Get Paid For Your Poop
This concept is directly inspired by Alessandro’s call to “imagine that people would not have to pay anything to use the bathroom, but that these bathrooms were small factories that produce gas and fertilizer”, as well as by the many other OpenIDEO contributions that I’ve linked to in the text and to the right. I will focus on trying to propose a framework that pays for poop and makes sustainable sense for the challenge’s focus area of Kumasi, Ghana.
PAYMENT: Paying people (or at the very least not charging them) to use toilets and other poop collection facilities, would incentive the 11% of Kumasi residents that primarily don’t use toilets (relying on open defecation, flying toilets, etc.) to switch to behaviors that are healthier for themselves, their community, and their environment. For the whole Kumasi population, it would motivate them to dispose of/use waste properly, instead of unsafe dumping (
http://bit.ly/gSnnep ). Currently there are pilots in India and elsewhere where households are actually paid for their excrement:
COLLECTION: For toilets, the initial collection of human excrement is built-in. In the case of those who continue to use open defecation/flying toilets due to preference, convenience, or access, these behaviors’ impacts would be improved through the use of PeePoo bags (
http://bit.ly/ccACaG ) that users (or entrepreneurs) would then gather and sell to collection points (perhaps including public toilets).
REVENUE: This is what makes payment for poop collection financially possible and sustainable. Closing the loop on poop creates real value including: energy generation from methane (used for purposes like cooking, lighting, & absorption refrigerators), fertilizer for agriculture (>1/3 of Ghana’s GDP and employing >50% of workforce), and even feedstock for certain animals like fish.
PROCESSING: Either poop could be processed at the initial point of collection to meet local needs, or gathered and centralized (by government or local companies) through vacuum pumps/trucks/bikes/sewage pipes/etc. to take advantage of economies of scale. It may make the most sense to have methane generation locally (given clear household /community use scenarios and inefficiency of current methods for transporting gas and conversion of gas to electricity), followed by centralized collection composting and use of the resultant fertilizer (given strong stigma against using human manure on local food crops: as reported by OpenIDEO Ghana Field Team on pg 17 of
http://slidesha.re/fgGpws ). Until such cultural disgust can be overcome, the fertilizer can be sold to be used for non-food plants such as cotton (used for clothing such as Ghana’s traditional Kente cloth) and timber (3rd largest export, primary local energy source), or food crops currently exported elsewhere such as cocoa (~1/3 of export revenues).
GOVERNMENT: It’s important that government is involved in establishing and maintaining conditions conducive to this system. However, there are challenges to overcome around corruption, as the awarding of contracts for public toilets has been a political patronage vehicle, even leading to cases of “toilet wars” in Kumasi (
FEASIBILITY: On a high-level, I think this framework demonstrates that such a system might be possible. However, I lack the expertise to propose and evaluate the suitability of specific technologies, after which a deeper understanding of the various costs and revenues will also be necessary. Also, even if "paying for poop" does not directly financially payout on a large scale, the benefits of avoiding disease outbreaks may make it worth doing for at least the peepoo bags that target the flying toilet/open defecation population. I’m excited to see what the very capable OpenIDEO community comes up with in terms of specific technology systems that would work well in Kumasi (given that the OpenIDEO Ghana Field Team mentioned that Kumasi Improved Ventilation Pits may not be the most suitable for Kumasi due to soil content and water table conditions: pg 6 of
Who could implement this?