Towards smart sustainable sanitation for all: Our three takeaways from the Toilet Board Coalition’s annual gathering

On 16 and 17 January, the Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities team was invited to attend the annual gathering of the Toilet Board Coalition in Geneva. The gathering brought together a wide-range of leading sanitation sector stakeholders from the private sector (large multinationals as well as small start-ups), the donor community, national utilities, and academia. We wanted to share some of our takeaways in this blog post.

The Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) is a business-led partnership and platform that seeks to address the global sanitation crisis by leveraging private sector engagement, connecting large and small companies, and ensuring close collaboration between private, public and non-profit sectors with the common goal to achieve universal access to sanitation.

The sanitation economy

The annual gathering focused on how to coherently advance three intertwined themes, which are critical to achieving smart and sustainable sanitation for all: the toilet economy, the circular sanitation economy, and the smart sanitation economy.

  • The Toilet Economy: Innovative toilet hardware and service that provide toilets fit for different contexts (centralised vs. decentralised, sewered vs. non-sewered, high water tables vs. low water tables, rural vs. per-urban vs. urban, rich vs. poor). Modern toilet hardware also has to be conducive to achieving the aims of the Circular Sanitation Economy (minimise/re-use waste), and the Smart Sanitation Economy (capture data that adds value).
  • The Circular Sanitation Economy: The TBC refers to human waste associated with sanitation as Toilet Resources. Toilet Resources can feed into a system which replaces traditional waste management with a Circular Economy approach. It connects the bio-cycle by combining multiple forms of biological waste to create value-added products such as renewable energy, organic fertilisers, or proteins.
  • Smart Sanitation Economy: Digitised sanitation systems that optimise data for operating efficiencies, maintenance, plus consumer use and health information insights. Sanitation is included in smart cities architecture monitoring public toilet usage, sewage treatment, health indicators, and detects needs for maintenance and repair throughout the system.



Source: Toilet Board Coalition


Meet the Toilet Accelerator 2019 cohort

The TBC also announced its 2019 Toilet Accelerator cohort. The accelerator supports innovative, scalable sanitation business models in order to crowd in further private sector participation in the sector, and to encourage replication. At GSMA M4D Utilities, we’re particularly excited that three of the six ventures supported as part of the 2019 cohort either are already using, or are planning to use mobile payments for sanitation service delivery:

  • ATEC (Cambodia) produces, sells and distributes small-scale prefabricated biodigesters turning kitchen, farm and human waste into biogas for rural farming households across Cambodia. The bio-digester are sold on a pay-as-you-go basis, and ATEC has launched a pilot to trial the use of mobile payments in partnership with Wing.
  • Live Clean (Zambia) provides access to public toilet and shower facilities that are clean, safe and affordable in peri-urban areas of Lusaka, Zambia. Live Clean toilets are built from cargo containers. The waste from the toilets is pushed into water recycling Biodigestion systems that make the water reusable for showers and toilets through membrane filters. The solid waste is converted into biogas and fertiliser. All lighting and water pumps are powered with solar energy. Live Clean has already signed a branding and marketing partnership with Airtel Zambia, and is exploring the use of mobile payments.
  • Joelex (Uganda) makes sanitation accessible and affordable for the urban poor, especially women, children and youth in Kampala, Uganda, by building toilets, showers and waste-to-water treatment plants within slums and markets. Joelex has designed waste treatment plants to provide various by-products such as domestic and drinkable water, biogas and fertiliser. Given Uganda’s vibrant mobile money ecosystem, Joelex is exploring the use of mobile payments as it scales its operations throughout Kampala.

Towards smart sanitation cities

The second and final day of the gathering featured some thought-provoking interactive workshops on digital health, and smart sanitation cities.

The digital health workshop presented cutting-edge applied research developed by MIT and IBM. For instance, workshop participants discussed the potential of deploying smart sensors in sanitation facilities to detect infectious diseases, while also providing fascinating insights about what advances in precision public health could mean for sanitation service delivery. The TBC’s Smart City Pune Project, which seeks to showcase a smart sanitation economy at scale in partnership with the Pune municipality in India, allows for some of these innovations to be piloted.

The smart sanitation city workshop highlighted the transformative potential of data-driven solutions to sanitation service delivery (both for the government, and the private sector). As part of the workshop, GSMA M4D Utilities showcased how geo-coded data can add value by unlocking value-added activities through mapping and tracking different activities along the sanitation value-chain. We also shared our programme’s perspective and stressed that strong data privacy and protection principles have to be the foundation of any smart sanitation city interventions.

We would like to end this blog by thanking the hosting team of the Toilet Board Coalition for offering us to attend and contribute to this annual gathering. We look forward to further engaging and exchanging with TBC in the future, as we find out more about the role of mobile technology in contributing to the goal of smart, and sustainable sanitation for all. We’re excited to join other sanitation sector stakeholders at FSM, AFricaSan and the SuSanA meeting in Cape Town on February 17th.

This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development and
supported by the GSMA and its members.

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