Sanitation and Sustainability Technologies

The Tlholego compost toilet is an ecological sanitation solution that responds to the goals and mandates outlined in South Africa’s constitution and National Sanitation Policy on Sustainable Development.  It has been developed by Rucore over the course of 20 years of experimentation and observation in a rural South African context. The Tlholego model incorporates a waterless toilet that employs aerobic decomposition to naturally sanitize excreta in twin cement block chambers, used alternately in a “batch” type system.

Ecological sanitation can be defined as a system that prevents disease, promotes health and protects the environment by destroying pathogens in excreta at the site of deposit.  It is a system that also conserves water and energy, and recovers and recycles nutrients and organic matter.

Ecological sanitation represents a shift in the relationship between people and nature – a modern refinement of an ancient practice. Ecological sanitation, in a variety of different forms, has been successfully implemented across the developed and developing world.

Climate change, increasing population and wasteful water use has contributed to an increasing global shortage of potable water available for consumption.  In South Africa’s primarily arid climate, this shortage is particularly threatening, and as such, development that aims to be sustainable must incorporate responsible water use.  Not only do compost toilets require no water to operate, they produce compost, which if added to soil, improves water retention amongst other benefits. Compost toilets can also be built to harvest rainwater off their roofs with the addition of gutters, filtration and a water tank.

The attributes of compost

•    Compost improves soil structure
•    Compost increases the water-holding capacity of soil
•    Compost moderates soil temperatures
•    Compost is teeming with micro-organisms, which continually break down organic matter into the basic elements that plants need
•    Compost returns to soil what agriculture takes out of it, including boron, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc, often unavailable in commercial fertilisers
•    Compost releases nutrients at the rate plants need them
•    Compost can neutralise soil toxins and heavy metals

Compost toilet sustainability

•    Social sustainability
•    Low health hazards
•    Community-based management
•    Skills and knowledge developed and transferred
•    Minimum smells, handling of excreta
•    Low (to moderate) degree of system complexity
•    Can be adapted to suit different needs and preference
•    Ecological sustainability
•    No water use
•    No contamination or pollution created
•    Contributes to soil improvement and agricultural enhancement
•    Small carbon footprint/embodied energy due to use of primarily local, natural resources
•    Economic sustainability
•    Initial capital costs comparable to or less than conventional sanitation systems
•    No operational energy or water costs
•    Opportunities for local employment and skills development
•    Creates a valuable by-product
•    Long life-span
•    Technological sustainability
•    Simple technology using natural biological principles, building on traditional knowledge systems
•    Relatively low system maintenance
•    Builders can be trained on-site, anyone can do it

Rucore is currently working with the Thandanani Gardening Club (Kwazulu Natal) and the Cata Village (Eastern Cape) to roll out this technology.

For documentation on how to build a compost toilet or to discuss running a compost toilet training in your area, please contact



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