Nakuru town’s bid to rewrite the script of human waste


From the urban sanitation-waste challenge as a ‘problem’ to an ‘opportunity’, Nakuru town in Kenya is demonstrating how human waste fashioned into briquettes for cooking is emerging as a viable business product. For each household adopter gained, general disgust amongst community members dissipates.

Only 27% of Nakuru residents are connected to the town’s sewerage system, highlighting the need for a better way to dispose of the large quantities of human waste generated each day. The threat of water contamination in Nakuru is real… as human waste is often dumped in storm drains and rivers, or is buried in low-income areas. In turn, faeces are finding their way into nearby Lake Nakuru, polluting the ecosystem” Reuters, 2017.

Confronting re-use perceptions

Within government, NGO, or civil society-led development planning, re-use of human waste often comes as an afterthought. In most cases, re-use doesn’t feature in urban (sanitation) plans, or is not given enough attention. Perhaps, human waste re-use sounds unattractive, or it is merely slotted in as an add-on to win development-focused proposals or tenders. And, for those working on re-use, often they’re confronted with scepticism and a thousand questions on the practicality and scalability of the approach.

Nobody will be willing to use human waste products. Market studies reveal that over 80% of households are willing to use briquettes made out of faecal matter, and a similar percentage of farmers are willing to use faecal matter-based fertilisers [1]. For both consumer segments, price, quality and accessibility are key in briquette/ fertiliser selection. These findings were confirmed by NAWASSCOAL when (faecal matter) briquette sales started in June 2017 and demand over-exceeded supply.

Briquettes are not safe and the quality is not good. Academic studies confirm that briquettes are safe from pathogens, and its quality (‘functionality’) is competitive to conventional fuel [2]. According to early adopters, briquette use saves money (because they last longer), and has health benefits (poo briquettes produce less smoke and emissions).

Increasing demand/supply for human waste briquettes

The Nakuru County Sanitation Programme – a partnership between the government of Nakuru, local water utility: Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company (NAWASSCO), Vitens Evides International, Umande Trust and SNV – has made great headway in demonstrating the financial viability of the sanitation value chain. Since June 2017 – six months after the certification of the human waste briquettes developed by SNV in partnership with Egerton University – our briquettes have been making waves in the Nakuru sanitation market. Alongside this, new regulations and a sanitation law emerging from countrywide multi-stakeholder approaches have effectively removed legislative bottlenecks and have facilitated safe pit-emptying, transportation and re-use. All these developments have bolstered NAWASSCO’s interest to rehabilitate and expand sewerage works, and the search for alternative ways to dispose of human waste.

Today, the NAWASSCO’s subsidiary company NAWASSCOAL is leading the way in human waste re-use through its large-scale briquette production business. With the potential to produce 10 tonnes of briquettes per day, NAWASSCOAL has the capacity to deliver a more sustainable and healthier alternative to cooking charcoal for 50,000 families in Nakuru, while reducing health risks associated with human waste in residential areas.

Making sanitation services work for everybody [3]

Soon as NAWASSCOAL hits full production capacity in five years, the local water utility stands to gain a net profit of over € 250,000 per year. Among others, it is the business potential of human waste that is encouraging decision makers and urban planners to power through the sanitation crisis, and search for alternatives.

In Nakuru, our human waste briquette project is encouraging national/ local government, businesses and communities to start talking about SHIT. Because, we’re not only delivering to the needs of communities, but we’re also making sanitation services work for decision makers and investors.

By strengthening the business case for briquettes, our Nakuru project has contributed to rewriting the script of the ‘invisible’ human waste. By unlocking that blind spot for re-use within sanitation planning, sanitation in general has now evolved into a government priority.

[1] See for example, the EU-Nakuru County Sanitation Programme’s Biomass Fuel Market Study, published and presented in August 2016.
[2] Read the brochure titled, Sanitation Value Chain: Unlocking Opportunities in Sanitation, to access a selection of the latest and most popular programme publications on briquettes.
[3] View Kenya Citizen TV feature on the programme titled, Nakuru County government devises ways of turning poop into fuel.