One of the important tenets of circular economy is to see value where many see waste. With the rate of urbanization in many African countries, it is foregrounded that old and traditional waste management systems will not be able to keep up with population increase, leading to socio-economic and environmental issues.
In the face of these challenges are local innovative startups that are developing alternative solutions for better waste management practices to ensure cleaner and more circular-focused economies across the continent. One of these startups is Kenya’s Sanergy.
Sanergy, a tech-driven waste management startup has closed US$2.5 million funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a Japanese government-backed aid agency.
The new funds will allow the startup to address Nairobi’s growing sanitation needs while also helping farmers across Kenya produce more crops with fertilizer produced as a byproduct. Also, Sanergy plans to deploy its investment for market expansion as it eyes other African and Southeast Asian cities.
How Sanergy operates
Launched in 2010 by Lindsay Stradley, Ani Vallabhaneni, and David Auerbach, graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sanergy uses a circular economy approach to waste collection.
It collects feces and other organic waste from markets, farms, and restaurants, and turning it into useful products like feed and biofuel.
Having manufactured its “Fresh Life Toilets”- low-cost, high-quality toilet units designed for urban slums in 2011, Sanergy, through a network of franchise partners ensures accessible, affordable, and sustainable sanitation in Nairobi’s underserved areas.
Currently, the company claims to have over 3,500 Fresh Life toilets, serving over 120,000 residents per day. In addition to providing economical and effective alternatives to sewers, Sanergy also makes an organic crop fertilizer out of the leftover biowaste after the black soldier flies have eaten it.
Some of the residues are converted into biomass briquettes, which are used in industrial boilers and other heating purposes. KuzaPro, an insect feed created from the larvae of black army flies that feed on biowaste, is produced and sold at Sanergy’s pilot plant.
The company opened its first organics recycling factory in Nairobi in 2015, with a capacity of 12,000 tons of garbage per year. Since the beginning of 2021, it claims to have been running East Africa’s largest insect feed mill.
Leaning heavily on technology, Sanergy connects with its network and improves its service through two mobile applications, as well as mobile money, data collection, and street mapping technology. The organic recycling company has created job opportunities for residents as it employs roughly 250 people.
Commenting on the partnership, Shohei Hara, director-general of JICA’s Private Sector Partnership and Finance Department said,
“We are thrilled to expand Sanergy’s pioneering circular economy model which solves multiple social problems, such as waste management, sanitation, agricultural productivity, and food security, that most countries in Africa commonly face.”
“JICA will continue to develop partnerships with wider stakeholders in tackling these social problems,” Hara added.