The last place anyone would like to locate a new café would be next to a public latrine. But this is exactly what the Independent Sanitation Workers Cooperative has done at its facility in Patan.
And the reason for it to be adjacent to a toilet is that the café’s kitchen runs on biogas from an underground digester using its waste. The squeamish might still screw up their noses, but people are getting used to the idea.
The architecturally modern design of the building at Patan Dhoka bus stop is one of a slew of ‘smart toilets’ that the municipality commissioned last year. The buildings harvest rainwater, recharge groundwater, use solar power and other eco-friendly methods.
Most people walk by the facility, and do not notice the café because they just do not expect it to be there. The waiters are in neat uniforms, there are biscuit packets stacked on the shelf above, and the tea is boiling on top of a clean blue flame from the biogas stove.
The café serves tea, which is only Rs15 per cup, and khaja sets of momo, choila baji, and other snacks. This helps to generate income to manage restroom next door, which the visitors have to pay per use. The washroom, however, can be used for free.
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The staff are all from previously excluded ‘lower’ caste groups like Deula, Pode or Chyame. Explains Prakash Amatya of Aerosan Nepal which manages the facilities: “We are providing jobs and also keeping the dignity of the profession. Most people still regard those who clean toilets as being beneath them. We are trying to change that prejudice. We actually started by training them in our sanitation hospitality centre.”
The rest rooms offer diaper changing, breastfeeding and sanitary pad dispensers, and are universally accessible. No chemicals, such as detergents or cleansing soaps, are used as it could reach the digester killing the bacteria there that naturally convert the waste into methane gas.
The waste from the restrooms feeds into the digester below the building, where the bacteria decompose it releasing methane that fuels the stoves in the café. The odourless spent slurry is collected, dried and used as fertiliser.
Aerosan runs a chain of similar facilities in Tripureswor, Baneswor, Mangal Bazar, and Swayambhu. Customers are usually vendors, taxi drivers, and retailers in the area, as well as pilgrims. There are plans to replicate this model in Pokhara and Biratnagar.
Having an Ecofriendly café and toilet can be a longterm investment, and running costs are minimal. Besides the facilities generate their own income and are sustainable. Amatya admits that people were hesitant in the beginning to come to the café, but adds, “With time they have got used to it.”
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