“They call me ‘Mama Poo,” Anne told me matter-of-factly as we strolled through a dusty pathway in Silanga, a small neighborhood in the expansive Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya. “And I like that,” she added.
Anne Nudge is a sales representative for Peepoople AB, a Swedish social enterprise that, last October, launched a pilot project in Silanga marketing and selling “The Peepoo" – a single-use, personal toilet that sanitizes human waste quickly, preventing it from contaminating the surrounding environment.
After just a few weeks, the bag transforms the waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer.
The Peepoo bags, which sell at a subsidized (by PeePoople) cost of three Kenyan Shillings (four cents) each, are used at home, then returned to one of two “drop-off” points where customers get a one Kenyan Shilling refund/incentive for returning the bags.
While treated bags may seem a rudimentary, even crude form of sanitation, looking at the alternatives make the solution seem a little less far fetched.
The first option for many slum dwellers are the overcrowded, unsanitary, and often unsafe public toilets – simple elevated wooden or tin shacks with holes in the floor – that breed disease and sometimes serve up to 300, even 500 households.
The second, and less attractive option, are “flying toilets," tiny grocery bags that, after usage, are carelessly thrown into the street or alley, where the contents seep back into the ground.
The Peepoo solution is quite simple, and for PeePoople’s co-founder, Camilla Wirseen, the choice is clear. You can keep it at home, use it anywhere with relative ease, and it actually strictly adheres to the World Health Organization's definition of sanitation – isolating waste from humans, isolating it from flies and animals, and inoculating the pathogens before it returns to the environment.
With a recent grant of 1.6 million euros ($2.2 million), PeePoople will now be able to expand its reach to new neighborhoods all across Kibera. Though it may sound strange to some, a simple green-and-white bag might just be one of the most viable, immediate, and affordable sanitation options on the market for the millions of people confined to slums across the globe.
At least for now.
• Sign-up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.