Project Tiger FAQ

What’s the problem Project Tiger is addressing?

Good sanitation is one of the greatest advances in public health, yet remains unavailable to billions of poor people in developing countries. Piped sewage systems and treatment plants are unaffordable and often not practicable in dense, unplanned urban settings. This leaves no alternatives to on-site systems, which collect, store and supposedly decompose their contents at or near the household. Around 1.7 billion people worldwide still use one of the most basic forms of on-site sanitation, the pit latrine. They face a recurring problem: the contents don’t decompose fast enough or fully, and the pits fill up.

Full pit latrines seriously undermine people’s health and quality of life. As well as exposure to germs, flies and foul odours, users suffer anxiety, embarrassment and significant expense. They can either replace or empty their pit, but both can be costly or unfeasible due to lack of space – especially in unplanned settlements or emergency camps. People who can’t afford these options have little choice other than to defecate outdoors. This is a serious public health risk – and is also socially demeaning. Project Tiger aims to provide a solution as an affordable, high-performance alternative to pit latrines.

back to top

What are your objectives?

Project Tiger aims to transform the sanitation experience for people currently using basic pit latrines. We want to address their key concerns and offer them a more affordable, longer lasting option than they have currently. This will have a tangible impact on their health and livelihoods, reducing their exposure to disease and potentially freeing income that could, for example, be used to support their families. It’s our ambition that within 5-10 years, users of on-site sanitation will have accessible, effective solutions to their sanitation needs.

Project Tiger’s team of scientists, market researchers, business and design experts aims to:

  • Design a biofilter toilet system to meet people’s needs and aspirations, which is foolproof to install and maintain
  • Demonstrate performance and demand, and estimate potential social, economic, environmental and health impacts
  • Provide a knowledge platform and engage with partners to develop ventures to bring our biofilter to market.

back to top

How do biofilter systems work?

Biofilters are contained units typically consisting of an active layer near the surface, where worms (often tiger worms) and other organisms digest the solid waste as it enters the system. Beneath this is a filtration bed where the liquid waste is further treated by aerobic bacteria, resulting in a highly treated effluent which can be safely discharged into the environment. The unit can be linked to flush or pour-flush toilets, so there’s the immediate benefit of waste being removed from sight, compared with a latrine.

back to top

Who are your target consumers?

Our market research highlighted domestic latrine users as the largest set of potential consumers for our innovations. Pit-filling causes them real anxiety. Where they can afford it or have the space, people empty or replace full latrine pits, and sometimes use pit additives to try to reduce fill rates. Like people everywhere, they want sanitation that offers privacy, safety, convenience and protection from contamination (no smell, no visible contents, no insects). They’d also like it to appear modern and not reflect their poverty. Most people think a septic tank would fulfill their aspiration, but cost is probably a major barrier. Our research suggests our product will be attractive to a massive potential market of people in developing countries who aspire to upgrade to a septic tank but can’t afford it.

back to top

How will Project Tiger’s system meet people’s needs?

It will provide an affordable compact flushable system, which is what people want. This means easier (or possibly no) emptying, no odour, reduced costs and no anxiety or social shame from smells and insects.

back to top

Why will this system be better than current forms of sanitation?

Our target market’s current options are pit latrines and septic tanks. Both are problematic. Pit latrines are the cheapest, but they expose users to their contents, either visually or through odours, and they fill up, requiring the expense and hassle of emptying or replacement, and attracting flies and disease-spreading insects. They’re also extremely unpleasant to use when full or near-full and can cause social embarrassment. People often don’t have the space to replace their pits, and emptying full ones can pose health risks and be messy and expensive. Instead, they aspire to a flushable toilet.

Septic tanks mean people can have a flushing toilet, but they involve anaerobic bacteria to digest the contents, which means they can be smelly. They can take up a lot of space, fill with water and also need to be emptied – again, this is expensive, poses health risks and requires truck access. The waste from both these systems needs to be further treated.

The Project Tiger system will be an onsite treatment plant, treating both liquid and solid elements of waste so they’re safe to discharge into the environment. The system has a flushable toilet, but generates less waste than a septic tank, and that waste won’t need further treatment – it’s more like a compost. It’s generated at the top of the system, making it easier to empty, and the treated liquid is discharged into the soil. We anticipate that the system will be sized somewhere between a pit latrine and a septic tank, so will take up less space than people’s current flushable option.

back to top

What will it look like?

The concepts we’re developing mean the system will be largely underground, with just the toilet itself and a tank access point above. A priority is to make installation as easy and convenient as possible. The actual toilet will allow accessories to be added to aid older and very young toilet users.

back to top

Does it need water?

Yes, for the simple reason that our research shows people want a flushable system, to remove excrement and provide a water-seal against odours and insects. However, it’s a low-water system, placing less demand on natural water sources or power than conventional septic tank or sewage systems.

back to top

Will it be good for the environment?

Yes – unlike a pit latrine or septic tank, the waste is treated within the biofilter system, reducing the potential for pollution if and when the system is emptied. It will also be a low-water system, meaning less demand on natural water sources or power.

back to top

How will it improve health?

By removing excreta and providing a barrier between toilet users and excrement, this system reduces people’s exposure to harmful germs in comparison with a pit latrine. It’s also easy to keep clean because it will have a toilet bowl and flush, and because it processes the contents until they’re no longer pathogenic and are safe to empty.

back to top

Does it need maintenance?

Our research is currently focused on determining the exact quantities of residue likely to be produced in the bioflter, which will determine whether it will possible to have a very-low or no-maintenance system. This will be a significant step forward, as emptying is currently a big issue.

back to top

How much will it cost?

A priority is to ensure that this product is affordable for the poorest consumers both in terms of purchase price and ongoing maintenance. We don’t know the exact cost yet, as the design hasn’t been finalised. Our aim is to achieve a cost lower than that of a septic tank, and to create a design and business model that ensures consumers have control over the money they spend and are not at the mercy of local builders or installers.

back to top

When will it be available?

We plan to have prototypes being tested by users in 2012. We need to run these tests for about a year to be sure that the system is working properly and make any adjustments needed. All being well, we would then work towards making a final production version available in a test market in 2014.

back to top

Where will it be launched?

The likelihood is that it will be somewhere in East Africa, as this is where we’ve done most of our market research for this idea and we believe there’s a big need for this type of product.

back to top

Where did we get the idea?

After a year’s scoping research, including of the latest science and technology and initial market research, we reviewed our findings so we could begin our innovation work. Firstly, we identified a series of technical platforms – e.g. ‘predation’ by organisms that consume excrement – and areas of importance for consumers – e.g. peace of mind. We explored these further at a creative workshop with invited experts, where we generated a broad raft of potential solutions.

Our core team then explored each possible solution in more detail, evaluating its technical viability and potential consumer benefits. This resulted in a long-list of possible technologies to take forward, ranging from an anaerobic cap to bio-additives. We evaluated this long-list against detailed assessment criteria, including market potential, performance measures and possible business models. On this basis, we selected one lead idea: the biofilter system based on natural filtration and digestion by organisms such as tiger worms. Project Tiger was launched to develop this. As well as being effective, biofilter technology was the closest idea to being commercially viable, so we believe it can make the biggest difference to people’s lives in the shortest possible time.

back to top

Are tiger worms present globally?

Tiger worms can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They’re often found in garden compost heaps.

back to top

Why are they called tiger worms

They’re called tiger worms because of their striped markings. They’re also known as brandling worms or red wiggler worms. Their Latin name is Eisenia fetida.

back to top

Why tiger worms and not another type of worm?

Tiger worms are very robust and, compared to other types of composting worm, can withstand a range of environmental conditions, including the high temperatures found in many developing countries and different levels of moisture, which they will experience in our system. They’re also efficient consumers of organic matter, including excrement, and can be found on every continent excluding Antarctica.

back to top

How will you get your concept into the market?

We’re looking for partners to help us take our innovations to market – whether entrepreneurs or established businesses. That’s how we’ll make the greatest impact in improving sanitation for poor people. With proven technologies, prototypes and market analysis, we’ll be the catalyst for these business ventures. We also offer funding to help partners accelerate product development and commercialisation, and will work with suitable partners to help them apply for our Venture Development Grants.

back to top

How will you get people to use/adopt this system?

We will work with business partners to enable them to best communicate that this system meets their customers’ needs. Our research has shown us the problems people face and what they aspire to, so our system is being designed accordingly, and we’ll communicate and demonstrate that clearly. We’ll also share our insights about the moments when people are most likely to upgrade their sanitation facilities, what the barriers can be at such moments and how we feel these can be overcome most effectively.

back to top

What barriers might prevent widespread adoption of your system?

There may be regulatory barriers to introducing new sanitation systems in some countries. In addition, widespread adoption will require a sustained effort to reach and convince our target users of the value of the new system. We must also ensure its affordability, given that our audience are highly value-conscious, with many competing demands for their limited finances.

back to top

If tiger worms are a known approach, why hasn’t this been done before?

Worms have been used to treat sewage sludge in countries such as America and have been used in commercial on-site sanitation systems in Australia and New Zealand, but these systems have been designed for rural settings without space constraints. Our system will be designed to meet developing-world needs (i.e. often cramped, urban locations), in terms both of performance and cost.

back to top

How is this different from existing biofilter systems or composting toilets?

The system is different from a composting system as it allows users to flush waste away, so it requires water. The flushing system means users don’t have to have contact with excrement, and is what people really want. Ours differs from other biofilter systems as it’s designed specifically for the needs of poor people in developing countries.

back to top

Is your project addressing a global issue or does it only apply to Africa?

No, as this is a global problem and Sanitation Venture’s vision is to change millions of lives worldwide.

back to top

What’s your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is making sure we find the right point on the price-performance axis. We’re aiming at low-income consumers who are highly conscious of value and price, yet who need robust products that perform consistently well in the often challenging conditions found in developing countries.

Comments are closed.