Catherine Nyagah: The inventor behind South Africa’s cheap water absorption sachets

catherine nyaga
Catherine Nyagah - My aim is straight forward —South Africa must flush and save water wisely Click To Tweet

Get ready, we’re going to be talking about toilets here. Kenyan-born scientist Catherine Nyagah, 56, is a consultant for the Pretoria chapter of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Catherine has led food spice-quality testing teams for brands like KFC and DiMaggio in Nigeria, SA, and Kenya. Now from her own pockets, she has invented, “Smarter Flush Africa” —biodegradable small bags designed to “absorb” toilet water. Catherine has plans to scale her efforts across Africa. 

SLA contributing writer, Ray Mwayera met Catherine Nyagah over a lunch of Thai noodles and mango juice to find out just how much water Africans are wasting in their homes and establishments.

We know, the UN is an exciting place but what is Smarter Flush Africa?

Smarter Flush Africa is a brand that products sachets which are designed to “absorb” toilet water in hotels, offices and urban households.

These sachets are biodegradable and are certified by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

How on earth do they work? We are science drop outs.

One Smarter Flush sachet displaces 2 litres of water. This is how it works. First, you drop in the sachets into the normal 9 litre chamber that lines up the normal South African home or hotel. One sachet goes under the bulb of the water, while the other goes near the water inlet valve. After six to seven hours, the satchet takes in water and holds it! This is important.

Unlike sponges, Smarter Flush is unique a very special way. If, the taps are switched off, the sachet will not release the water it took in. It will hold in water till the municipality’s water return to bathroom taps again. This way they conserve water.

When I say the bags are biodegradable, I mean the materials used to build the sachet will disintegrate, dissolve and merge in with the natural soil once you throw away the sachet. I designed it this way to help communities.

Catherine Nyagah - The average South African visits a toilet 5times a day. We want to manage this Click To Tweet

Gosh, this is important! Tell us more about your initiatives to help communities.

Helping communities is critical. We also mop off deadly plastics from dumps which are a menace in South Africa.

I consider this to be a life saver because 12.5 % of all illnesses in South Africa are water-related diseases.

What motivation sparked this invention?

It came from my frequent travels to South Africa. I noticed that too many hotels and houses spend the biggest chunk of their water on bathroom activities.

The average South African visits a toilet 5 times a day. We want to manage this better.

Can Smarter Flush conquer bad habits? Is it economically-viable?

My aim is straight forward —South Africa must flush and save water wisely. Smarter Flush Africa should be seen as a gift by policy makers. We don’t want to save hotels bathroom water while avoiding toilet re-plumbing as that could be too expensive. Hotels are more agreeable to technology like Smarter Flush Africa. We have made a lot of progress with hotels. They recognize that wasted water is wasted money.

Smarter Flush Africa can easily be rolled out to two million urban households. One sachet costs only R100 and works for three years. We prefer that users pay the R100 in R20 monthly instalments over five months as a bundle with their water and energy bills.

Catherine Nyagah is innovative about saving water because water is not replaceable Click To Tweet

Has there been any scientific testing of your invention?

We used the South Africa Census database statistics from 2011 to estimate that this technology will cut water expenditure by 27% if adopted. The data tells us that we need 2 million sachets assuming every hotel and house in Johannesburg has on average one toilet.

If we save 2 litres per day, you get 6 litres of water saved. In a day, it could be over 6 billion metric tons of water saved!

Are you ever angry with slow bureaucracy?

I interacted with the South Africa minister for the environment in August. The appetite for Smarter Flush from ordinary mothers was overwhelming and the minister instructed her aides to engage with this innovation.

The World Economic Forum has ranked vanishing water as a top security risk in the world so saving water should be of concern to everyone.

We have highway billboards that call for water saving, are they helpful?

Even if billboards say; sprinkle borehole water on your flowers, it’s still water, and water is not replaceable!

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.