Replacing Kenya’s ‘Flying Toilets’

Eoghan Macguire, CNN, May 21, 2012

In the slums of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, visiting the bathroom usually means one of two things; a trip to the local pit latrine or the ‘flying toilet’.

The former entails letting nature take its course in a rickety outhouse perched atop a hole in the ground—a facility also used by hundreds of other people in the neighborhood.

The latter meanwhile consists of relieving oneself in a plastic bag before throwing the offending item away in the street.

A 2011 report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that these arrangements led to environmental contamination and the spread of diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis.

But within this primitive sewage system recent MIT graduate, David Auerbach, has spied an opportunity he believes could one day be worth millions of dollars.

Alongside a group of fellow MIT alumni and local Kenyan partners, Auerbach has helped found Sanergy—a start-up that aims to make a business out of cleaning up Nairobi’s sanitary mess.

It plans to collect human waste in a series of custom-built toilets before transforming it into compost and fertilizer products that can be sold to the local agriculture industry.


The Sanergy model works by first installing a network of low cost sanitation centers, which provide access to clean toilets, at various locations in the slums.

These premises—that trap the waste in air tight containers—are then franchised out to local entrepreneurs at a cost of 45,000 shillings (roughly $500) a year, with a renewal fee charged to continue after this period.

Franchisees are funded primarily by micro-finance loans, explains Auerbach. They charge residents a small fee, usually 5 Kenyan Shillings ($0.06) to use their facilities in order to make their money back.

The waste is processed and broken down to be transformed into a variety of organic fertilizer products that are then sold on to commercial farms.

“Currently we have 25 facilities up and running . . .  we’re collecting about three metric tons of waste per week which can all be converted into fertilizer,” says Auerbach.


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  • Francis Galton

    Hey, I think I’ve got a motto for Africa I would like to propose to the African Union:

    Africa: Where Planes Fall and Toilets Fly 

    • Its sad that toilets probably fly more often than planes

  • Is it time the whiteman shared their plumbing magic with africa? Wait, how did the colonies deal with this? surely they had plumbing.   so the africans had plumbing but rejected it?

    • They did but white man plumbing majic needes to be maintained, the majik in Johannesburg SA is falling apart due to not enough white men

      • IstvanIN

        White management and black labor would be suffcient, but blacks are not even smart to see that.

        • Plus whites build complex systems that LOOK simple and easy to run. Blacks are fooled into believing anyone can run these systems.

          ‘Electricity? What’s so difficult about turning on a light switch? Anyone can do that! Run a city or a nation? Any fool can do that!’ 

          Blacks have no understanding of the complexities of white technology. All they see is how smoothly it runs. They can’t grasp what it takes to maintain such systems.

          • foomeetoo

             Blacks in South Africa stormed a fruit orchard driving the farmer off the land to get the magical trees that made fruit all by themselves. They envisioned a place of amazing prosperity. They sold off all the farm equipment because there was no need for it. then they invited all their neighbors cousins and relatives. They used all the irrigation water on themselves and there was nothing left for the orchards. Within one year all the trees were dead and produced no fruit.

          • Some years back, a BBC crew followed a group of Africans who were raiding a white farm in, I believe, Zimbabwe. (I won’t get into the ethics of the film crew recording the event and not warning the farmers).

            Anyway, they drove the farmers off the farm and proceeded to burn the house and the farm buildings. Think about that. They just took the farm and then burned it to the ground. They had a working farm with all the tools they needed to keep the farm working but they destroyed everything. Do we need any more proof of the low IQ of black Africans?

            I once saw a photo of Africans sitting on and standing around a broken down tracker.

            I assume the tracker used to run smoothly and efficiently when the white man and his magic juju was operating it.

            But apparently, the white man left and he took his magic juju with him and the tracker stopped working. Now the Africans just sit on it hoping the magic will return and make it run again.

            The evil white man is so evil he won’t even share his magic with blacks.

            It’s the same with white neighborhoods. When the white man leaves, he takes his magic with him.

  • Johnny Reb

    There’s nothing very unsual about this. 

    Not too long ago, we saw a mall security camera video of a brown person defecating in a planter during business hours, with shoppers walking by. In Asia, it’s not unusual for men to unzip and urinatein the street or for granny to hitch up her rags and squat.  Don’t even get me started about Honduras or Kuwait. Negro high rise tenements typically have wire screens on balconies to prevent the creatures from throwing things off. And the hallways of these tenements are impenetrable without a gas mask.

    Which is all to say, that once again, the principle of total white supremacy proves itself, without any help from us. 

    Yes, Europeans used to empty buckets of waste into the street.   But the advantage the white man has over all other species on earth is that he has the capacity to learn, to progress and to advance.

    Without us, the non-white world is mired in muck . . . figuratively . . . and as we see here . . . literally.

    • Houses in Skara Brae in Orkney, Scotland, (occupied from about 3100 B.C. until 2500 B.C.) included toilets that used flowing water to remove the deposits. The ruins there reveal drainage systems that run under the houses. 

  • I hope they don’t get the notion to spend Federal money on these things.  But if they do, I know where they can find $400,000 a year.  I’ll give you a hint:  It’s currently appropriated to benefit another Kenyan.

    Ooh, I didn’t just say that, did I?  Have I gone too far, or have I not gone far enough?

  • So an ENTIRE POPULATION is incapable of providing the very basics of human sanitation for themselves and yet I’m supposed to accept, as stone cold fact, that these people are my intellectual and moral equals?  Come On!  The Romans lived BETTER than this 2,000 years ago!

  • IstvanIN

    Not only is it sad that they haven’t managed to build a public sewer and water system, but they are not even smart enough to place a simple outhouse behind each building so that people do not have to travel to do their business.

    If left to their own devices disease and starvation would decimate their populations.

    • El_Magyar

      I agree. If Africa received zero attention from other nations, its problems would take care of themselves in 50 years. Then, Africa could be addressed and re-colonized.

    • El_Magyar

      I agree. If Africa received zero attention from other nations, its problems would take care of themselves in 50 years. Then, Africa could be addressed and re-colonized.

  • I have been looking for a straightforward way to explain what obama has done to this nation…

  • Sometimes I actually pee in a jar so I don’t have to get up in the middle of night, because sometimes I can’t get back to sleep. I’d never throw it out of a window or anything like that though. I am not an animal.

  • This speaks to something I’ve talked about before.

    The West, and Asians, have written the handbook of civilization. It’s there for anyone to refer to. You don’t have to figure things out for yourself or re-invent the wheel.

    While I understand these nations are poor (I’ll ignore the reasons for that now) there are still things people can do. If the current outhouses are too few or badly worn, build new ones. How difficult is that?

    Why do these people need outsiders to tell them what their problems are and how to fix them?

    • IstvanIN

      The Chinese had to stop mothers from emptying diapers on the sidewalks prior to the Olympics.  Now how lomg ago was that…..

      • Diapers? Most of them just let their children go in the street.  Parts of China are a cesspool while some cities are fairly clean.   When I was there I thought it to be a rather vile place.  I think some of it is because there’s so many people and a lot of them are very poor.  Singapore is ran by Chinese, and it’s the cleanest place I have ever been.

        I will give them credit for cleaning up all the garbage on a regular basis.  I think that’s why they litter so much.  They know someone will clean it up.  Blacks just don’t care if they live in filth.

    • El_Magyar

      I do not understand why being poor automatically excuses savage and violent behavior. I was poor from the time I was 18 until I was 27. I always kept my small apartments and myself clean, lived within my means and didn’t steal, rob or murder. Instead I went to school, worked hard at better and better jobs and now, thank God, I have a comfortable existence.

      All of the things I just discussed are available to any inner-city Black person. They have the same, if not more, opportunities and assistance than I had. The difference? Culture. I came from a culture that promoted and expected that kind of behavior. I had parents who promoted and expected that kind of behavior.

      Nonetheless, a person has the ability to assess the situation around them and make decisions. And these decisions can lead to different outcomes. It is not as if the inner-city Black is without help, resources and attention. This is the one square that refuses to be rounded. It seems concious decisions are made to be derelict and base.

  • better_times

    Is this only a problem “in the slums of the Kenyan capital?”  What about the middle class & rich folks in Nairobi?  Maybe they can solve this problem for their own people & avoid embarrassing international press. 

  • The__Bobster

    It plans to collect human waste in a series of custom-built toilets before transforming it into compost and fertilizer products that can be sold to the local agriculture industry.

    There’s a reason why human fecal matter isn’t used for fertilizer. Have they solved the problem of heavy metals buildup?

    • IstvanIN

      Properly sterilized shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Detroit_WASP

    Take a number 2 in a bag and fling it in the street?  WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT!
    I wonder if that’s what George Obama does?  George is flinging crap in the streets and Barrack is flinging it on my TV.  Classic.

  • He could also burn all his money or throw it out of an airplane.  It will get the same return for him.

  • Someone would steal it to make an additional room for their shanty.  

  • Diamond_Lil

    My goodness, even kitties bury their poo.  Some dogs try too as well.

  • ageofknowledge

    Yee haw. They just let it all hang out don’t they.

  • KenelmDigby

    I don’t know about you, but reading about the subject matter of this article strongly brings to mind the entire political class of the White western world – that was the strong subliminal association I made.
       On second thoughts, human faeces, Kenyan human faeces are infinitely more useful and valuable than the political class – at least they can return nitrates etc to green plants etc, plus more intelligence is to be found in half a pound of fresh, wet Kenyan human waste than in the entire front bench of the British Labour Party.

  • JackKrak

    The obvious metaphor here is too strong to resist –

    Western whites – literally cleaning up Africa’s, um, mess when they can’t do it themselves

  • El_Magyar

    That was the first thing that came to my mind. These people, who are the savage of the savage, will merely destroy the toilets. End of story.

  • ”these arrangements led to environmental contamination and the spread of diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis.”

    That’s Gods way of keeping there numbers down, we should not intervene.

  • Bill Gates is actually, quite literally going to throw his money down the toilet ( excuse the pun )

    What a idiot.

  • If he really wanted to help them he’d be paying those with low IQs to get sterilized. Maybe after a few generations they can inch that mean above 70. 

    • SteveM

      That was tried here in Virginia, but disingenuous white liberals sadly put a stop to the practice.

  • Blacks are savage animals.
    You have blacks, you GET AFRICA.
    You have whites – you get America.

    SOON, as the plumbing fails along with the streetlights
    you’ll SEE blacks defecating in bags

  • MikeofAges

    This is an interesting interview. Even if the dubious proposition that Africa becomes a hotbed of burgeoning entrepreneurism proves right, the issue of massive overpopulation will remain. Africa may become a great market and a great source of resources and goods but the problem of the hundreds of millions at least who live under far worse than Dickensian conditions will remain something the West with its bleeding heart can still do nothing about.

    The West left Africa. Now the Chinese and the Indians are moving in. Look at that as positive development and see an opportunity to negotiate your relationship with the new realities. Maybe the Chinese and the Indians can manage it where the West could not. If they can, that is good for us, not bad.

  • MikeofAges

     Embarrassment and shame are alien to all gentrified and aristocratic elites.  

  • I clicked on the video and I saw other videos to the side. What caught my attention was another series of videos entitled, “Liberia: Americas’ Stepchild”.

    I haven’t watched them yet but I expect America is to blame for Liberia and America needs to do more to help their step”child”. Do these people ever grow up?

    As for your video link, I noticed how the African said West Point is where all the tribes come to live together. Yet another example that diversity is not a strength.

    The more unsanitized (pun interned) videos I see of Africans in Africa  the more convinced I am that these people cannot be helped.

  • Johnny Reb

    Put it this way . . . don’t ever shake hands with an Arab.

  • I did’t stay long or get to far off the beaten path.  I was in Manila before I was there too, so maybe my mind was confused by thinking anything better than Manila was clean.  


    When Obama returns to his roots/ homeland/ birthplace, he can steal the plumbing from the White House and take it home with him, and please take your family home too