Going to the bathroom is not something one discusses in polite conversation. However, the way that much of the world handles human waste can be a matter of life and death.
In rural communities in the developing world, the bathroom facility is a community pit latrine. It includes a dugout pit with a brick liner covered by a platform and an enclosure for privacy. However, there are several issues with pit latrines, including that the pit needs to be lined, often with expensive bricks, to prevent the pit’s walls from collapsing. Once the pit is full, emptying it is difficult and hazardous, and the brick lining cannot be removed. At that point, the community must decide: can they afford the brick lining for a new pit, or do they have to revert to open defecation.
The community doesn’t want to face the indignity or unsanitary conditions that open defecation causes, but they may not have a choice.
One of our partner organizations approached us with this problem and asked Design Outreach to find an appropriate solution to address this most basic need—for safe, clean, sturdy, and moveable latrine facilities—as a key to reducing diarrheal diseases. Sadly, young children are most vulnerable to diarrheal diseases that can lead to death. According to the CDC, diarrhea is the cause of death for an estimated 446,000 children under the age of 5 each year.
The LifeLatrine project is to create a removable and reusable pit liner. When a pit fills up, the LifeLatrine liner can be removed and reused in a new pit. Likewise, the platform and privacy structure could also be moved onto the newly-dug pit.
The project is being tackled by a team of engineers. Dale Andreatta, a volunteer who has extensive pit latrine sanitation experience, put it like this, “We’re looking to create a solution that is healthier and safer.” He continued, “We are asking ourselves what we would want if we were in this situation. We are working to create solutions that meet those needs and give the community a sense of dignity.”
The LifeLatrine development team includes Greg Kramer, who serves as the project manager; Les Shephard, a soils expert; Matt Heidecker, an expert in plastics manufacturing; Mike Simon, a mechanical designer; Kevin Zylka, an industrial designer, and Dale Andreatta. Greg Bixler rounds out the team with his extensive knowledge of field conditions and community life.
Without dedicated volunteer engineers and experts, projects like this one would not be affordable or possible. It is a blessing to see people devote hundreds of hours to designing, prototyping, and testing solutions for people they will never meet—all because they share with us a common goal of helping others through engineering and technology.
Thank you to all the volunteers who support DO’s mission to alleviate global poverty through appropriate technology. You are making a difference in this world.