September 2011: Letter from Gwennaël Bolomey


This report is not a paper about sanitation, it is a report of what I saw, discussed and understood about sanitation, especially on ECOSAN in Tamil Nadu, during my Civil Service with Antenna Technologies (

This report is the result of the following:

  • Reading several lectures of papers, websites and reports about sanitation in India.
  • Visit to NGOs like FIN (Friend In Need trust) and SCOPE trichy in Kameswaram, their ECOSAN toilets and had discussion with Mrs. Shyama Ramani, Mr. Ganappati and Mr . Paranjothi of above NGOs.
  • Visit to several ECOSAN constructed by Eco Pro in the surroundings of Auroville and a discussion with Lucas Dengel and Mrs Sumathy of Eco Pro.
  • My own experience in Switzerland with 1 mètre cube.

The passion and the patience of those cited persons made some interesting projects and ideas exist. Their desire of sharing their knowledge allows me to write this report. The most common ECOSAN in Tamil Nadu is urine diversion toilet, involving a strict separation of urine, faeces and washing water. ECOSAN taking the form of Urine diversion toilet is definitively the only one sanitation system being built nowadays in Tamil Nadu that is ecologically fully coherent. All others systems are deficient at some levels, especially in high water table and monsoon areas.

Most of Non-ECOSAN/conventional toilet systems under construction nowadays use water, which is becoming increasingly scarce.

All water systems have an impact on the water
table by polluting the wate
r with pathogens and
nutrients. Septic tank, the most common feature on N
on-ECOSAN, is dangerous, as it is very often not
properly constructed and the sludge rare
ly removed (and if done rarely treate
d). It is usually not possible to
check the result of the water trea
tment on long term as most septic
tanks are built in underground.
Open defecation is not a major problem in very remote area where population is scarcely
distributed, but as soon as the population becomes si
gnificant it causes hygienic pr
oblems (Direct contacts
with excreta, flies, etc).
No access to toilets is a gender inequity, as wome
n are usually constrained to wait night time to go
for open defecation.
Thus ECOSAN has many advantages ove
r conventional sanitation systems:
No pollution of the water table. Health improvement.
Less use of water (only washing)
Pathogens under control and treated
No manipulating of fresh excret
a (only dehydrated excretas)
Production of two rich fertilizer
s (dehydrated faeces and pure
urine). A major key for self
sufficiency against the increasing prices of fertil
izer (linked to the dema
nd and price of energy)
N, near Auroville
In spite of all those advantages, promoting ECOSAN
in rural area is a difficult and challenging task.
Many ECOSAN toilets (also standard septic tank or pit
latrine that has been built in the last decades by
Government or NGO’s) are simply not used or us
ed for others purposes. This could be because:
The ECOSAN interface is not user
friendly (3 holes) and
requires habits change. Users have to add
ash (or other organic material)
after using the toilet (faeces).
Most people are afraid and culturally resistant of us
ing and touching excreta and
urine, even if it is
desiccated and sterile. Thus the
use of ECOSAN compost as a ferti
lizer needs a lot of persuasion.
Some people are simply not intere
sted in using toilet and prefer
open defecation (especially men)
There is a lack a competent ma
sons for building good toilet
There can be a lack of appropriation of the toil
et and this might lead to non-maintenance
for long term use
In conclusion, if ECOSAN is the most (eco) logical solu
tion, it also seems to be the most difficult system to
promote. Anyway, the benefits for the environmen
t and for humanity are important, the effort and
successful experiences of pioneers in
this field showed that the goals can be met. In order to succeed,
building ECOSAN should be accompanied by several measures:
Having a real demand from the users.
Taking time to train and educate pe
ople about the benefits of using su
ch a toilet (this also play a
role in creating demand). For examples movies, th
eatrical happening, presenta
tion, discussions, etc.
Involving the users in the construc
tion of the toilet and/or shar
ing the cost of the toilet.
Having a long therm monitoring (at least 2 years,
until the opening of the first faeceschamber).
What could be seemed as a waste of time, is the real key needed to promote this new system, at least for
the beginning.
If those recommendations are not met, the promoter s
hould take time for those
tasks otherwise he would
better use its time and money for anothe
r project as there is a high potential
that this new toilet will feed
the “fast built and not monitored to
ilet” cemetery. Those experiences
also have a negative impact on
ECOSAN future development.
I would strongly recommend Shyama Ramani’s paper:
S.V. Ramani, et al., On the diffus
ion of toilets as bottom of the
pyramid innovation: lessons from
sanitation entrepreneurs, Technol
. Forecast. Soc. Change (2011)
I have visited mainly two kinds of ECOSAN, the one
built by FIN and SCOPE (F
-S) (few yearsago) and
the one built by Eco Pro (EP) (built in 2011). Both are
similar urine diversion systems.The differences are
mainly about masonry and material used motivated by
slightly different idea.While F-S are searching to
build comfortable toilet at the lo
wer price, EP choose to use moree
xpensive material and built more
luxurious toilet, the new models in
cluding a shower.The firs
t type of ECOSAN costs twice less expensive
than the second one. But the difference ofquality and
appearance is very signifi
cant. The cost is thus
ranging from Rs.14,000 to Rs.33,000 fora Urine diversion
toilet, with two faeces
chamber and for the EP
one, a shower included.
After a few years, as a result of
cheap material used, some F-S to
ilets are facing several problems:
Cracks in Roof slab
Ventilator pipes broken or useless because of its shortness
Doors broken
Faeces chambers doors not re-plastered
after opening of the chambers
Roof slab about to break, unattrac
tive aspect Ventilation pipe broken
Faeces chamber doors not replastered
after opening Toilet dirty and unused
The Eco Pro’s toilets as it was recently built ar
e not yet facing any problems, except some smell
found in one and insects found in the faeces chamber in
another. This was the result of a wet environment
in the faeces chamber, mainly because of an insuffici
ent use of ash and washing water or urine might have
been entered the faeces chamber. Moreover the ventila
tor pipes are too short.
This is planned to be
changed soon. Those problems also occurred in some of the F-S toilets.
Smell if it is occurring, always come from the
faeces chamber. It never come from the urine
diversion system and would not
occur if the chamber is dry.
Technical suggestions
What could be improved (some is already partially being changed):
Ventilator pipes should not be less than 4 meters
high (ideally 5 meters), painted in black and
should not have angles. The di
ameter should not be less than
12 cm. Good ventilation would
reduce potential smell and fac
ilitate the drying of faeces.
If space permits, doors should open inside to avoid exposure to rain (as done for EP).

Having a roof larger than the toilet, avoid leaching of the wall (esthetic impacts).

Including a shower seems an interesting idea, as it gives more interest from the users.

Adding a 10cm layer of ash and dry organic material at the bottom of the faeces chamber before starting using the toilet will help absorption of the wetness of the first months’ use.

The back faeces chambers’ door is a problem as most users don’t plaster it after opening of the chambers. Changing this system will unfortunately lead to an increase of costs. One tips for avoiding the above could be a thin cement slab that would close vertical in notches (no hinges) ?

I would be very interested to hear about a single chamber experience with 200 liters style bucket, could be removed out when it is filled up and wait outside (or under the shower for EP) with a cap before being emptied. This solution if culturally possible will lead to an important reduction of the costs which could be used for better building material

As promotion of ECOSAN is facing resistances, I would advise as we are at the beginning of the diffusion of an innovation to build at tractive toilets even if the cost rises and then as a consequence the numbers of toilet built diminish. The impact of deterioration of a too low cost toilet (cost of reparation, decreases of attraction of ECOSAN for users and community) should not be neglected.


Gwennaël Bolomey co-founder of 1 metre cube an eco-toilet company in Geneva, Switzerland –

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