Teammate Nate Sharpe is known for his tricks that defy gravity. He’s a semi-professional Diabolo juggler. (Check out this amazing video). But his latest trick is an innovation in sanitation – using a bicycle to pump waste out of a pit latrine. Thanks to the generosity of MIT’s Technology Dissemination Fellowship, Nate spent two weeks recently in Nairobi testing the prototype he has developed.

There are many problems with pit latrines – the waste infiltrates the water table, the smell is odorous, and, most importantly, they are very, very difficult to empty. Often, owners simply let the latrine overflow with waste, which then spreads throughout the neighborhoods. There are few other viable options, so owners lack real incentive to improve the condition. Nate found from surveys of locals that the situation gets so bad that residents will band together to pay pit-emptiers themselves. This is yet another powerful example of the premium on being poor.

A typical pit - not at all easy to empty

Then, when pit emptiers show up, they are often shunned by the neighborhood. As one emptier said, “People turn away and act like we are less than human, even though they are the ones who made what we are carrying!”

Nate has designed and developed the first Pedal Powered Poop Pump to solve these challenges. We wrote about his initial design here.

The prototype design

Nate and our team at the University of Nairobi worked with pit latrine operators and our partners at Community Cleaning Services to try out the P4. And the result is…

Nate Teaches How The P4 Works

Field Manager Ken Operates The Pump

And the result is…drumroll…

Waste Pumped!

Success! We have waste transferred from the latrine into a bucket!

The feedback from the testing was excellent. The emptiers were surprised at just how effective and easy-to-use the bicycle was. The new technology has a certain “cool” factor which residents liked. But more importantly, the P4 offered a clean, hygienic and non-smelly solution, which people felt would decrease social stigmas that the pit-emptiers face. Finally, one other benefit was that only one pit-emptier was needed to operate the P4. In traditional emptying methods, three people are needed and they subsequently divide the profits. This not only will make for more efficient operations, but greater incentive for each of the pit-latrine operators to be out there educating and offering a new service.

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