Back to Home Page of CD3WD Project or Back to list of CD3WD Publications

Home - English - French - German - Italian - Portuguese - Spanish
                    VITA TECHNICAL BULLETIN
                       COMPOSTING PRIVY
                    by Harlan H.D. ATTFIELD
                 Illustrated by Marine F. Maspero
The composting privy described here consists of a covered pit and a
shelter.   When the pit is full, the shelter is taken down, the pit
covered, and a new pit prepared.  The first pit, after an interval of
at least six months, yields compost that can be used to fertilize
This Bulletin gives guidelines for digging the pit, preparing the
floor, building the shelter, adding other composting materials, and
moving locations when the pit is full.  Although prepared for use in
Bangladesh, this privy could be constructed anywhere in the world.
It is low in cost, easy to build, and requires no special materials.
It can be designed to meet a number of cultural requirements.
Harlan H. D. Attfield, the author, has been associated with VITA as
an expert Volunteer for many years and is the author of a number of
books and articles, including Raising Rabbits, which is published by
                                            Revised July 1981
                                            ISBN 0-86619-087-2
               1600 WILSON BOULEVARD, SUITE 500
                ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA 22209, USA
The material, as shown here, has been adapted from a booklet prepared
by Harlan H. D. Attfield as part of an innovative and meaningful
approach to community development underway in Bangladesh.
The Sylhet Package Program, as this effort is called, is funded by
International Voluntary Services, Inc. (IVS), a US-based, private
development organization, in cooperation with three local agencies--the
Rural Development Training Institute, the Bangladesh Rural
Advancement Committee, and the Government's Integrated Rural Development
In summary, the "Package" project involves extension work to promote
production of vegetables, high-yielding rice, fish, and ducks;
health and family planning; functional education; and cooperative
The composting privy is recommended when compost is needed for
gardening.   When built correctly, it should help deter spread of
disease germs through the nearby water system and it should not
attract flies or provide a breeding area for flies.
The plans here call for a dirt floor, but if funds are available, it
is recommended that a cement floor be used.  This will offer the most
complete protection against hookworm and other diseases.
The composting privy can be built with one pit for a family or with
two or more pits for a school, camp, or other concern having a need
for more than one pit.
All that is needed to build a composting privy is:  bamboo poles; a
woven mat or gunny sacks; a piece of plastic; leaves, paper, or
straw; a small piece of wood; and long grass or corrugated iron
This open latrine
is a killer.

54p02a.gif (600x600)

Every year thousands of
children and adults die
from cholera, fever, and
dysentery germs that
live in open latrines.

54p02b.gif (600x600)

These diseases are
carried into our homes
by flies, rainwater,
and animals.

54p03a.gif (600x600)

This is a composting
privy.   The covered pit
stops flies, rainwater,
and animals from carrying
disease germs into
our homes.

54p03b.gif (600x600)

The compost privy can be
used if our home is on
high land, where the pit
will not fill with water.

54p04a.gif (600x600)

We would all have
better health if
everyone in our
village built a
compost privy.
Why not build one

54p04b.gif (600x600)

The following instructions are designed for a pit for use by six to
eight people, for a period of ten to twelve months.
Dig a pit 45" wide, 50"
long, and 72" deep.  Place
four round bamboo poles,
at least 70" long, over
the pit as shown.  Place a
bamboo pole into the
ground at least 8" away
from each corner of the
pit.   These will be the
supports for the walls
and the roof.

54p05a.gif (486x486)

Line the bottom of the
pit with 18" of grass
cuttings, fine leaves,
paper, or straw.

54p05b.gif (540x540)

Cover the floor poles with half-rounds of bamboo, leaving a hole
approximately 6" X 13", in the middle of the floor.

54p06.gif (540x540)

Leaving the floor hole
uncovered, place old
woven mats or gunny
sacks over the half-rounds
of bamboo.

54p07a.gif (540x540)

Cover everything but the
floor hole with well
packed earth.  The floor
can be raised as much as
20" above the ground, if
flooding is a problem.

54p07b.gif (540x540)

A piece of plastic
such as an old fertilizer
bag (opened
out) can be placed
over the hole.
Place a woven mat
over the plastic in
the middle of the
floor.   This will
help keep the area
around the hole
cleaner, drier, and
more attractive.

54p08a.gif (540x540)

The floor hole will
need a tight-fitting,
fly-proof cover with
a handle.  You can
make this with a
piece of wood or by
tying together several
pieces of woven
mat plastered with
mud or cowdung.

54p08b.gif (540x540)

The walls (and a door, if
desired) can be made with
woven mats, gunny sacks,
tree leaves, or long
grass.   Leave at least 4"
between the top of the
walls and the roof to
allow for proper ventilation.
The roof can be
made with tree leaves,
long grass, or corrugated
iron sheets.  The composting
privy is now finished
and ready to be used.

54p09a.gif (600x600)

Every five to seven
days, throw a few
handfuls (or more) of
grass cuttings or
small leaves into the
pit.   This simple
routine will prevent
bad odors and improve
the pit's contents
for later use as a

54p09b.gif (600x600)

When the pit's contents
reach a level
of 18" below the surface
of the ground,
dig a new pit at
least 5-6' away and
move all the old bamboo
pieces over to
it.   Then place 6" of
leaves or grass in
the first pit and
level it with 12" of
well packed earth.

54p10a.gif (540x540)

In approximately six
months, when the
second pit is full,
the first pit can be
uncovered and the
compost (fertilizer)
removed.   It will provide
a good fertilizer
that can be
applied immediately
or stored for later
The compost will not
be safe to use unless
the pit has been
allowed to "rest" for
at least six months.

54p10b.gif (600x600)

1.   It is good to have the privy close to the house so that it will
    be used, but not too close.   If the privy's pit enters the ground
    water level, or comes close to it when the water is at its highest
    level, disease germs will spread to the water and endanger
    people's health.
2.   Place the privy downhill (below) and at least 50' away from the
    source of people's drinking and bathing water.
3.   Urine and cleansing water should be the only liquid to enter the
    pit.  The privy is not to be used for general bathing.
4.   The weekly routine of adding grass and leaves to the pit will
    reduce odors and improve the quality of the finished compost.
    Animal manure, wood ash, garbage (except plastic, glass, and
    metal), and urine soaked straw can also be added.
5.   The cover for the floor hole is the main barrier against flies
    and animals that carry disease.   Be sure everyone who uses the
    privy is instructed to cover the hole before leaving.  Children
    must be supervised from time to time.   Foot rests can be used,
    but the floor hole cover should be made to fit tightly between
    them, closing the hole completely.   Removable rests (bricks or
    bamboo) are best so the floor mat can be removed occasionally
    and dried in the sun.
6.   It is good to have openings at least 4" wide at the top of the
    privy's structural walls for airing the interior.
7.   The privy structure will have to be moved when the pit is
    filled.  This should be made easy or there will be people who
    will let the pit become too full.   This will result in very
    unsanitary conditions and extra work to put the privy in proper
    working order.
8.   The time necessary for the pit's contents to reach a level of
    18" below the surface of the ground depends on the number of
    people using it and the amount of grass and other materials
    added each week.   The composting privy shown in this Bulletin can
    be used by six to eight persons.   If grass and other materials
    are added on a weekly basis, the pit will fill in slightly less
    than one year.   If the composting privy is used without the
    addition of other materials, it becomes a simple "pit privy" and
    may last for three or more years.
9.   For privies in markets, camps, schools, and along the roadside,
    the pit can be dug to a depth of 8-10'.  It is also possible to
    make the whole pit size larger and divide the floor area into
    two rooms with two floor holes.   At schools, separate privies are
    usually constructed:   one for boys, and one for girls.   It is
    important that someone take charge of placing leaves and other
    materials in the pit if good quality compost is desired.
                1600 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 500
                  Arlington, Virginia 22209 USA
            Tel:   703/276-1800 * Fax:  703/243-1865