Architect Luiz Alberto Altmann Fazio was volunteering with a well-known nonprofit when he visited a favela in Rio de Janeiro. There he saw for the first time the problems with sewage encountered by many poor communities in Brazil.
“Companies won’t build sewage networks in poor communities because they don’t see it as economically viable,” he says.
About 50 percent of Brazilian households are not connected to a sewage network, a statistic that disproportionally affects the poor. So Fazio created Biosaneamento, a project to build low-cost biogas toilets in communities that lack basic sanitation.
A biogas toilet is similar to an eco-friendly composting toilet in that it converts waste to fertilizer. But a biogas system takes things a step farther by also collecting methane gas that can be used by the local community. This gas can be a lifeline for poor families, who have seen the price of canisters of gas rise in recent months in Brazil.
Despite Brazil passing a law guaranteeing all citizens access to a sewage system 10 years ago, Fazio says that in a best-case scenario, the country is still at least 25 years away from fulfilling its promise. The total cost would be more than $100 billion.
But Biosaneamento offers a cheap and quicker solution to the problem. The construction of bio-toilets uses readily available materials and can create jobs in the community.
Biosaneamento, with offices at Rio de Janeiro’s WeWork Almirante Barroso 81, is a winner in the nonprofit category at the WeWork Creator Awards. With the $18,000 prize the company will be able to build up to 50 systems—enough to serve 150 homes and 600 people.
Fazio says that says that their system would cost around a tenth of a traditional sewer system. One of the big benefits would be improving the health of local communities.
“In poor communities with open sewer networks you have high rates of diarrhea and other diseases,” says Fazio. “For young children this can be deadly.”