Millions of people live in informal urban areas where there is no government run sewage system. Most people are forced to use dangerous and undignified pit latrines – basically a hole in the ground – covered by a small shed. One alternative is container-based sanitation (CBS), a service paid for my end users themselves. Users get an in-home toilet that separates urine and faeces without using water. The toilet can be used as normal, and ash or sawdust are sprinkled over the faeces to inhibit smell. The waste remains in containers inside the toilet until a serviceman comes for collection. The waste is then transported to a centralised location, and processed into compost, fertiliser, or fuel.
CBS could quickly and effectively solve the urban sanitation challenge, however, three key problems with the current systems still exist. The biggest problem is that the smelly business of using the toilet has moved into cramped urban housing, often only ten square metres a house. The smell control is often ineffective, costly or the waste has to be collected very often (bi-weekly). Another problem is that CBS is less efficient (and so more expensive) than digging a pit latrine, since in CBS waste is physically transported out of the area. A third problem with CBS is that the containers need to be emptied and cleaned, exposing employees to hazardous human waste.
PooPac solves all of the three key problems with CBS. The PooPac is bioactive, using a living organism grown on the container and discs, used to cover the faeces after they are produced. This bioactive technology completely controls the faeces smell, soon after defecation. Using solid discs is easier than powdery ash or sawdust, and the discs also compact the faeces tightly into the PooPac. PooPac is made out of waterproofed paper, therefore it is not rigid like a plastic bucket, which means that many more PooPacs can be packed into a cart for transporting. PooPac is biodegradable, this means that it never has to be opened and emptied, so reducing the contact with faeces to zero.
Initial research and later stage prototype testing was done in Kisumu, Kenya with the local team at WSUP Enterprises, through a partnership with MoSan. Throughout the project, a number of experts advised the project. The experts were both product designers at ZHdK and entrepreneurs with experience in starting successful WASH enterprises. I am already building relationships with potential first customers in East Africa.
PooPac will supply container-based sanitation service providers (CBSSPs), not end users directly. The product will be produce industrially, initially in central or eastern Europe where biotechnology is well established. The product will be assembled and activated in the country where it will be used. The activation (by means of water) takes up to 4 days and allows the PooPac to manage smell effectively. PooPac is likely to be more expensive than using plastic bags, however, PooPac makes the whole sanitation system cheaper because PooPac is easier, more compact, and safer to handle.