News

Latrine Study: EcoSan vs. Pour-Flush

Villa Maria, Indiana, Peru - February 7, 2015

Content and research contributed by Kristen Check. 


To date, Water Mission has installed more than 17,000 pour-flush latrines in developing countries around the world using a standard industry model toilet that ensures the separation of waste from the user. In an effort to explore other models of sanitation, especially for situations where pour-flush toilets might not be a viable option, Water Mission, with funding from Rotary International, conducted a study to compare two models of sanitation: pour-flush pit latrines and Ecological Sanitation.

There are many reasons for us to consider alternative models of sanitation. Pour-flush toilets require anywhere between 2-10 liters per flush in order to create a water seal. Because of this, pour-flush latrines may not be a viable sanitation option for areas with constant or seasonal water scarcity concerns. With pour-flush toilets there is also the risk of groundwater contamination in areas with a high water table or that are prone to flooding. This is especially true in areas that do not adequately treat groundwater used for drinking. Without safe waste treatment, water supplies can become contaminated from human waste. Another major attraction of ecological sanitation is the reuse of human waste in the form of fertilizers. Ecological sanitation provides an option to safely treat and transform human waste into rich, fertile compost.

The benefits of ecological sanitation are widely touted and heavily studied and funded. However, while information on user satisfaction and abandonment of such projects exists, very little of such information is available in the literature. In addition, while this type of recycling is done elsewhere, there is no data to guide organizations on potential risks of human waste recycling, or describe the challenges households face in successful management of this sanitation model. As an estimated 2.4 billion people still do not have access to improved sanitation, the ecological sanitation model is receiving a strong push from the Western world as a solution to the developing world’s sanitation problem. Because of this, Water Mission considered it the perfect time to explore the inherent risks and benefits of this model.

With funding from Rotary International, 80 households in the community of Las Mercedes in south-central Honduras were randomly assigned either a traditional pour-flush or a composting toilet that allows for the recycling of waste products as fertilizer. This comparative analysis allows Water Mission the unique opportunity to compare related social, technical, and potential health-related issues between the two sanitation options. The hope is that by documenting and sharing household outcomes, challenges, and perceptions, practitioners may be better able to recommend toilet options which would be most appropriate for each individual household. Without this research, nonprofit, nongovernmental, and governmental institutions that work in this arena may continue to choose technologies which might not be in the best interests of the people being served.

9 Responses.
  1. Dick dassow April 8, 2016
    Dick dassow April 8, 2016

    Do you work with Christian mission groups?

    Reply
    • Tara Collins April 11, 2016
      Tara Collins April 11, 2016

      Hi Dick, we work with other Christian ministries, churches, and nonprofits both in the States and globally. We do not regularly send teams from the States on short-term mission trips, but let us know if you have a specific idea for a partnership or inquiry about trips overseas. Feel free to email us at communications@watermission.org. God bless!

      Reply
  2. David Christopher April 14, 2016
    David Christopher April 14, 2016

    Exciting research! Do you know when the results will be published?

    Reply
    • Jennie Reeb April 15, 2016
      Jennie Reeb April 15, 2016

      Hi David,

      The study itself won’t be complete for at least another year as we have a follow-up portion that tracks the year-long composting process. The study will hopefully be complete in the summer of 2017 and our team is looking to have the results published in the fall of 2017.

      There will be updates posted to the original crowd-funding page which you can access here: https://experiment.com/projects/can-we-safely-recycle-human-waste-in-a-developing-country

      If you have further questions on this subject we would be happy to talk with you. Feel free to email us at communications@watermission.org.

      Thanks!
      Jennie

      Reply
  3. raynaud September 28, 2016
    raynaud September 28, 2016

    The populations of the Third World do not use paper of dress(toilet) to dry itself behind, but wash themselves with some water.
    How is it possible in these conditions TO use the dry toilet?

    Reply
    • Madeleine Fogde January 7, 2018
      Madeleine Fogde January 7, 2018

      There are many experiences with Ecosan used in washing communities both in India and Western Africa .The squatting pad has an additional “whole ” for the anal cleansing water.
      While doing research on the dry toilets which is interesting , you will also need to research the pour flush toilet better. What is the exposure to the groundwater of the contaminated water in the pits?
      How does that affect small children under 5.? Who carries the water used for the flushing how this water management engendered ? Would be great to have this research on the table as well.. Good luck

      Reply
      • Jennie Reeb January 8, 2018
        Jennie Reeb January 8, 2018

        Hi Madeleine – appreciate your comments! In this study, we will be comparing ecological sanitation to pour/flush toilets, but will not be assessing environmental contamination. Presently that is something we are studying independently in a separate study. The Ecological Sanitation study specifically focuses on understanding what indicators or characteristics make a household a successful user. The benefits of ecological sanitation are widely touted, and heavily studied and funded. However, while extensive anecdotal information on user satisfaction and abandonment of such projects exists, very little of such information is available in the literature. In addition, while this type of recycling is done elsewhere, there is no data to guide organizations on potential risks of human waste recycling or describe the challenges households face in the successful management of this sanitation model. The hope is that by documenting and sharing household outcomes, challenges, and perceptions practitioners may be better able to recommend toilet options which would be most appropriate for communities or individual households. With regards to some of your additional questions about toilet management and use practices, those will be answered in the study. We look forward to sharing the results with you later this year!

        Reply
  4. Roy Horan February 18, 2018
    Roy Horan February 18, 2018

    Keep me posted. We do mission trips to Honduras with Solar Under the Sun and Living Waters for the World. We see a need for latrines as well & would like to build them.

    Reply
    • Jennie Reeb February 19, 2018
      Jennie Reeb February 19, 2018

      Hi Roy,

      Thanks for reaching out to us! If you’re interested in learning more about our work in Honduras or our process for building latrines, please contact Jeff Zapor, Director of Engineering and Innovation, at 843-769-7395. You can also reach him via email at jzapor@watermission.org.

      Blessings,
      Jennie

      Reply
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