Developing Local and Affordable Ecosan Toilets for the BoP

By: UNIID SEA - 2014-06-26

Project Brief 

This project sought to develop ecological sanitation (ecosan) technologies to solve health, sanitation, and soil fertility issues by exploring models for lowering the cost of building ecosan toilets, a limiting factor in adopting such technologies. It also studied the response of crops (trees, vegetable, and coconuts) to ecosan product (urine and feces) treatments. Finally, it designed a micro-financing mechanism that would transform the initiative into a servicecum-enterprise venture. This would include designs for packaging soft and hard ecosan technologies for local government units, NGOs and other stakeholders. 

the Process 

The project team conducted field research to gain insights on the technology. The community was assembled for a rapid rural survey during the initial entry, followed by ocular inspection and informal sessions that facilitated exchanges about their concerns. Regular focus group discussions, meetings, and the formation of an ecosan club strengthened the bonds of the project team and the communities. Together with community members, the project started designing alternatives to the cement cover-slab of the arborloo as well as designs for low-cost single vault ecosan toilets using locally-available materials (e.g., bamboos, wood poles, coconut fronds, coconut lumber, and recycled plastics and drums). The new designs were then fieldtested in Barrio Oguis in Initao and Barrio Tuod in Manticao, Misamis Oriental province. One prototype found to be appropriate for coastal communities, where space is limited and houses are close to each other, is a “hanging” type of ecosan, field- tested in Initao Poblacion. 

Two German ecosan experts, Dr. Ralf Otterpohl and Dr. Jurgen Ricken, provided training on the terra preta (black soil) ecosan technology, which required the introduction of strains of bacillus that would transform feces and urine into high quality fertilizer. WAND is now in the process of culturing the bacillus mix, with the further aim of marketing the fertilizer product to garden enthusiasts and tree planters. 

The project succeeded in localizing ecosan technologies through the development of different ecosan designs--“hanging” ecosan toilets for coastal communities, lightweight arborloo toilets for mountain areas, single-vault ecosan toilets for rural households that can also be used during emergency situations, and the fabrication of urinals (“EcoPees”). 

Risks, Problems and Barriers 

Cost proved to be a major barrier for an ecosan solution to take foothold at the BoP. In the original version, ecosan toilets are manufactured from ceramics in order to comply with the hygienic standards of the developed world. However, the resulting high cost and restriction of production to specialized factories have been a considerable stumbling block in the dissemination of this technology at the BoP. This project tackled the issue by using local materials as substitutes. Natural and recycled materials were instead used to provide the same functionality at a much lower price that is affordable to the community. 

Another barrier that the project had to hurdle was the cultural aspect of dealing with human feces and urine. Not all members of the community were comfortable discussing the ecosan products. A strong community-centric advocacy campaign was thus adopted to inform the community about the importance of sanitation. The use of posters with pictograms depicting the operating guidelines in the local language helped convey the message. Meetings with the community and its leaders further strengthened the message. The original design of the toilets, which required them to be installed on the ground, further posed problems particularly in coastal communities, as access to the toilet during high tide was nearly impossible. In this new design, the toilets were instead installed on the side of the house and the vault underneath the house high enough so that the water could not reach the waste containers. The project initially devised a micro-financing scheme solely devoted to marketing ecosan toilets for the poor. During its implementation, however, the project realized that there were very few people that showed interest in applying for a loan for an ecosan toilet. WAND tried to surmount this challenge by integrating the ecosan toilet loan to an ongoing microfinance program for farm livelihood activities. Thus, a person who applies for a farm loan would now be asked if the applicant has a toilet or not, and whether that person would like to include the toilet in the loan package. 

Benefits, Outcome, and Reach 

In partnership with the community, the project succeeded in custom-designing dry toilets for various conditions (e.g., coastal, urban slums, uplands, marshy areas, river settlements, flooded areas) and target beneficiaries (e.g., dry toilets for persons with disabilities, toddlers). The pilot implementation of the ecosan technology is innovative for its use of predominantly local materials, versatility, affordability, and ease of scale-up. 

The arborloo toilets established through this project reached 65 indigent families, while the eco-lilies and vegetable seeds were distributed to 100 vegetable garden beneficiaries. The project caught the attention of GTZ, a German funding agency, which allocated funds for the installation of 100 additional units of “hanging” ecosan toilets covering coastal areas in two Mindanao municipalities. 

Lessons Learned 

WAND learned that the involvement of the community is key to the project’s success. Project leader Elmer Sayre expounded that the value of the community is so significant that he rated it as “10 out of 10.” The use of local and recycled materials proved to be crucial in lowering the cost, making the ecosan solution affordable to the BoP. Most of the materials used in the designs are now locally sourced such as bamboos, coconut palm fronds, wooden poles, g-melina wood and rattan baskets; while recycled drums, containers, black plastic sheets and heavy-duty Manila hemp sacks were sourced from a junk store in Cagayan de Oro. The special ecosan bowl is produced by local masons. 

the Future 

Ecological sanitation really works. Beyond iBoP Asia’s support, WAND will continue its ongoing research activities by: a) integrating the terra preta concept in ecological sanitation in order to produce high-valued organic fertilizer; b) conducting long-term crop response study to humanure using coconuts and fruit trees; and c) studying the “user fee” principle in establishing coastal eco-sanitation. 

In its desire to highlight the aspect of cultural acceptability in future interventions, the project team further plans to pilot the ecosan technology among different groups such as indigenous peoples and Muslims. Designing soft (i.e., trainings) and hard ecosan technologies for local government units, NGO, and other stakeholders will also be continued so that the technology can be considered in local solid waste management plans and policies. 

About the Author

UNIID-SEA works with universities and research councils in Southeast Asia to promote action research and facilitate the development of programs that support innovation for inclusive development (IID). Contact Info: Ateneo School of Government Pacifico Ortiz Hall, Fr. Arrupe Road, Social Development Complex, Ateneo De Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines 1108 Tel: +63 2 426 6001 locals 4646, 4639 Telefax: +63 2 929 7035 Email: Website:


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