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Water & Sanitation

This Company Turns Poop Into Fuel for Ugandan Cooks

Where most people saw stinking pits of human feces, Ugandan engineer Bosco Odyek saw “brown gold” and an opportunity to power a new business.

Odyek, an expert on household waste management, decided to collect the waste from outdoor latrine pits around Uganda’s Kole District and turn the feces into fuel for cooking at schools, hotels and private homes.

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“Human waste is a good resource,” Odyek told the Ugandan newspaper New Vision. “Unlike charcoal, the briquettes we produce from the waste have no smoke and those using them are happy.”

Odyek surveyed his neighbors and found that only 3% were connected to the town’s sewer system — the rest used latrine pits, which would fill up with dangerous waste. So he developed a business plan, earned funding from the organization Water For People, and used the money to implement a method for collecting, drying, and processing the feces so it can be sold as fuel that burns like charcoal.

In Uganda, 61% of people lack access to clean water and 75% lack access to safe sanitation systems, which puts them at risk for contracting potentially fatal diseases like cholera and typhoid as well as Guinea worms and other parasites.

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Typically, Odyek said, community members empty their own pits or dig new ones, which can expose them to bacteria and viruses and contaminate the drinking water. His company, Decentralized Fecal Sludge Treatment (DEFAST), is equipped to safely empty the latrines around the region.

DEFAST has the capacity to process two tons of feces per day, though he told New Vision it takes about a month to collect that much waste as people become more comfortable with the concept of fecal fuel.

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The process of turning feces into clean cooking fuel is spreading throughout developing areas, including projects in Kenya, and has the United Nations’ support.

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“When it comes to creating misery and poverty, human waste mismanagement has few rivals” said Zafar Adeel, the director of  UN group that studied fecal fuel. “If we can demonstrate a simple, cost-effective new approach…we can enhance development, protect the environment and help reduce sanitation problems causing one-tenth of all world illnesses.”