How can you make soil out of poop?


SOIL, our Poverty and Health beneficiary for Q3 2014, is using new and innovative approaches to solve a problem created when people live in tight quarters without sufficient sanitation programs. Throughout the world, people have dealt with this issue through their own rites, cultural practices, and necessities. However, in many parts of the world, proper sanitation is not available, and human waste is a health hazard.

In our last post about SOIL, we talked about the human side of this wonderful organization. However, SOIL does bring the science of waste disposal in Haiti to an important milestone. When an organization starts with a human waste product (OK, I am just going to call it poop from now on) and creates usable safe soil for agriculture, that is a wonderful thing.

How does SOIL do this? Through composting, although not the same backyard composting many of us are familiar with. My compost pile was used to fertilize my garden and takes very little effort. However, since I don’t do much to monitor my compost pile, I don’t put any meat or dairy products into the pile. This is because all meat, and meat eaters, have different and sometimes dangerous pathogens in our waste. We would not want to contaminate wonderful vegetables by growing them with contaminated soil. But SOIL composts poop, right? This is completely different from my composting product, but the process is completed on a large scale and is monitored in a different way.

The SOIL way starts with their innovative toilet seat, which is placed in outhouses in Haiti. The toilet seat separates liquid and solid waste. The separation solves two problems 1) liquid and solid waste are treated differently and 2) removing the liquids from the solid waste makes the transportation of the solid waste lighter and more manageable, encouraging people to use the SOIL process instead of just having a company pump their outhouses, which often just gets disposed of in the cities’ waterways. Locally hired SOIL staff regularly go to clients’ outhouse to remove the waste and bring it to the compost processing area.

SOIL has developed a fantastic, sustainable and local cover material. What is cover material? It is used as a “flush”: It covers the waste to reduce the smell and start to break down the waste material. This process is described on the SOIL blog post The Cover Story. SOIL began using a mix of two easily attainable waste products in Haiti, peanut shells and bagasse (the woody bits of sugarcane left over after processing cane for rum production). But as SOIL grows, so does the need for these materials, and industrious Haitians saw a new market for their waste materials. SOIL staff is never far from innovation, and they are trying new combinations to keep the cost and effectiveness of their cover material in line with their business model.

So, what about the pathogens? Human wastes has pathogens that other waste does not. No one wants to get people sick, so SOIL has developed a compost program that has multiple safety checks to ensure the safety of their soil end product.

Studies from the World Health Organization have shown that to kill pathogens from human waste products takes one week at a temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit. SOIL goes many steps beyond that requirement to provide a safe end product by composting their material for more than 6 months before use.

SOIL has chosen to sell their compost and soil to entrepreneurs in Haiti who are working on small-scale agriculture to improve the quality of their soil. This provides the program with some income while providing a needed service to the farmers at market price.

SOIL is not able to reproduce their system on a larger scale as of yet. But they encourage people to educate themselves and use their products where appropriate. More information can be found on their website.

Haiti benefits greatly when SOIL turns poop into soil.