Improved toilets

Better sanitation to reduce disease

In areas where water is scarce and plumbing doesn't exist, communities are forced to share communal pit latrines, which are little more than holes in the ground framed by planks of wood. The even more unhygienic alternative is called a flying toilet, which simply consists of a plastic bag; these litter the slums. Both toilets pose huge risk of disease which in many cases can prove fatal.

Practical Action use a variety of different technologies, as appropriate to each community, to help improve sanitation and health.


Bio-latrines use a dry toilet technology which reduces the demand for water. The bio-latrine includes a natural exhausting process so that the digester system never fills up to overflow. The waste collected in the digester is processed using anaerobic digestion to make organic manure (suitable for use as fertiliser). As the waste biodegrades, the digester captures methane gas which is used for lighting and cooking.

Ecological sanitation (Ecosan)

Ecological sanitation (Ecosan) is an alternative holistic approach for healthy and economically sustainable sanitation. This approach is based on the consistent implementation of the “closing the loop approach” (Nutrient Cycling), where urine and faeces are regarded as resources rather than waste. If collected separately and sanitized they can be used as organic fertilizer or as soil conditioner. It is an approach that saves water, protects water quality, prevents pollution and returns valuable nutrients to the soil.

Ventilated improved latrines (VIP)

Ventilated improved latrines (VIP) are equipped with ventilation pipes to get rid of flies and smells, and a concrete platform that’s easy to keep clean. These improved loos have proven so effective that local people have taken the initiative and built many more.

SULAV twin-pit latrines

SULAV twin-pit latrines are an effective, easy-to-maintain toilet where the waste is sealed to remove pathogens before being composted and used as manure. When one pit is full, it’s closed and the other is used. After a year, the first pit can be safely emptied and the contents used as manure.

Kitale, Kenya

In Kitale, Kenya, many schools faced closure - not because of governmental reforms, lack of funds or a shortage of resources - but because of their sanitation. Without clean toilets, children couldn't go to school. But just £50 is enough to help keep a school open - this is all is costs to build a Bio-latrine.

Because they are a “dry” toilet, they neither require water to work (which is already scarce) nor is there any danger of waste leaching into the groundwater and polluting water supplies, causing disease.

The bio-latrine system also brings with it a surprising and marvellous range of added benefits, including helping to both heat and light the school.

Practical Action has already helped four schools in Kitale to install improved latrine systems, helping to keep 3,000 children in school. The benefits to the children and their schools are immense.

Shimo La Tewa school in Kitale now has new bio latrines to help improve sanitation and health at the school. Methane gas generated from the latrines is used for lighting in the evenings and cooking. After the gas has been removed the bio waste is used in the school garden as a fertiliser.

Sicuani, Peru

Practical Action has introduced 300 new eco-toilets to the village of Sicuani in Peru. The eco-toilets are a dry loo (essential in an area where water is extremely scarce). They have been developed with the local communities so that the design is one which can be built readily with local materials and is easy for local people to build.

Watch more videos about Practical Action's sanitation work.

Epworth Bellapaise, Zimbabwe

Epworth Bellapaise was the epicentre for cholera outbreaks prior to 2007, largely due to the lack of suitable toilets in the area and the prevalence of open defecation. Reports from the project’s ‘Peer Educators’, (health and hygiene education promoters) indicate a significant reduction in the incidence of diarrhoea.

Between January 2008 and January 2009 there was no cholera outbreak in the target area (which is hugely significant given the social, economic and infrastructural breakdown in Zimbabwe during the same period).

This can, in large part, be attributed to the construction of ecosan latrines and the intense health and hygiene education carried out between September 2007 and January 2009.

The ecosan toilets have combated the communities’ tendency to open defecation, which has greatly reduced the occurrence of cholera outbreaks in the area. Previously, the absence of toilets meant that families practiced open defecation and come the rainy season, faecal matter would flow into the shallow wells which the community used to collect their drinking water. It is during this process that the water borne diseases would be transmitted and outbreaks would occur. So the construction of the ecosan toilets has cut off this disease transmission route and prevented the outbreak of cholera in the project area.

No one should have to live, surrounded by their own excrement; you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. However this is the stark reality of everyday life for people living in slums.

click here to donate online via secure serverBut without your help, other schools may not be so fortunate. Could you spare £50 to help keep schools in Kitale open – and help Practical Action support other young people in some of the poorest parts of the world? If you can, you will be giving so many children the chance – perhaps their only chance – to complete their education and escape from poverty.

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Technical information from Practical Answers

You can download  technical briefs and manuals on sanitaion at Practical Answers, the technical information service of Practical Action, or you can submit an enquiry to the Practical Action staff via the online form

The following guides give an introduction to some of the different technologies used in improved sanitation.

Types of toilet and their suitability

This Technical Brief outlines different types of toilets, and highlights some advantages and disadvantages which will facilitate their planning and selection. Niall Boot for Practical Action, August 2008, 9 pages

Ecological Sanitation: a concept

Ecological sanitation ('ecosan') is the reuse of human excrement, which contains the nutrients required to fertilise land.

Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine

The Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine is an improvement on standard pit latrines that eliminates flies and odour.

Compost Toilets

This technical brief describes a compost toilet that has proved to be most effective in water-logged areas where pit-latrines and septic tanks are inappropriate.


Biogas from biolatrines can provide a free, sustainable source of power all year round. Read more about our work with biogas, or download biogas technical resources.

Using Biogas Technology to Solve Pit Latrine Waste Disposal

Technical brief that looks at the option of using biogas units to reduce the waste produced by standard pit latrines.

The Times recently published a report on our biolatrine work in Kenya. Read online (requires Times subscription)

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