Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The con side of composting toilets

We often link to stories about composting toilets that are often distributed in areas that lack sanitation. These toilets store human waste to break down contaminates so it later be used as compost for growing food.

Composting toilets seem like a great idea that everyone can get behind. However, some of those who live in poverty would rather have a flushing toilet like the wealthy. Having the human wastes sit around close by for a couple of years can be a turn off. Plus, some don't like the idea of using human waste as a compost for their food crops.

From the IPS, writer Claire Ngozo takes a look at the con side of composting toilets in Malawi.

Monalissa Nkhonjera, a communications and learning officer for international NGO WaterAid, explains that an average compound in the shanty townships has eight households, but there is usually only one pit latrine.

WaterAid is working in Lilongwe’s slums, implementing an appropriate, water-sensible solution. "We are promoting the construction of eco-san latrines with slabs as a cover for the pit and with either a tin or grass-thatched roof. The walls are made of baked or unbaked bricks."

The eco-sanitation latrines have two pits. Household ash is scattered into the latrine after every visit to the toilet to minimise smell and speed up decomposition. After one pit fills, use switches to the other, and the waste in the full pit is given time to fully decompose into a rich, safe manure.

But Manesi Phiri of Senti, another informal settlement on the outskirts of Lilongwe where WaterAid is promoting them, remains unsatisfied.

"Flush toilets are more convenient. All you need is to flush out the excreta after a visit to the toilet. Pit latrines compound the low status of us poor people. They are very demeaning," she told IPS.

Pit latrines, she said, are a marker of poverty, whereas flush toilets are a status symbol. Phiri also said communities in urban townships do not have much use for the fertiliser that is produced in the eco-sanitation latrines.

"We do not have gardens in our communities and we do not cultivate any crops so we do not need the fertiliser. We cannot sell this kind of fertiliser to city dwellers; they use chemical fertiliser for their kitchen gardens as they find the fertiliser from the latrines disgusting."

Phiri concedes the fertiliser from the eco-san toilets is free of any odor and looks like any other compost; but she insists that people are put off just thinking of where it comes from.

In Lilongwe's informal settlements, people are certainly not rejecting eco-sanitation out of hand, though Makande would also prefer a flush toilet: "But this is just a dream for now. We have to continue to use the pit latrines at our disposal and the eco-san latrines are better than the conventional latrines so we must adopt them," said the man, who works as a night guard in Area 10, one of Lilongwe’s affluent areas.

No comments: