring that they have a steady supply of this “vital resource” Sanergy has build and distributed specially designed toilets in Urban slums which are dubbed “Fresh Life Toilets”. This special toilet is innovative in the sense that it uses a low cost sanitation technology referred as Urine diverting Dry Technology (UDDT). The toilet is made in such a way that it separates the waste with urine being collected in a 20 litre jerrican, while the solid waste is separated in a plastic barrel, which is placed below the toilet pan.

Below, Sanergy’s Spokesperson displaying the constituencies of the Fresh Life Toilet

They have also ensured that their facilities have high hygienic and cleanness standards as possible.

The company also conducts regular training sessions to all our Fresh Life Operators, which ensures that all Fresh Life Toilets in our network are clean, open and accessible to residents. This helps to attract and retain our customers.

However, the move has not gone down well with some public toilet owners in the area who are crying foul for loss of business.

A Mrs. Annah Ombati who owns a traditional toilet in the area which he charges ksh 5 per client claims to have experienced low demand and thus reduced earnings because of Sanergy.

“This company has really led to disintegration of our business and for a person like me who fully depends on this, the impact is great” she informs the Nairobian.

In these toilets are special mobile containers which are fitted underneath the toilet and which are removed at the end of the day. These containers are collected from the toilets located at different parts of the slum by either trucks or handcarts. Handcarts are majorly used in informal settlements where trucks may not access easily. Sometimes, plastic jerricans are used for transporting the precious commodity.

The team leases out their Fresh Life Toilets through a franchise model, where city residents, usually landlords, pay a subscription for the toilet and regular, professional waste collection services. The landlord agrees to adhere to their cleanliness and hygiene standards, which are compliant with the government’s policies.

At the end of the day, Sanergy workers go round the slum collecting the wastes from the institutions and landlords.

After the wastes have been collected from the various toilets, it is then taken to a central facility where it is converted into valuable end products such as insect-based animal feed, organic fertilizer and renewable energy.

According to Ms Sheila, last year alone, more than 1000 farmers in Nairobi and its environments were served with the animal feed and organic fertilizer produced by Sanergy. From the company records, over 80000 people use the toilet facilities from all the slums where the company operates per day translating to ksh 240000 per day. This means that the group makes approximately Ksh 7200000 per month.

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The Fresh Life Toilets has also been a blessing to many a jobless youth in the slum. Through this social enterprise, more than 60 youth in Mukuru alone have been employed as waste collectors, enjoying full benefits of employment including annual leaves and other benefits.

Ms Sheila claims that more than 300 people are employed by the company directly and the majority is youth drawn from the community.

“These people are trained to adhere to a specific code of conduct and maintain high professionalism while performing their jobs” she explains.

Mr. Jackson Mwandao, one of the Sanergy employees collecting the raw materials from around the slums considers this as normal job.

“We are always told not to choose jobs and this is what I am doing. For me, I don’t have a problem as long as I am able to put food on the table and pay my bills” Mr Mwandao whom the Nairobian caught up with when doing his job told this reporter”

“However, a good number of youth are skeptical about accepting this kind of work whether pulling handcarts, working at turnboys for the trucks or just working at the Sanergy Factory due to fear to come into contact with the human faces”.

“I think not anybody can do this kind of job because you have to constantly come into contact with human faces. This requires people who don’t have a faint heart and those having a passion in this” Explains Ms Grace Adhiambo, also a resident of Mukuru Slum.

The Sanergy idea came from 3 MIT graduates: David Auerbach, Lindsay Stradley, and Ani Vallabhaneni who were tasked with developing a solution to a poverty challenge facing 1 billion people or more around the world. From their experiences working in growing cities, they developed a full value chain approach to addressing the sanitation crisis, offering a sustainable solution for urban slums.

According to the communication officer, the team now anticipates to employ the experience gained over the last 7 years in scaling safe sanitation across urban towns in non-sewered areas.

Ms Sheila argues that Sanergy’s idea is the best alternative for low end slums owing to the fact that most of them have no proper sewer system.

“Even if people planned on constructing a sewer system for now, this would not only be an expensive process but also cumbersome since some houses and structures have to be demolished to pave way for this” she explains.

Ms Sheila, further claims that the benefits associated with Sanergy’s activities are not only to the company but to the community at large.

“Our customers appreciate the value-add our Fresh Life solution offers. Having Fresh Life Toilets in plots helps landlords to retain their tenants” she explains.

In schools, head teachers with Fresh Life Toilets experience increased student enrollment. Among such schools is Mukuru Kwa Njenga Primary which according to the Schools deputy headteacher has been able to achieve about a 10% increase attributed to improved sanitation. This is the same case with Reuben Baptist Primary School where according to the school’s headmistress, the number of pupils has risen from 440 in 2017 to around 700 currently.

“There is no doubt that parents appreciate school environments where they think their children will feel safe and healthy and many have been able to take that opportunity to enroll their children here” says the headteacher.

Mr. Justus Asangai, a resident of Mukuru kwa Njenga, near AA driving school and an employee of Bins Company acknowledges the uniqueness of these toilets in the area.

“I normally prefer using these toilets (Fresh Life Toilets) because they are not only cheap but also clean and fresh” claims Mr. Asangai.

Ms Wambui, a landlady at Mukuru Kwa Reuben who owns a plot made of corrugated iron sheets is one of the land ladies who are grateful for what Sanergy offers.

“We now have clean, cheap, decent and hygienic toilets which everybody seems to be enjoying using” she says adding that “we now don’t have the burden of having to pay for expensive exhausters every now and then”

However, Mr. Kiarie, another landlord in the slum who is still using normal toilets claims that he is still figuring out the value of Fresh Life Toilets. According to him, the fact that they have to pay a regular subscription fee as well as waste collection fee makes these services too expensive for slum landlords.

“What I really don’t understand is why a landlord has to pay regular subscription and waste collection fees yet the company is making use of these wastes for their financial gain” ponders Mr. Kiarie.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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