The Water Research Commission (WRC) prides itself on its championing of innovative methods with its recently launched a sanitation programme to drive the development and commercialisation of “water-smart” reinvented toilets in South Africa. The milestone was achieved in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Foundation and the department of science and technology. It was supported by South African Local Government, Office of The Presidency through the Sanitation Appropriate for Schools Programme, and department of human settlements, water and sanitation. They managed to successfully collaborate in the launch of the South African Sanitation Technology Enterprise Programme (Sastep).
The obligation of the programme is to pilot and demonstrate local and international innovative sanitation technologies in South Africa that will foster the development of a local sanitation industry, which will increase access to adequate sanitation; reduce pollution; improve water security; create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities; and contribute to South Africa’s GDP.
The programme focuses on the reinvented toilet technologies that make use of internal treatment systems to process human waste and kill the pathogens that make people sick, thus meeting global safety and performance requirements. All this is accomplished without connections to sewers or water supply. It further supports research on sustainable sanitation that, inter alia, transform faecal sludge into energy, fertiliser, animal feed, or oil that can be sold or used to generate income. The research has also generated non-sewage designs.
To demonstrate the potential of the reinvented toilet as a sustainable solution to national sanitation challenges, the initiative will work with local communities to trial proven and emerging technologies alongside the business and service models presently used to maintain the systems. Local innovations that fit the criteria and are designed to meet the new SABS 30500 standard for non-sewered sanitation systems can also join the programme for further support and evaluation. Through innovation and smart chain supply, universal access can be achieved sustainably and linked to water security and business opportunities. The lessons learnt on this platform will be translated into a “pan-African offering” for further engagement and dissemination.
The collaboratory aspect of this project is prized, as no single entity — be it department or research institution — can achieve the desired goals for the country by working in a silo. Incorporating the communities that are most likely to benefit the most from Sastep is another means of improving stakeholder relations within the WRC and its partners. It also illustrates commitment to excellence in providing innovative water solutions that work for the greater populace.
The sanitation economy offers new ways of looking at sanitation systems. Until now, South Africa had a limited niche in the technology and industrialisation environment. The potential exists for South Africa to be the one of the front runners in becoming the manufacturing, technology development and innovation hub for new sanitation technology in the developing world.
The medium-term view is to build an industrial platform that attracts private sector investment and disrupts the current technology trajectory of the sanitation industry through affordable, innovative technologies, service delivery and entrepreneurship models. The robustness of “Reinvent the Toilets” technologies (RTT) will be tested in multiple field environments by matchmaking South African commercial partners with public sector testbed partners, thereby driving stronger business cases for localisation and industrial development.
Achieving Sastep’s vision will definitely require a bold approach, making use of widespread consultation, linking of various players in the value or process chain to ensure adoption, scaling-up and the development of appropriate policies and regulation, all with the goal of championing the proliferation of new sanitation technologies.