Building healthy communities and combating infectious disease by providing low-cost, high-quality toilets for Kenya’s urban poor.

The Challenge

Even though sanitation is considered a human right, many people in the developing world lack access to even basic toilets. Each year, 760,000 children die of sanitation-related diseases. In Kenya’s slums, about 8 million people lack hygienic and dignified sanitation solutions, and 4 million tons of untreated sludge is dumped into waterways every year.

People living in these informal settlements are at high risk of contracting waterborne diseases like typhoid or cholera. In addition to its effects on community health, poor sanitation also has implications for education, the environment, and human dignity.

Despite this challenge, at Kenya’s current rate of investment, completing sanitation coverage would take 150 years.

Sanergy and Fresh Life Toilets

After visiting Kenya, three graduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created Sanergy, a business that hires local people to manufacture and operate low-cost, high-quality Fresh Life toilets for Nairobi’s slums. Local residents pay a small amount for the use of the toilets.

Sanergy also collects and converts waste from the toilets into fertilizer and animal feed for commercial and smallholder farms. The fertilizer helps restore soil health in Kenya, where 80 percent of the people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Due to soil degradation, farm productivity has been declining, and there is a demand for 270 million tons of organic fertilizer each season.

Since 2011, Sanergy has installed 772 Fresh Life toilets in Nairobi, safely removed 7,245 metric tons of waste from the environment, created 779 jobs, and grown to a team of 200 people—93 percent of whom are Kenyan. Every day, more than 30,000 people use the Fresh Life toilets.

Impact: Leah Gachanja and Josephine Kemunto’s Story

In Kenya’s informal settlements, many residents don’t have access to even basic facilities like pit latrines. Instead, they resort to using “flying toilets.” “Often, during the night, we would do our business in the polythene bags, or containers, and then, in the very early morning, dispose of the waste by throwing it onto the roads or riverbanks,” said Leah Gachanja, who now operates three Fresh Life toilets in Mukuru kwa Reuben, one of Nairobi’s biggest slums.

Since installing the Fresh Life toilets, Gachanja has increased her own income, and her self-confidence along with it. “From the money I earn, I have been able to supplement my husband’s income and comfortably provide for our children’s needs such as food and even school fees,” she said.

Josephine Kemunto, one of Sanergy’s 381 Fresh Life operators, rents out eight plots in the slums. She said replacing the open pit latrines has improved health issues, while reducing bad smells and maggot infestations. “There was a lot of coughing in the plot by tenants and children,” Kemunto said. “But ever since I discovered Fresh Life toilets, this problem has reduced.”