Unless you’ve got a plumbing problem, you probably don’t think a whole lot about your toilet. You might be taking that flush for granted, as there are over 4 billion people worldwide that lack regular access to hygienic, sanitary latrines. In many parts of the world sewer systems will never be a reality, and septic tanks are often too expensive to be a solution. We’ve developed a low-cost, hygienic, sustainable latrine called the “Tiger Toilet” that utilizes earthworms to digest fecal matter and turn it into vermicompost.

Back in 2013, Bear Valley Ventures (BVV) was awarded a Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) grant by USAID to test the potential of our Tiger Toilet in three different countries – Myanmar, Uganda and India – in a one year field evaluation study. Working with field teams from three partners – Water for People, Oxfam, and PriMove India – the plan was to test performance and user acceptance in rural, urban and humanitarian settings. Ten Tiger Toilets were built in each setting using local materials for use by individual families.

The results are in. So what have we learned? A lot! The study has shown that the Tiger Toilet works in real life situations, is liked by the users, and has potential to be an affordable solution to the sanitation crisis faced by a number of developing countries.

At the outset of the trial we didn’t know how the composting worms, which are the heart of this technology, would respond to different environments. We were thrilled to learn and are proud to announce that the Tiger Toilet has operated successfully with consistent daily use in a variety of settings and environmental conditions. The Tiger Toilets have survived fluctuating temperatures, a monsoon in India, occasional overuse, and even flooding in Myanmar! At the end of the trial around 80% of the systems were still working well and the other 20% could be readily restored.

It’s not surprising that one of the main reasons users cite for liking the system is the relative lack of odor (compared to the currently prevalent pit latrines). Additionally, because the solid waste is digested by the composting worms almost as quickly as it’s added, we estimate that the Tiger Toilet digester tank will only need emptying every five years. Even better, what will be emptied is vermicompost, which is a lot safer and easier to handle than latrine sludge. 

The Tiger Toilet is cheaper to install and maintain than septic tanks, and comparable to the costs of pit latrines. As we continue to refine and improve the design, we’re confident that these expenses will continue to drop. The next challenge is to make this affordable solution more widely available.

But we’re on our way! In India, BVV and PriMove are undertaking a commercial pilot with an improved design. In Uganda, Water for People are planning to commercialize the design tested there. Oxfam have already begun a separate trial of Tiger Toilets in Liberia. Thanks to the support of DIV and USAID, we’re on a path to providing sanitary, affordable toilets to the billions of people worldwide who need them.


Field Trials of the Tiger Toilet in Rural India


Visit to Adachiwadi,Maharashtra, October 2014


We leave the rapidly growing city of Pune behind and climb up the side of the mountains on a steep, twisting road headed for the village of Adachiwadi in Maharashtra. On the way we pass small farms growing vegetables and other crops which find a ready market in the city. It is about a two hour drive and everything is green after the rains.  We are on our way to see the Tiger toilets installed in Adachiwadi back in January/February by the PriMove team, our partners in India. In the car are Walter and Claire from BVV and Ajeet and Eknath from PriMove.

Adachiwadi is a peaceful village deep in the countryside with an air of solidity and contentment. The houses are well constructed and nearly all the residents are farmers. There are goats, cows and chickens around and a tractor rumbles through the main street. We meet up with Gouri, Mahesh and Rohit, our field team who have been faithfully monitoring the ten Tiger systems for the past 8 months. They take us down narrow lanes, muddy after rain the previous night, and we are off on the toilet tour. 







The BVV-PriMove team who have been working together on the field trials of the Tiger toilet under the USAID DIV project  – from left to right: Rohit,Gouri,Mahesh,Claire,Walter,Eknath and Ajeet.

All the users we speak to through Gouri are happy with the systems, especially that there are no smells and no flies or mosquitos, which can be a problem with septic tanks.  And it’s true – even with the lid off the treatment tank we can’ t smell anything and there are no sign of any flies. In most of the systems there is little or no faecal waste to see, suggesting that the worms are keeping pace with the daily intake. After we gently scrape the surface of the system we find the worms, which feed from below. 

A meeting with the owners and the lady who heads the Gram Panchayat is useful to explore how the users feel about the systems and what they think the benefits are. We find that women feel safer using our toilets which is encouraging.

So we leave encouraged to think about the improvements we can make in the next version of the Tiger toilet….

Worm Chasing In Bangladesh April 2014

Tiger toilets need Tiger worms – or a closely related species with the same taste for waste organic matter.  For the SanMark City Project in Dhaka our friends in ICCO-Cooperation and iDE had identified a possible source of worms but from their photographs we were not quite sure if they were the right species. They were being used to process cattle dung into vermicompost so that was encouraging. Another look seemed in order, this time taking Claire’s handy worm guide … and so it was that Sajia, Hema, Sarwar and myself found ourselves in a car very early one morning heading out of Dhaka for Jamalpur in the north of Bangladesh.

Leaving Dhaka at first the roads were unusually quiet: we passed through the Savar district then reached a major bus station where buses, cars, people and rickshaws were all edging their way assertively to squeeze through the gaps. “It’s OK so long as you don’t actually touch the car in front…” I was told. Then it was out into open country, rice fields and small farms, then more towns and brick works, power stations and people going to work at the start of a new day.

First stop breakfast – paratha and omelette, which was delicious. Kids were queuing for the school bus, looking very smart in their uniforms. The roads were excellent, and though the overtaking rules were a little different from the UK  there always seemed to be just enough room to get past. Then we stopped at a sweet shop, the best in Bangladesh with a wonderful source of water according to Sarwar, and sampled Chhena and Cham Cham which were delightful…but very sweet.

Back in the car we passed through more open countryside and eventually arrived into Jamalpur which sits on the banks of the Brahmaputra river. There we were directed to the offices of the Sajida Foundation, who have helped local farmers to set up vermicomposting operations. With them as guides we visited one such farm where we were shown the two main types of worm they use  …. more photographs, this time with a ruler for scale, and looking at their behaviour and colours, taking careful notes. One of them had a definite yellow sac at its tail which is a good sign of the Tiger worm or its close relative E.Andrei .  A quick check on availability and shipment times and then it was back in the car for the return trip home.

Thanks to our incredible driver, who had to contend with a thunderstorm and huge hailstones on the way back,we finally made it safely back to Dhaka about 10.30 pm having left at 6 am. So quite a day …. but worth it to know that we had found a supply of worms for our pilot toilets. 

Worm bins on a farm near Jamalpur and Community with the visitors 


Tiger Tour 2014


The first stop on our Tiger Tour 2014 is Adachiwadi, a village about 70 km from Pune. It takes about two hours to reach the village, starting on the state highway, and then on to roads of ever decreasing size, but luckily all are tarmacked. The majority of the trip I spend gazing at the fields of sugar cane that line the roadside. It is harvest time and occasionally we pass a temporary village of predominantly blue plastic tents, where those who find work harvesting the sugar cane live for the season.

When we arrive at the village we are met by a local advocate who leads the PriMove team and myself from house to house, where the new Tiger Toilets are being built.  As we move through the village we start drawing a bigger and bigger crowd. They are all interested in who I am what I am doing here. They do not get many international visitors in these parts.

The village itself is made up of a mixture of colourful houses, with decorative doors and satellite dishes.  Oxen and carts are driven through the street and children arrive home from school on their oversized bikes. Cows are wandering around and can be recognised by the jangle of their bells.  In the middle of the village stands a very colourful temple, which can be seen from every house.

The PriMove team have already finished six toilets and they just need to install the worms. We manage to chat with most of the people who will be using the system. All consider this to be a one-off investment and on top of financially contributing to the system and helping to building it, they  also want to tile the superstructure, which we take as a sign the they are fully engaged in our process and are proud of their new toilet. One lady who now has a tiger toilet invites us in for Chai to thank us for the toilet. It was explained to me that the people here like this new design as the state normally advocates two small pits, so the PriMove design will save space and money.

A wormery has been set up in the village to house the worms before they are put into the Tiger Toilets; I have to admit I am somewhat jealous, as it is a wormery made from plastic sheeting, which they sell in India. This is because India has a long heritage of worm farming. We visit the wormery and as per normal I am the first person to dive in with my hands searching for the worms. They look healthy and happy living in composted cow dung. They are red and less stripy than I expect: they are the sister worm,Eisenia andrei to our Tiger friends , Eisenia foetida

After all of this fun we attend a community meeting where all of those involved are introduced to me and I have to give a speech, which of course is translated. It was incredible touching; I was given a garland of flowers and a coconut. On our slow journey back I reflect that our Tiger Toilet dream is becoming very real and will very soon impact the lives of others. I cannot believe that I have experienced all of this and it is only my first day in Pune…


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