Sanitation is a basic human need, yet millions worldwide lack access to proper facilities. Poor sanitation leads to many health problems, including the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid. Additionally, untreated waste has economic and environmental impacts, such as polluting waterways and soil, reducing crop yields and harming ecosystems.

Approximately 4 billion individuals, which is equivalent to half the global population, reside in conditions where their waste is released into their surroundings. This has fatal consequences. It leads to the deaths of 2 million children yearly and damages water systems and the environment. It also hinders economic growth by 1-3%. This problem is especially critical in urban areas, which are densely populated, extensively constructed and expanding at an extremely rapid pace.

A team of three social entrepreneurs from MIT recognized this problem and co-founded Sanergy in 2011 to address it. Sanergy is a social enterprise that provides sustainable sanitation solutions for communities in Kenya.

The Sanergy Model

The Sanergy model is based on a simple concept: building and maintaining high-quality, low-cost toilets in densely populated urban areas while also creating a business model to collect and process waste. The waste is converted into organic fertilizer and sold to farmers, creating a closed-loop system that benefits both urban and rural communities.

Sanergy’s toilets, called Fresh Life Toilets, are designed with user experience in mind. They are clean, well-lit, and ventilated, and come equipped with hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Users pay a small fee to use the toilet, ensuring they are well-maintained and creating a revenue stream for Sanergy.

On the other hand, the real innovation of Sanergy’s model is in the waste management system. Sanergy employs a network of franchise operators who own and operate Fresh Life Toilets in their communities. They also collect the waste from the toilets and bring it to central processing facilities, where it is converted into organic fertilizer.

The franchise operators are trained in business management and sanitation and are given access to financing to start their businesses. This creates economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs while also providing sanitation solutions for communities in Kenya.

Sanergy’s waste processing system is also environmentally sustainable. The waste is treated using a process called anaerobic digestion, which produces biogas that can be used for cooking and electricity generation. The remaining waste is converted into high-quality organic fertilizer, which is sold to farmers at a lower cost than chemical fertilizers.

Impact of Sanergy

Sanergy has had a significant impact on creating sanitation solutions for communities in Kenya. The organization has built over 3,500 Fresh Life Toilets, providing access to sanitation for over 130,000 people a day. The franchise operators have created over 2,000 jobs, and the fertilizer produced from the waste has increased crop yields for farmers.

However, Sanergy’s work is far from complete. The organization continues to expand its operations, but it also faces challenges, including scaling its model to new communities. The organization also has a challenge in ensuring the franchise operators are able to maintain toilets and collect waste consistently.

Nevertheless, Sanergy’s work is a model for sustainable, scalable and socially responsible business solutions. By providing access to sanitation in low-income urban communities, Sanergy is improving health outcomes, creating economic opportunities and promoting environmental sustainability.

Nino Basaria

Photo: Flickr