Innovation of the Week: A Low-Cost Composting Toilet

By Sarah Alvarez

Across the Asia-Pacific region, millions of people have inadequate access to sustainable sanitation infrastructure—in other words, they don’t have a safe and sanitary place to go to the bathroom. In the Philippines alone, 28 million people do not have access to the sanitation services needed to prevent contamination and disease. As a result, millions of people suffer from preventable diseases like dysentery.

Low-cost composting toilets can improve sanitation in less developed areas. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND), a Philippine-based organization focused on eco-based solutions to human development challenges, has developed a low-cost composting toilet called Ecosan (Ecological Sanitation) that uses local materials to minimize water contamination and create fertilizers from human waste.

The WAND Foundation has developed several dry composting toilet models, some of which were recognized at the 2011 Tech Awards at Santa Clara University. At the conference, Cora Zayas-Sayre, executive director of the WAND Foundation, explained that by using local materials, the organization has been able to build 275 toilets at a cost of US$30 per toilet. She added that this innovation has already impacted the lives of 3,000 people.

This innovation simultaneously addresses two challenges that prevail in developing countries: the unsustainable and costly use of water-sealed toilets, and the hygienic management of human waste. Water-sealed toilets require pumping mechanisms to transport water and sewage between 300 and 500 meters away from the home, a method that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Inadequate management of human waste can lead to a host of health problems in developing areas, and dramatically impact quality of life.

In addition to resolving these two challenges, Ecosan can enhance the fertility of forested land. Zayas-Sayre argues that, when properly treated, waste from Ecosan composting toilets can be used as fertilizer in agrisilvicultural systems for both crops and woody perennials.

In the coming years, WAND hopes to expand its services to three additional countries in the Asia-Pacific region, reach 300,000 new clients, and build new locations for the development of Ecosan products.

Do you know of another innovative human waste disposal system that is promoting sanitation in the developing world? Tell us in the comments below!

Sarah Alvarez is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program.

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