Sustainable sanitation for informal settlements

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Sustainable sanitation for informal settlements

cali, Colombiacali, Colombia
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Design and implementation of a sanitation system for the informal settlements in the city of Cali Colombia, which can manage properly human organic wastes and generate as a sub products biogas for cooking and a liquid effluent to nourish the soil.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

what if human organic wastes are the key element to generate enough energy to power the developing of the communities living in extreme poor conditions, through decentralized sustainable sanitation.
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The aim of the project is to deal with the lack of sanitary systems in the informal settlements in Colombia as a way to reduce extreme pooverty providing improve sanitation, and reduce the environmental contamination to the Cauca river due to the discharge of such wastes directly into the river.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

To address this issue, a sanitary system was designed. This simple design made out of reused plastic barrels and bottles, transform the organic wastes through an anaerobic digestion process using the model of an up flow digester. As a sub-product, biogas would be generated and store in a pneumatic to be used at the kitchens. Furthermore, a liquid effluent would be generated and filtrated through a reedbed to finally be used to water plants or release into the environment. This system uses the concept of sanitation as a natural flow, starting with the human anatomy until the re-integration of nutrients to the soil. it is a closed loop cycle which benefit the community and the environment around them. And It is accesible in terms of cost.


high distinction project for the master of sustainable design at the University of South Australia
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

the rapid unplanned expansion of the cities and the growth of rural population migrating to the cities with low income rates, create the need for a sanitation system that can be built using reused materials, with the capacity to treat organic wastes on site, and enable people to rely in them selves and their own resources. Decentralized sanitation systems not only help the environment, but is also a way to empower a community which life expectancies are low, by teaching them that waste can be used and transform into something useful, and in that way have a double benefit in the environment and their society. There is a relation between people's capabilities and poverty, and through this project this capabilities can be enhance.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Until the moment, the project based on research will function with a low-volume required, enabling it to suit the urban requirements of space. Future impact goes into social and environmental aspects. The quality of the wastewater discharged to the Cauca River showed a BOD of 196.8, TSS of 233.25, and turbidity of 131.1 which in theory can be reduced in a 90.3%, 968% and 96.72% respectively by using the system. Furthermore, the use of rain water to flush the toilet for this system (corresponding to 0.5L), reduce the water consumption in a 96% in contrast of traditional toilets which spend around 11L per flush.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

At first stage, the project is meant to cover a population of 800 families in the area of Playa Renaciente, Colombia. As this community, there are around 5 more along the shores of the Cauca River, The idea is to train people from Playa Renaciente for them to be able to replicate this system in the other similar communities. In 5 years, all the south west of Colombia can have access to this system and it can be replicate to communities in Colombia and South America. It will require fundraising and volunteers as a workforce, and community involvement through co-creation.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

As around the 90% of the system can be made from re-used materials from plastic barrels, to timber and Pet bottles, the project needs fundraising from several sources. For the first stage a number of 800 systems are required. That mean 800 70L barrels, 800 30L barrels, which can be collected from companies changing their garbage bins, or plastic companies making a donation. The 9600 PET bottles can be recollected from universities.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

In India, a company named sulabh international designed comunity toilets connected to a biogas plant, this initiative requires more space as it is in a community base, it requires more controll and responsibility rather than a system designed to be decentralized as the one proposed. This also means the design proposed requires less space, and the amount of gas generated is suitable for cooking 3 meals a day for a family of 4 people everyday. In contrast to other anaerobic digesters the proposed one function with 500ml of harvested water instead of 5litres or more required by the others.

Founding Story

As a sustainable designer I am passionate for the field of renewable energy production. Through a visit to a farm in Colombia, I get in contact with a tubular anaerobic digester which treated on-site wastes from cows and pigs with a very accesible price. I thought it might be a good idea to design a toilet unit which can be used in urban developing areas specially marginate communities with no help from local governments, and provide a cheap, simple and efficient solution to the environmental contamination and social deprivation of rights that curreltly this communities are living with. I started the research as part of my master's thesis and it came to be a very interesting idea.


At the moment, is just me by my self with support from the SENA Pitalito, specifically Stefanny Ortiz, agricultural engineer specialized in biogas production. I am Melissa Bedoya Rojas, leader designer (founder). Industrial designer with master in sustainable design. along the development phase, the project will require an architect, volunteers.