‘Wastewater can be really valuable’: the hydroponic system that presents cleanse drinking water for Kenyans

Making use of the energy of crops, Nairobi-centered startup Omiflo has engineered an effective wastewater cleansing system. And it’s attractive to boot

At the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, website visitors can feed by hand pellets made from molasses to Africa’s tallest giants. It is a person of the area’s most popular vacationer sights and has played a pivotal purpose in conserving the critically endangered Rothschild giraffe. It is fitting then that the centre is also household to yet another conservation venture, one particular that is preserving an more and more scarce all-natural source: water. 

“[The Giraffe Centre] needed one thing that was eco-friendly and that match its philosophy. It’s a definitely wonderful project and is preserving them a great deal of funds as well,” states Mshila Sio, who established Kenyan startup Omiflo. The firm has mounted a plant-centered hydroponic system at the website that filters wastewater, which can then be applied for landscaping, flushing bathrooms and far more. This calendar year, Omiflo was named a single of 16 winners of the No Waste Problem, a opposition operate by way of worldwide layout organisation What Design and style Can Do

Sanitation and entry to clear drinking water are important difficulties in Kenya. In accordance to Unicef, only 29 per cent of Kenyans have obtain to fundamental sanitation, a figure that has fallen by 5 for every cent due to the fact 2000. With the city inhabitants expected to far more than triple by 2050, from 12 million to 40 million, there are large implications for h2o use and wastewater management throughout Kenya’s metropolitan areas. These days, only 40 for every cent of Nairobi is related to a sewage procedure. 

Layout-driven improvements to transform the globe
The No Squander Problem is a international layout competitiveness that addresses the influence of waste and consumerism on the world
Examine out the 16 winners

“Wastewater remedy is normally an afterthought,” Sio says about why he started out the organization. “The traditional systems just don’t make feeling for a acquiring state. They cost far too a lot, are too intricate, and are far too power intense. They are not match for objective.” 

In distinction, the Omiflo process doesn’t need any electricity, chemicals or sizeable gardening working experience to construct or manage. Typha (also identified as Cattail) crops float on the prime of a pond and soak up oxygen from the air. Then, the plants inject it into the wastewater by means of their roots, restoring health to bodies of h2o while creating attractive organic areas. The self-sustaining technique has been developed to be scalable, operating for settings as assorted as non-public homes and eco-lodges, to larger sized developments and municipalities. 

Mshila Sio, founder of Omiflo

Mshila Sio, founder of Omiflo. Impression: Khalid Amakran. Courtesy of What Design and style Can Do

“Plants have been made use of to address drinking water for hundreds of many years,” states Sio. “The edge of a floating procedure is that we use a much lesser room and eradicate the odor, the sludge – all of that unpleasant stuff. The set up price tag is fairly low and then operationally, you’re just on the lookout immediately after the plants. So, it’s really practical for reduced-money areas as very well as superior-money places.” The water from an Omiflo system can also be drunk if a smaller chlorine dose is designed in.

The plan for the corporation arrived when Sio was on holiday in Spain. He arrived across a startup named Hydrolution that experienced formulated a wastewater procedure program utilizing plant-based mostly technological know-how. Sio then put in yrs hassling the founders to deliver the solution to Nairobi. They misplaced touch all over 2013 when Spain’s economic crash set Hydrolution out of business enterprise. So Sio decided to do it himself. Omiflo’s very first job rolled out in 2018 and the crew has due to the fact set up 200 devices worldwide. 

“It took a couple years to create the know-how and develop a pilot to demonstrate how this functions,” he claims, introducing that proof was needed to protected investment decision. “We really do not have a culture of angel traders keen to consider anything new. Kenyans are extremely sceptical. They want to see and touch and truly feel. So, we experienced a significant concern of credibility at the commence. We had to do quite a couple tasks before individuals claimed: ‘OK these men know what they’re doing’.” 


The gain of a floating program is that we use a substantially scaled-down house and remove the smell, the sludge – all of that hideous stuff

In the conclude, investment decision arrived from a myriad of areas. Sio was one particular of the winners of a grant by President Obama’s Younger African Leaders Initiative in 2014 and gained additional funding by way of a Dutch ministry of affairs plan, as properly as through friends and family. Beyond the initial pilots, that revenue also enabled Omiflo to create its personal ‘biocentre’ in Nairobi. The intention was to have someplace to improve the crops, showcase how the method is effective and carry out even more analysis, but it’s develop into much extra than that. 

“It’s a really great put,” Sio enthuses. “People appear and take a stroll, they picnic there. We have transformed the ecosystem fully, just by recycling h2o. We locate birds arrive in the morning, frogs … the full location has been revived.” He readily admits that some citizens residing close by ended up suspicious at initially. “We went to all of our neighbours and reported: ‘Can we have your sewage? Worst situation circumstance, we’ll plug you back again into your septic tank and it’ll be like it was before’. We now deliver about 2,000 litres of addressed h2o every single day.”  

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Cattail vegetation enable to produce a self-sustaining wastewater cure process. Image: Omiflo

In the potential Sio hopes to establish a nation-huge program that delivers a alternative for the network of trucks that vacant residents’ septic tanks. In accordance to Sio, the drivers are compensated to acquire the squander to a good procedure facility, but numerous dump it in nearby rivers as an alternative. Omiflo has also experienced curiosity in its resolution from south-east Asia and Mexico, where by the firm is doing the job with a further What Design and style Can Do finalist on a undertaking. At some point the crew aims to produce a certified answer that’s virtually ‘plug and play’.

“We want to establish products that can be duplicated all over the place,” Sio states. “We can only do so a lot do the job in Kenya, but the trouble is prevalent throughout the developing planet. I want to adjust the perception of wastewater. It’s not squander it can be pretty useful, even stunning.”

Main image: Omiflo

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