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Rent a toilet: A business solution to Ghana’s sewerage woes

Clean Team Ghana’s business model works around renting out portable toilets, which are installed and serviced numerous times a week.
Toilets are serviced three times a week by a waste collector, who takes the full toilet canister to a processing plant where it is emptied and sterilised.
Clean Team Ghana and scientists from Cranfield University in the UK are currently testing the human waste in treatments tanks for potential commercial uses such as biogas and fertiliser.
"I don’t want to say the lack of sewage systems is a good thing, but it did create the market for companies like Clean Team to innovate in," said Abigail Aruna, the company’s acting-CEO.
With a lack of sewerage and sanitation facilities in some urban areas, many do their business openly, or in packets that are then thrown into gutters, polluting water supplies and causing diseases such as cholera.
As many African countries undergo rapid urbanisation, cities are typically expanding faster than the infrastructure needed to support larger populations. This is clearly seen in the inefficient sewerage and sanitation facilities that especially affect the poor.

And in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city, things are no different. Densely populated, unplanned settlements lack sewerage systems, and result in more than half the population making use of public toilet blocks – which are often over-burdened, poorly maintained, and unhygienic. Those that cannot brave the stench would prefer to do their business openly – or in packets that are then thrown into gutters, polluting water supplies and causing diseases such as cholera.

So what is the solution? Enter Clean Team Ghana, a sanitation company providing innovative and affordable in-house toilets to urban, low-income communities.

Dignity made affordable

Clean Team Ghana’s business model works around renting out portable toilets, which are installed and serviced numerous times a week. According to Abigail Aruna, the company’s acting-CEO, each toilet generally services an average household of five to seven users. Toilets are installed by a company employee after a once-off payment of 10 cedi (US$2.50). They do not require any connection to water, just a bit of space. Furthermore, they are odourless – using a chemical that masks the smell of human waste.

After installation, toilets are serviced three times a week by a waste collector who exchanges the used canister for a clean one. The waste is then taken to a processing site and the dirty canister is washed and sterilised. This service costs a household 35 cedi ($8.90) a month per toilet, with the option of weekly payments – as very few customers earn monthly salaries.

“Most of our customers are traders and earn daily sums of money, maybe even weekly sums,” explained Aruna. “So we have account managers who visit these customers at least once a week so they can pay in bits.”

Trials are also underway to monetise human waste by converting it into energy and fertiliser that can be sold to commercial farmers.

A model for Africa

The Clean Team Ghana business model was originally conceptualised through a partnership between Unilever and non-profit Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP).

IDEO.org was then contracted to design a portable toilet with the needs of low-income Ghanaians in mind. After much research the first toilets were trialled for six months from June 2011. And at the start of 2012 the operation had secured funding from the Stone Family Foundation and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help scale-up operations. By April, Clean Team Ghana was officially incorporated.

Today the company has over 1,000 toilets installed in Kumasi, with the target of reaching 2,500 by the end of this year. The team uses door-to-door marketing where they can directly introduce consumers to the portable toilets and better explain how the service works.

Aruna believes the company can easily reach a target of about 10,000 rented toilets in Kumasi over the next few years. And once it has a better hold of this city, they will target other towns and regions in the country.

“Research is ongoing around that. There are regional differences and we will take them into consideration before we expand. The situation in Kumasi is quite different to the situation in Accra or in Tamale, or in other towns.”

She added there is also potential elsewhere in Africa, where innovative solutions developed for the continent’s specific challenges are required.

“I don’t want to say the lack of sewage systems is a good thing, but it did create the market for companies like Clean Team to innovate in… and I don’t see Ghana building these sewage systems anytime soon because that would mean demolishing a lot of homes and other facilities,” she continued.

“Innovative ideas like ours are really necessary in Ghana and other African countries which cannot afford to put adequate sewage systems in place in their towns and cities. So I think the future of Clean Team Ghana and other sanitation companies is very bright – and is a way forward to solve the sanitation issues in Africa for now.”

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