Recycling Coffee Grounds to make innovative water filters in the Developing World.

Who would have thought your daily cup of coffee could help bring clean drinking water to the developing World?

Abundant Water, a local product, is making a difference

Abundant Water (AW) is an Australian NGO, started in 2008 by Sunny Forsyth, an Australian engineer and the current CEO. Developing a ground-breaking manufacturing process using spent coffee grounds AW began in Laos by training local potters to create low-cost, low-tech easy-to-build clay water filters, to bring clean water to low-income schools and households.

Sustainable and scalable

AW intends for all its projects to be sustainable and scalable so that local communities develop the capacity to maintain the filter systems and spread them to neighbouring communities. To achieve this AW has developed its social business program by training and supporting local vendors to sell and install ceramic water filters in their communities. This model empowers local people and disadvantaged communities in developing countries, spreading the knowledge of the filter technology creating sustainable and scalable projects. AW works every day to support and improve the vendor network.

Ceramic water filters

Access to safe drinking water in the developing World

Access to safe drinking water is a major challenge in many developing countries. Drinking water often comes from unprotected water sources that harbor harmful pathogens and risk contamination. Those in rural communities are disproportionately affected, with women tasked with the burden of water collection. On average women in rural communities can spend up to 5 hours travelling to collect water, this not only greatly reduces their time but puts them in harms way to a variety of physical risks, including asthma, tuberculosis and pregnancy complications.  The need for the AW project continues and the success of this approach demonstrates what could be possible across the globe. Through this current initiative we are looking to bring clean drinking water to Laos.

It is estimated a mere 25% of health facilities have access to safe drinking water in Laos. Water pollution and contamination remain among the most serious of public concerns as many improved or so-called ‘safe’ water sources are often contaminated during the supply process. Most household water supply is tainted with E Coli and few households treat the water before consuming it. As a result, diarrhoeal disease continues to affect communities and limit their livelihoods despite better access to improved water supplies.

The lack of access to clean drinking water is directly linked to the spread of water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea, typhoid and dysentery. Due to the likelihood of obtaining these diseases and the difficulty in gaining access to ways to treat this water, average water consumption is quite low.

Less than half of schools in Laos have access to safe drinking water. 

In northern Laos, a 2017 survey showed that more than half of the children attending claimed to be drinking no water during the school day. Worse, out of the children claiming to be drinking water, 48% were drinking untreated possible harmful water. This lack of access to clean safe water is one of the main causes of malnutrition in children, a major developmental issue Laos faces today.    

How coffee grounds bring clean drinking water to disadvantaged communities in Laos

Coffee is a key player in producing our water filters. AW has trained Lao potters in this unique manufacturing technique mixing coffee grounds and clay to produce filters for use in their communities, their households and schools. The AW workshop trains local potters to make ceramic water filters with coffee grounds collected from local cafes. The locally sourced materials, including coffee grounds are readily available and act as an inexhaustible sustainable resource. The potters continue to develop the technology and improve the production and firing processes to make the filters more affordable and easier to maintain and service.

How do clay and coffee ground filters work?

The filters are simple in their design and use. Coffee grounds and clay are mixed with water and molded into the shape of a filter. After drying in the sun for a few weeks, the filters are sent to be fired in the kiln. During the firing, the clay will solidify but the coffee grounds will burn off leaving microscopic holes in the ceramic filters. These holes are big enough to let the water seep through, but too small to let bacteria pass through, therefore removing any bacteria from the water making it safe and drinkable.

The impact of AW in Laos

From small beginnings in 2008, AW nowadays produces an average of 2500 ceramic water filters per year, and has installed over 10 000 filter sets across the country in the past 10 years, benefitting over 95 000 people, and close to 500 schools. AW has also created meaningful and profitable livelihoods for countless potters and local vendors who contribute to improving the health of their community and their local economy.

An example of making a difference

Abundant Water partners with schools in Laos to provide children with access to clean drinking water. In a partnership with Swiss Red Cross in 2019, 120 water filters were installed giving over 600 students daily access to safe drinking water. By providing access to clean water at school, children’s health is not only improved but their overall attendance to school increases and the likelihood they will continue on and graduate also increases. The flow on effect of clean water is undeniable to the improvement of livelihoods and sustainable futures. As a resource so readily available to us in Australia it is easy to forget the consequences of a lack of access to clean water and how this may limit children’s futures.

Coffee and Water: Partners for Life

Throughout the world, coffee plays an important role in people’s lives. But what if it could do more?

Abundant Water’s work in Laos demonstrates that even after a coffee has been served to its customer, it can have powerful effects. With consumers looking for better ways to make their dollar go further in an increasingly sustainable world, Abundant Water is the solution.

CUP4CUP Campaign

Abundant water is looking for 100 cafes to join the cause and inspire their customers to support the movement for equal and global access to clean water.

To learn how you can be part of this movement get in touch below:

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