Composting Latrines

A composting latrine in Sarstun, Guatemala.

In many rural communities in Central America and Mexico, plumbing and sewage treatment are rarely available. In these places, composting latrines are one of the most practical and cost-effective ways to manage human waste to protect human health and the environment. EcoLogic began building composting latrines at our People For a Healthy Gulf project site in Panama in 2009 and have since constructed them in both Guatemala and Belize as part of our Cross-Border Alliance for Healthy Fisheries project.

A composting latrine helps prevent human waste from contaminating nearby water sources and soil by channeling liquids through a layer of rocks and retaining waste in a chamber, where it is periodically treated with sawdust or leaf litter (a user shovels a cupful in every few days) so the waste becomes compost. The liquid waste eventually seeps through the layer of rock going through the natural process of filtration to become fresh water again, while approximately every six months the solid waste becomes ready to be removed. By this time, the solid waste will have broken down through natural decomposition and become an effective, clean, and safe compost that can be added to agricultural fields or reforestation plots to improve the nutrient content of the soil.

A latrine in Panama.

In keeping with our commitment to empower local people as the stewards of their natural resources, the installation of composting latrines is a highly collaborative process. A typical latrine can serve six to eight people, although a single family generally maintains it. Our field technicians spend several days meeting with the community to discuss the importance and impact of a composting latrine, what the needs are for building one, where it should be located, and the required maintenance. We work with the community to help them identify recipients based on a variety of factors, including the ecological sensitivity of a site, the population density of the area, and the commitment and ability of a family to maintain one.

In the future, EcoLogic hopes to investigate ways to use more sustainable and locally sourced materials for the construction of latrines, as well as to scale up construction, as demand for latrines is high.