Sanivation: Fueling the Waste-to-Revenue Cycle

FINCA International partner, Sanivation, is a social enterprise working in Kenya to address waste management, while also creating an environmentally friendly fuel alternative to charcoal and wood. With this waste-to-revenue cycle, the organization is also pioneering a public-private partnership model to provide waste management services at the municipal level. Sanivation currently serves 10,000 people, but it is in the process of expanding its high capacity, operationally sustainable model. This will expand the organization’s reach to over 350,000 people in other municipalities throughout the region.

Sanivation’s innovative public-private partnership approach is unique, because unlike other organizations only supplying certain services, Sanivation is able to provide services throughout the entire waste-to-revenue cycle. This includes: waste collection, waste processing, waste conversion and fuel distribution. Furthermore, the organization’s innovative model also addresses other waste-related issues throughout its cycle.

Waste Collection: Providing Access to a Safe Toilet

Around the world, over 4.5 billion people live without access to a safe toilet. People without this access often end up using outdoor pit latrines or holes dug in the ground. This leaves them exposed and vulnerable, and their untreated waste can flow back into and contaminate groundwater. The first step in the cycle of Sanivation’s innovative process begins by addressing both of these issues.

For the local equivalent of about $2 per month, Sanivation supplies its clients with the “Blue Box.” This is a container-based toilet they can place inside their homes. A Sanivation worker then comes twice a week to collect the waste bag, install a clean container bag, and refill the odor management dust bin.

My wife used to have to help me go outside to the pit latrine. That was difficult for both of us. With Blue Box, I have a convenient and comfortable in-home toilet at the foot of my bed.

Customer in Kenya with a Blue Box container-based toilet
Maxwell Njunga, Sanivation Blue Box Customer

Waste Processing: Providing Safe Waste Treatment

Globally, approximately 80 percent of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being properly treated. Open and untreated waste can cause diseases and contaminate groundwater. The next step in Sanivation’s model creatively addresses this issue.

After collecting the waste from clients’ Blue Boxes, the Sanivation worker brings it to Sanivation’s treatment and production plant. Here, workers process the collected waste through solar heat treatment and by combining it with water, molasses and charcoal dust. They then put it into a large mixing machine with a rotating circular drum. This spinning motion transforms the mixture into small, rounded balls called briquettes.

Factory production of charcoal briquette substitute
Annette Nasimiyu, Sanivation Plant Employee

Waste Conversion: Providing More Affordable Fuel

After the treatment process, the briquettes produced are also able to be used as an alternative form of fuel for charcoal and wood. Sanivation workers package these briquettes into smaller, individual use bags and send them out to retail customers.

Because Sanivation’s fuel production process is renewable and requires few inputs, the final cost of the product is much lower than traditional fuels like kerosene or charcoal. The briquettes can even retail for up to 75 percent less than the price of traditional charcoal. This has made the Sanivation product quite popular among many people living in poverty.

Retailer in Kenya selling charcoal briquette substitute
Joyce Muthoni, Sanivation Briquette Retailer

Fuel Distribution: Providing Safe and Eco-Friendly Cooking Fuel

Around the world each year, 2.6 million premature deaths are linked to household air pollution from cooking smoke. Traditional fuels like kerosene and charcoal emit toxic fumes and large amounts of smoke when burned. This contributes significantly to household air pollution and the associated health problems for the people who cook with them indoors.

Sanivation’s briquettes are a non-carbonized, environmentally friendly alternative to charcoal and wood. They burn longer and with less smoke, and they emit fewer toxic chemicals. This not only improves the health and safety of users, but it also reduces the amount of pollution going into the environment and the number of trees cut down to produce fuel.

[The briquettes] cook food much more quickly and it lasts for a long time. For the same number of briquettes as traditional charcoal, I can cook twice as many meals.

Customer in Kenya using charcoal briquette substitute
Susan Otunga, Sanivation Briquette Customer

Through this cycle of waste collection, waste processing, fuel production and fuel sales, Sanivation’s waste-to-revenue model has proved that waste management can be operationally sustainable. In this way, Sanivation’s innovative approach has transformed waste treatment into a form of revenue instead of a burden to communities.