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Small-scale informal entrepreneurs can provide a valuable and financially viable urban sanitation service for consumers without a sewerage connection. What is needed to bring these service to scale?

TitleThe business of the honey-suckers in Bengaluru (India) : the potentials and limitations of commercial faecal sludge recycling : an explorative case study
Publication TypeCase Study
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsKvarnström, E, Verhagen, J, Nilsson, M, Srikantaiah, V, Ramachandran, S, Singh, K
Secondary TitleOccasional paper series / IRC
Pagination59 p. : 2 boxes, 2 fig., 5 tab.
Date Published09/2012
Place PublishedThe Hague, The Netherlands
Publication LanguageEnglish

Sustainable urban sanitation for all is the key challenge for the global WASH sector. Large parts of the world's urban population are not served by formal sanitation services, rely on informal services, and/ or defecate in the open. Surprisingly, despite their importance, little is known about informal urban sanitation services, as well as their key actors. This paper presents the findings of a case study in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), which investigates the sanitation services provided by so-called 'honey-suckers'.

The majority of the population of Bengaluru is not connected to a sewage system; many relying on a range of informal sanitation self-services. One such method entails constructing holding tanks to store faecal sludge and grey water. These are periodically emptied by vehicles, dubbed 'honey-suckers'; a service provided by small-scale private sector tanker operators.

Most honey-suckers dump their waste in and around the city illegally, in unlicensed locations, causing considerable pollution and health problems. A small percentage however, has started delivering faecal waste to local farmers who use these as fertilisers. As this study will later reveal, the practice of recycling faecal nutrients at scale has emerged without any form of financial or technical assistance.

Though the dumping of untreated faecal waste in this manner operates outside the existing legal framework, it provides a valuable service to those who are not connected to a water-borne sewerage network, while also reducing the scale of indiscriminate dumping. Moreover, tanker operators make a profit while farmers receive free fertiliser. Needless to say, the absence of regulations hampers the scalability and sustainability of a practice that is observed to have wideranging benefits.

The findings of this study reveal that the service provided is financially viable, albeit at a small scale, to the extent that it is able to provide a method of dealing with urban sanitation in appropriate circumstances without needing to resort to the construction of sewerage pipes and plant; which are clearly very expensive and hugely wasteful of water.

For a successful service to be brought to scale, recognition and acceptance by urban authorities, and subsequently, its operationalisation within a legal framework, are both required. Complemented by provisions guaranteeing the safety of both honey-sucker operatives and farmers, initiatives addressing issues of safety and the acceptance of consumers are crucial. As most forms of treatment to ensure the safety of consumers and farmers are likely to increase costs, this study finds that (preventive) safety measures are unlikely to be implemented unless there are compelling reasons to do so. Finally, in studying the wide range of sanitation services models, this study recommends for future research endeavours to explore sanitation services based on extraction and reuse, while taking cognisance of the potential solutions for waste and/or faecal treatment. (Executive summary)


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