Social Enterprise Showcase: Banka Bioloo – Nature-friendly answer to nature’s call

Namita Banka is used to toilet humour. And why not? It’s the humble toilet that is helping her laugh all the way to the bank even as it helps her solve one of the most pressing problems in the country – clean water and sanitation.

Namita Banka is used to toilet humour. And why not? It’s the humble toilet that is helping her laugh all the way to the bank even as it helps her solve one of the most pressing problems in the country – clean water and sanitation.

Her social enterprise Banka BioLoo Pvt Ltd hopes to change India’s answer to nature’s call to a more nature-friendly one. The company’s star products are the ‘bio-toilets’ and ‘bio-tanks’, which decompose 99% of human waste in a short period of time and enable recycling of waste water.

I am sure everyone of us, without exception have held our noses bravely while traversing railway tracks or using dreaded train toilets. You will soon be able to thank Namita for making the Indian Railways ‘come clean.’ Tasked with replacing conventional toilets in railway coaches with bio-toilets, Namita’s magic ingredient in these washrooms is the Defence Research Development Organisation(DRDO)’s ‘bio-digester’ technology, which is used for sanitation in high-altitude military establishments such as Siachen.

Banka BioLoo is the first to commercialise this technology, which could well meet the sanitation needs of millions of rural Indians.

The inception

When you consider the Varanasi-born Namita’s traditional family background, the passionate foray into entrepreneurship seems greater. Shifting along with her husband to Hyderabad where he went on work, she says, “I developed an interest in preserving the environment and started a business of recycling printer cartridges. Basically, solid waste management. That brought me in contact with the Indian Railways,” she recalls.

At the time, the Railways was testing a new kind of toilet in its rakes. Her curiosity piqued, Namita got involved in the project. She did liaison work for the Railways to improve the quality of these toilets and to provide maintenance, spare parts and replacements. This marked her entry into the sanitation business.

That year, 2009, Namita heard of the Indian Railways doing trials on using DRDO’s bio-digester technology in its toilets. Eventually, this would be her calling. In 2012, Namita won a tender from the Indian Railways for manufacturing these bio-toilets. And that marked her firm start as a social entrepreneur working on a cause few venture into – sanitation.

The technology

At the heart of the ‘bio-digester’ technology is a cocktail of bacteria, or ‘bio-bugs’. When added to the septic tanks, this suspension speeds up degradation of bio-waste. The process converts septic tanks into ‘bio-tanks’ that do not contaminate groundwater. The recycled water can be used to water the garden and for other non-potable use.

The bio-digester tank is a cylindrical structure with the provision of inlet for human waste and out let for bio gas, maintained at a temperature of 5-30 degree C. Night soil degradation occurs through microbial reaction which converts it into bio gas.On the basis of dry waste weight, 90% of the solid waste is reduced. The gaseous effluent (bio-gas) is continuously let off to the atmosphere. Bio Gas can be used for various energy incentive activities like cooking water and room heating. Liquid effluent can be drained to any surface or soak pit with out any environmental hazards.

When someone from the audience at the April 2013 Sankalp Summit for social enterprise expressed disgust at the thought of water recycled from bio-waste being used in garden, Namita was quick to point out that most of the water we get in our taps is contaminated. We just don’t know it!

The potential

The ‘bio-digester’ technology has applications not just in train toilets but also in various other fields such as rural areas, mobile toilets and high-altitude regions among many others.

Banka BioLoo tested the efficacy of the bio-toilets in Dhamra in rural Odisha and found that the incidence of open defecation came down in that area due to these toilets. According to Namita, the solution to the problem of open defecation lies in giving such toilets to each home. “It is a challenge to tell the government that we need individual toilets instead of public toilets,” she says.

The future

Banka BioLoo’s biggest customer right now is the Indian Railways. Namita has also tied up with a friend from the United Kingdom to provide bio-toilets in Africa. “My friend is building 250 affordable homes in Africa. We will be providing the bio-toilets for these homes,” she elaborates.

Currently, the 40-employee strong Banka BioLoo has a turnover of Rs 2 crore. But Namita has set her sights high. “We are aiming at a turnover of Rs 17-18 crore in the next three years and Rs 50 crore in the next five years,” she says.

Highly ambitious targets, these. But then, Banka BioLoo has the support of DRDO. The company counts Larsen & Toubro Ltd, and other industry players among its clients. Besides bio-toilets and bio-tanks, Banka BioLoo provides waste water treatment and recycling solutions, and consultancy for sanitation in rural homes.

Social development through sanitation? That’s Banka BioLoo.

The Social Enterprise Showcase is a series of profiles on mission-driven enterprises that are working on social, environmental and cultural development challenges across India.

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