"What a Waste!"

"What a Waste!"

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Dec 14, 2010
  • comments

Ecole Baptiste Bon Berger is a muscular K12 school campus in downtown Port-au-Prince. It's the largest school on our books, serving 1100 students with expectations to grow upon completion of their new buildings–two story classroom blocks lined in rows on the L-shaped site leave enough space for wide outdoor corridors but little else. Given the density and need to temporary class needs during demo and construction, there's little free space for school designers to work with.

Which makes certain needs of the school all the more challenging–needs like waste management. A typical Haitian school uses waterless latrines, structures ideally built to migrate once a dug-out pit has been filled. A filled and capped latrine pit requires a year for its contents  compost. Over the lifetime of a building, its latrine can take up a lot of space. And then there's the water table–proper latrine facilities  need to be built a good distance above the water table which, for low-lying areas such as Port-au-Prince, is more of a challenge than most contractors are willing to acknowledge. Building a proper latrine at Pele requires elevating it roughly four feet off the ground. Building a proper HANDICAP-ACCESSIBLE latrine with long enough ramps to reach these heights results in what Stacey McMahan remarks to be something strikingly Tower of Babel-esque.

At this point in Haiti's development, waste is getting pretty difficult to take care of. Port-au-Prince's municipal waste system doesn't broaden the field of options. Very few neighborhoods have service, and those that do are better off not knowing what happens when those trucks drive away. Port-au-Prince's waste, no matter the source, gets routed to the city dump. There is no waste treatment. As a lot of rubbish is a resource for some, people regularly go to the dump to find some hastily-rejected valuables. That all of the city's waste off-castings mingle together is an unfortunate situtation that needs its own system of redesign and construction, and years of infrastructural development, to redirect.

Recently a New York Times blog video followed the non-profit Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods around their unique projets in Port-au-Prince. SOIL has a green solution to the waste problem–they collect barrels of waste for processing at their very own composting center. Our team recently inspected their facilities and it was a very interesting trip. Composting toilets are pretty straightforward–no water is needed, when you're done your buisness, cover it with some organic matter. SOIL has been using agricultural by-products such as sugar cane husks and wood pulp from a nearby perfume factory. SOIL also uses tricks like urine diversion seats (depicted above) to make sure waste components decompose properly.

Architecture for Humanity volunteer Hill Pierce has taken some special interest in SOIL's work and how it could inform the space challenges at Pele. He likes the composting idea very much but points out to me how SOIL's system, while bit-by-bit refertilizing Port-au-Prince, relies on a fleet of vehicles to collect waste buckets from all their latrine locations to drive it to the central composting facility. It's a lot of infrastructure have to deal with.

What Hill and other team members have developed is a localized composting solution. Given the importance of compost sitting undisturbed for a years time, the team developed an inventive system whereinm several latrines share two holding cells. A chute then directs collection to one cell at a time, alternating on a roughly yearly basis. Hill and the team hopes that with this system, if well-managed, Pele can resolve their waste dilemma on-site and with little modification. Then, after a year's time, the compost is good to go in a garden or on the open market.

Hill reminds me that this is a perfectly good source for fertilizer. No matter the condition, good, clean compost is produced in actually six months (the composting process heats the material to a steady 120º–even cholera is killed off in a matter of days and the worst ring worms go after a couple months) but a year's time has been used for initial estimates for the size and maintenance of the system.

More details are available on the Pele project page, including downloadable schematics of the latrine system. It is the hope of the Architecture for Humanity team that the design can be tested and verified, and reused at our other dense urban project sites as an inventive re-interpretation of the composting system. A little thought and elbow grease can make a lot of change in the world!

Rendering by Hill Pierce