Tiger worms: the ingenious solution to sanitation in refugee camps (Oxfam) - Ethiopia’s Jewi refugee camp

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Tiger worms: the ingenious solution to sanitation in refugee camps (Oxfam)

Please see article in the "i" newspaper :
inews.co.uk/essentials/news/uk/tiger-wor...ation-refugee-camps/

also see water.oxfam.org.uk/blog/tigers-in-the-toilet/

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Tiger worms: the ingenious solution to sanitation in refugee camps
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A team of British charity workers have come up with a simple, cheap and downright ingenious solution to the problem of providing safe sanitation to some of the world’s most crowded refugee camps – and it involves hundreds of bucketfuls of worms. Engineers working for Oxfam have created what they have dubbed the “tiger toilet”: a no-frills latrine which uses composting worms to convert human waste into useful fertiliser. The invention carries the added benefit of reducing the risk of disease. “I can see a point in the future where all of the toilets Oxfam builds in refugee camps are worm toilets” Angus McBride, humanitarian engineer The toilets, so named because of the striped tiger worms (Eisenia fetida) upon which they rely, were first trialled by a team working in Liberia in 2013. They proved such a success that more than 1,000 have since been built and are currently being used in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, India and Myanmar.

As they can be constructed quickly and cheaply, tiger toilets are perfect for emergency situations. In a refugee crisis, where thousands of people are displaced and forced to live in makeshift camps, the regular emptying of communal latrines can prove immensely difficult. To build a tiger toilet, all humanitarian workers need to do is dig a pit and fill it with gravel, woodchips, a little bit of water – and of course the worms themselves, which thrive on decaying organic material. The outbuilding is constructed using iron sheets and a wooden frame. Refugee camps Angus McBride, a water and sanitation engineer with the charity’s global humanitarian team, is based in Ethiopia’s Jewi refugee camp, which houses around 50,000 refugees who have fled the fighting in south Sudan. The camp was constructed more than a year ago and is so large that it has four schools. Mud huts have replaced the primitive plastic shelters which originally housed the refugees, with some people growing their own vegetables around their houses.

“Tiger worm toilets are very simple: if they weren’t then they would probably be inappropriate for the context,” said Mr McBride, 28, who is from Fife in Scotland.

“The worms look after themselves, and are happy to sit in a pit below the toilet eating everything that lands on them. “It’s also very quick and easy to build. We are going to provide the community with paints so they can paint the toilets in the traditional way in which they paint their houses: very abstract shapes, flowers, animals, or however they like.” Each toilet needs around 1kg of tiger worms to function properly, so Mr McBride has been buying large amounts from a university in Addis Ababa. He is currently trialling another species found in the soil locally, which may in future provide a totally free alternative.

“If these work as well as we hope, I can see a point in the future where all of the toilets Oxfam builds in refugee camps are worm toilets. It’s so simple it’s a no-brainer,”

Angus McBride, humanitarian engineer

Dr. Jonathan Parkinson
Principal Consultant – Water and Sanitation
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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

Dear Jonathan,

Thanks for posting about Oxfam's work with tiger worms (a type of earthworm) which you are calling tiger toilets. Much appreciated.

Could you please explain what the relationship between Bear Valley Ventures Limited UK and Oxfam Great Britain is regarding this work? (see other forum thread here: forum.susana.org/290-vermifilters-for-bl...ley-ventures-limited )

Were they sub-contractors to you? The article that you linked to stated:

Meanwhile, at Loughborough University, Dr Claire Furlong is continuing research into worm-based sanitation systems and results so far have shown that a typical Tiger Toilet might last five years without needing to be emptied.

I know Claire was also part of the team of Walter Gibson who founded Bear Valley Venture and who had a grant by USAID for this research some years ago. I am just trying to understand how it is all connected and who is who in the zoo.

Also, did you see the comment by Dean who wrote in this thread one year ago (see above):

There is nothing "novel" about the system, but what I was hoping for was some hard data on its performance in terms of effluent quality.

Dean said tiger toilets is just another term for what is also called vermicomposting digesters (wet composting) - which is also now the name of this sub-category. Dean has also built up a Wikiepedia article about this, see here:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermifilter

Actually, there it is called vermifilter. I find it a bit annoying that there are so many different terms for potentially the same thing. Why do we do this? Is it to confuse everyone or so that everyone can say it is "their" discovery? ;) (or are they fundamentally different?)

This is the first sentence of the Wikipedia article which mentions some of the alternative names:

A vermifilter (also called vermicomposting filter, vermicomposting digester, biodigester or biological filter with earthworms) is an aerobic treatment system comprising a passive aerobic biological reactor that treats wastewater by removing organic matter, pathogens and oxygen demand under a bio-oxidative process.

(actually now that I re-read it, I think it needds further refinement; is it really "removing" organic matter? Isn't it rather "converting" it? And why is it important that it removes oxygen?)

Edit 2 hours later: I've just changed it to this (but still not perfect):

A vermifilter (also called vermicomposting filter, vermicomposting digester, biodigester or biological filter with earthworms) is an aerobic treatment system comprising a biological reactor that treats wastewater (or fecal matter mixed with flush water in the case of vermifilter toilets) in an aerobic wet composting process. The treatment converts organic matter and reduces pathogens under a bio-oxidative process.


Note to Dean: we should probably also insert the term "tiger worm" and "tiger toilet" into the Wikipedia article so that if someone searches for it on Wikipedia, they find the article on vermifilter where it is mentioned.

Regards,
Elisabeth

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

I just saw (via twitter) that Bear Valley Ventures have a new website specifically about the Tiger Toilet. See here:
tigertoilet.com/

I am glad to read the same words used that I mentioned above:

The Tiger Toilet is a vermifiltration-based digester technology (patent pending) that includes specialized bio-media, drainage layers, and a specially selected species of earthworms that are very effective for accelerating decomposition.


And I am glad to see some photos! (hadn't seen many up to now). See e.g.:



I wonder about possible groundwater pollution and found this statement on their website:

Together, the worms and the proprietary sequential filtration system ensure that this resulting effluent is of much higher quality than that from both septic tanks and pit latrines. The digester design allows this effluent to safely percolate into the surrounding soil.


What exactly does "much higher" mean? (it is not difficult to have a higher effluent/percolate/leachate quality than pit latrines...). Are there any regulatory standards to be met in India with this kind of toilet?

On the Oxfam website it says ( water.oxfam.org.uk/blog/tigers-in-the-toilet/ ):

Using multiple layers of material for filtration of the effluent isn’t always necessary, it’s fine to soak into the earth provided it’s not near a drinking water source.


Don't get me wrong: I think it is great if Oxfam and Tiger Toilet have found a type of toilet that is popular with customers and which they enjoy using. That's really great! I just would like to understand it better and know not only the advantages but also the limitations.

Regards,
Elisabeth

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

Hi Elisabeth,
"Tiger toilet" is a brand, so not appropriate for use as a term to describe the system in wikipedia. Would be good to have the one term used by everybody but there are commercial interests involved, each seeking market share and a point of difference. Tiger worms (red wrigglers) are linked to in the vermifilter article (see earthworms and composting earthworms links). See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisenia_fetida (this is the species I use but might not be suitable for all climates/countries), the link to composting worms is good because that article includes Eisenia species.

The vermifilter does remove organic matter (much of the carbon is then oxidised into CO2). It doesn't remove oxygen, it (much more importantly) removes oxygen demand (in the treated liquid effluent).

The only novel part in this "vermifiltration-based digester technology (patent pending)" appears to be that it includes "specialized bio-media", this media being "special Tiger Toilet drainage layers". They claim that "99% of bacterial pathogens are removed" using "scientifically tested filtration and drainage layers" that are "a proprietary design, involving layers of different materials, that creates a sequential filtration system".

It doesn't make sense to me that this system would have a proprietary "sequential filtration system" to "ensure that this resulting effluent is of much higher quality than that from both septic tanks and pit latrines" to then simply allow "this effluent to safely percolate into the surrounding soil". Seems to me that removal of solids is the only necessary step if the liquid effluent is to percolate into subsurface soil. This is accomplished with simple vermicomposting digesters that can be built locally using local materials.

I what is clear from the website is their ambition to "reach 1 million homes in the next 5 years " with a proprietary product.

cheers
Dean

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

Hi Elisabeth,

part of the conundrum with the naming is that a "vermifilter" can be used for secondary treatment of liquid effluent, so the name "digester" was coined to define a type of primary vermifilter that is used for intercepting and digesting solids. Like in any vermifilter or worm farm, worms excrete liquid when they digest the solids, which is additional to the liquid influent. This excreta adds to oxygen demand in the effluent. In the primary digester it drains through the media and thus requires oxygen for aerobic secondary treatment to take place. Now, each layer of media can remove oxygen demand and solids from the liquid. Thus a single tower vermifilter system uses gravity and more layers of media to provide greater level of treatment. Alternatively separate staged vermifilter reactors to do the same thing.

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

Thanks for your two detailed posts, Dean, which I am still digesting.

I just wanted to quickly react to the Wikipedia thing about Tiger Toilets: I am not intending to name a Wikipedia page "Tiger Toilets" but I think in the Wikipedia article on vermifilters we could mention somewhere the word "tiger toilet". Already it is mentioned in the reference list.* It wouldn't harm to mention that vermifilters have been used in commercially available toilet products like the one branded as "tiger toilet". This would help people who are searching on Wikipedia (or with Google) to understand where tiger toilet fits in. Do you agree?

By the way, please type "vermifilter" into Google and sit back and enjoy the results!! The Wikipedia article that you created comes out already as the Number 1 item in Google! Pretty awesome, given that the article is only a few months old (I think you moved it into the open area in August 2016). All the more reason for continuing to encourage everyone with an interest in the topic to help improve the article further! E.g. I think it still needs some photos of toilets which are using vermifiltration, like the tiger toilets for example (if we get an image that is under an open access licence).

And I think some of the language still needs to be simplified so that lay persons can understand it better. Perhaps some practical examples would also help, like we did for the page on UDDTs ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urine-diverting_dry_toilet#Examples )

Regards,
Elisabeth

* This is the reference: C. Furlong, W. T. Gibson, M. R. Templeton, M. Taillade, F. Kassam, G. Crabb, R. Goodsell, J. McQuilkin, A. Oak, G. Thakar, M. Kodgire, R. Patankar. The development of an onsite sanitation system based on vermifiltration: the "Tiger Toilet", Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development, January 2015

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

Hi Elisabeth,

We need to keep in mind that "Tiger Toilet" is a brand and the name will no doubt be trademarked.

There are competitors all seeking to claim the lions share of the potentially huge market for this technology. A catchy name like "tiger toilet" could become what all vermifilters are referred to as, the holy grail for any marketer, a brand name becoming the generic term for the technology. Think Thermos (brand) instead of vacuum flask (product), or crock pot instead of slow cooker.

Then there is also the Biofil toilet (also in the reference list), both funded by the Gates foundation and each using the same technology but each claimed to be proprietary "inventions", apparently subject to patents and unique...

Because the technology is so simple, it scares me that this is happening at all. The only way to brand something so simple is to claim superiority or uniqueness. This is what they are all claiming, but none have come up with anything empirical to support their claims. What makes it better apart from clever marketing? After all they only ever post to the forum as part of their promotions exercise...

If you look at the examples listed on wikipedia for UDDT, none of these are branded or proprietary products. These are examples of the technology. If you want examples of the technology, you'll need to define differences between cases. This is not possible with Tiger Toilet at this stage because no real information has been provided by Bear Valley Ventures on their claimed innovations or system's uniqueness.

I'm concerned that as businesses move in to this space (the sanitation shortcomings resulting from poverty) for the opportunity to make a buck, they actually take away from the communities they are claiming to support. This technology can be constructed by locals with local materials for low cost. These communities just need the processes and methods open sourced. I put that wikipedia page together as the first step in that process of open sourcing the knowledge.

I agree with putting a redirect from Tiger Toilet to Vermifilter in Wikipedia, but until there is something produced that differentiates this product from any other, then for a level playing field you'll need to put up every branded product that uses vermifiltration. Otherwise it just becomes an advertisement for the one product.

cheers
Dean

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

Hi, My intention was to draw people's attention to the work that Oxfam is doing with the application of this type of sanitation technologies in refugee camp situation. I am not aware of any direct relationship between Bear Valley Ventures and Oxfam GB but I take your point about technology and branding. However, important to note that this happens all the time. For example, look at the number of container based sanitation systems combined with social entrepreneurs with different brand names. It may result in some competition between different organisations with different brands, but as Dean says, there is a potentially huge market for this type of technology. So, there must be space for both. Consequently, it's not such a concern to me if different initiatives developing and promoting similar systems are based on the same technology. Better would be to use SuSanA to share experiences/evidence on the application of these technology and use this sharing to promote improvements to design and implementation of this type of technology. best regards, Jonathan

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

In which case I'm being far too cynical and was incorrect in assuming that Tiger Toilet is a trademarked brand? So any digester using composting worms can be called a tiger toilet? If this is the case then I'm thinking I should therefore add tiger toilet to the list of terms used for describing a Vermifilter in the wikipedia article ?

cheers
Dean

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

Hi Dean, I conferred with my colleagues and I can confirm that it is not a trademarked brand. I had a quick look at www.wipo.int/branddb/en/ and nothing came up. I don't know if this site covers all trademarks but it claims that it "performs a trademark search by text or image in brand data from multiple national and international sources, including trademarks, appellations of origin and official emblems", which sounds fairly comprehensive. I think therefore your assumption is correct and any digester using composting worms could be called a tiger worm toilet. This paper in Waterlines published last year refers to the tiger toilets in Liberia as "vermicomposting toilets". best regards, Jonathan

www.developmentbookshelf.com/doi/abs/10.3362/1756-3488.2016.012

********************************************************************************
Tiger worm toilets: lessons learned from constructing household vermicomposting toilets in Liberia

Abstract

In response to the poor urban sanitation in Monrovia’s slums and Buchanan’s peri-urban areas in Liberia, Oxfam piloted worm toilets (aka Tiger Toilets), constructing 180 toilets between 2011 and 2015. One toilet was constructed per household for families containing fewer than 10 people. Each toilet was connected to a biodigester containing 2 kg of African night crawlers (Eudrilus eugeniae). This paper documents the programme approach including how the community was mobilized and the construction process. The results section reviews field observations, challenges, and the maintenance problems encountered. In the discussion the paper reviews the design changes, lessons learned, limits for scale, and critical factors for success (favourable environment, local supply, infiltration capacity, and local technicians). The paper concludes that although the project is still ongoing, the study suggests that the African night crawlers can digest significant volumes of human excreta if proper conditions of aeration, moisture, and temperature are met.

Dr. Jonathan Parkinson
Principal Consultant – Water and Sanitation
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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

Thanks Jonathan, I've added "tiger worm toilet" to the (ever increasing) list of terms on wikipedia: Vermifilter.

cheers
Dean

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Re: The Tiger Toilet which works with worms - like in-situ vermi-composting (field trials in India, Uganda and Burma) - Bear Valley Ventures Limited, UK

I completely agree with you Dean. Tiger Toilet is a brand. My lab and the Global Sustainable Aid Project (GSAP) have been training local artisans to build our version (locally sourced and locally fabricated) of the vermicomposting toilet, the GSAP Microflush Toilet, for several years. There are multiple local species of worms (we use e-fetida) that work well. One feature of our toilet is the isolation of fresh waste from space with the Microflush valve. Our work was funded early on by a GCE Award from the BMGF. we have trained MAKERs now in 18 countries.

Stephen Mecca, Ph.D.
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