On Monday 24 August 2020 – at the beginning of World Water Week - RELX announced the winners of the 2020 RELX Environmental Challenge. Now in its 10th year, the RELX Environmental Challenge supports innovative solutions that improve sustainable access to safe water and sanitation where it is at risk.
The 2020 $50,000 first prize winner is a mobile dewatering vehicle by CUBEX S.A.L - a Lebanese startup social enterprise. The dewatering unit is designed to collect sewage from septic systems in rural areas – in Lebanon over 80% of rural households are reliant on septic tanks or seepage pits -and allows the thickening of collected solids on site and the return of excess water following filtration and disinfection. The aim is to offer a complete collection and treatment process for faecal sludge that is cost efficient, technically sound and most importantly applicable to developing countries. On-site treatment of septic sewage in a mobile, service-model approach avoids wastewater and faecal sludge from entering water streams and ground water, reducing disease risk. The service offers households an affordable solution, removing the cost of installing a fixed onsite product. According to Marc Anoun, Founder and General Manager of CubeX, “through accepting that our reliance on septic tanks will be around for a while, Cubex is improving how they function and the efficiency of servicing them in an ecological manner. With the additional validation that we will achieve thanks to the RELX Environmental challenge, we will be able to attract strategic partners working in the development sector on sludge management as well as the right investor to take us to the next stage".
The 2020 $25,000 second prize winner is BlueTap. Founded in 2017 by a team of engineers from the University of Cambridge, BlueTap aims to use technology to improve access to high-quality drinking water in low resource settings. It has created a 3D printed chlorine doser designed to automatically inject chlorine into household and institutional level water systems. BlueTap engages in extensive capacity building with local stakeholders to ensure the long-term sustainable use of its products, Rebecca Donaldson, COO at BlueTap says “The RELX prize will allow us to install our technology in households and schools within Uganda in order to prove the effectiveness of our technology and trial a unique subscription model. We aim to serve over 9,000 beneficiaries in this stepping stone to scale”.
YS Chi, Director of RELX Corporate Affairs and Chair, Elsevier said “Over the past ten years of the RELX Environmental Challenge, I have been inspired by the creativity and drive of the individuals and organisations who work tirelessly to ensure the most basic but essential human right of access to clean water and sanitation. It is clear, that without this, it will be impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals - a responsibility we take very seriously.”
The winners were announced at a free, virtual event celebrating 10 years of the RELX Environmental Challenge. Featured speakers included Dr Arup K. SenGupta, Chemical Engineering Professor at Lehigh University and Co-Founder of Drinkwell, the first RELX Environmental Challenge $50,000 winner in 2011; Cheryl Hicks, CEO and Executive Director of the Toilet Board Coalition, focused on business-led partnerships to address the global sanitation crisis; Valeri Labi, Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at iDE Ghana and an Environmental Challenge judge; and Tim Brewer, Research Practice Lead at Water Witness International, a UK registered charity which works with partners globally to hold duty-bearers in government and the private sector to account for sustainable and equitable water management.
Speaking at the event, Dr Márcia Balisciano, RELX’s Global Head of Corporate Responsibility, said: “Each year since 2011, we recognise exceptional projects that set a benchmark for innovation, involve local communities, and are scalable to address urgent water and sanitation challenges. We are proud to feature so many of our former winners and shortlisted projects today. They represent an exciting array of solutions to address SDG 6, yet they are united in their entrepreneurial drive and commitment to making a lasting difference.”
A shortlist of seven projects were chosen from a record 170 applications from 43 countries. Judges include one of the world’s leading experts in water research, Dr Mark van Loosdrecht, Professor of Biochemical Engineering at Delft University of Technology; iDE’s Valeri Labi; Kevin Agnew, head of environment at RELX; and Dr Lewis Collins, Editor in Chief of Cell Press journal, One Earth.
Dr. van Loosdrecht, recipient of the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize for his work to revolutionise water and wastewater treatment said of 2020 first prize winner Cubex, “septic tanks are still a major sanitation option worldwide. Developing service models within the local economy is essential for efficient and safe handling.”
Reflecting on the past ten years as a RELX Environmental Challenge judge, Professor van Loosdrecht said, “we’ve seen progress in developing solutions that are embedded in the local socio-economic system and also that entrepreneurial endeavours have become more impactful than reliance on government services.”
In his inaugural year as Environmental Challenge judge, Dr Collins said, “there was huge variety across the shortlist, but this year’s winners combine the latest technologies with a deep rooted approach to building local capacity and creating self-sustaining enterprise models.”
In addition to the two annual prizes, a further $25,000 was awarded in a special Partnership Prize to mark the tenth anniversary and to foster collaboration between previous winners. The winning project proposal sees previous winners CAWST, AIDFI and Sanergy coming together to create a series of online training and outreach in order continue supporting water and sanitation networks and practitioners across Africa and Columbia throughout the global pandemic.
Read the full story of the RELX Environmental Challenge and a decade of clean water and sanitation innovation here.