onground pit latrine

Lifting the pit latrine on ground

Defining the pit latrine

Pit latrines are one of the most common off-grid toilet solutions in developing countries. As the name suggests, pit latrines are built above a pit of certain depth. The latrine user accesses the pit through a small hole in the slab from which all human waste drops into the pit. Because the pit is underground and all the waste ends up in the same hole, the pit latrine might be considered belonging to the category of non-separating underground toilet systems.

The very few advantages of pit latrine

Given the major popularity of pit latrine, it’s got to have some advantages, right? First of all, building a small and simple pit latrine does not require a heavy set of tools. A shovel is needed to dig the pit, while the inner wall of the pit can be made of for example old car tires stacked on each other. The rest of the toilet structure can be made of practically any materials locally available. Naturally, the larger the pit, the more materials and sturdier structure is needed for the toilet.

Although the pit latrine may not be the most hygienic of all toilets, it is definitely better than open defecation still practiced in many developing countries.

The disadvantages of the pit latrine

As you might guess, there are many disadvantages related to the pit latrines. From the user’s perspective, pit latrines are often smelly, dark houses with flies and insects buzzing around. However, the worst part is the maintenance of these toilets. Since the pits are built underground, it is difficult to access the human waste in the pit. Usually, people have to empty the pit with a bucket tied to a rope and empty the pit as you would lift water from a well. The process takes time, is unsafe and inarguably the most disgusting to do. The human waste inside the pit contains pathogens and hazardous bacteria, such as ecoli, way beyond the safety limits. This is because the human waste is too wet to compost and therefore the waste mass is just rotten sludge. If the liquid waste would have been separated from solid waste, the case would be different. Finally, to complete the maintenance, the rotten sludge has to be dumped somewhere. Unfortunately, in many cases that somewhere is to a river or nearby environment where the toilet waste causes even more health risks and pollution.

Because of the horrific maintenance of pit latrines, it is quite common practice to seal and abandon pits instead of emptying when they become full. However, leaving the pit unemptied is no solution to risk of polluting groundwater. In fact, as time passes, the risks of causing underground pollution increase. Also, pit latrines are highly vulnerable to floods frequently present in many developing countries.


Is there something that we can do to improve the pit latrine?

The answer is – yes! As most of the common maintenance problems of the pit latrine are caused by them being underground, a natural solution is to bring the pit on ground. Of course, we cannot dig a whole in thin air, but what we can do is to have a barrel-like container on ground and build the toilet on top of it.

While it may require a few extra brick and mortar to build, bringing the “pit” on ground comes with many advantages. First, now it is a lot easier for us to manage the toilet waste as it no longer needs to be accessed below ground level. Notice that nothing stops us anymore from taking the “pit” out of the toilet.

Now, it is much easier for us to go and empty the “pit” that used to be stuck underground. This way, we neither have to worry so much about floods and polluting the groundwater nor do we ever have to abandon or move the toilet. Notice that the price of land increases constantly as urbanization continues rapidly in developing countries. Thus, land occupied by full pits of toilet waste cannot be considered sustainable development.

Not just any pit – The Green Toilet

Recall when I said that the waste inside the pit latrine is rotten sewage and smells horrible? This used to be a problem because we could not separate the liquid waste from solids inside the underground pit. Fortunately, with some clever design, we can do that with our own on-ground pit latrine. In fact, there are many other carefully chosen design features as well we can do to make the latrine most pleasant to use and maintain on ground.

At this point, let me introduce you to the Green Toilet. Green Toilet is a on ground based composting dry toilet container that has a special double base to separate the solid toilet waste from the liquid.

The Green Toilet is a composting container in itself, so the composting process starts immediately when the toilet is in use. It requires no energy, water or anything else to function.

The Green Toilet is equipped with large wheels and sturdy handle, so its easy to move around and empty when needed.


The brilliance of Green Toilet is that you can have multiple containers, some in use, others readily available when needed. This way, you always have a toilet system in service and never have to work with toilet waste that has not yet fully composted.

How many Green Toilets you need, depends on many factors, some may require three while others might be well of with just one. Public places usually require more containers than private households.

For more information about the Green Toilet, see our article “Green Toilet – The Best Toilet”.

To conclude, before you decide to build or buy a new pit latrine, we suggest you to consider the maintenance of the toilet and on ground sanitation systems like the Green Toilet. For more information, please contact us at [email protected]

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