The sanitation business leaving nothing to waste

A circular approach to processing waste is not only providing good sanitation in fast-growing cities, it’s yielding positive results for the planet too.

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Worldwide, two billion people still lack access to basic sanitation services such as toilets or latrines. In many emerging economies, inadequate sanitation in urban areas is a significant and growing challenge. Informal urban settlements or slums are undergoing rapid population growth, but these areas often lack formal waste management systems and sanitation networks.

Inadequate sanitation not only has severe health implications for populations but also has knock-on effects on the economy. This is the case in Kenya, where research estimates that the country loses 1-2 per cent of its GDP every year due to poor sanitation.

It can have negative environmental impacts too. Waste which is left out and not safely treated releases noxious greenhouse gases.

One business tackling these challenges head-on is Sanergy. In Kenya, Sanergy is helping to clean up fast-growing urban areas by providing vital sanitation and organic waste management services for hundreds of thousands of people in Nairobi.

Sanergy builds affordable sanitation products such as toilets specifically for informal settlements, which it franchises to community members to serve all residents. The company collects the sanitation waste and other organic waste generated by restaurants, open air markets and agricultural pack houses – around 40,000 tonnes of it each year –  and takes it to their plant for processing.

From there, Sanergy converts the waste into resources which can be used again, like animal feed, organic fertilizer and biofuels. Their organic fertilizer is now the largest produced by volume in East Africa. Sanergy sells these agricultural inputs to local farmers, which helps to address food security by improving yields, as well as increasing farmers’ incomes.

40,000

Sanergy process 40,000 tonnes of waste each year

“Sanergy is all about harnessing the power of the circular economy,” explains David Auerbach, co-Founder of Sanergy. “We collect waste, we process it, we produce fertilizer, which grows crops, which feed people, which produces more waste.

“The agricultural inputs that we’re producing are really important in the fight against climate change. Using organic fertilizer strengthens the soil, and when you’re experiencing increased flash floods and more erratic weather, having stronger soils is really important. Conversely, during periods of drought or drought-like weather, having these types of fertilizer to grow crops is vital too.

“Finally, through our whole business process we off-set a significant amount of carbon – from removing the waste, to creating a carbon-rich fertilizer that can be sequestered. In the next four years we estimate that we’re going to off-set about a million tonnes of carbon dioxide.”

1 million

Sanegry plan to off-set 1m tonnes of carbon

“As Greta Thunberg likes to say, there is no planet B. What we’re doing at Sanergy is important because we have a highly scalable approach. It is also highly replicable and it’s highly localised too.

“Most people think of waste as the thing that goes to the landfill, but we’re saying this is the feedstock which is going to be able to clean up the environment, nurture the economy and make sure people are living healthier lives too. We just need more of that thinking at a global level to be able to tackle the challenge of climate change.”

We invest in Sanergy through Novastar Ventures, a Nairobi-based venture capital firm which specialises in early-stage businesses in East Africa. Sanergy was recently shortlisted as a finalist for the inaugural Earthshot Prize, in the category ‘Build a waste-free world’. Find out more about the award

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