Making Toilets Sustainable

Making Toilets Sustainable

On February 2, 2021, Oxfam India handed over a Tiger Worm Toilet (TWT) complex to the Naurangiya panchayat in Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar district. Present at the handing over were community members and representatives from the Arohan Foundation and our on-ground partner PGVS. The toilet complex has five toilets and is built in the complex of the panchayat bhawan.

A WASH Committee has been formed. Before handing over the TWT to the community, training on the operation and maintenance of the TWT was provided to the WASH committee. The committee which also includes the Gram Pradhan have committed to the upkeep of the toilet with the support of the nearby school and the community members. The WASH committee also organises meetings, workshop, and door to door campaign on safe hygiene practices and sanitation. 

Lack of proper sanitation and hygiene practices causes a host of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and Japanese Encephalitis. The situation worsens in areas which are frequently flooded. Open defecation leads to faecal contamination polluting the water and making it unfit for drinking.

Nearly 4.2 billion people worldwide live without access to safely managed sanitation. According to UN figures, open defecation leads to the deaths of 1,000 children every day globally from diarrhoea related to poor sanitation and contaminated water sources. Safe sanitation, water supply and better hygiene can save the lives of 3.5 lakh children in a year. Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in India’s health facilities, contributes to the high neonatal mortality rate. The NMR at present is 23.5 per 1,000 live births.

“The goal of the construction of tiger worm toilet in Naurangiya is to ensure the access of safe and hygienic sanitation services to the most vulnerable and marginalised sections including women, children, elderly, and the specially-abled,” said Mukunda Upadhyay, programme officer, Disaster Risk Reduction, Oxfam India.

What is a Tiger Worm Toilet?

The Tiger Worm Toilet is an on-site system that treats human waste using composting worms. The composting worms or Tiger Worms inside the toilet that breaks down the faecal material, reducing the accumulation rate and significantly extending the life of the toilet. The biodigester contains worms, which live in a bedding material and feed off the faeces, breaking it down. Effluent from this layer filters through a layer of sand and gravel.

The TWT technology works in areas with a moderate water table and is similar to twin pit toilet technology. The twin pit toilet is constructed by creating two pit holes around the toilet, one of which stays functional while the other is closed until the pit in operation is filled to capacity with human waste. The filled pit is then closed for composting, and the second pit put to use. The waste collected in pit one is then converted into bio-fertiliser through composting.

Vermicompost is produced through the worms’ digestion. The process reduces the volume of faeces between 70 to 80 percent.  Tiger Worms can survive feeding solely on faeces and does not require other inputs (unlike worms found in composting toilets that require a proportion of organic matter). A worm colony can live inside the toilet indefinitely so long as the correct environmental conditions are maintained.

In order to properly maintain the toilet, the inside of the biodigester should be inspected every three months. In particular, three aspects of the system should be checked— a) the transformation of faeces into vermicompost, b) the health of the worms, and c) the number of worms. “From field trials in Myanmar, Uganda and India, it was found that the TWT systems can cope with up to 70% faecal coverage. Above this it is likely that the systems become anaerobic, which is linked to bad smell. It should be noted that it takes approximately six weeks for the worms to acclimatise to a new food source,” explains Moitrayee Mondal, communications officer, Oxfam India.

The accumulated vermicompost should be removed as soon as the biodigester is full. For a family of 5-10 people, it is expected to fill up in 3 to 5 years on average and is estimated to weigh 50 kg per toilet. The vermicompost can be mixed with soil and used as a fertiliser. Once the biodigester is emptied, a new bedding layer should be set up and worms should be added to the system if some have been removed with the vermicompost.

Why Tiger Worm Toilets?

In India, there are two popular types of toilets — A) Toilets with septic tanks B) Toilets with pit. Septic tanks are expensive and are unaffordable for low income groups. Availability of space is a concern too. Pit latrines needs decommissioning which is hazardous and therefore, problematic. In such a scenario, TWT can be a sustainable model. In most disaster prone areas, where the water level is high, often sanitation facilities lead to bacterial contamination. The TWT reduces the chance of bacterial contamination manifold. The compost generated from TWT can be used for kitchen gardens!

“The toilet has been designed with the idea of balancing cost, ensuring ease of construction, and user acceptability. The aim is to have a design that can be easily rolled out to thousands of households in rural communities,” added Mukunda.   

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