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ECOSAN: a water-conserving and nutrient-recycling system for collection and use of human urine and composted fecal matter in agriculture



For multiple reasons, technological diffusion for safe disposal and use of human excreta in scattered settlements of rural Nepal have not gained momentum or by far remained patchy. For sustainability of the diffusion process, it is required to integrate the improved sanitary system with utilization of the human waste for livelihood of farmers. Building on existing knowledge-base and drawing upon local experiences, a multi-disciplinary team of experts has developed a sustainable ECOLOGICAL SANITATION (ECOSAN) project for implementation in rural Nepal.

The ECOSAN is a technology that separates urine and fecal matters at the source. We propose an improved ECOSAN system to help collect urine and fecal matter in one hand and to reduce the water-use for sanitation and prevent it from getting polluted on other. The collected urine and composed fecal matter from the system will be utilized as an input to enhance soil quality and crop productivity. The basic idea is to sensitize and reinforce the civil society at different scales and geographical areas for wider adaption of improved ECOSAN technology with tangible benefits of environment, health, and food security.

The ECOSAN technical team will be mobilized to provide intensive and regular support at village, district and national levels to demonstrate and promote the technology.

The figures in the link illustrate the main features of the ECOSAN toilets with two basic models (dry and wet) proposed for this project. (Link:

The village program will be piloted through 'demonstration' and 'utilization' at household level by local farmers in Chitwan District. This intervention will then be up-scaled to district level with technical backup and financing. Eventually, the new learning from village and district based interventions will be disseminated at national level supported by research, documentation, advocacy, farmers’ participation and trainings.


Category of the action

Reducing emissions from waste management

What actions do you propose?

The activities will start at the grass root level in nine villages of Chitwan district where poorly-resourced people live at remote areas. The local farmers in coordination with community-based and government institutions will be motivated to accept and use the ECOSAN technology at the household level. The outputs and impacts of the technology will be monitored and documented through intensive technical support and promotional campaigns from grass root to the district level. The framework illustrated in clearly demonstrates the implications and relationships of the ECOSAN technology with various environmental factors and elements like grey-water and urine, appearing at different stages of the waste-recycling process. Among multiple benefits of the ECOSAN, the direct impact of the use of nutrient rich human excreta will be closely monitored by growing crops in the agricultural farms selected for technological demonstration. A standard comparison of this experiment will be made in terms of crop yields, fertilizer value of the waste, changes in soil quality, and derive marginal benefits by growing similar crops on adjoining piece of land without organic inputs.  This kind of on-site installation of ECOSAN Toilets and demonstration of use of human excreta as a manure will be highly effective for, motivation and acceptance for replication by neighboring households. There will be full support for physical installation of the toilets and transfer of technical skills and its backstopping at the initial stage of the project.

Household level waste handling strategy and fertilizer production

Government of Nepal, through its line agencies (Department of Water Supply and Sewerage, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Environment, and Ministry of Health) encourages the safe application of human waste for all possible uses in the society. However, no clear regulations have appeared so far, that would monitor, deter, punish or reward such actions. This project will keep the safety as the top priority while handling human waste in its project areas. Major handling strategies are summarized below:

1.            Initiate the work by forming a Coordination Committee (CC) consisting of representative farmers from the all nine villages in Chitwan district to pioneer the collective action for ECOSAN project. Such a formation has many indirect benefits. Individual households will do their job at their own ECOSAN units, but the concept of CC will help them psychologically united and let them feel that it is their community project. This brings respect, value and ownership to each other’s work in the community.

2.            Bring them together at an arena on a routine basis for discussion and brainstorming for new ideas for effective operation and promotion activities. The arena could be a meeting venue as decided by themselves as per their convenience.

3.            Develop a written guideline from the participation and feedbacks from this committee to explain the operational rules for waste handling and the role of each household in managing their own waste. (i.e., dry-urine diversion, make use of urine, solid feces and grey water treatment).

4.            Motivate farmers on the point that human excreta should be seen as valuable resources but not as waste.

5.            Expert technicians will educate representative farmers to create awareness to maintain safety while handling the excreta, in and around the toilet and compost pit. They will also inform the households to caution about the possible exposure to contamination risk if handled/stored inappropriately. Research results have shown that storage to a period of 12-month before use would be sufficient for inactivation of most pathogens to acceptable levels (Schonning et al., 2007).

6.            Plans will be developed to enable the representative household visits and observes how another household’s excreta handling system is working and suggest more effective ways from their own experience and learning.

7.    The minutes of coordination committee meeting will be maintained. Likewise, Lessons learnt will be documented; record videos or pictures of important actions and materials used will be recorded; the amount of waste produced at household level at every interval of time after the compost will be recorded; . Such documentation will serve as an important repository for future reference.

8.    A routine analysis of the recorded data and information for the entire demonstration phase would help serve a scientific basis for recommendation to expand the project to national level.

ECOSAN project work up-scaling concept

ECOSAN installations and demonstrations with strong technical back up for the household level users are strong motivational tools to convince the local farmers about direct benefits from the technology in their livelihood. Some local level studies conducted in Siddhipur community of Kathmandu Valley and Parsa District have also indicated that it is required to integrate the ECOSAN technology with agriculture sector programs (WaterAid, 2008). According to the studies, economic value of the urine and composted human excreta were accepted by majority of the local farmers growing organic vegetables. Therefore, considering these positive results of technology acceptance within the country, it has been proposed to get demonstration effects at first among the primary farmers and then accelerate the promotion and upscale the project through ownership and active participation of sanitation and agricultural sector agencies at the village and district levels. The ECOSAN team has been formed to provide the required technical back up at the household level and then gradually develop the project up to a national level program fully owned by the concerned government sector agencies.

The following are the fundamental components and stages of the project with an up-scaling from grass root to national level:

Village level program in Chitwan District: The project will commence work with small scale village level actions for installation, demonstration and use of the ECOSAN systems. Four ECOSAN toilets will be installed in each village to represent different crop growers. And altogether 9 villages will be covered by the project at initial stage. The nine hill villages selected for the project represent as distinct geographic area characterized by remoteness and prevalence of relatively higher poverty and illiteracy as compared to other villages in the district. The experience and process will be documented and shared at village and district levels for advocacy, awareness and demand generation.  The technical team will work for piloting, dissemination and expansion of initiatives up to district level. Full financial support will be provided at this level through the project for all necessary activities including the design and installation of the toilets. Having gained experience from nine project villages along with past lessons in other parts of the country, the revision will be made to designs and operational aspects for further promotion and replication of the technology in other parts of the district.

 -    District level program in Chitwan District:  The program will be designed in partnership with district level agencies (government, NGOs and private sector) with proper coordination with District WASH (Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene) Coordination Committees (D-WASH-CC). The project will provide full technical support and partial financial support for promotion of the technology. An equipped ECOSAN resource center will be established at the district level to coordinate and provide regular technical support and to work as a 'knowledge hub'. . The resources developed will ultimately be owned and utilized by the government and donors. The project will run for 2 years, and provides a basis for expansion of the ECOSAN idea to the national level. Based on the experience of the first year, there will be continued support for installation of additional 4 demonstration systems in each of 9 villages.

 -    National level program (covering all districts of Nepal): The program will fully be run by concerned government line agencies but there will be some support from the project to the district ECOSAN resource centers for technical back-stopping. There will be at least one demonstration unit installed in each of the 74 districts by covering the whole country. The demonstration unit will serve as a tool for motivation and learning site for the farmers, stakeholders and students as well. These resource centers will coordinate and work closely with government line agencies to sustain the ECOSAN functional units at all levels of operation. The ECOSAN Resource Centers will periodically organize discussion programs involving stakeholder farmers, government representatives, academicians and research institutions to provide feedback for the refinement of the waste management aspects of ECOSAN program and to maximize the number of beneficiary farmers. Thus, the ECOSAN Plan will grow from a grass root level to national level accumulating innovative learning and capacity building to persuade stakeholders in both district and national levels. It will then propel national movement on ECOSAN in the context of ongoing total sanitation movement and be credited as a backbone for ecology, economy and society.

Who will take these actions?

The Project Team

A core team comprising of a Sanitary Engineer (Team Leader), a Sociologist, an Agricultural Economist, a Soil Science Specialist, and a Field Research Coordinator (for academic research) will be mobilized as the Key Experts for implementation of the project. All these Key Experts are readily available in the team of The ECOSAN Plan as the original proponents and contributors for development of this project. Besides the field work, the experts will also work at the central level for consultation and discussion with the leading sector stakeholders. At the later stage, the stakeholders are supposed to take a leading role for scaling up of the project to the national level.

For the village level program: The project will take the lead. There will be wider participation from the local government, village based coordination committee of the farmers, and other community- based institutions for the installation and demonstration schemes. There will be special focus of experts on improved design of ECOSAN toilets based on the local experience and provision of safeguard measures to follow by the user households.  Along with installation and demonstration, they will transfer the practical knowledge about correct methods of urine application and local level monitoring of inputs and outputs in the agricultural farms.

For the district level program: The project will take the lead but there will be active participation from the agriculture and sanitation related government agencies as well as district level NGOs. The private sector will also be encouraged to contribute to the district based ECOSAN Resource Center. 

For the national level program: The government will take the lead with strong technical support from the project for coordination, research, documentation and knowledge sharing. 

Where will these actions be taken?

The project will be implemented in Nepal. The location of Nepal and  Chitwan district has been shown in the link in the figures No. 4 and 5:

- The village level program will be implemented in nine hill villages of Chitwan district. This district is selected because of its strategic location, potential rural farming areas, and center for the NGOs and donors development programs. The district is located at the central region providing a major national highway connection of different parts of the country with the capital city of Kathmandu. Historically, the district had already initiated sanitation campaigns which are expanding throughout the country. ECOSAN activities were also held there in the recent past but efforts lagged behind due to the lack of strong coordination, technical support and resources for promotion.

-Since Chitwan district has pioneered ECOSAN efforts in a small village within the last 7 years, this ECOSAN project has proposed for wider implementation in the district to cover the nine hill villages (located in the northern part of the district) through effective installations, demonstrations and application of the nutrient rich excreta in the agricultural field.  The farmers there mostly rely on traditional methods of agriculture which brings very little yield that is not sufficient to feed the family round the year. In such a situation, the farmers can save money for more production without applying chemical fertilizers. The national level program will be implemented throughout the country by covering all the 75 districts. There will be at least one demonstration unit established in each of the remaining 74 districts with technical and financial support from the ECOSAN project. The district based ECOSAN Resource Centers and the concerned government line agencies (agriculture and sanitation) will jointly implement the national level programs in the respective districts.

What are other key benefits?


- helps to improve the supply of organic matter in soil by applying locally available human manure (urine and composted fecal matter). Jonsson et al. (1998) indicate that human urine is good enough to supply 1,356 and 153 grams plant available nitrogen and phosphorus, respectively per person per year. Thus, this technology helps to reduce the net demand of chemical fertilizers, which will reduce the financial burden to the villagers.

- Orients agriculture towards organic in nature

- Conserves water through the use of dry ECOSAN toilets (waterless model) as compared to the conventional flush toilets.

- Reduces the demand of irrigation water by increasing organic matter content in the soil.

- The application of urine as a fertilizer reduces the demand of irrigation water.

- Protects water resources from being polluted by the haphazard installation and disposal of human waste.

- The government will get technical support from knowledge management platform of ECOSAN Resource Centers. 

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

- ECOSAN products emit less GHG than the sludge from conventional sanitation systems.

A number of studies point out that ECOSAN approach can limit greenhouse gas emission. Khatri (2013) revealed that ECOSAN toilets contribute to the supply of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and potassium to soil, which indirectly contributes to avoid 107 kg carbon emission /person/year (Link: Reid et al. (2014) show that an alternative to Pit Latrine, i.e, similar to ECOSAN concept, reduces the emission of Methane gas sufficiently. Jhou et al. (2009) show that ECOSAN is relatively higher avoider of greenhouse gas emission, lesser water polluter, lesser health risk contributor and also relatively cheaper in installation as compared to other two sanitation model examined.

Thus, the products of ECOSAN systems emit less GHG as compared to conventional sanitation with septic and pour flush systems which need more water supply and energy to function.

What are the proposal’s costs?

 The cost (in USD) of the proposal is estimated on the basis of the following:

Project costs that will be directly borne by the project will cover:

i)      Village level program: for demonstration schemes, technical support, orientation, workshops and baseline data collection works etc. = 228,000.00

ii)       District level program: for demonstration schemes, technical support, orientation, workshops, evaluation works etc. = 428,000

iii)     National level program: for demonstration, technical support, orientation, workshops, evaluation etc. = 417,000

Total cost of the activities to be directly borne by the project = 1,073,000

 Project costs that will directly or indirectly borne by the local stakeholders  as contribution to the district and national ECOSAN Plans:

i)       District level program: for demonstration schemes and resource centers = 102,000

ii)       National level program:

-       Demonstration schemes in the remaining 74 districts = 222,000

-        Resource centers in all the 75 districts = 3,600,000

Total of the stakeholders’ contribution for the Plan = 3,924,000.00

Grand total cost of the project including direct costs and contributions from the stakeholders altogether = 4,999,000.00

Proportion of the direct project cost from the total project costs = 21.5%

Stakeholders’ contribution to the project = 78.5%

Economic benefits from the project:

-      146 families will get direct benefits from the installed ECOSAN systems at their household

-     146 clusters of communities will get demonstrated effects and motivation to install the ECOSAN systems, as a result of that about 1460 families (10 families per cluster) living in the same community will get motivated to benefit from the technology and consequently try to apply it for economic and health benefits.

-     75 districts (major administrative and local government units of the State) will get benefit from the district based ECOSAN resource centers.

There are no negative side effects from the project activities. 

Time line

The project will have the following time line for implementation:

Central level activity in Kathmandu - Year 1: Team building workshop, inception meeting with stakeholders, consultations, literature reviews, launch of project.

Village level plan in Chitwan District – Year 1: Baseline data will be collected from 9 villages of Chitwan district. Orientation and workshops will be conducted and demonstration systems will be installed. Urine and composted excreta will be applied in the agriculture production. The village plan will be initiated with active intervention and direct support from the project funding.

District level plan in Chitwan District: Years 2 and 3: The demonstration systems will be installed in the villages followed by orientations, workshops and evaluations of the installed systems and operation and maintenance. A district based ECOSAN resource center will be established with active collaboration between sanitation and agriculture related agencies. The resource center will develop a district level plan for implementation with partial direct support from the project funding.

National level plan in all 75 district covering the whole country: Years 4 and 5: Demonstration systems will be installed, district resource centers will be established, and orientations, workshops and evaluation will be conducted in all the districts.  The national plan will be implemented with small scale funding support for technical back up and coordination from the project to effectively facilitate the implementation process. 


Upon completion of the project, there will be a regular follow up program led by the government agencies for expansion of the promotional campaign. At the district level, the respective D-WASH-CCs (water and sanitation sector's multi-stakeholder platform) will take the lead with technical support from the established district ECOSAN resource centers. 

Related proposals

The following proposal is indirectly related to this concept:

Waste management theme:

- Using bio-gas technology to improve sanitation and mitigate climate change. The proposal intends to promote and motivate bio-gas technology which is distinct from the ECOSAN technology.

Bio gas technology is already known in the country. But in the rural hills, the community people are not being able to adapt to this technology because of its limitations - its basic purpose is replace firewood by the bio-gas. The rural households cannot fully rely on bio-gas due to inadequate gas formation for round the year. Especially in the high altitude settlements, it is even more less feasible due to low temperature.

The ECOSAN technology also directly and indirectly contributes to mitigate carbon emissions by promoting human urine and composted manure in agriculture for economic development and environmental conservation.

The ECOSAN project also promotes water conservation which is more related to adaptation.  


HakanJonsson, Ulf Sonnesson, Bjorn Vinneras, Magnus Dalemo, Caroline Hoglund, and Thor Alex Stenstrom. 2008. Source separation of human urine-nitrogen and phosphorus emission.

Chuanbin Zhou, Jingru Liu, Rusong Wang, Wenrui Yang, and Jiasheng Jin.2010. Ecological-economic assessment of ecological sanitation development in the cities of Chinese Loess Plateau. Ecological Complexity. 5: Pages 162–169

Nam Raj Khatri. 2010. Sustainability and Climate Change aspects of Ecosan Toilet: Nepal Prospective.

Matthew C. ReidKaiyu GuanFabian Wagner, and Denise L. Mauzerall. 2014. Global Methane Emissions from Pit Latrines. Environmental Science and Technology. 48: 8727–8734.

Caroline Schonning, Therese Westrell, Thor Axel Stenstrom, Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen, Arne Bernt Hasling, Linda Høibye and Anders Carlsen. 2007. Microbial risk assessment of local handling and use of human faeces.Journal of water and health. 5:117-128.

Wateraid Nepal, 2008. Assessment of urine diverting ECOSAN toilets in Kathmandu

Following documents were also explored while preparing and revising the proposal:

Manandhar, D. et al, 2008. Evaluation of Sanitation Technologies: A case study of urine separating toilets in Siddhipur and Parsa, SOPHEN, Special Issue - World Water Day - 2008, Nepal. P. 24-29. 

DWSS and WHO, Booklet on Ecological Sanitation Toilet Promotion, 2011. 

Adhikari K. (2009) Ecological Sanitation: A Harmony of Indigenous Knowledge with Modern Technology, Nepalese Economic Review (Vol.1, Issue 2, June 2009), BISHLESHAN PVT.LTD, p.110

Paudel B. and Adhikari K. (2012) Health Aspects of EcoSan Toilets in Nepal: Study of Impacts and Risks on Public Health, Proceedings of 4th International Dry Toilet Conference, Tampere, Finland, 22-24 August, p.98.

Pandit, T. et al. (2013) Emergent issues in Nepal's sanitation sector, Technical Journal of Society of Public Health Engineers Nepal (SOPHEN), 11 -1, p. 20-23.