Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Engineering (MS)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Advisor 1

Brian Barkdoll

Committee Member 1

Kari Henquinet

Committee Member 2

Jacob Hiller


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the United Nations created more than 15 years ago established a global developmental framework that set a precedent for many governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs.). With the deadline having come and gone many of the objectives set out in the original eight MDGs have come to fruition (Joint Monitoring Program, 2015). One exemplary achievement by the global community, specifically to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector was providing 91 percent of the world’s population with access to improved sources of drinking water (UNICEF/WHO, 2015). But, as the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) – the institution that oversees the monitoring and evaluation of development goals – itself points out in stark contrast, sanitation lags behind. 2.4 billion people are still without access to improved sanitation facilities (ISFs) with more than 900 million practicing open defecation.

One form ISFs take alongside conventional flush toilets and protected pit latrines is the composting latrine (CL). Along with providing a suitable fertilizer a CL, in theory, “hygienically separates human excreta from human contact (WHO, 2015).” CLs emphasize a conscientious, environmentally-friendly approach to sanitation by creating a cycle of nutrient transfer between human waste, soil, food and humans commonly known as Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan). EcoSan technologies make use of principles relevant to the next 15-year timeframe that the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will define.

However, as is the case for many sanitation interventions, barriers exist to the acceptance of EcoSan that question whether the cycle that is broken is instead with WASH sector and its beneficiaries. This fact is compounded in areas where there is little choice of ISFs like rural areas or floodplains. A case study herein discusses the potential of a novel CL design that incorporates ferrocement to reduce costs and labor, in an effort to alleviate issues that arise in EcoSan promotion, most prominently economic ones. The featured pilot design was able to decrease costs by 300%.

In addition to the economic concerns, it has been contended whether EcoSan facilities are truly effective from a health outcome standpoint per JMP guidelines. In this vein, the effectiveness of ammonia-based sanitation (ABS) as a process with potential to vindicate CLs was studied. During a 12-week investigation, compost and urine obtained from CLs in Bocas Del Toro, Panamá were mixed in equal proportions and amended with wood ash at 0%, 25%, 50%, and 75% by volume of compost. Temperature, pH, and total ammonia concentration measurements were taken every two weeks, along with microbiological analysis before and after the treatment period to test for Ascaris L. ova, an indicator species.

These results were compared alongside CL users’ perceptions of urine storage and its use as an agricultural fertilizer. Findings showed that ABS could address both, technical concerns over pathogen elimination in CLs in-situ and economic concerns when integrated with ferrocement. However, issues brought up during the five interviews with persistent users of traditional CLs suggest that this method would be difficult to maintain, implicating the results of other latrine adoption studies. A potential design is offered for implementation as an affordable, appropriate complement to current behavior change promotion approaches including sanitation through social business models or container-based sanitation.