Enhancing livelihoods and conserving the earth through the circular sanitation economy

Can the circular sanitation economy help communities build livelihood resilience? Mitigate the impacts of climate change on the environment and livelihoods?  Bring life back to depleted soils?

The session showcased successes, challenges and future ambitions to create opportunities for the private sector, communities and local governments in the circular sanitation economy. Tackling the challenge of safely managing waste and turning waste into value has the potential to improve both environmental and human health.

Furthermore, there are major opportunities for women and youth entrepreneurs in developing local circular sanitation economies linked to agriculture, with 60% of women engaged in agriculture and 80% in sanitation. A focal point case study of activities in the Nilgiris, India, was shared by Mr. Sampath Rajkumar, who detailed the success to date of two faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTPs) in the region which are successfully simultaneously addressing a major challenge of waste segregation—combining two different waste streams to yield a product with both environmental and economic value—and creating and marketing co-compost to farmers. This example is replicable with sustainability and economic viability in mind.

The subsequent panel discussion brought in practitioners and partners from India and East Africa, to share their perspectives. Opportunities were discussed in key areas such as climate financing (carbon credits), partnerships/collaboration, and a market-based approach. Challenges were also shared, discussing barriers to establish local circular sanitation economies especially regarding policy-making, access to financing, socio-cultural barriers, practicalities for making the sector inclusive and accessible for women, and finally, the capital intensive and skill requirements of technology.

SIWI 2021 Circular Sanitation Economy

In summary:

  1. An inclusive paradigm shift is required to equip communities for climate resiliency and move towards sustainable, local circular economies.
  2. Community-based, sustainable business models and market-based approaches for WASH and linked sectors for improved management, service delivery and resource recovery are possible.
  3. Women and youths have a crucial role to play in the circular sanitation economy, bringing positive change to strengthen local value chains and change the economics of green business.

FINISH works in diverse geographies in Eastern African countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania to Asian countries like India and Bangladesh.  Each of these countries have their own set of climate change issues to deal with. FINISH understands these geographies and its people by working with local communities and institutions. FINISH acts as a technological partner for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in all the countries providing climate resilient, technologically safe and low-cost feasible sanitation solutions for all. Communities are at the core of all FINISH programmes with focus on developing local circular sanitation economies.

Local circular sanitation economies are small scale sustainable business solutions like feacal sludge management and co-compost production by mixing household waste with treated faecal sludge. The scale of the business varies from small municipality level to large town municipal corporation. The co-compost generated seems to have good water holding capacity making the soil fertile for many crops. It increases the value of the compost into a fertilizer with a higher Nitrogen percentage than normal compost. FINISH plays part in awareness generation for the communities to build usable toilets and to accept co-compost as a sustainable solution for better environment.

FINISH actively plays the role of Information, Education & Communication (IEC) activities in FSM such as sensitization of government officials and local committees. Awareness generation on the type of containment, importance of periodic emptying, retrofitting and on hazards of indiscriminate disposal are key components of IEC works.

There are many visible impacts of faecal sludge management such as improved sanitation and solid waste management at municipal level (cleaner environment: cleaner neighborhoods, cleaner lakes and rivers). There is reduction in health risks as a result of improved solid waste and faecal sludge management. Creation of gender-inclusive green jobs in collection of waste, sorting, composting and recycling (waste workers are mainly women). This strengthens climate adaptation measures to improve climate resilience of communities. This is results from co-compost improves soil fertility, water holding capacity and agricultural productivity at times of drought. An option that is done at smaller scale is reducing reliance on centralised mainstream energy sources. Improved economic resilience of communities through cost savings and improved revenue such as using cost-effective energy (e.g. briquette) or biogas.

Lastly, in several towns a local circular economy material recovery facility (MRF) model is established for sustained practices in plastic and solid waste management and sanitation. The MRF model is scalable and ready for replication to several cities and towns.

FSM is important to protect water sources and accelerate circular economy by generating revenue from faecal sludge treatment and reuse. FSM helps to protect health and environment and improve cleanliness and livability by reducing foul smell and improves visual appeal.

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