Are pour flush toilets a good idea for (South) Africa?

  • JKMakowka
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for South Africa?

Hmm, yes somewhat strange that it does not exists in SA. However in most of the places in Asia this is also only a makeshift solution to broken down flush-toilet water-containers or insufficient piped water supply ;)

However, I question a bit if it is an really good idea to introduce them... it has most of the disadvantes of a regular flush toilet, and handling the potentially contaminated water (either from a bad source as people will probably not use drinkingwater, or from people previously using the toilet and washing off shit from fingers for example) is an additional risk factor.
If the toilet is connected to a biogas system it is probably a suitable solution though.

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  • Ewoods
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for South Africa?

I am currently working with latrines here in Naivasha, Keyna on a WSUP project and there are actually quite a lot of pour flush toilets (squat ones) here.

The main reasons people have pour flush into pits as opposed to VIP are
- Their first pit has filled up, either they do not have the money of knowledge for exhaustion, but do not have space to rebuild their latrine elsewhere. So they keep the current super structure, dig a pit outside of their plot lines (underground with a simple manhole cover) and convert the VIP to pour flush to wash waste into 2nd pit
- Throwing solid waste into pits is a real problem here, so landlords who want to have their pits exhausted will make their latrines pour flush so people can not throw trash in them. Also pour flush pits are much easier to exhaust because of the moisture level in the pits
- It is seen as an upgrade from VIP latrines, so if you have slightly more money, and want to charge slightly more rent from your tenants it is an easy way to look much more fancy

note* most people use lake water and/or rain water for their water source into the pour flush toilets

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  • Dave
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for South Africa?

Thanks to Elisabeth for initiating this discussion. In 2009 I was asked by Jay Bhagwan of the Water Research Commission of South Africa to investigate the feasibility of using pour flush in South Africa. I was sceptical at first, as I believed it was a technology more suited to cultures which use water for anal cleansing. However, we went ahead and developed a prototype which passed the standard flush test (6 by 50g poos as illustrarted in the post, along with a specified amount of toilet paper)on just one litre of water. The next step was to try it out with real users. The first two pour flush units (note - the photos in the post are a demo unit buit for the FSM2 conference, not the first trial units) were duly commissioned on 1 September 2010 and have been trouble free since, greatly exceeding my expectations. We subsequently built another 20 as well as 3 at a creche. All are working well, and we are now working on plans for larger scale pilot/demonstrations of 300 to 1000 homes.


Azalea N pedestal view 1 11.9.10 by Sustainable sanitation , on Flickr

This is a photo of the first trial unit - commissioned 1 Sept 2010 and working well to this day. Due to the site layout the leach pit had to be 17 metres away, and even though the sewer grade is quite flat (1% to 2%)it still works. It seems the waste moves in stages with each flush until it reaches the pit.

I think concerns over groundwater contamination from on-site sanitation are in general overstated. As we know, the most famous example of such contamination comes from cholera in London in the 1800s when high densities of people were flushing high volumes of sewage - with cholera - into cesspits which happened to be close to their source of drinking water. Where on-site sanitation, be it pit latrines, pour flush latrines or full flush with septic tanks, serve low density communities who are not using the local groundwater for their drinking water, there really is no public health risk that I can see. It is certainly a great deal better than no sanitation and more sustainable than full waterborne sanitation.

Unless a pit latrine is sited in coarse gravel or fissured rock with a lateral groundwater flow, pathogens will not move. I have done some work on monitoring groundwater contamination from pit latrines in a sandy aquifer, and found that a) soil is a very effective filter medium which prevents movement of pathogens and b) while there is a nitrate plume from a pit, it is very localised and attenuates fast. In fact I found that the greatest risk to people was poor sanitary practices around water wells, not groundwater contamination from toilets. Prof Simon Lorentz and his masters student Bruce Wickam are now doing a very comprehensive study on pits and pour flush latrines in the Pietermaritzburg area. Their preliminary results confirm that the impact of the nitrates are mainly localised, although you will pick up preferential flow paths in the near surface flow where there are higher nitrates. Their work should be complete by the end of 2013.

I have an interest in environmental pollution and environmental health, being the Chairman of the Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust ( www.duct.org.za ) which champions the health of the two main rivers which flow through our two main urban areas in this part of South Africa. Twenty years of comprehensive monitoring of E coli in these rivers by our water authorities proves conclusively that the greatest environmental threat to these rivers is created by dysfunctional sewage systems. Our rivers are far more polluted below sewered areas than they are below unsewered areas with on-site sanitation. We are talking orders of magnitude difference here.

VIPs are robust and way better than no sanitation. However for too long we have been stuck in a binary pradigm - VIPs or full flush waterborne sanitation. There are options between, and pour flush makes an excellent step up the ladder from the VIP, combining many of the advantages of full flush (aesthetics,the water seal, odour control) with the advantages of the VIP (low cost, no moving parts, simple). The advantages over the VIP have been stated in the post. Users don't use these toilets as a convenient way of getting rid of their trash, which means pits last longer and are easier to empty. The pits are more accessible, and switching between pits is much simpler than moving a VIP structure.

My hope is that this technology will spread itself through its own logic, with affordable pour flush pedestals becoming available at local plumbing and building supply stores. If pit emptying is neither affordable, desirable or practical, VIP owners can simply close them up and retrofit pour flush with offset pits.

There is nothing to stop pour flush from being combined with EcoSan. As with all types of sanitation, many variations and options are possible.

+++++++++++++++++++
Note by moderator: Dave's introduction of himself is visible here:
www.pid.co.za/index.php/fsm2-conference/...-development-pty-ltd

Regards

Dave
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  • christoph
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for South Africa?

Dear Elisabeth and Dave,

Elisabeth….interesting point… I did not know that pour flush in Africa are not common. In Latin America they are called “letrina de arrastre hidraulico” and they are common in some areas (parts of countries). I think pour flush is the only solution besides UDDT which offers the same quality in use as a “standard toilet”, due to the aspects Elisabeth mentioned. But just looking from a technical point of view I think three technical negative points are crucial to evaluated:

• There is a need for water…Elisabeth pointed out that it is not much, but for areas with shortage this is a problem
• They are not suitable in high water table areas as there will be direct groundwater contamination or problems with infiltration.
• They are not suitable or in areas with low infiltration capacity as they will overflow.

You might argue … “ok, these are technical arguments which have to be taken into account in building”. For me that is the question with almost all onsite sanitation systems. To what extent the technical knowledge is present in a process of choosing the technology…for my house… the house owners normally do not have that knowledge and they might overestimate the infiltration capacity or might not understand the problem of a high water table (as most pit owners).

We had an interesting experience in Peru. In the region of Cusco pour flush toilets are quite well known and well installed and well used. The regional government is using them as their favorite technology. In a small village with strong water shortage and difficult infiltration situation we were asked if we wanted to offer the possibility to install UDDTs for interested families. We were reluctant as we did not want to impose a system, nor compete (negatively) with an also good system, so we offered in parallel the possibility to install a UDDT (double vault bench). Both systems had almost the same conditions of financing. Of 30 families, half opted for pour flush and half for UDDT. We did the UDDT (with help of the regional government), the pour flush were done by the regional government. Both systems were well accepted and used. After a year a follow up by the social service of the regional government, showed that a large part of the pour flush users were reluctant that they choose their system, as there have been severe water shortages during the year and some of the pits were already full.

My lesson… to me the advantage was clear from the beginning … and I repeat with good infiltration conditions and water available pour flush is a very good option …. How can we prevent this situation for the users? Without imposing…when does imposing start and where does technical advice end?

Just personally – I do prefer UDDT (double vault). They are suitable in all situations, I just have to get installation right (especially the urine drainage), this I can acchieve by training the professional who does the installation.

To Dave:

I really appreciate the comments

Where on-site sanitation, be it pit latrines, pour flush latrines or full flush with septic tanks, serve low density communities who are not using the local groundwater for their drinking water, there really is no public health risk that I can see. It is certainly a great deal better than no sanitation and more sustainable than full waterborne sanitation.

Twenty years of comprehensive monitoring of E coli in these rivers by our water authorities proves conclusively that the greatest environmental threat to these rivers is created by dysfunctional sewage systems. Our rivers are far more polluted below sewered areas than they are below unsewered areas with on-site sanitation.

I do see this as a mayor problem in very many systems here in Latin America. The sewer system creates an intensive pollution point source, instead of broad soil infiltration points which eliminate large part of the contamination. Especially in areas where there are no shallow bore holes this is a very, very important overseen aspect to sanitation quality. The large investment and all the hazzle of building a treatment plant (if it is build) do result in worse water body quality as the plant operation often fails, a very sad situation.

As we promote urine infiltration for UDDT (when no use intended) we are often critically asked, especially from donor organizations, about the contamination with nitrate... even seriously questioned if the urine infiltration is legal… They do not ask this in the case of pit latrines or septic tanks with infiltration… really often the relation between rational solution – normal practice – and UDDT seems to be dislocated.

Thanks for the discussion.

Christoph
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  • emmanuel
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for South Africa?

Dear all,

My point of view is that waterless toilet is always better than water toilet.
I think that we have to think differently. We do not have to use water for the toilet when it is possible. Water toilet always include treatment and pollution problems. I understand that my point of view in the one of a rich man in a rich country but using water in toilets is also a european vision and a rich vision.
I am sure that if we all work together, we can find a waterless solutions for all the cases.
I am also sure that the whole price of a waterless toilet is lower than water toilet one (if we take into account the treatment cost and and cost of disease due to water pollution)
I am dreaming I know but it is pleasant.

Regards

Emmanuel
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  • Dave
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for South Africa?

Hi Christoph

Thanks for your post. There is definitely no silver bullet - one solution for everybody. If people are keen on UDDT I think it's great.

However pour flush does not need clean water - grey water is fine - so if people have enough for washing they should have enough for flushing. You can also combine UD and pour flush to get what I believe they are now calling "wet ecosan".

Incidentally two of our pour lfush trial units have been built in places where it turns out the summer water table is very high (20 cm from the surface). These are being closely monitored for groundwater effects, and so far the effect is very local. The high water table has not prevented the pour flush from working, but we are watching them with interest.


Testing low flush pour flush adaptation at PID by Sustainable sanitation , on Flickr

Regards

Dave
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  • sjoerdnienhuys
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for South Africa?

Pour-flush was introduced and became more common in Zambia and other central African countries during the sixties when I worked in urban settlement upgrading. The desire for (pour)flush toilets is largely derived from the luxory and water wasting European full-flush toilet systems; these were connected to septic tanks.
Water shortage is already a problem in many settlements and is not resolved by rainwater collection.
I agree with Christop that pour-flush is only one option and I also would advocate the UDDT when it can be kept oudourless. For farming and forestry development there is an increasing large need for fertilizer and in urban environments (housing settlements with over 100.000 inhabitants) there will be no space/capacity for soil absorbtion of the sewage.
When pour-flush is introduced in urban settlements, it should be linked to biogas systems for generation of cooking gas, pathogen reduction and fertilizer production.
In some areas there may/will be night frost, hence the pour-flush system needs to be kept frost free. In low-income housing that may be not always the case.
Like with most technologies, there is no single technology for everybody. Developers should present the various options with advantages and disadvantages.

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  • Geoffroy Germeau
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for South Africa?

Dear everybody,

I feel like recycling of nutrient is being forgotten, and the groundwater pollution dynamic under-estimated. If urine is diverted, it is mainly for reuse purpose, no? I'm ok to say that soil can be effective barrier to pathogens, but not for N : If we say 3kgN/pers/year in urine, let's say 2kg, it would require about 55m²/pers to meet the max agricultural application of 350kgN/ha/year, wich is the highest limitation in Belgium (from the European Nitrate-Directive of 1991) aimed at limiting N contamination to groundwater. Infiltration is quite different than fertilisation as the deep is often much higher (N is then about nearly not transformed nor consumed). If A family of 4 or 5 pers use UDDT with infiltration of urine in 3m² or less, it would be more than likely to be a pollution; . Ok, it depend on the type of soil, density of household, and the depth of soil + hydrodynamic of the area will determine the time necessary to reach the water table (it can be over 20 years). I don't belive ther is no impact. Where goes the N? Ther might be denitrification, but there is an excess....

Again, I'm quite suprised to read that UDDT toilets are used without urine reuse. If it is the case, it would be advisable to create N-contained in C structure like compost; Any material containing high C/N could be used to fix at least some N on C structure to produce something solid like compost which is easy to stock, has a lower volume and is much less reactive than mineral N.

If there is no reuse, in a N water pollution perspective, I think that it is always beter to increase the area of infiltration : so water-based sanitation would be better in that point, even if the difference migh be very small. But is this conventional or sustainable sanitation?

Poor flush toilet seems to be a good solution in towns/village, where density is high and water usefull for transport, especialy if there are buildings. As far as I know, dry sanitation in building of more than 2 floor is difficult to achieve, and it is difficult to find a Urine-diverting-flush toilet that give good performance and is userfriendly.

Stay the question : How to plan the recycling? if nothing is planed, pollution is created, maybe even more than in conventional systems.

Thank you very much for your reply

With my best greatingS,

Geoffroy

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  • christoph
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for (South) Africa?

Hi Geoffroy,

Just a quick answer. Your calculation of N load... does it not apply in the same way for infiltration after a septic tank? It is exactly the same Nitrogen load.

My main point in promoting UDDT is not the urine diversion (that might be interesting in future), my point is a good, healthy, clean, odorless solution, much easier to maintain than pits and a permanent installation...a real bathroom. Pourflush toilets offer this possibility as well, so they are equivalent in regard to the user comfort, incomparably better than VIP latrines.

From the pollution point of view in nitrogen the solutions are equal.

Regards.
Christoph
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  • Geoffroy Germeau
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for (South) Africa?

Dear Christoph,

thank you to make me remember that more essential issues than environmental one still have to be solved.
I have no data on N loss in septic tank. As N is introduced in form of N-org and NH4+, denitrification would not occur (denitrification needs NO3- which needs O2); the main process would be hydrolysis transforming N-org in NH4+. losses could mainly occur in form of NH3 volatilisation if pH is high, but wastewater pH is usualy around 6-6,5; so N loss would be low.

In N pollution perspective, I think the bigger the area of infiltration, the best, and water-based sanitation permit a repartition of effluent to larger area than urine only. But difference could be low.

How could urine/nutrients be re-use in your projects? Is there no fertilizer demand?

Yours,

Geoffroy

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  • christoph
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for (South) Africa?

Dear Geoffrey,

these 2 pictures might give you an idea.





We are working in the peri-urban area of Lima, 10 mm of rain“fall“ per year, absolutely no green… so nothing to fertilize. Rocky area, no groundwater at all (I´m not trying to defend the contamination with N, it might be a real problem in some areas with very shallow bore holes, but even in these cases UDDT are still better as they do not cause a coliform contamination).

The bathrooms (see next 2 picture) we implemented two years ago are in very good shape, the double chambers have been cleaned several times.





In this surrounding even the burrying of the treated material is not easy. We build in this area about 80 bathrooms and currently we are analyzing how a collection service could be put in place. The problem are the low household numbers, 80 households is just not enough to set up a service model for collection every 6-8 months.
Yours
Christoph


P.S. in one picture you might see the toilet bowl of the installation they had before. They used to pour some water after some uses, just used water, as they do have the water by cistern trucks. This is an example of “wealthier” people as they had a toilet bowl.
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  • Geoffroy Germeau
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Re: Are pour flush toilets a good idea for (South) Africa?

Dear Christoph,

Thank you very much for sharing your working situation...I feel sorry to focus on environmental aspect while it is probably unappropriate. I appologize to be out of the theme and hope the collection will work. Thanks again for sharing.

Geoffroy

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