wastewater management in india

Turning Poop to Profit

Success in wastewater management in India is rarely without obstacles. In fact, it can be creatively compared to the arcade game of Whac-a-Mole, with one issue being solved while another crops up. 

However, these can be seen not as obstacles but as opportunities. 

This is the way Priska Prasetya in the Netherlands, and her colleague, Rajkumar Sampath, in the Nilgiris District of India, look at it. They are in the problem-solving business when it comes to water and sanitation. 

Their program recently received an excellent mark from an evaluator for Securing Water for Food (SWFF), the competitive funding and strategic consultation program, backed by USAID, the Dutch, South Africa, and Sweden.  Farmers in this horticultural-rich region say they are overwhelmingly satisfied with the program that, in essence, turns a very natural resource, human and animal waste, to good use by converting it to nutrient-packed compost. 

Prasetya is the business developer for Circular Economy of Sanitation for the Dutch NGO, WASTE, and veteran agricultural specialist Sampath is with the Rural Development Organization Trust (RDO) in India. Together they are attempting to increase agricultural yields in the region, improve crop quality without the use of harmful chemicals, and provide increased employment for Indian women.  For the most part, they are hitting on all cylinders. However, successes bring other challenges. 

Your ‘poop’ could truly be the next most important resource for the future.

Though cooperation came earlier with the “Clean India Campaign” aimed at providing people with access to toilets in the region, teamwork between WASTE, the RDO Trust, and SWFF began three years ago, focusing on circular economy. However, Prasetya and Sampath acknowledge from the outset that when one considers the circular economy in agriculture with co-compost production, it is impossible to do so without addressing solid waste management in total. 

Prasetya explains: 

“A larger part of co-compost is composed of organic solid waste, such as kitchen and market waste. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, mixed solid waste is received at the treatment sites. 

“This results in additional work required to sort organic and non-organic waste at the site, which leads to additional operational costs. For this reason, it is critical to have on-site segregation between organic and non-organic solid waste. 

“This way, the treatment site will receive higher quality organic solid waste for co-compost production as well as a higher quantity of non-organic waste (recyclables) that can be sold as additional revenue sources. This strengthens the financial sustainability of the treatment site.”

Prasetya adds that in addition to the sale of co-compost, other revenue sources need to be explored to support the financial sustainability of treatment sites. “When segregation between organic and non-organic solid waste is in place, then the sale of multiple recyclables serves as a clear revenue source of a treatment site,” says Prasetya. 

“Additionally, tipping fees should be charged to private emptiers who dispose of their fecal sludge at the treatment site. These tipping fees could only be enforced if the government implements penalties for illegal dumping,” she says. 

Currently, there are national standards and regulations governing the quality of compost, which is made only of organic solid waste. However, they haven’t been developed for co-compost made from fecal sludge. “For this reason, we have customized our own quality standards based on international standards such as the World Health Organization and the European Union Commission as our standards,” Prasetya adds. 

“Standards and regulations around the product quality needs to be made clear to support the general acceptance of co-compost made from fecal sludge,” says Prasetya. Prasetya and Sampath believe a clear operational treatment site model is needed to ensure success when such programs like SWFF conclude. 

“Within SWFF, we are working to institutionalize a women Self-Help Group (SHG) such that they can take up the business activities at the treatment site, including the sale of co-compost and recyclables,” she says. 

Prasetya says an independent bank account has been set up for the women, and plans are being made to set up a revolving fund that can be used to start up their businesses. 

Currently, WASTE and the RDO Trust are working to replicate the circular economy of sanitation model in another area of India, as well as in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Uganda. Additionally, they want to extend the model to the energy sectors. “Just think about business in briquette or bio-gas,” says Prasetya. “Your ‘poop’ could truly be the next most important resource for the future.”


USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture. #socialimpact #innovation #agriculture #water