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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.

Photo of Vincent Cheng
8 23

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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 ( ). 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 ( ) 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 ). 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?

  • Local entrepreneur
  • Multinational company
  • Large NGO
  • Government
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Inspired by (47)

Disrupting Urination Norms
EcoSan Ecological Toilets
The Potty Project
Zoomlion waste disposal
"Shit is Serious Business" – Wagon Toilets
Tap into local entrepreneurial talent
Elevated Compost Latrine
Behavior Change & Demand Creation
Sanitation: a threat or an opportunity?
Composting solid human waste in Ghana
Green diaper collection service
The Humanure Handbook
Vacuum Tanker
Making (and Profiting) from Night Soil and the Songs of Sanitation
Ecological dry toilets at Pedregal
The X-Runner
PeePoo Bag
The Brown Box - ultra portable toilet
Refrigeration is Hot
Composting collection
Toilet Lid
Deploy Moldering Privies to Make Gold out of Human Waste
Waste Collection through Community Empowerment and Relationship Building
Dignity and community-building through public toilets
Need to go
Compost maintenance service
Bioshelter: Home-made Composting Toilet
MIT: Turning waste into profit
Toilets and fertilizer in Haiti
What to do with doggie doo?
Chamber pots
Biocenters - toilets, showers, cooking and community space
Considering the Squat Toilet
Constructed Wetlands for Wastewater Treatment
Make me feel good about owning a toilet
Make me feel good about owning a toilet
Unsafe Dumping
First, Harness the Flying Toilet
Multi-Level Reclaimed Water Recycling Pools
Build Public Toilet Maintenance Norms
Sanitary with vacuum extraction
We'll trade you cell phone minutes for your sanitization transition!
Green Energy Modular Sanitation System (GEMSS)
Texting Toilets
Making Private Toilets Public
Ecological Toilets + Compost or Biogas + Networked Entrepreneurs = Everybody Wins


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Photo of Fei Xin

This is an excellent concept. I really agree with the point "you are onto something in that there is an economic model in there somewhere that, if the correct infrastructure and behavior patterns are established, can work and change the entire system." Therefore, it is good for economic development and sustainable. I am so interested in that. Thank you for the good idea.

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