e'Thekwini: Sustainable Pit Latrine and Market Garden
e'Thekwini Particle Separation Systems Technologies Pty Ltd, SLB Consulting Engineers, GRP Plant Hir

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
South Africa has major issues providing sanitation services to the very poor. The primary challenge for the public sector therefore is providing proper sanitation infrastructure for informal settlements in South Africa. Approximately 9% of South Africans do not have access to sanitation services and an additional 64% of households are currently using interim services. It is estimated that the Durban area alone has more than 80,000 latrines that require services. The e’Thekwini Municipality passed a resolution in 2003 decreeing that pits would be emptied in a 5-year cycle, focusing on Ventilated Improved Pit, or VIP latrines. However, several issues became apparent early on. As the superstructures of the VIP latrines could not be moved, there was restricted access for mechanical equipment due to the locations of the latrines informal settlements, and the latrines were located in dense housing areas, which made it impossible to relocate the pits or to bury the waste sludge. The only possible solution was to remove the sludge from the latrines, which was made even more difficult by the topography of the Durban area, where extreme elevation changes are the norm. In response, e’Thekweni conducted a pilot study to evaluate the number of latrines that needed to be emptied, and what would be the most economical and efficacious method to empty these pits. This study revealed several other challenges that would become problematic. Excess water in the waste sludge was going to lead to increased disposal and transportation costs. High levels of detritus, non-organic waste, which was impossible to remove on site, was also going to lead to increased transportation and disposal costs. This inability to effectively remove waste from the pit latrines is extremely detrimental to the health of the communities due to potential for contaminated water supplies, increased infectious diseases, and overall poor sanitation. In 2007 the e’Thekweni Municipality initiated a multi-million Rand pit emptying project with the goal of emptying 50 000 VIP pit latrines. The Departments Procurement Section hired 6 sub-contractors, who in turn employed 6 teams of local labour work to empty the pits. During this emptying process overloaded wastewater treatment works facilities became overloaded, and it became impossible to dispose of the waste sludge at these facilities. Disposing of pit sludge at hazardous waste landfill sites was only possible at enormous costs. It was out of this near disastrous project that LaDePa project was borne, leading to the e’Thekwini: Sustainable Pit Latrine and Market Garden Programme.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The e’Thekwini: Sustainable Pit Latrine and Market Garden Program works in collaboration with the e’Thekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) department, Particle Separation Systems Technology (Pty) Ltd (PSS), SLB Consulting Engineers and GRP Plant Hire. The Latrine Dehydration and Pasteurisation Plant (LaDePa) is an ideal solution to the problem of waste removal, while also ensuring the project’s sustainability. It treats and recycles the waste sludge in a cost effective manner by forcing the waste sludge through a screw to remove the detritus, separating the waste into pellet-like formations. It then doses the pellets with medium wave radiation rays to destroy the pathogens and sterilize the pellets completely. These fertilizer pellets are then bagged and supplied to municipal gardens. This technology has provided an innovative way for the waste to be processed cheaply and safely, and completes the recycling process of the waste sludge. Research done by the University of Kwazulu-Natal has documented the safety of this fertilizer for plant growth and the richness of its nutrient content. The contractual model of the project for the removal of the waste makes certain that waste sludge will be treated and removed effectively. The e’Thekwini programme buys the waste sludge rather than paying for the pit latrines to be emptied, which creates an incentive for the sub-contractors to remove the waste and bring it to the LaDePa Plant rather than dispose of the sludge in a hazardous manner that may be cheaper. By using sub-contractors that hire directly from the local communities, this also creates jobs for the local population by removing waste and also at the LaDePa Plant. Taken as a whole, the project has created a service model that delivers several resources to the community. It oversees the emptying of pits; it creates jobs; and buys the sludge from the sub-contractors. The waste is then processed and recycled at the LaDePa plant and given back to communal and municipal gardens for the use of fertilizer, increasing the agricultural capabilities of the community while also reducing costs of gardening.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The engineer driving this project, Dave Wilson, cites “desperation led to innovation” when confronted by having to deal with the rising costs of disposing waste sludge and the strain it put on the wastewater treatment works. The LaDePa machine, housed in a movable container, was the innovation that solved the excessive production of sludge by transforming it into fertilizer pellets of high quality. However, the integration of the LaDePa programme goes beyond this useful invention, as it is able to use this recycling process to enhance the sustainability of the project through fertilizer sales, transforming waste sludge into a lucrative resource, rather than viewed as hazardous material to be disposed. This method of waste recycling also saves significant amounts of energy compared to the usual treatment methods. The reuse of the emptied pit latrines saves on labour that would have been necessary to create new latrines. In other words these innovative methods of performing both waste disposal as well as creating jobs for the community while providing fertilizer of an exceptionally high quality is what sustainable development is all about.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The e’Thekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) department, Particle Separation Systems Technology (Pty) Ltd (PSS), SLB Consulting Engineers and GRP Plant Hire work together to implement the e’Thekwini: Sustainable Pit Latrine and Market Garden Program. The program identified six major issues related to pit latrine management, including: space and access, human pathogen transmission, detritus disposed with human fecal matter, material handling difficulties, transportation costs and methods. It was determined that a manual emptying program was the most economical method of emptying pits and that disposing sludge at sewerage treatment plants created problems with the nitrification process in overloaded plants. The current sludge disposal methods wasted nutrients and took up space at landfill sites. After these organizations discussed waste containment and disposal, they conducted a pioneering project in Durban to empty pit latrines, treat waste, and dispose of the waste sludge. SLB Consulting Engineers and the GRP Plant Hire joint venture group emptied over 3 500 pits using contractors and local staff. A contract was then advertised and awarded in 2007 to a joint venture Managing Contractor to empty 30 000 VIP latrines. Through the Departments Procurement Section six sub-contractors were selected to work as nominated sub-contractors. Each sub-subcontractor hired six teams of six workers, and the workers follow stringent health guidelines for the pit emptying process. The workers are required each to take compulsory hot showers using disinfectant soap and to take de-worming medication to ensure the health and safety of the workers, along with regular full medical check-ups. The Health and Safety officials of the municipality also monitor the safety of the workers. Once the LaDePa technology was implemented and research had proven the safety of the fertilizer pellets, relationships were established between community farmers and e’Thekwini in order to provide the micro-gardeners and farmers with a steady supply of pellets. These pellets can also be sold to third-party agricultural facilities in order to create funds for the project. The e’Thekwini municipality has monitored this programme throughout its implementation process and is satisfied with the results of the project. Subsequently, plans have been drafted to implement this project in other municipalities.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The stakeholders involved in the operation included the e’Thekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) department, Particle Separation Systems Technology (Pty) Ltd (PSS), SLB Consulting Engineers and GRP Plant Hire. EWS was the primary project sponsor, a co-patent holder, the co-inventor of LaDePa and they commissioned the pit-emptying program. PSS provided the Parsep Dryer (a key component of LaDePa), was co-patent holder, and co-inventor of LaDePa and took responsibility for construction of the pilot plant. SLB Consulting Engineers and GRP Plant Hire joint venture used contractors and local staff to empty pit latrines. The local community members of the Durban area, especially in the informal settlements, are significant stakeholders in this project, as community members from the area and they make up the majority of the work force of the project.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The project was funded entirely by the e’Thekwini municipality. It initially received R3.2mil to cover start-up costs. From 2010 to 2013, it received R200 000 to cover operational costs. SLB Consulting Engineers and GRP Plant Hire mobilized human resources to clean latrines and process waste. E’Thekwini and Particle Separation Systems Technology (Pty) Ltd collaborated to develop the LaDePa waste treatment machine.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The LaDePa system has been able to successfully recycle the waste sludge of the e’Thwekini Municipality. The machine itself is highly portable making it very accessible to rural communities. The LaDePa plant spurs job creation, since its basic mechanical and electrical engineering allows for operation and maintenance by people with low-skill levels. However the costs are still low for this project, as only one supervisor is needed for the plant along with 5 general workers. The main work force is required for emptying the pit latrines, which is outsourced to subcontractors. Since the outset of the programme, 35 000 pits have been emptied and workers are now starting to empty public school’s pit latrines. Through this contract model more than 36 jobs have been created to empty the pit latrines through the sub-contractors. This has generated 10 000 tons of sludge annually, which is then recycled into fertilizer pellets. Employees are organized, provided with protective materials and given the tools needed to clean latrines. This process ensures that pit latrines are cleaned in a method that is safe for employees, citizens and the environment.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Clear guidelines stipulating employee procedures are used to evaluate the activities of employees and ensure that rules are followed. The employees who empty the pit latrines work in teams go through extensive training on how to empty the latrine pits and how to adhere to the required safety guidelines. They are taught not to climb into pit latrines and that a minimum of two workers must be involved in emptying the latrine at each site. They are also provided with full protective gear, given a compulsory hot shower and de-worming medication and provided with regular medical checkups. Health and Safety officials of the municipality are used to ensure that these rules are followed. Breaking any of these rules leads to immediate dismissal, which has happened on occasion, exemplifying the commitment the programme has to its safety regulations. Scientists at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have evaluated the safety of the pellets that are created from the recycled waste sludge. It has been determined that these fertilizer pellets have positive impact on agriculture and they are entirely safe to use. The agricultural produce that has been grown with these fertilizer pellets has seen significant growth and testing is still being conducted to determine the impact of these pellets on agricultural successes. The municipality of e’Thekwini in Durban and e’Thekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) provide overall oversight and evaluation of the project. Their evaluations have indicated that the project is a successful method of managing waste within the e’Thekwini municipality. These evaluations have inspired extreme interest in replicating the initiative elsewhere, even from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation who have shown interest in the patented designs of the waste treatment process.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
A similar project to the e’Thekwini programme was developed near a sewage treatment plant at Zeekovlei, in Cape Town. This project failed due to insufficient processing procedures of the waste and the incorrect use of technology that was unable to successfully filter the waste sludge. This was a problem that the e’Thekwini programme quickly faced, as the wastewater treatment works were unable to process the waste sludge. The LaDePa project was the solution to this issue, as it provided a cheap and effective way to process the waste. This technology has become the foundation of this project and the most important reason for its success. Another obstacle that cropped up was resistance from local community gardeners to the use of the fertilizer pellets, as some were unwilling to use the pellets due to concern of adverse health risks. However, the complaints were quelled once participants were shown the proper scientific data from the University of Kwazulu-Natal, which proved that the pellets were safe for fertilizer use. Municipal gardeners were initially slow to accept this data, but once they had seen the results from using the fertilizer pellets, they grew more comfortable with the project.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Manually emptying pits improves the health standard for people using pit latrines. Its corollary is the failing to empty latrines, making them unusable and facilitates the growth of harmful bacteria. The initiative addresses the cleaning of latrines rather than creating new ones. The programme also provides many jobs to low-skilled rural workers who were unemployed. More than 35 000 pit latrines have been emptied using local employees (60% of whom were female). The fertilizer pellets that are created through this project are used to enhance the productivity of soil and improving the sustainability of market gardeners. This then improves the economies of marginalized communities by providing more opportunities for economic empowerment. It also provides greater food security, by increasing the likelihood that sufficient crops will be grown to feed rural populations. Additionally, the municipalities that implement this initiative benefit from its low capital and operating costs, resulting in substantial savings while still providing reliable service delivery.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The processes of the e’Thekwini: Sustainable Pit Latrine and Market Garden program are streamlined. Workers are organized into teams of five, trained to empty pit latrines, are given rules outlining proper procedure and provided with effective oversight. This is a clear procedural process with effective training methods that can be replicated to other districts. The LaDePa waste disposal method uses significantly less energy than conventional methods and its portability makes it more accessible to informal settlements and remote communities, increasing the likelihood of replication success. Importantly, the LaDePa machine can be locally produced, allowing not just local governments access to this technology but also to entrepreneurs who would be able to create local sanitation recycling businesses. The low operating costs and capital associated with the project make it enticing to poor municipalities. Since the end result is a fertilizing product, the programme creates an instantly saleable product. Plans have been drafted to implement the initiative throughout the greater Durban area. The Bill Gates Foundation is engaging with engineers at Boeing, General Motors and major universities to design the machinery needed for the project and implement it in other countries on a large scale. The Durban municipality is engaged in serious discussions with Brazil and Kenya to implement similar projects in these countries. Additionally, relationships have been developed between e’Thekwini and community farmers to provide farms with a steady supply of pellets, thereby increasing reliance on the initiative and aiding sustainability. This project would be easily replicable with small start-up costs and would be beneficial for many areas around the world.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The e’Thekwini: Sustainable Pit Latrine and Community Garden project has shown how innovative projects can be developed through examining problems in a different light. The manger of the project when confronted by the enormous waste disposal challenge claimed, “desperation led to innovation”. The problems faced initially are what led to the eventual programme’s success, as the project was forced to come up with an innovative method to process the waste sludge, and this is how LaDePa was borne. The recycling of fertilizer from the human waste sludge to create a sustainable recycling method goes far and beyond just the issue of pit latrines and sanitation and shows how a programme can revolutionize a community through job creation and learning how to use the full extent of the communities’ resources, in this case human waste. The informal settlements of the Durban area lack the infrastructure required for conventional sanitation management. And the public sector has had extreme difficulty in creating proper sanitation facilities for transient and mobile communities located in areas difficult to reach. The e’Thekwini programme works within the constraints of certain contexts and shows how projects can develop methods that are malleable to the community, rather than forcing the community to accommodate the project. This programme also shows how effective partnerships between civil society, business, government, and educational institutions can be when working together to solve communal problems. The e’Thekwini: Sustainable Pit Latrine and Community Garden is a successful project that is able to improve the sanitation requirements of the community through the recycling of human waste, while it is also able to create jobs and improve agriculture for the local population. This project is currently being replicated in other areas of South Africa and, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to other parts of the world.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   e'Thekwini Particle Separation Systems Technologies Pty Ltd, SLB Consulting Engineers, GRP Plant Hir
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   David Wilson
Title:   Mr  
Telephone/ Fax:   27313114911
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   dave.wilson@durban.gov.za  
Address:   Tongaat Sewage Works
Postal Code:   4000
City:   Greylands, Tongaat
State/Province:   KwaZulu Natal

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