Design as development aid

Toilets in the slum

Design without Borders has developed a toilet for use in slum areas. The toilet is ecological and the waste can be used as fertiliser.

Challenge: The prime cause of diseases in slums all over the world is the lack of good sanitary solutions. In the slum areas of Uganda's capital Kampala thousands of people share four toilets. Bacteria are rife, and so are dangerous diseases.

Project: In collaboration with the Ugandan manufacturer of plastic products Crestanks, Design without Borders has developed an ecological urinal for domestic use. The urinal addresses challenges such as lack of space and cleanliness; upkeep is simple and production is economical. The urinal preserves all nutrients in the urine, so that it can be easily processed to become high quality fertiliser.

Outcome: The urinal was developed in Kampala, Uganda, and has so far been tested in Nairobi, Kenya. The plan is to start production in the course of 2012.

In the feature article Slumurinal gir håp (Slum urinal inspires hope, in norwegian), you will meet industrial designer Sarah Keller who worked on the urinal for Design without Borders.

Would you like to learn more about the project?

In this in-depth part of the section you will find more information on Design without Borders' work on developing the urinal in Uganda.

Project facts:

  • Theme: Ecological toilet solution, Ecosan
  • Delivery: Design of a urinal for slums
  • Industrial designer: Sarah Keller
  • Partner: Plastic manufacturer Crestanks Ltd, Uganda
  • Project period: 1 March 2009 – 1 June 2010

Precarious sanitary conditions

44% of the inhabitants of Uganda's capital Kampala live in slum areas with high population density. The slum residents lack space or cannot afford their own toilets, and the most common toilet solutions are therefore shared pay toilets, or buckets and plastic bags. In a number of neighbourhoods more than 1000 people share the same toilet.

The faecal matter from public toilets is either emptied onto the streets or into open sewers running through residential areas. It then filters into the ground water, reaching wells or other places where people come into contact with it. The spread of bacteria from faecal matter is the source of about 80% of diseases in the slum areas. In addition, women and children frequently become the victims of sexual assault and rape when they approach public toilets after dark.

Limited access to water and poor infrastructure in the slum areas precludes the use of water closets.

Ecological Sanitation (Ecosan) is a system in which human waste is used as fertiliser. There have been several previous attempts to introduce Ecosan toilets into slum areas, but usually without success. Lack of user participation led to solutions that users were uncomfortable with, and therefore did not use.

User participation leads to success

In developing the Ecosan urinal, industrial designer Sarah Keller from Design without Borders collaborated with engineers and industrial workers at Crestanks, a local manufacturer of plastic products. User participation played a key role in the project. Her long-term presence in the slum area Katanga in Kampala earned Sarah the trust of the slum residents, giving her direct access to information on their sanitary needs. The project also gave priority to adapting the urinal to existing production methods and available materials.

The Design without Borders urinal

  • is aimed at private households
  • is based on a standardised plastic can, a product that is easily available and which users are familiar with
  • prevents stench, takes up little space, and requires a minimum of upkeep
  • is cheap to produce, meaning that slum residents can afford to buy it
  • is transportable and therefore works well in the  context of a larger collection system
    • preserves all the nutrients in the urine, so that it can easily be processed into high-quality fertiliser

Outcome and status

Design without Borders has developed a complete concept for an ecological urinal, as well as a prototype. The solution has been tested in Nairobi, Kenya, and production is to commence in the course of 2012.

Design without Borders has entered a partnership with the foundation Sustainable Sanitation Design (SuSan Design) in order to produce the urinal industrially and set up a production unit for natural fertiliser outside Kampala. SuSan Design works on the marketing and distribution of the urinal to local farmers. The goal is that the value chain will be self-supporting by 2014 and that the system will be transferrable to slum areas all over the world.

Design without Borders has entered into a contract with SuSan Design, giving the company the right to produce the urinal for a five-year period, with full-scale production expected in 2012.

Facts on Ecosan solutions:

  • Ecosan is a term used for toilet solutions that separate urine from faeces. In Ecosan urinals, urine is converted into a safe fertiliser within two days, preserving important nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen.
  • Using Ecosan toilets means less contamination of groundwater and stench, as well as fewer flies. This translates into health benefits for residents in areas with high population density.
  • Only 0.2% of the Ugandan population currently use Ecosan toilets.
  • Uganda's ten-year plan stipulates that by 2018 15% of the population are to use Ecosan solutions. The authorities and a series of organisations are working on establishing Ecosan solutions, as well as changing attitudes and educating the populace about Ecosan solutions.
  • Re-enforcing Ugandan agriculture through employing Ecosan solutions is a long-term goal. However, waste handling, distribution systems and the use of ecological fertiliser in agriculture require further work before this goal is within reach.