Dencity 2017: Special Mention


Entry by: Patrick Morgan, Simon Morgan, Jhanea Williams


Imagine a slum; makeshift housing, open sewers, waste-clogged waterways, streets scattered with litter. Take Port-au-Prince, Haiti as an example, where waterways flood and spill waste into the bay, where the central market deals with waste by forming enormous piles, and where slums accumulate trash, with no organized method for collection. There’s a problem in all of this. A problem that not only negatively affects the aesthetic of the community, but more importantly the health and well-being of the community’s residents.

This problem exists because of the difficulty in reaching slums with “traditional” trash collection methods, and the cost burden on local government to collect that trash. This has created a void in how to coordinate and aggregate the disposal of waste. The solution is to centralize trash collection, creating a natural process for collecting trash, by strategically placing collection sites at the perimeter of informal settlements, allowing residents to stop by a collection site as part of their routine, especially for those who travel to and from the metropolitan center for work. With limited infrastructure and labor required to create and maintain the new collection points, the beneficiary/user can be paid to collect their own trash.

By creating a value for household waste, the project reduces the amount that is simply dumped, uncollected, in the streets and waterways. By transforming waste into revenue the users will have a small, but consistently available credit for travel, small purchases, food, and daily needs, all through pre-existing digital bank accounts, naturally occurring transportation hubs, and daily routines that require the addition of only one step in the process. Dropping off trash.

Waste Generation

With a 2001 population of 1.1 million individuals, Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and largest city, generated 660,000 kilograms of trash per day, of which merely 22% was formally collected. Waste generated can include plastic, such as Haiti’s abundant volume of plastic used to package single serve water, or as organic products such as food waste. Images of Haiti’s central markets, canals leading to the bay, or of some informal settlements, show an overwhelming volume of waste that is uncollected. This waste creates environmental risks, health risks, and suggests a disinterest in maintaining communities, even the most informal.

In the developing world, traditional waste collection efforts marginalize informal or slum settlements, instead focusing on businesses and wealthier communities with sufficient infrastructure for garbage trucks to navigate. That limitation means that only 22% of the municipal solid waste in Haiti is currently being collected on a daily basis, leaving the remainder to be burned in open pits, or washed out to sea as canals filled with trash flood.

The two options currently in place are to increase the scope of standard government run collection methods, or rely on an informal “trash-picker” structure. A March 2012 report by the World Bank on the status of global waste management found that:

Solid waste management is… often their single largest budget item, particularly in developing countries. Solid waste management and street sweeping is also often the city’s single largest source of employment. Additionally, solid waste is one of the most pernicious local pollutants and is usually the leading contributor to local flooding and air and water pollution.

Increasing the amount of formal collection is unfeasible in the majority of circumstances, and given the nature of informal settlements, a formal collection strategy is impractical. The “trash picker” structure is also not feasible as a long term solution. It exists because there is a monetary compensation for certain waste items that can be taken advantage of, but trash-picking puts the most marginalized at significant risk for negative health outcomes. The lack of sophistication of trash-picking also results in trash being spread across the neighborhood and negates any formal collection that might have taken place. This project argues that by involving residents in a more formal method of collection, the volume of currently uncollected trash creates a sufficiently sized market to allow for compensation of those residents for their participation.

Centralizing Trash Collection

The United States collects trash on a weekly basis from your residence. Homeowners set their trash on the curb according to a predetermined schedule and two to three individuals in a large, single purpose vehicle collect, compress, and deliver it to a centralized dumping location that is managed by the local government. The result of this system is a street with no trash in it, but also the enormous cost of employees, vehicle maintenance and purchase, and fuel costs. This project sought a strategy that would limit the number of required government employees and require limited infrastructure, while maintaining the ease of use associated with individual pickup.

The concept of this project creates a local center for trash collection that will accommodate the daily schedule of the standard household. This is based around the idea of a reverse vending machine. These machines are designed to take in recyclables and sort and store them until they can be disposed of properly. The machines are approachable, with simple user interfaces and large openings for bulk deposits of trash. Within the machine, trash is measured, catalogued, and sorted into appropriate bins for future collection. The sorted bins will compress the trash as required to increase the storage volume of each facility. These facilities would be containerized for ease of manufacturer, reusability and distribution.

To maximize participation, machines will be placed strategically around informal settlements and existing transportation routes. This organizational choice puts the resident at the center of the trash collecting infrastructure, allowing for municipal investment in larger more sustainable waste sites rather than focusing solely on the collection process.

Incentivizing Participation

The drop-off locations alone do not guarantee participation. Instead, in order to facilitate participation and to make the resident the employee of the system, each collection point will have a digital connection that allows for immediate cash transfers into digital bank accounts.

In Haiti, roughly 85% of households have cell phones, many of which are provided by Digicel. Digicel also offers a digital banking solution known as TchoTcho, which has seen remarkable success and market penetration since inception. With those components in mind, the goal of the reverse vending locations and service would be to directly deposit funds into TchoTcho accounts, allowing for limited interference with the transaction by anyone, while also generating sufficient funds for daily needs.

On average, a shared ride in Port-au-Prince costs 5 goude (G). So a ride to and from the slum would require 10G per day. To back into that daily goal, our model striates different types of waste to maximize the value returned to the user. First, the project values aluminum at 26G per kilo. Other recyclables, such as dense plastics and glass create the second greatest value at 22G per kilo. And finally, bulk material, such as thin plastic bags, compost, and other organic materials are valued at 16G per kilo. With half a kilo of trash, and limited effort to organize and separate items, users can easily reach 10G per day in trash and recyclables.

This model takes into account that the landfill and waste-to-energy producer will need to maintain a share of the value of the material in order to be profitable. Based on a rough estimate of 40G ($0.60) per kilo of bulk material, which underestimates the value of recyclables, and overestimates the immediate value of organics which will require time in order to produce methane in their degradation process. That value is then split evenly between the user and the plant owner, creating sufficient value to incentivize participation, and relying on volume for the plant owner to become profitable.

Alternative Fuel Sourcing

For all of this model to work, users must understand that trash has value. Plastics have significant caloric value for incineration in waste-to-energy plants, organic matter in landfills generates methane which can be recaptured for energy production, and larger not easily recycled items, have considerable value for manufacturers. Tires, for example, are particularly valuable for cement manufacturers because they are a lower carbon option than coal, the rubber itself creates sufficient energy for cement production, and the steel in the tire introduces iron into the fuel source creating a stronger product.

Based on findings from an August 2014 report by USAID and partner organizations, one of the largest concerns in creating a waste to energy facility is the supply and stability of trash collection. By first addressing the infrastructure surrounding trash collection, this projects creates a more viable system for dealing with trash, and does so in a way that not only benefits the environment, but also has a direct effect on the communities where trash is being collected and sorted. By organizing and stabilizing trash collection, the needed waste for large infrastructure projects can be calculated and investors can better model the production by geography. In addition, by generating an infrastructure solution for the collection of waste, waste management investors can more comfortably lend to operators, moving away from the current high-interest loans that plague investments in Haiti.

About the entrants

Patrick Morgan is an Architect with Kieran Timberlake in Philadelphia, PA and has been practicing for nearly 5 years. His work has focused on both small residential structures, as well as entire university campus redesign planning. In addition, Patrick is an adjunct professor at The University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches Construction Design.

Patrick received his M. Arch from the University of Pennsylvania and holds a B.S. in Architecture from the Catholic University of America.

Simon Morgan is a health policy consultant with Berkeley Research Group. He has been advising private equity investors on healthcare related transactions for over 4 years and has participated in more than 100 M&A transactions as a diligence advisor. Simon’s work primarily focuses on reimbursement and regulatory risk associated with Medicare and Medicaid, as well as legislative efforts to expand or contract healthcare coverage in the US.

Simon received his MPH from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and has a B.A. in Music from Loyola University Chicago, where he also completed pre-med studies.

Jhanéa Williams has been practicing architecture for nearly five years and is currently an Architectural Designer at Sasaki Associates. In addition to her work in architecture, Jhanéa is a spoken word artist and has been performing poetry and organizing events around self-expression over 10 years. Jhanéa’s primary focus through her work is to make design accessible and beneficial to the masses, while fully exploring the impact that the built environment has on our pysche.

Jhanéa received her M. Arch from the University of Pennsylvania and her B.S. in Architecture from Northeastern University.