Urine diversion dehydration toilets after Typhoon Sendong in the Philippines

Elmer Sayre of WAND Foundation today sent us the following update from Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan Cities, Philippines where a small team of volunteers quickly set up urine diversion dehydration toilets (UDDTs) as emergency response after a recent typhoon.

As Elmer reports:

“Typhoon Sendong was so severe and fierce, hitting at 2 a.m. when most people were asleep, erasing in the map entire communities, scattering the living in various evacuation centers and  open spaces. When the water system of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities was damaged and most flush toilets in the affected areas were wiped-out, the ecosan* solution is left as one of the most viable options. I asked support from friends and classmates and social network acquaintances and built and deployed portable ecosan toilets focusing mainly on the evacuation centers housing 7,000-12,000 people.”

The blue area is the river running through Cagayan de Oro. The green areas are the totally devastated communities, with water up to the 2nd floor of houses at 2 am while most are sleeping. The city could not account for all the dead and missing especially that most of those living in or near the river banks are informal settlers. Isla de Oro as shown here is full of these shanty houses. Now it is tragically devoid of anything.

“When we started on the 21st December, 3 days after the typhoon, the stench of human feces in the evacuation centers were too much and fecal matter is everywhere. Now we have contained it and we are racing against time to build some more units especially for people living scattered around open spaces without sanitation facilities. Our team do constant monitoring and collection of human waste and store it in our facilities in Libertad to be processed later on as fertilizer for coconut trees.”

Constructing urine diversion dehydration toilets on the run-down to New Year at Tent City, Iligan, Philippines
Constructing urine diversion dehydration toilets on the run-down to New Year at Tent City, Iligan, Philippines

“We are doing well and in fact, today, a Swiss humanitarian aid agency asked us to supply them with 35 portable ecosan toilets for evacuation centers in Iligan city.”

For more information on Elmer’s work, please see these two documentations “Philippines Flashflood Documentation” (PDF; 0.9 MB) and “Briefer Ecosan Wand” (PDF; 0.4 MB) or feel free to directly contact WAND Foundation on their website.

*ecosan => here:  Urine diversion dehydration toilets (UDDTs)

This is a cross-post which initially appeared on the SuSanA working group 8 blog on “Sustainable Sanitation in Emergency and Reconstruction“.

Activities on World Toilet Day 2010

World Toilet” was a trending topic on Twitter today – a great success in social media, because a trending topic is a keyword or a combination of words on Twitter which are most often used during a given time and appear in a list of the 10 most often used keywords on Twitter. With Twitter being the de facto live indicator in social media with a world wide audience, this may indeed be regarded as a success.

WTD2010 events
some of the WTD 2010 events, mapped by the World Toilet Organization

Fortunately, many activities on World Toilet Day this year also covered some less virtual protest, like the opening of the 30th school toilet in a Georgian kindergarten via Women in Europe for a Common Future and their Georgian partner RCDA:

“Not only are the new toilets indoors, as opposed to the previously used pit latrines, they are specifically adapted to children’s use, have hand washing facilities and most importantly; they do not smell.”

Right here in Germany, over 100 students from schools in Berlin together with the German Toilet Organization (GTO) drew the attention to the current situation in Haiti and reemphasised the importance of adequate sanitation. Haiti is currently experiencing a cholera epidemic which has already claimed over 1000 lives. Cholera is caused by substandard sanitation and hygiene.

Toiletised World

Together with the German Toilet Organization (GTO), these youngsters protested at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz for a “Toiletised World”. With artistically designed toilet seats, bush toilets and other creative ideas, the students made their presence felt.

The German Federal Minister for Development Dirk Niebel applauded the students’ commitment to the World Toilet Day. Niebel explains that water and sanitation improvements remain a central focus of German international development work and goes beyond the current situation in Haiti. “Sustainable sanitation is essential, especially for children in order for them to grow up healthy and take part in education” the Minister stressed. “It is in schools where the foundations of behavioural changes in terms of hygiene and sustainable resource use are laid“.

Remember, World Toilet Day is celebrated on November 19 every year, and since EVERY HUMAN BEING HAS TO DEFECATE AND URINATE, a World Toilet Day affects all of use, rich and poor, sick or healthy.

So kudos to the World Toilet Organisation, Jack Sim and his dilligent team, for campaigning on- and offline & pushing the World Toilet Day on the international agenda!

Disclaimer: WTO, GTO and WECF are all partners of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

Who Gives A Crap

The good part about running a blog instead of being a journalist is that you can write about stuff you really like and also insert your own opinion as well as asking your readers for their comments. This obviously happens outside the conventional (dev aid) world with its often streamlined, corporate communication policies which sometimes avoid mentioning open issues like the following initiative which I read about today in the recommendable EcoSanRes mailing list.

If you’re interested in sustainable sanitation issues, make sure not to miss out this valuable exchange on first hand experiences with participants from all over the world. Yes, it’s just an old-fashioned mailing list that will sometimes clog up your inbox, but it’s the tool people use to communicate (hello 2010, hello RSS feeds, hello blogs, hello Facebook, hello Twitter, hello LinkedIn/Xing…).

You’ll notice that I took this wonderful headline as an opportunity to include my 2c in the beginning because it’s something I’ve been meaning to mention on this blog for a long time. Also, if YOU feel like there’s a story that needs to be published here, please feel free to contact me and I will have a look at it. Thank you!

Now back to the main topic: “Who Gives A Crap“.

Who Gives A Crap actually is a very interesting and thought-provoking initiative that aims to support water & sanitation projects in the developing world via the sale of sustainable toilet paper.

Yes, this may sound like a joke because a) what’s (environmentally) “sustainable toilet paper”?, b) why only focus on developing countries? (~ developing in which sense? within the watsan/sanwat sector? hmm..) and c) the guys behind this are otherwise busy running “a website that fundraises for development aid organisations using internet advertising”.

Nevertheless, as the distinguished Professor Ralf Otterpohl from the Institute of Wastewater Management and Water Protection @ Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg (Germany), pointed out in an e-mail reply today (on this said mailing list): [they are] “…touching an important issue. The cultural gap between washers and wipers shows that both sides are doing something strange.”

I couldn’t agree more. Both, using only dry paper OR only water with your bare hands aren’t sustainable solutions. Yes, people have been practising each method for ages, and probably everyone has perfected his/her own method of anal cleansing over the years and will teach/show his/her children accordingly – but are these methods really sustainable?

Wet toilet paper? Ralf goes on arguing that wet toilet paper is “not suitable for wastewater treatment plants of vacuum blackwater systems”. Ha! I am a huge fan of vacuum systems and wet toilet paper, but this revelation is something new to me. No wonder the toilet paper on planes (=> vacuum toilets)  is so thin and instantly dissolves. Also note that there are different types of wet toilet paper.

So with the situation being that we currently have many different sanitation systems all over the world (toilets, and the wastewater treatment, if any), and humans that are increasingly travelling all over the globe within hours, expecting similar standards all over the world, it begs the question if there is one unique and sustainable system that will fit everyone…(?).

One system for everyone. One toilet system – seat or squatting toilet & one cleaning procedure –  but obviously different treatment systems, adopted to the local climate/conditions (water, electricity, maintenance, etc.). Will this be possible? And is it a desired solution?

I don’t know if these are the right questions to ask when it comes to the complex matter of sanitation & treatment options, but then: how come we’re looking for sustainable treatment and reuse options if the cleansing process itself – the “interface” between users and a toilet – already is an unsolved issue by itself? And also part of the problem?

Ralf Otterpohl goes on telling us about the Terra Preta Sanitation (TPS) that partly consists of a disposable “food-quality” cleaning cloth, moistured with a lactid acid bacteria. Hey, doesn’t that sound like the desired sustainable toilet paper? And “food-quality” already sounds like a very smart Cradle2Cradle approach.

Terra Preta Sanitation (TPS) is a low-cost dry sanitation system based on urine diversion and the addition of charcoal to the system that produces lasting and highly fertile soils with properties similar to the recently [re]discovered manmade Terra Preta (black soil) in the Amazon region. Through natural processes of lacto-fermentation (silage) and vermicomposting, fecal material is converted into Terra Preta like soils that can be utilized in (urban) agriculture and also act as a carbon sink. (source)

Terra Preta Sanitation, a system designed for use in urban areas, with a separate collection of used toilet paper in a bucket. I already like the concept and that it has been re-discovered as a traditional method.

Wait….! You were first talking about sustainable toilet paper and now you’ve switched to a sustainable treatment system for urban areas that generates fertile soils? How’s that supposed to mix up? And why should I Give A Crap??!

Because you should. It starts with eating and doesn’t stop when you go to the toilet. There needs to a working closing-the-loops system in place that helps us grow food and also provides a secure and comfortable way for hygiene standards. Wet toilet paper that adds value to a system, if you will.

Coming back to the video above: would you buy (any) sustainable toilet paper and fork out an extra dime for it?

And: would you be willing to switch your existing cleaning method for any new – better – option? (similar to the already popular & separate collection of glass, paper and bio waste, which also required some behaviour change…)

The Peepoo bag system – top or flop?

Another blog post on the Peepoo bag system – the biodegradable toilet bag system for use in places where there are no toilets available. A single-use, self-sanitizing, biodegradble system that turns into fertilizer after use.


A follow-up to another blog post from December 2008 from my private blog on the same subject (“Flying Toilets 2.0”), if you will, because a lot has happened since then and I wanted to find an open space to note down all the pros & cons, the advantages and disadvantages of such a bag system. You are of course invited to share your opinion on these bags and leave a comment!

I also think that there’s no single truth on this subject – something I’ve learned from blogging on Afrigadget.com where we often cover gadgets that may appear to be very simple, but also still do the job.

Systems and technologies do not have to be perfect in order to work, and what is sponsored by dev aid orgs and private individuals may not necessarily be appreciated by the recipients (who will accept it anyways when it comes for free). Rather, a lot of different technologies may coexist – may also compete with each other – but to condemn a system just because it isn’t 100% sustainable isn’t too fair, I think.

“Eco-friendly toilets for Kenya slum” (Al Jazeera story)

In my books, a system that tries to close the loops on nutrients and is accepted by its users, is of much greater value than a traditional flush toilet. But that’s just me. And again, it’s not just a matter of provding toilets and basic hygiene standards, but instead so much more that can not be changed in one go. Urbanisation may be one core problem, or the question of land ownership which often results in slum dwellers having a greater interest in getting their hands on a TV set + VCR instead of a clean & secure toilet. The list of reasons is probably endless, and the following list also can not include all criticism and truth, so please free to add your own thoughts about the Peepoo system. Thank you!

Most of the following points where taken from the EcoSanRes Yahoo! group where the subject has been discussed for quite some time now. There also is an interesting short report with results of a medium-scale trial of these bags in Bangladesh (PDF; 1.7 MB) which was published in GTZ ecosan newsletter no. 34 in September 2009.


  • good for temporary / emergency situations
  • initial target group is used to conventional “Flying Toilets 1.0”
  • may be used at home & at nights
  • is mobile
  • alternative to dirty (public) latrines
  • allows for a sanitization within a relatively short time and prevents (stronger) odours
  • relatively low costs
  • does not require water (= there are no sustainable water options available + this is a dry toilet system)
  • no permanent infrastructure like septic tanks or even sewerage required = no maintenance costs
  • use as fertilizer in urban farming projects (like this one in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya)


  • no permanent solution
  • not 100% sustainable
  • not free (costs vs. convenience, but also future value from fertilizer which could be set off against the price of these bags?)
  • bags may be too thin and too small for some users
  • higher risk of users getting in touch with their faeces (=> hygiene standards)
  • difficulties in using the bag when defecation is accompanied by urination (for women)
  • ammonia gas may leak from torn bags & will become an immediate public health problem // oduor problems when many filled Peepoo bags are stored together during collection and transport
  • the bags should be more durable, stay intact and gas tight long enough for the ammonia to have time to kill off all the possible pathogens (thx, Håkan!)
  • the composting part could still be improved, e.g. store them in tight containers for maximum ammonia retention & then plow them down into the soil before the cropping season (thx, Håkan!)
  • may degrade too slowly (bioplastic bags used in many modern households today for compost are often removed on compost plants because their plastic requires a temperature of about 60°C or higher which may not always be achieved within the given time frame)
  • bag system is patented => how do you prevent fake (= non biodegradble) bags from being sold on the market?
  • requires a shielded space / privacy => question of dignity (where do you defecate? and where have the Flying Toilets 1.0 users previously defecated?)
  • requires a handling & reuse concept, preferably in the vicinity, but this actually applies to almost all waste stream
  • risk of losing political responsibility for a better sanitation concept

According to the BASF Sustainability Newsletter 5/2009 – manufacturers of the bag material – the “bags (are) made of BASF’s biodegradable plastic Ecovio. The plastic Ecovio consists of Ecoflex and of polylacticacid (PLA), which is obtained from corn. Ecoflexis a petrochemical-based polyester and is completely biodegradable. Eco-flex makes the bag flexible, tear-resistant, waterproof and suitable for printing”. (Thx, HPM!)

Also, what works in Africa will also work anywhere…? That’s one of our slogans on AfriGadget, but the reality of course is that each community has its own habits. Here’s another blog post by someone who tried to brake it down for India (with additional comments by Elisabeth von Münch, GTZ sustainable sanitation & ecosan team leader).

I am actually quite happy about the good media coverage that Peepoo(ple) has received lately. From a scientific perspective, things may not always be that clear and there’s always room for constructive criticism. From a blogger, user, km4dev and watsan worker perspective though, any media coverage for sanitation in urban slums is highly appreciated and still needed (one of the reasons for this blog on sanitation).

What I really like about the Peepoo system is that it doesn’t require much behavioural change and adds value to something that is often only regarded as waste. Maybe it takes such an extreme low tech approach to get the message of “closing the loops on nutrients” across.

And you? What do you like or dislike about these bags? Please feel free to share your comments with us. Asante sana!


1. UPDATE (from the Sept. 2010 GTZ newsletter on Sustainable sanitation & ecosan):

Sweden, Kenya, Haiti
Peepoo bags: Semi-manual production started in Kenya, and trials in Haiti after earthquake (Oxfam) – Aug. 2010
A semi manual production of Peepoo bags is currently being set up in Nairobi, Kenya with the aim to provide Peepoo toilets for field tests and pilots. The company Peepoople is now ready to start taking orders (send e-mail to order@peepoople.com) from the small scale production unit until the high speed production plant is up and running in mid 2011. The Peepoo is a single use, self-sanitising bio-degradable toilet in the form of a bag that after use turns the human waste into valuable fertiliser in 2-4 weeks. The Peepoo toilet has been tested in Kenya, Bangladesh, India and Haiti since 2008 with very positive user results.

Article in German newspaper DIE ZEIT on peepoo bags, with 12 readers’ comments (in German)
Haiti: Oxfam is piloting a new and improved “flying toilet” after the earthquake (news from IRIN)
Video clip on the use of peepoo bags in Haiti after the earthquake (Oxfam)
Peepoo bags chosen as one of “Ten Innovations in Global Health”


This photo has been shared with some comments on the SuSanA Facebook page in January 2010:


“Dear all, just want to let you know that the Peepoo is being sold, used and collected in Silanga village in Kibera [Nairobi, Kenya] since 23rd of October…..the women micro entrepreneurs are selling the Peepoo for 0.03 EUR and a refund of 0.01 EUR is payed at the collection point” (100 Kshs. = ~ 1 EUR in late 2010/early 2011).

That’s 0.02 EUR consumers are willing to spend on bio-plastic bags a.k.a. portable toilets! People willing to pay for improved sanitation (as opposed to a non-existing one, or just flying toilets) imo already is great news. Yes, the bags (and probably also micro entrepreneurs) are still subsidized and the system may not be that sustainable to some experts (even though the bags are now manufactured in Nairobi), BUT! – forget about all expert knowledge if your business tells you your heading in the right direction. Success still is the best argument, especially when it comes to questionable new approaches in sanitation in highly populated urban areas.


Public toilets are missing in most countries – even in 2009 we still lack decent, clean & affordable public toilets in most places and it’s still only a few companies that are active in this sector.

One reason for coming up with this blog certainly was the lack of such public facilities, and it is projects like the Kenyan Ikotoilet that my main interest is focussed on (~ seeing “sanitation as a business”, not only as an unpaid for, unappreciated public service). While we will blog about Ikotoilets in the coming days (will be published on AfriGadget.com first), let me introduce you to a Dutch company called Urilift that produces so-called “pop-up urinals”:

urilift-4bdefurilift-1bdefUrilift: “The Urilift is placed where it is needed: at hot spots in entertainment districts, for instance. Three people can use the urinals in the attractively styled stainless steel cylinder at the same time without seeing or being bothered by each other. The Urilift is only above ground when it is needed. For the rest of the time, it is completely hidden underground.” And there’s one interesting detail: “The Urilift is connected to the water mains but can also be supplied with a water tank, or without water. The water tank operates on an ecosystem that is filled automatically with rainwater.”

stap4UriGienic… is similar to the Urilift, but with a toilet seat: “The unique UriGenic toilet pan, a ‘wok’ with a suspended toilet seat, is the perfect solution for men and women. Since the toilet seat returns automatically to a vertical position after use, the unit can also be used by men as a urinal. Splashes on the seat are therefore a thing of the past. Naturally the unit is completely lockable so that the user can enjoy total privacy. It is also practical to use and exceptionally hygienic.”

nachtUriVisable “…can not be hidden below ground level. For this reason the UriVisable is extremely suitable for locations where permanent placement does not cause any objections and where, taking into account the pattern needed, a urinal is required 24 hours a day.”

There are also videos available online on the website of Urilift as well as on YouTube which demonstrate how such a public toilet pops up on the street and how they submerge e.g. during daytime.

Now, being connected to the mains sewer means that these toilet system will probably only work in cities where the sewage system already exists and that all valuable nutrients contained within the waste streams are actually wasted. The interesting questions are:

  • How much does such an installation cost and what kind of permits are required from the City Council?
  • Are there any subsidies from the local City Council to promote such public toilets (which, to my understanding, would have to be paid for by bar/restaurant owners)?
  • Would a waterless urinal also work in such an environment?
  • Would it make sense to turn a UriLift urinal into a waterless urinal in order to save on flushing water and to collect the urine for use in urban agriculture projects (e.g. allotment gardens within the city)?

UriLift sure is an interesting technology and the right step forward. I’d love to have one of those toilets right here in Frankfurt/M., btw.