On an otherwise reasonable evening, more than 1,000 people packed an auditorium in Boulder, Colorado, for the culmination of the 2012 Unreasonable Institute. They came to see 23 ventures present their solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.
Ashley Murray, Founder & CEO of Pivot Works (formerly Waste Enterprisers) is creating a sanitation revolution that will propel Africa to the forefront of human waste reuse and eradicate disease – tackling a problem that causes 2 million deaths a year and causes irreversible destruction to our eco-system.
Waste Enterprisers is bringing radical innovation to the standard methods and economics of human waste management in developing cities. By using human waste as the primary feedstock for other products, we harness its resource value, successfully restructuring the financial incentives that have failed human waste collection, treatment, and disposal in the developing world. Our waste-based businesses create a demand for waste that unlocks profitable alternatives to haphazard dumping. We then reinvest funds back into the sanitation sector to extend services to poor communities.
What is the urgent social or environmental need you’re addressing?
Every day, 85% of the human waste generated on the planet goes untreated into the environment due to failed sanitation systems. It happens in a slum in Accra, where a woman enters a community toilet that’s overflowing with excrement; she exits and squats around the corner to avoid the filth. It happens in the nearby middle-class district, where wastewater is diverted around a broken down treatment plant.
The consequence? Over half the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from diarrheal diseases associated with poor sanitation and water quality. Over 2 million people, mostly children under five, die from these diseases each year. WE works to end the sanitation crisis and its environmental and public health consequences.
What is your solution to this need? Describe your business strategy.
By treating waste like a resource, WE is tackling the crisis of waste collection and treatment. We’re developing three waste-based business models: aquaculture in partially treated wastewater, and the conversion of fecal sludge into a carbon-neutral industrial fuel and biodiesel.
Our waste-based-businesses completely reinvent the economics that govern waste management. The status quo relies on the willingness and ability of households to pay for the full costs of sanitation services. Instead, our model harnesses the resource value of waste for profitable returns, simultaneously shifting the financial burden off households and creating market-based incentives for waste collection and safe processing. By developing a mix of businesses, WE can scale to cities across the globe.