Tracking the re.source

We spend most of our time writing about toilets and sanitation services, but that’s certainly not all we think about. We think about a lot of the things that many other businesses think about: what’s our inventory? How many resources are we consuming? How much material are we producing, where, and when? Never mind that we work with poop and compost, we deal with the same questions as anyone else who manages a supply chain. We care about our supply chain because it has a huge impact on our costs, and once we reach large scale, the supply chain can get pretty complex. We’re prototyping management systems now to know what will grow with us.

We design our tracking systems the way we design everything- starting from the users, in this case SOIL‘s staff. We went on many 4AM drum runs (we’ll share those with you soon) and sat down countless times with the team to make a system that fits seamlessly into waste collection operations. We’ve hit upon a system that has a lot of potential.

Watching and Learning




With just a few low-end Android phones and Open Data Kit (ODK), we have a system that can track everything that goes on in a poop operation. Checking the temperature of the compost bins? Put it in the phone. Weighing bagasse for delivery to the toilets? All the information goes into the phones. We bring the phones back into the office, download the data, and presto: everything’s ready for analysis. The benefits of this system over paper forms are manifold: no need for repeated data entry, less potential for errors and omitted data, faster data availability…

And the kicker: SOIL’s staff members love this system. The drum run team and the compost team mastered the forms in a few quick minutes, and you can tell they enjoy the prestige they get when using the phones in Shada. To boot, we’re sure it’s good advertising for our service that we’re using sleek, modern equipment.

Moïse rocking the phone while returning drums to a public toilet

The data we collect will give us a better understanding of how fast our customers are filling their waste containers, how efficient we are, and where we can cut costs. For now, waste collection frequency is a huge cost driver, and we’ll use our data to optimize collection routes and hopefully even predict future collection needs.

We think our phones are just the first step in creating a smart, highly efficient, and modern sanitation network. We’re building a database to integrate the information (want to help design and implement it? Contact us!), and dreaming up the features we would love to have. What if our toilets warned us two days before they were about to be full? What can we learn from RFID tags being used in municipal solid waste collection? What about from Patrick Thomson and his team’s experiments with water pumps in Kenya? Feel free to let us know your ideas!

In a service where timely collection is critical but costs are driven by the frequency of collection, it pays to get the timing right. And that’s just the beginning.  The better we get at tracking our system, the cheaper we can offer our service. The cheaper our service is, the more people will be using snazzy, clean toilets.

The Expert Toilet Panel

Even as we’re looking to start piloting our collection service with one of our existing designs, we’re always working to design a better toilet.  To that end, Sebastien loaded a few models, prototypes, and concepts into the truck with SOIL’s Erinold Frederic, and went to consult with the experts: our household toilet users in Shada.

You wouldn’t think there could be much variety in toilet designs, but the range of nuances and features to be tackled is tremendous.  So we test out different models (the front-loader, the top-loader, the shorty, the flusher…), and see how our users react.  Really, we don’t believe there’s such a thing as THE toilet design.  Every toilet back home is a little different, why should they all be the same in Haiti?  What matters is to create a line of toilets and features all compatible with an effective, hygienic waste removal mechanism.

We look to our users for their opinion, and they don’t hold back.

Smell is a big deal, and urine stinks. Our users had very strong opinions on where it goes, and how we deal with it.

Speaking of which, can men pee into a urine-diverting toilet while standing? Bad idea, we’re told.

But the height is just about right. A little footstand in the front that doubles as a box for cleaning supplies would be neat too.

The design workshop went well, and we had no trouble recruiting families to try out a new concept or two.  Now it’s time for some more long-term evaluation.

The Demand for toilets

We’ve been working hard to tweak our toilet design in response to many insights we’ve gotten from our beta-test families in Shada.  After a few more iterations, out comes a new design!

A new line of toilets for Shada- sleeker, sturdier, easier to clean and service…

While delivering these models a few days back, we were mobbed by people who were excited about the toilets.  Everyone who saw our newest toilet model proclaimed that they wanted one installed in their home.

Sebastien shows a client (and the crowd) the features of her new toilet. We usually do this in each family’s home, but she came to us with a wheelbarrow before we even had time to visit her house!

Given how little space people have in their homes here, we were gratified (and a little bit daunted) by this overwhelming interest.  The demand for a functioning and aesthetically pleasing toilet is massive here.  An older man spent several minutes explaining to us how he uses a plastic bag for a toilet, and throws it in the river.  He kept insisting that this was an undignified situation and that he desperately wanted a good toilet.  He even suggested that we could go install one of our test models in his home right away.  It’s abundantly clear that people want sanitation here.  All that’s missing is for someone to deliver stylish, effective toilet service at a price that people can afford.  Stay tuned.

re.source @ TEDxStanford

Sebastien showed off one of our toilet designs at the TEDxStanford product showcase alongside other high-impact projects like Embrace.  We got a lot of interest and feedback, and relished the opportunity to call attention to the world’s sanitation challenge.  2.6 billion people in the world live without a toilet, and 1 billion people live in slums!  That’s a lot of people who might be interested in having a toilet like this one…

Updates on our Toilet!

Sebastien just checked in on the prototypes in the homes of our patient beta-testers.  The toilets look great, and we’re getting very useful insights on how to improve. We’re moving along carefully.  After trying our toilets ourselves, we needed to find residents in Shada who would give us honest and blunt feedback, but would bear with us if something went wrong.  We need our users to point out any design failures early and fast, but we don’t want any problem from this design phase to give household toilets a bad name.  SOIL worked with many community organizations in Shada to find ten residents who agreed to try our toilets out, and have been giving us tons of information.

We’ve always known that in a dense neighborhood like Shada, many residents live in one-room houses and might not have space for a toilet.  One of the most exciting things we’ve discovered is how some of our first users created spaces for their toilets, finding room for privacy in already-tight corridors and corners.  We know this probably won’t always be possible, but still, we’re thrilled.

We’re also getting valuable information on how quickly the containers fill up, how much cover material we’ll need to deliver and how often we’ll need to collect the drums when we scale up.


Model 1, Tucked in a corner


 Model 2.  Thirty-one inches wide of space is all you need for a snazzy toilet