Providing safe sanitation in the developing world is still a major hurdle to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with 61% of the global population lacking safely managed sanitation services, and hence not resilient to future changes. In low income countries, people’s sanitation needs are often served by onsite, with 5 billion people expected to be served by onsite sanitation by 2030. The existing forms of onsite sanitation such as pit latrines lack resilience to future shocks, as they are often prone to flooding, are difficult to empty in areas with a high water table and the practice of filling in a latrine and digging a new one becomes less viable with increasing urbanisation. Whereas aspirations for improved sanitation from low income countries focus on sewer systems, the combination of high capital expense, high operational cost, high demand for water and installation difficulties in dense urban areas make this an unviable option for the near future. Thus the insufficiency of both existing onsite and sewer-based systems raises the need for new resilient ways of managing waste in low income cities.

Circular economy (CE) models, actively using the nutrient or energy value of waste are being implemented in sanitation as a way of shifting the paradigm of waste management to resource production. They focus on the whole sanitation chain which has a positive environmental and health impact, unlike other systems (included sewers) where waste is often discharged untreated into the environment.  

The CE sanitation systems however need supportive government policies to be sustainable; this requires creating an enabling environment, facilitating CE sanitation as a viable alternative to sewers in hard-to-reach areas, and helping governments meet sanitation targets at a reduced cost.  

This project brings together a consortium of British and Sub-Saharan African universities together with CE sanitation businesses and organisations that are trying to support them. The overall aim is to build a model for an enabling environment for the circular economy sanitation system.  

Enabling the Circular Economy project was launched by Prof. Romanus Odhiambo, Vice-Chancellor of Meru University of Science and Technology (MUST) on 29th July, 2019.  In his speech the Vice-Chancellor recognised the important role of research partners and the role of Universities in research such as addressing existing and emerging challenges.  Prof. Odhiambo emphasized on MUST’s dedication and contribution to research including putting in place a research policy as well as the construction of an innovation and entrepreneurship centre.  The Vice-Chancellor added that the University has set aside 20 acres of land for the establishment of Sanitation Research Centre which is the only one in the region.