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Container-Based Family Toilet Design in Kenya

Eric Wilburn
Class Year:
Civil & Environmental Engineering

The overall goal is to develop a toilet that is widely applicable to washer populations lacking sanitation coverage worldwide and develop decentralized treatment technologies for the liquid waste.

Sanitation service providers in low-income countries have recently focused efforts on providing a safe place for defecation within the home instead of shared, communal toilets. A family toilet is preferred over communal toilets for several reasons. First, its ease of access increases usage, reducing open defecation and transmission of fecal-borne communicable diseases. Secondly, it is safer than a communal toilet for women and children to use, especially at night. Finally, people aspire to have a toilet in their home, which could increase overall uptake of sanitation services, improving population health.


But a significant service gap exists in the family toilet sanitation sector: an in- house family toilet has not yet been designed for people who anal cleanse with water post- defecation.


A specific setting that highlights the need for family toilets for anal washers is the Kakuma refugee camp. Sanivation, a social enterprise based in Naivasha, Kenya, has recognized the need for a novel approach to sanitation in the Kakuma refugee camp. Their potential solution is container-based sanitation (CBS), a sanitation service in which waste is captured in small sealable containers in the household that are then transported to treatment facilities. CBS provides a solution to the three primary sanitation challenges in Kakuma: lack of access to family pit latrines, lack of space to dig new pit latrines (both communal and family) and safety for women and children.

Sanivation partnered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)to pilot CBS in Kakuma in 2014. CBS is a promising approach to sanitation in a refugee camp setting because it can quickly be deployed and scaled to respond to fluxes in the refugee population and also shows promise as a long-term sanitation solution in multiple settings in the developing world. The pilot concluded without a satisfactory toilet design to serve the camp’s majority Muslim population.

With funding from the Center and technical support from Sanivation and our research team, Re.source in July and August of 2016 we piloted container-based family toilet prototypes with the Muslim community in Karagita, Kenya where Sanivation is currently operating. Our main goal for the summer research was to get initial feedback on the prototype toilets via human-centered design research from the washing population in Karagita, Kenya. Our secondary goal was to characterize the anal washwater to inform the design of decentralized treatment options for the liquid waste. We are using the feedback to revise the prototypes to refine the toilet in order serve the needs of washers before implementation in Kakuma refugee camp. The toilet we develop will be implemented in Kakuma refugee camp in the fall of 2016 in 50 Muslim households. The overall goal is to develop a toilet that is widely applicable to washer populations lacking sanitation coverage worldwide and develop decentralized treatment technologies for the liquid waste.


We implemented the design pilot in Karagita, Kenya, where Sanivation is currently operating a container-based sanitation service. Karagita is a low-income community on the southern side of Lake Naivasha. Most of the population in Karagita work for the large agriculture companies in the area and have mean incomes of $50 to $250 per household per month. There is one Mosque in Karagita that approximately 200 Muslims attend. I partnered with a member of the Karagita Mosque, Sarah, who we hired upon reference by the Mosque’s Imam to assist in all of the community interaction, surveys, interviews and toilet feedback sessions. Sarah’s community connections were vital to creating good relations within the Muslim community, which facilitated our ability to pilot the toilet designs and receive helpful feedback.

Two toilet designs were piloted for a sustained period in two houses in Karagita. Both of these designs were low-fidelity designs that were developed in Karagita and constructed using locally sourced materials. One of the toilets is a high-fidelity design that was developed and produced at Stanford University. This design was not used in the pilot program, we did complete community user feedback sessions with the high-fidelity prototype with the Muslim community in Karagita.