The fossa alterna toilet system is similar to the arborloo, but it consists of two partially lined pits; pit covers with a hole or a toilet bowl (optionally including a urine diversion system); and a superstructure. One of the pits is used at a time. When the first pit is filled up (after approximately 12 to 24 months depending on the size of the pit and the number of users) it is closed and the other pit is put in use. Before starting using a pit, a layer of leaves should be put into the bottom of the pit in order to prepare the soil for taking up the liquid. During the period of time that the second pit is filling, the content of the full pit is degraded and transformed into a dry, earth-like mixture similar to compost (see also the page about composting at small scale) that can be easily removed manually and introduced into agriculture (see also use of urine and faeces in agriculture). This transformation should ideally take one year.
The costs for fossa alterna toilet systems are relatively low. Compared to a simple pit latrine, the initial costs may be somewhat higher, as two pits have to be dug and lined. However, they are less deep than common pit toilets. Furthermore, the fossa alterna can be used over and over again, which makes them a very economic alternative in the long run. Also, compost is produced, which can generate additional income.
Soil, ash, and/or leaves should be added to the pit after each defecation/ urination. The soil and leaves introduce a variety of organisms like worms, fungi and bacteria, which help in the degradation process. Moreover, the pore space is increased, which allows for aerobic conditions. The dry material also absorbs humidity (reducing flies and odours) and contains carbon what helps to regulate the carbon to nitrogen ration(C/N). The addition of ash furthermore leads to an increased pH, which improves pathogen die-off (JOENSSEN et al. 2004; see also SCHOENNING & STENSTROEM 2004 for more information on alkaline treatment).
The fossa alterna should be used for urine, but water should not be added (small amounts of anal cleansing water can be tolerated). Water encourages the development of vectors and pathogens but it also fills the pore spaces and deprives the aerobic bacteria of the oxygen that is required for degradation. Since bulking material is used to continuously cover the excreta, smells are reduced but the addition of a ventilation pipe can reduce the smells even further.
The fossa alterna pits are relatively shallow with a depth of 1.5 m. Even though the pits are shallow, this should be more than enough space to accommodate a family of 6 for one year. To optimise the space, the material that mounds in the centre of the pit (underneath the toilet) should be pushed to the sides periodically. Unlike a simple or ventilated pit, which will be covered or emptied, the material in the fossa alterna is meant to be reused. Therefore, it is extremely important that no garbage is put into the pit as it will reduce the quality of the material recovered, and may even make it unusable.
By covering faeces with dry material, flies and odours are kept on a minimum and the risk of infection is small. Keeping the contents sealed in the pit for the duration of at least one year makes the material safer and easy to handle. Furthermore the transmission of pathogens can be kept low. Demonstration units can be used to show how easily the fossa alterna can be maintained. Emptying the fossa alterna is easier than emptying other pits: the pits are shallower and the addition of soil means that the material is less compact (see also motorised and human powered). Also the nutrient value of composted excreta and its inoffensive nature can be shown .
The fossa alterna consists of two partially lined pits and is designed to make compost, which can be used in agriculture to improve soil quality. The fossa alterna requires a constant input of soil. One of the pits is used at a time. When the first pit is filled up it is closed and the other pit is put in use
The fossa alterna is designed for rural and peri-urban areas. It is simple to build and can be constructed by the user itself with locally available material.
The decomposition of the faecal material is going well as long as dry material is added and water inlet is prevented
Can be built and repaired with locally available material. It must be maintained correctly (instruction by an expert).
The fossa alterna requires the frequent addition of dry material (soil, leaves, ash).
If well maintained and constructed, high.
No water required; Produces humanure.
Requires large amount of dry material. Not suitable with a high groundwater table.
The fossa alterna is appropriate for rural and peri-urban areas. It is especially adapted to water-scarce environments as it is a dry system. It is a useful solution for areas that have poor soil and could benefit from the composted humic material as a soil amendment. A constant source of soil, ash and/or leaves is required. It is not suited for rocky or compacted soils (that are difficult to dig) or for areas that flood frequently (and have high groundwater table).
The fossa alterna is not appropriate for use in areas with a high groundwater table as the pit is shallow and the conditions must remain aerobic for degradation. A urine diversion toilet slab can be used with the fossa alterna, but only in circumstances when the soil cannot sufficiently absorb the urine or when urine is highly valued for application.
The fossa alterna technology will only work properly if the two pits are used sequentially and not concurrently. Therefore, an adequate cover for the out of service pit is required.
JOENSSON, H.; RICHERT, A.; VINNERAAS, B.; SALOMON, E. (2004): Guidelines on the Use of Urine and Faeces in Crop Production . Stockholm: EcoSanRes. URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012]. PDF
SCHOENNING, C.; STENSTROEM, T.A. (2004): Guidelines on the Safe Use of Urine and Faeces in Ecological Sanitation Systems. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). PDF
ESREY, S.A.; ANDERSSON, I.; HILLERS, A.; SAWYER, R. (2001): Closing the loop – Ecological Sanitation for food security. Stockholm: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. URL [Accessed: 24.11.2010]. PDF
This document was compiled during an international, interdisciplinary workshop in Mexico. This manuscript increases the understanding of how to develop more sustainable sanitation systems, particularly in urban/peri-urban contexts, while contributing to food production and improved nutrition.
This information sheet summarises the Peter Morgan publication under the same name on two pages. It describes three types of simple and affordable composting toilets: Two types of shallow pit toilets (arborloo) and the urine diverting toilet.
This book describes how to construct Arborloo toilets and how it can be upgraded to VIPs at a later stage.
This book describes in an easy-to-understand and picture-based way how to construct three different low cost sanitation solutions, namely arborloos, fossa alterna and urine diversion toilets.
See document in FRENCH
WINBLAD, U.; SIMPSON-HERBERT, M. (2004): Ecological Sanitation - revised and enlarged edition. (pdf presentation). Sweden: Stockholm Environment Institute. URL [Accessed: 04.08.2010]. PDF
This book is one of the most fundamental and important books that defined the concept of ecological sanitation. The first version came out in 1998 - this version presents the findings of over ten years of research and development in ecological sanitation supported by SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency).
TOUBKISS, J. (2010): How to Manage Public Toilets and Showers. Cotonou and Paris: Partenariat pour le Développement Municipal (PDM) and Programme Solidarité Eau (pS-Eau). URL [Accessed: 19.10.2011]. PDF
The purpose of this decision-making aid is to provide practical advice and recommendations for managing toilet blocks situated in public places. It is primarily aimed at local decision-makers in developing countries and at their partners (project planners and managers).
See document in FRENCH
NATURE (Editor); MORGAN, P.; OTTERPOHL, R.; PARAMASIVAN, S.; HARRINGTON, E. (2012): Ecodesign: The Bottom Line. In: Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science 486, 186-189. URL [Accessed: 19.06.2012]. PDF
There is no single design solution to sanitation. But there are universal principles for systematically and safely detoxifying human excreta, without contaminating, wasting or even using water. Ecological sanitation design — which is focused on sustainability through reuse and recycling — offers workable solutions that are gaining footholds around the world, as Nature explores on the following pages through the work of Peter Morgan in Zimbabwe, Ralf Otterpohl and his team in Germany, Shunmuga Paramasivan in India, and Ed Harrington and his colleagues in California.
MORGAN, P. (2004): The Toilet That Makes Humus. An Account of the Fossa Alterna System and its Usefulness in Rural and Peri-Urban Communities. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF
This easily understandable presentation deals with making humus in shallow pits by means of the Fossa alterna. Foci are set on: - How the Fossa alterna works (in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi) - Stages of construction - Routine management - Changing pits - Potential problems - Hand washing devices - Humus from the Fossa alterna - Enhanced growth of vegetables with “Fossa humus”
The ultimate proof of the usefulness of eco-humus and urine in agriculture is to demonstrate its effect on plant growth and yield directly. This chapter describes a series of trials in which the growth and yield of vegetables planted in humus derived from the Fossa alterna were studied.
MORGAN, P. (2004): The Value of Leaves as and Additive of Fossa Alterna Pits. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 21.06.2013]. PDF
This is a short description and findings of a trial adding leaves to fossa alterna pits. Leaves help the composting process considerably, by adding more air into the mix, and by adding a composting process undertaken largely by fungi to the already existing bacteriological process undertaken by soil micro-organisms.
BRESLIN, E.D. (n.y.): Introducing Ecological Sanitation in Northern Mozambique. London: Water Aid. URL [Accessed: 25.11.2001]. PDF
This is a fieldwork report about introducing ecological sanitation in northern Mozambique.
Case study about fossa alterna toilets for household sanitation in Arba Minch, Ethiopia.
MORGAN, P. (2010): Introducing Low Cost Productive Sanitation in a Peri-Urban Settlement. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF
The following presentation deals with low cost ecological toilets (Fossa alterna) which were introduced at Hopley Farm, a settlement close to Harare, Zimbabwe. The presentation addresses the following topics: - How the alternating shallow pit system works - Local agricultural practice - Linking sanitation to agriculture - Testing for effect of urine - Linking sanitation to forestry
This illustrative presentation on ecological sanitation in Malawi, focuses on the concept of ecological sanitation, types of eco-toilets and basic methods of recycling nutrient from human excreta.
MORGAN, P. (2007): Available Sanitation Technologies for Rural and Peri-Urban Africa. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF
The presentation allows for a good overview on existing types of pit latrines in Africa, but also on other types of sanitation technologies such as the conventional flush toilet, the pour flush toilet, and the urine diversion dehydration toilet (UDDT).
MORGAN, P. (2003): Experiments with Ecological Sanitation and Pit Emptying in Maputaland, South Africa. A Description of Visits Made in 2000 and 2003. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF
This document describes the experimental design of ecological sanitation and pit-emptying trials in Maputaland, South Africa. It describes the situation found at field visits in 2000 and 2003.
MORGAN, P. (2007): Lessons from a Low Cost Ecological Approach to Sanitation in Malawi. Washington: Water and Sanitation Program (WSP). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF
Low cost Ecological Sanitation programs in Malawi have led to the building of over 11,000 compost-producing toilets since 2003. While the toilets are affordable and simple to construct, the fact that they convert human waste into valuable odour-free compost, enables cost recovery for households and is a prime driver in popularizing EcoSan designs. This field note summarizes the lessons learned thus far in Malawi’s efforts to popularize ecological sanitation.
SHEWA, W.; GELETA, B. (2010): Fossa Alterna for Household Sanitation Arba Minch, Ethiopia. Case Study of Sustainable Sanitation Projects. Eschborn: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA). URL [Accessed: 20.06.2013]. PDF
This case study is about the Fossa alterna as resource-oriented household sanitation in Arba Mich, one of the fastest growing towns in Ethiopia. The project has been realised within the ROSA (Resource-Oriented Sanitation concepts for peri-urban areas in Africa) project which aims to develop adaptable, affordable and replicable sanitation solutions in Africa. In total, 30 fossa alterna were built, covering 177 inhabitants. The total investment was 2600 euros.
MORGAN, P. (2005): Ecological Sanitation in Southern Africa. Many Approaches to a Varied Need. Stockholm : Ecological Sanitation Research (EcoSanRes), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). URL [Accessed: 21.06.2013]. PDF
This document describes the ecological sanitation situation in South Africa, focussing on the range of technological options, promotional methods and recycling methods and the problem areas.
The ROSA project stands for Resource-Oriented Sanitation concepts for peri-urban areas in Africa. This Sustainable Sanitation Practice (SSP) issue contains the following contributions: 1. Introduction to the ROSA Project, 2. From Pilot Units to Large-Scale Implementation - Ethiopia, 3. Implementation of UDDTs at Schools - Kenya, 4. Urban Agriculture for Sanitation Promotion, 5. Operation an Maintenance in Practice, 6. Experiences from Strategic Sanitation Planning, 7. Main Findings and Main Achievements.
SMET, J.; ACHIRO, B.; MOMMEN, B.; TURYAREEBA, P.; LeaPPS (Editor) (2008): An Ecological Approach to Sanitation in Uganda using Arborloo and Fossa Alterna. LeaPPS Case. Uganda: Learning for Practice and Policy on Household and School Sanitation and Hygiene (LeaPPS). PDF
This paper gives an overview on arborloo and fossa alterna technologies referring to existing projects in Africa.
This poster illustrates the single steps and use of a Fossa Alterna toilet.
NETWAS (n.y.): Proper Use and Safe Handling of Ecosan By-Products. Kampala: Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS). URL [Accessed: 29.09.2011]. PDF
This poster illustrates how to use Ecosan toilets and handle faecal compost in a safe way.
NETWAS (n.y.): Primary and Secondary Processing of Ecosan By-Products. Kampala: Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS). URL [Accessed: 29.09.2011]. PDF
This poster illustrates how to transform faecal waste to usable compost.
http://aquamor.tripod.com [Accessed: 25.11.2010]
This website contains all important information about the fossa alterna, written by Peter Morgan.