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.