Composting Waste Treatment: An Ecological Solution to Poverty and Climate Change | Haiti

Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) is building composting toilets in Haiti, reducing the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid, creating jobs, and restoring local environments. With their toilet service (EkoLakay), SOIL provides over 1,100 households with ecological sanitation toilets and waste treatment services. All waste is safely transformed into rich compost in a treatment process that adheres to World Health Organization standards.

Currently, this service produces over 100 tonnes of compost annually, but the amount increases concurrently with the expansion of the EkoLakay service. The compost is used to support agriculture and reforestation efforts in Haiti, ensuring nutrient recirculation and improved soil carbon sequestration. The compost also enhances environmental resilience and climate adaptation by promoting plant growth, stabilizing soils, and reducing the impact of flooding and droughts.

Key facts

  • Over 1,100 households on the EkoLakay service (providing over 6,500 people with access to in-home sanitation) and over 40 households are being added monthly;
  • More than 40 tonnes of waste are treated monthly, resulting in approximately nine tonnes of compost each month;
  • Around 1,000 people benefit from SOIL’s education programmes and resources each year.
Credit: Melissa Schilling

The problem

Over 75 percent of Haiti’s population lacks access to safe sanitation. This problem results in a range of negative impacts to human health and the environment, but has a disproportionately negative effect on women, as they are vulnerable to physical and sexual violence when seeking a safe place to defecate.

Without safe waste treatment, water supplies are contaminated with dangerous pathogens from human waste. This pollution is downright deadly: globally, diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death in children under five, and in Haiti, a country of just over 9 million people, 10 children die every day from waterborne illnesses.

Additionally, soil degradation is a serious challenge in Haiti. The country was once one of the most agriculturally productive countries in the world. Today the soil is so stripped of nutrients that Haiti cannot produce enough food to feed its population.

The solution

This project provides sanitation to people who often otherwise have no access to a toilet. At the same time, the project transforms hazardous wastes into rich, organic, agricultural-grade compost, improving and fertilizing soil.

SOIL works within Haitian communities to develop affordable household sanitation services that allow those living in dense urban settlements to have access to their own toilet. Sanitation access creates jobs for people living in the community, and provides valuable soil amendments to farmers living outside the city, increasing food production, enhancing resilience to climate change, and improving soil carbon sequestration.

Having an in-home toilet also means that women have a safe space to use the toilet and manage menstruation. Finally, SOIL’s toilets are designed to create an accessible option for disabled family members through the convenience of an in-home solution.

Credit: Bernard Cherelus

Helping the planet

By harvesting the nutrients in human waste, SOIL is protecting vulnerable aquatic ecosystems and groundwater sources while simultaneously restoring soil fertility, improving the viability of reforestation efforts, helping farmers grow more food, and sequestering carbon.

Ecological sanitation has the power to combat climate change via three mechanisms: reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternative sanitation practices, offsetting synthetic fertilizer use, and sequestering carbon in soils through compost amendments. Recent research suggests that SOIL’s ecological sanitation technology emits up to 92% less greenhouse gas than traditional waste stabilization ponds, and that improved management could further reduce emissions.

Healthier soils are less vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change-induced severe weather events because they protect against drought and erosion. The use of compost for reforestation stabilizes soils, helping to prevent catastrophic floods and mudslides. The compost that SOIL produces further contributes to climate change mitigation by improving the soil’s ability to stabilize carbon and by increasing plant growth, thereby pulling more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Helping people

SOIL is improving public health, promoting economic development and ecological restoration, enhancing food security, and improving access to sanitation and quality of life for women and girls.

SOIL’s EkoLakay household toilets provide access to a dignified toilet for over 6,000 people who would otherwise go without one. By removing over 500 tonnes of untreated waste from communities, SOIL is working to reduce the incidence of childhood diarrhoea and prevent the spread of disease.

SOIL currently employs 84 full-time staff and over 250 temporary workers in the sanitation sector.

SOIL’s affordable, organic compost helps farmers grow more food and improves the viability of reforestation efforts in Haiti.

Compost in action in a garden in Port-au-Prince

Spillover effect

The safe capture and transformation of human waste offers enormous untapped global potential to repair the broken agricultural nutrient cycles and mitigate climate change while simultaneously addressing the linked issues of public health, poverty, food insecurity, and economic disempowerment.

SOIL is committed to developing open source restorative sanitation solutions as alternatives to sewer systems. On the global stage, SOIL is a founding member of the Container-based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA) – a group of pioneering sanitation innovators working to develop these alternatives for urban areas. The goal of the Alliance is to formalize container-based sanitation as a widely accepted and endorsed approach among municipalities and regulators, help sanitation services to reach scale, and achieve sustainable impact in urban areas around the world. In a sector that is too often characterized by institutions working alone, the CBSA is a ground-breaking effort to address the global sanitation crisis by promoting knowledge sharing, collaboration, and sustainability.

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