SUMMARY: SOIL, a non-profit based in Haiti, provides locally-built dry toilets complete with a system for collecting, hauling and composting solid human waste and turning it into valuable fertilizer, reducing risks to human health from exposure to raw sewage while generating local employment and improving agricultural productivity by enhancing the soil fertility of degraded farmland.

PROBLEM SPACE: Over 2/3 of the world’s population has no access to a toilet and, as a result, waterborne disease is one of the leading causes of death in children under 5 in developing countries. While aquatic ecosystems become increasingly polluted with nutrients from human waste, the Earth’s soils exhibit rapidly declining fertility, reducing agricultural production and leading to poverty and malnutrition.

Nowhere is this cycle of poor sanitation, environmental degradation, and poverty more evident than in Haiti, where the majority of the population lacks access to a toilet, soil fertility has declined 20% in the last decade, over 98% of the mountainsides have been deforested, and communities are battling the largest cholera epidemic in recent global history. Lack of access to sanitation is a widespread problem with life-threatening implications. Sewage-based toilet systems are costly and often ineffective and impractical. There is little to show for the billions of dollars spent on sewage systems in developing countries because the operating and maintenance costs are prohibitive and water shortages are common.

SOLUTION: SOIL’s mission to transform wastes into resources was inspired by a philosophical model called Liberation Ecology, which holds as a central tenant that waste does not exist in either social or ecological systems. Based on this philosophy, SOIL has been working in some of the poorest areas in Haiti since 2006 to promote integrated solutions to the problems of poverty, poor public health, agricultural productivity, and environmental destruction. Much of SOIL’s effort for the past 6 years has been focused on designing and building ecological sanitation (EcoSan) toilets and waste treatment sites. Wastes from the specially designed EcoSan toilets are collected regularly and composted at decentralized waste treatment facilities using a rigorously monitored thermophilic composting system that ensures that all pathogens are eliminated. The resulting rich, organic compost is then used to rehabilitate Haiti’s soil.

Since building Haiti’s first EcoSan toilet in 2006 and Haiti’s first urban waste treatment facility in 2009, SOIL has gone on to become one of the largest sanitation providers in Haiti with popularly-received and effective toilets and waste treatment facilities around the country, strong partnerships with the non-profit, business, and government sectors, and an information-sharing and educational program that has helped increase the use of EcoSan by organizations, businesses, and institutions nationally and by international NGOs globally.

SOIL is now beginning to test how the potential income streams from EcoSan services (toilet sales, waste treatment fees, compost sales, etc.) can support the formation of social businesses that can take these successes to scale in Haiti and globally. We believe we are on the verge of seeing a large systemic change in how sanitation services are provided around the world. Our ultimate goal is for people worldwide to have access to safe, dignified toilets in the comfort of their own home, and for the Earth’s environment to benefit from the recycling and reuse of what was previously called “waste”.