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.


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