How to Design and Implement Appropriate and Sustainable Toilets?

To design and implement appropriate and sustainable toilets, specific needs must be considered through Inclusive Planning and Inclusive Design along with other factors relevant to Appropriate Technology Selection. Toilets that are more appropriate for the users and context potentially increase community ownership, operation and maintenance, contributing to sustainability. It is also important to consider the entire sanitation service chain beyond the user interface (i.e. the toilet/latrine). This includes the emptying, collection, treatment and safe disposal (or even reuse) of sanitation products in agriculture.


Designing toilets that are both appropriate for the needs of the entire affected population, including vulnerable groups, and suitable for the local environment is critical to ensure that they will be used and, as a result, prevent the spread of diseases, maintain public health, preserve people’s dignity and support sustainable development. WASH practitioners play an essential role through designing and implementing appropriate and sustainable toilets. This can be particularly challenging during emergencies, where resources and infrastructure may be limited and conditions unpredictable. However, the process can help build trust and engagement with affected communities and improve the overall effectiveness of interventions.


A toilet or latrine consists of a user interface (a squatting or raised pan), a superstructure (with a door, a roof, lighting and aeration) and an onsite collection technology such as Single Pit Latrines, Twin Pit Dry System, Double Vault Urine Diversion Dry Toilets, Septic Tanks, or Twin Pits for Pour Flush.  

The selection of appropriate and sustainable toilets requires the consideration of several factors: 

Toilets need to be appropriate to the cultural norms and specific needs of the community. A Needs Assessment and Inclusive Design will help to identify specific needs. In addition to age, physical abilities and cultural practices, addressing Gender is also important.  

Additionally, toilets should be appropriate for the local physical and environmental conditions. For example, in areas with high water tables, it may be necessary to use Raised Latrines or alternative technologies to prevent the contamination of groundwater. Consider all relevant factors to Select Appropriate Technologies and see specific designs for Challenging Contexts

As well as toilets or latrines, appropriate Sanitation Systems consist of appropriate options selected along the entire sanitation service chain; they include the collection, treatment and safe disposal or reuse of sanitation products. Operational Plans and Monitoring must also be in place to enhance the system’s sustainability. 

Sanitation Software also contributes significantly to sustainability. Software includes using locally available materials, skills and knowledge, providing training on maintenance and repair and engaging with the community in the development of an Exit Strategy to enhance ownership and responsibility for the facilities. 

Overall, the provision of appropriate and sustainable latrines requires careful planning, community engagement and a holistic approach that considers a range of factors. By taking these steps, access to safe and dignified sanitation facilities can be improved, supporting the health and well-being of communities. 

Process & Good Practice

  • Conduct a Needs Assessment: understand the local community’s current sanitation practices, preferences and willingness to adopt new technology to help identify the type of toilet/latrine that would best suit their needs 
  • Identify suitable locations: choose locations convenient for the community to reach with easy access and good drainage. Consider factors such as soil type, water table depth and slope 
  • Choose the Appropriate Technology: the type of toilet/latrine chosen should be appropriate for the community’s needs, preferences and the available resources. There are several types of toilets/latrines, including Pour Flush Latrines, Ventilated Improved Pit Latrines, Urine Diversion Dry Toilets and others 
  • Ensure safety and privacy through planning for Inclusive Sanitation: the toilet/latrine should be designed to be accessible and provide safety and privacy for all users. Consider measures such as locks on doors, lighting, ramps, or handrails. 
  • Plan for maintenance: ensure that the toilet/latrine is easy to maintain and that the community has the necessary resources and skills to maintain it. Develop an Operational and Maintenance Plan, train community members on how to maintain the toilet/latrine with Sanitation Software and invest in an Exit Strategy
  • Consider environmental sustainability in line with Standards for Disposal and Reuse: the toilet/latrine should be designed to minimise its impact on the environment. Consider measures such as composting, reuse of waste and water conservation 
  • Involve the community through Participatory Planning: engage the community in the design and implementation process to facilitate their ownership and buy-in. Invite the participation of community leaders, women and marginalised groups to ensure their voices are heard 
Catherine Bourgault
Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s)
Dorothee Spuhler
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag)
Taya Raine
Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)

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