An Alternative Sanitation Solution for NGOs

Toilets for People Provides NGOs with an Alternative Sanitation Solution – Decentralized Waterless Composting Toilets

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International Development NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that are working to bring health, improved quality of life and safety to those living in poverty around the world understand the importance of providing access to a sustainable, private, and hygienic toilets to the people they serve. This is especially true for women and girls who suffer disproportionately when there is a lack of access to toilets.

If conventional toilet options like flush toilets or pit latrines are desired by the community and appropriate for location in question – then there is no reason to look further and those are the toilet solutions to be implemented by the NGO.

However, there are locations where flush toilets and pit latrines are not appropriate. These can include flood-prone areas or areas with high groundwater levels.

  • In flood-prone locations, flush toilets back up and pit latrines overflow contaminating the environment and potentially drinking water supplies – with dire consequences to the public health through water-borne diseases like cholera.
  • In high-groundwater locations, if there is not enough of a soil buffer between the bottom of the pit latrine and the highest seasonal groundwater level – then there is risk of groundwater contamination. Well water is a common source of potable water in developing countries. If that groundwater is consumed, then that individual is at risk of contracting water-borne diseases as well.
  • In flood-prone and high groundwater locations, double-vault latrines (also known as aboveground or EcoSan composting latrines) are the default option.

The Pros and Cons of the Default Alternative for Flood-Prone and High Groundwater Areas – The Double-Vault Latrine

  • The advantages of the double-vault latrine are that they are simple to construct utilizing common materials such as brick and concrete and local masons have the skills to build them.
  • The disadvantages of the double-vault latrines are the transportation of brick and concrete to the site (if these resources are not present in sufficient quantities at the location in question). Each latrine requires tons of cement and brick – making delivery impossible for some remote areas.
  • The other significant disadvantage of these latrines is regarding maintenance. The way these latrines operate is that only one side is used at a time. When that side fills up (which can take a year or two) then the family switches to using the 2nd chamber. Once that 2nd chamber fills up, they are then required to empty out the contents of the 1st chamber.

One problem with this maintenance approach is that these chambers are often emptied out before the contents inside are safe to handle. This results in the latrine maintenance worker being exposed to the pathogens present in the partially decomposed human waste. Further, if this waste the maintenance worker disposes of the waste at a farm or garden to be used as fertilizer edible crops, then those who subsequently handle this unsafe fertilizer, as well as those who consume food grown with it, will be similarly be exposed to the pathogens present in this human waste.

Conversely, this task of emptying out and disposing of a cubic yard of waste can be such a daunting task for an individual or family that they often do not even try to empty them out at all. Rather, they prefer to abandon the structures when the fill up and either go back to former toilet practices or, if they have money, build an entirely new one. Either way, this latrine solution does not end up being a sustainable one.

NGOs Serving Crowded Informal Urban Settlements

In addition to the challenges to NGOs of serving residents of remote rural areas, many challenges are faced by NGOs working to provide toilets to residents of crowded informal urban settlements. These settlements typically have large populations, no sewage-piping infrastructure to service flush toilets and no space to dig or empty pit latrines. These populations are often transient and therefore reluctant to install permanent expensive infrastructure in case they move.

International Relief NGOs Serving Survivors of Disasters & Emergencies – The Challenge of Displaced Persons

International Relief NGOs also do a great deal of their sanitation work serving displaced persons fleeing natural disaster or war. The current refugee crisis includes 45 million people worldwide living in transitional (refugee) camps that are often overcrowded and lacking adequate access to toilets.

Centralized public toilet facilities are typically constructed to serve the people housed in displaced-persons camps. Because of a lack of personal ownership or responsibility, these facilities are typically neglected and fall into disrepair and become unhygienic. Further, they often become places where violence is perpetrated against women and girls.

Flush toilets and pit latrines are often inappropriate infrastructure for displaced persons camp situations. Many camps are situated on marginal land because that is the only land that is available for organizations to claim for this purpose. One reason land is marginal to begin with is because it is flood-prone. Toilets that require subsurface infrastructure, like flush toilets and pit latrines, fail in flood-prone areas such as these.

Port-a-potties seem like a good solution but they are expensive, bulky to ship, and unsustainable. Remote locations often a lack the companies which are able pump them out when they get full, or safely transport that waste to a treatment facility or the infrastructure to effectively treat it before disposal. This is not to mention the regulatory standards and oversight needed to ensure all this is done properly in a way that is protective of the public health.

Displaced persons camps need toilets that are implementable at scale, hygienic, quick and easy to deploy, transportable and don’t require sewage infrastructure.

Toilets for People manufactures waterless toilets out of our New York fabrication facility. Toilets for People makes the exterior shell of the TfP Waterless Toilet out of plywood or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) sheets using a computer controlled cutting machine called a CNC router. This allows us to be able to service large orders quickly with consistent, high quality. The exterior shells of the toilets are then flat packed for shipment. The drum to be horizontally mounted along with hardware is packaged and can be shipped worldwide.

Alternatively, if shipping costs are prohibitive and/or there is a preference for in-country manufacture, Toilets for People can set up a short term, in-country pop-up factory to service customer orders. As part of the pop-up factory effort, Toilets for People is committed to training local craftsmen how to make and repair the toilets. Toilets for People can also be retained to assist with installation of the toilets providing support start to finish.

“Displaced persons camps need toilets that are implementable at scale, hygienic, quick and easy to deploy, transportable and don’t require sewage infrastructure.”

“Providing access to hygienic toilets improves the health and quality of life of the people TfP serves.

Training craftsmen in the community how to make the TfP Waterless Toilets using local materials makes them repairable, and therefore sustainable, over the long term.”

In-Country Services

Toilets for People Provides NGOs with In-Country Training and TfP Waterless Toilet Construction and Installation Support

Demand for and acceptance of composting toilets specifically needs to be tested when entering into new markets. The best way to accomplish this is bringing the TfP’s toilet, a waterless composting toilet, to them so that they can experience it for themselves. To verify demand and confirm acceptance and usage of waterless composting toilets, Toilets for People recommends conducting small-scale projects along with our partner NGOs at first.

Partner NGOs need to have long standing, close ties with the community and have educational capability to prepare the community before Toilets for People’s arrival, the logistical capability to support Toilets for People when we are in-country and the ability to provide accurate monitoring services after Toilets for People leaves to evaluate the project to determine if scaling up is appropriate. Pilots take place over a period of three months on average. In addition to monitoring and evaluation, partner NGOs on the ground can help trouble shoot any problems. Toilets for People is always available to assist with troubleshooting.

The Crapper watterless composting toiletThe Crapper watterless composting toiletThe Crapper watterless composting toilet

In-Country Installations

In-country installations enable Toilets for People to identify and make any design modifications necessary to serve the local preferences and be responsive to availability of local materials.

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    Timeline

    A typical small-scale project involves a 2-week in-country trip by three Toilets for People staff members. One disassembled TfP Waterless Toilet on the plane as checked luggage by the team and is used as a template to construct the toilets in-country using local materials.

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    Installation

    The toilets are installed in homes identified by the NGO partner. Typically, to receive the toilets, each family will need to contribute a small, but significant to them, amount of money to demonstrate their literal “buy-in” to the project – two weeks salary is a good rule of thumb to establish buy in (so if they make $1 per day they must contribute $10). The NGO partner subsidizes the rest of the cost for the toilet.

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    Receipients

    Recipient families are required to build, at their own expense, the room to house the TfP Waterless Toilet. This room must be private, have a roof, a door and a level floor. Providing privacy and safety is critical for toilet use adoption.

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    Additional Installations

    If the small-scale project is successful, then larger-scale installations can be explored with our partner NGOs as demand for the toilets increases. Toilets for People is available for follow up trips to the community after the 3 month monitoring and evaluation period to refine the design as needed and assist with the scale up as appropriate.