A financially viable and safe solution for managing human waste

Collecting small monthly payments will help waste collectors build their business.

Bangladesh - pit latrine empytiers

Pit latrine workers in Bangladesh collecting and transporting human waste to a site where it is processed into fertiliser. Image: Neil Palmer (IWMI). Credit: University of Leeds

Spreading the cost of emptying pit latrines over a series of monthly payments could make it more affordable for poor households and help kick start the safe reuse of faecal sludge as fertiliser and biogas. This is the conclusion of a willingness-to-pay study carried out in a rural sub-district of Bangladesh covered by the BRAC WASH Programme II.

The study has already caught the attention of policymakers, and influenced the development of Bangladesh’s first regulatory framework for faecal sludge management. Some of the authors are members of the Bangladesh National Committee for Fecal Sludge Management.

Currently, households struggle to pay a lump sum of US$13 every three to four years to empty their pit latrines. This is approximately 14% of their monthly income. Instead, the study found they could pay small monthly payments of as little as US$ 0.31 per month, comparable to what they spend each month on a mobile phone service. These up-front payments help waste collectors to invest in the development of their service. Nevertheless, a government subsidy would still be needed to cover the full cost of safe removal and transport of faecal sludge.

As mentioned above, there is potential for waste collectors to generate extra revenue by converting faecal waste into fertiliser and biogas. The profitability of these waste by-products, however, can be effected by existing subsidies for chemical fertilisers and conventional fuels. Another factor that can reduce profitability is the low energy or calorific value of human waste compared to other organic wastes. A companion study carried out as part of the BRAC WASH Programme II tested solutions to increase the calorific value by co-processing human waste with other agricultural wastes.

The willingness-to-pay study is an output of the Value at the end of the Sanitation Value Chain (VeSV) research project, lead by the University of Leeds. VeSV was one of six action research projects funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Bangladesh) through IRC. Additional funding was provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.

For more information read “Spreading the cost to transform sanitation“, published by the University of Leed’s School of Civil Engineering, 22 March 2017.

Citation: Balasubramanya S, et al. (2017) Towards sustainable sanitation management : establishing the costs and willingness to pay for emptying and transporting sludge in rural districts with high rates of access to latrines. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0171735. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0171735

This news item was originally published on the IRC website, 27 March 2017.

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