An alternative sanitation solution for the urban poor

Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards competition.

x-runner brings reliable and responsible sanitation to those urban households that don’t have a toilet providing a sanitation system that works without piping or sewers. With the system, x-runner improves customers’ daily lives and creates a cleaner, healthier environment for the entire family.

About You

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About You

First Name

Isabel

Last Name

Medem

About Your Project

Organization Name

x-runner venture

Organization Website

Organization Country

Germany, BE, 10117 Berlin

Country where this project is creating social impact

Peru, LI, Lima

Select the stage that best applies to your project

Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Is your organization a

For‐profit

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Your Solution

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Project Name

An alternative sanitation solution for the urban poor

Elevator Pitch: Share a concise summary. This will be the introductory text about this pitch that viewers will see.

x-runner brings reliable and responsible sanitation to those urban households that don’t have a toilet providing a sanitation system that works without piping or sewers. With the system, x-runner improves customers’ daily lives and creates a cleaner, healthier environment for the entire family.

Problem: What problem does your solution address?

There are three million people in Lima, and two and a half billion people worldwide, without access to appropriate sanitation causing two major problems. 1) Affected families are exposed to a toxic mix of feces and urine that attract flies – the main transmitter of fatal diseases. 2) Many people are forced to use bucket toilets and pit latrines, polluting surrounding air and water and creating the potential for large land collapses.

Solution: What is the proposed solution?

We offer a sustainable toilet solution that works without water or sewage systems, having embedded our dry toilet in a pick-up system. x-runner’s mission is to bring reliable and responsible sanitation to Peruvian urban slums by selling a waterless sanitation solution to low-income, urban households that cannot have regular toilets. We operate a sustainable sanitation system by providing a dry toilet that collects feces in its interior. We consider the three components of sanitation (product, transport and treatment). Once a week the x-runner team picks up the feces and turns them into nutrient rich compost at our facility hub. We built our concept involving our end users, making sure that it is not merely technical, but human centered.

Founding Story: Share a story about the “Aha!” moment that led you to get started and/or to see the potential for this to succeed.

When I met the founders of x-runner, I immediately loved the idea of a home toilet for the urban poor. I started to see the real potential when I began thinking about how to make a real business out of it and we came up with the entire pick-up system idea. By then I saw that our proposal has a huge potential, because we were designing a beginning-to-end solution.
Then in 2012 we ran a 50-family pilot project. 93% of users decided to stay with the toilet after the pilot ended and have been our paying customers since. That was a crucial moment to me, we had proven that x-runner’s solution is accepted by the actual end users, customers actively demand our product, are willing to pay for it and we are able to run this service effectively.

Select Sector(s): To which of Unilever's categories of sustainability does your solution apply?

Sanitation and Hygiene, Water, Waste.

This Entry is about (Issues)

Measurable Impact

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Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how your solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Rosita is a teenage girl who lives in California, a slum in Lima without a sewage system. Before the x-runner toilet became part of Rosita’s home, she and her family had to use a pit latrine. This was undignified, unhygienic and uncomfortable. Rosita remembers the odor and flies that were present whenever she used the bathroom. The day her father brought home the x-runner toilet changed their lives: fulfilling their basic necessities was no longer an issue and even cleaning the toilet became much more comfortable and en plus, x-runner takes care of the removal off the waste and turns the collected feces into compost. Now Rositas family feels proud about their toilet. And what’s more, Rosita has become one of x-runners best sales-people!

Audience: Who have you identified as your customers/recipients and why? How will you get your solution to them or engage them in your initiative?

Customers of x-runner are urban poor in Lima – they have a home with dirt floors, send their children to school and have an income, but do not have access to water or sanitation. For decades, they have been promised by the government to receive sanitation and piped water.
To ensure a high impact, since day one, based on our marketing approach we met with the communities we wanted to reach and have jointly worked with the locals to develop the design of the toilet according to their needs.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date and expected impact in the future?

The x-runner system offers a qualitative and safe toilet system, while costing users half as much as pit latrines, and assuring responsible sanitation to entire communities. In July 2012, x-runner launched a 60-family pilot project in a southern slum of Lima to validate the effectiveness of our product and service. 93% of users decided to stay with the toilet and have been our paying customers for over a year now. Until 2018 with 15,000 households, 10 million litres of water will be saved every month, and we will collect more than 500 tons of feces, which would otherwise go into the ground. Each household will save USD 200 a year, and more than 75.000 people will benefit from our system. Our goal is to become a replicable model that can easily be taken to scale to serve the 72 million urban Latin Americans who still lack access to improved toilet systems.

Growth, Finance & Leadership

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Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem and how does the proposed solution differ from these approaches?

x-runner challenges the common idea of sanitation infrastructure by running a closed loop sanitation. While many ecological innovations exist, few are designed for poor urban areas. Many were developed in labs, focusing on either treatment or product. Organizations such as Clean Team, Ghana or Sanergy, Kenya focus on chemical and public slum toilets. Agua Ecosan in Peru offers huge dry toilets to periurban homes. We differ as we focus on urban, private homes and on reliable, nonchemical toilets. With our service we ensure a safe and responsible removal and disposal of human waste.

Scaling the Solution: How do you intend to scale your activities over the next two years (e.g., reach new markets, diversify solutions, etc.)? What will make this possible?

Our next goal is to produce and install an additional 500 toilets for customer households. With 3000 people using our toilets and servicing more than 500 households, we will reach operational breakeven, we will decrease our cost per user per day to 7 cents and our toilet design will be ready for mass production. We will achieve this goal by the end of 2014 completing four phases by concentrating on building a strong sales team, improving our compost, refining the design of our toilet and running an efficient payment system. Our collaborators are Sedapal (the public Lima-based provider for water and sanitation), the National Agrarian University of Lima, Zeaplast (a producer of biodegradable plastic bags) and the UPC Marketing department.

Financial Sustainability: What is your business model to ensure financial sustainability?

Our goal is to finance our operations through our own revenues, which is why growth is so crucial to our planning. Our business model focuses on recurrent revenue streams generated through our pick-up service model. We will break even financially after reaching 2 hubs and in 2018 be serving 15000 families, representing yearly revenues of 2.160.000 US$. Currently we are also looking for ways to charge a fee for our high-quality, organic compost.

Experience: Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

x-runner is the first social enterprise I am pioneering, but I always stood out through my own initiatives (helping a woman in Ghana to run her own shop), my strategic way of thinking (developing strategies to generate awareness for social responsibility in business at the ESCP-EAP) and my leadership skills (motivating my microfinance team in Tanzania to be understanding with each individual but still meeting target achievements).

47 weeks ago Isabel Medem submitted this idea.