The Advantages of Sawdust Toilets

Sawdust toilets can solve the lack of adequate good sanitation in African slums.

Sawdust toilets, also known as composting toilets, are eco-friendly and sustainable sanitation systems. They offer an alternative to traditional flush toilets and septic systems by using natural processes to convert human waste into compost that can be safely used as fertilizer for plants.

The severe lack of water and toilets is a major concern for slums throughout Africa, especially in the large slums of Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa, and Kibera in Kenya. Densely populated slums are installing sustainable sawdust toilets using a container with a lid, a toilet seat, and a regular supply of sawdust.

Sawdust sustainable toilets will solve the lack of adequate good sanitation in Africa.
Sawdust toilets

In Africa’s largest slums, housing conditions and toilets are unsanitary, and sawdust toilets are an innovative environmental idea.

In the slum of Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa, the lack of adequate sanitation, potable water, and electricity, in addition to substandard housing and overcrowding, aggravates the spread of diseases and avoidable deaths.

About half of Africa’s 470 million city residents live in slums or informal settlements, which will only increase as Africa's urban population doubles to 1 billion people by 2040.

The severe lack of water and toilets is a major concern for slums throughout Africa; poor sanitation is feared to be a looming public health disaster. More than a third of the global population lacks adequate sanitation, a problem that is even more pronounced in informal urban settlements and slums.

Fortunately, there are a few cost-effective, eco-friendly, sustainable toilet solutions out there that work for all kinds of environments. Waste from waterless toilets using sawdust in slums of Africa is being processed into fertilizer and used to help produce animal feed.

It is creative thinking to use compost sanitation, which can increase the number of people with access to proper sanitation. Toilets are important in the fight against water contamination and disease. The compost produced from sawdust toilets can be used as a natural fertilizer, closing the nutrient cycle and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Yet,  the composting process requires proper monitoring and management to ensure that the resulting compost is safe to use and free from pathogens.

However, conventional toilets do not always work in developing countries because of water supplies and cost. One drawback is wood materials like sawdust and wood shavings are high in carbon, and carbon absorbs plants needing nitrogen in the soil leading to a nitrogen deficiency.

The sawdust toilet composting system is simple as it does not require a special toilet seat or tubing to divert urine from the compost mixture. All you need is a collection container, privacy, and sawdust, leaves, or dried grass to keep the toilets in working condition.

Sawdust toilets contribute to environmental sustainability by reducing water usage and promoting responsible waste management. They also help minimize pollution of water bodies caused by untreated sewage.

How sawdust toilets work in Khayelitsha 

Human waste, urine, and feces are collected in a sawdust toilet in a container or chamber beneath the toilet seat. Some designs feature separate compartments for urine and feces.

After using the toilet, a scoop of sawdust or other organic material like coconut coir, peat moss, or wood chips is added to cover the waste. This helps control odor and aids in the composting process.

Over time, the mixture of human waste and sawdust begins to decompose. The composting process is facilitated by beneficial microorganisms that break down the organic matter. The aerobic decomposition reduces pathogens and transforms the waste into a nutrient-rich compost.

The composting chamber must be periodically emptied, depending on its size and usage. The composted material is usually safe for use as fertilizer for non-edible plants. However, it is essential to let the composting process complete before using it to ensure that any remaining pathogens are fully eliminated.

Khayelitsha is the second-largest black township in South Africa after Soweto, with a population of 391,749. Just like Kibera in Kenya, only about 20 percent have electricity, and 10 percent have access to clean water. There is currently no system of sewer pipes to collect sewage and take it for disposal in the slums of Kibera, but sawdust toilets are changing the game.

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