Can we safely recycle human feces in a developing country?

Water Missions International
Ended on 9/02/14
Campaign Ended
  • $2,419
  • 11%
  • Finished
    on 9/02/14

About This Project

The proposed research complements a community development project in Honduras. The project includes construction of 80 latrines in two communities. The pilot test will randomly assign households to receive either a traditional flush toilet or one that allows for recycling of the waste products as fertilizer. While this type of recycling is done elsewhere, there is no data to guide organizations on potential health risks of recycling human waste.

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

Technology exists to recycle human feces into fertilizer, a method that in developing countries remains controversial. UK researchers have proposed that such technology comes with a health risk warning while other anecdotal evidence suggests potential widespread acceptance and application. Rotary Club US has funded a project in two adjacent rural communities in Honduras and Water Missions International has been asked to execute the engineering, planning, and installation of this project along with a water treatment facility. It is here where we will randomly assign families to receive a dehydrating toilet (one that recycles the waste) and a pour flush toilet (one that flushes with water). This represents a rare opportunity to study social, technical, and health-related issues.

What is the significance of this project?

Hundreds of nonprofit, non-governmental, and governmental institutions continue to struggle with providing safe disposal of human feces. Composting toilets appear to offer an option which could be key to achieving one of the World Health Organization's Millennium Health Goals. Many similar efforts have failed for a variety of ecological, sociological, and technical reasons. To date, no one has studied the relative value of installing traditional toilets versus composting or recycling toilets. This project represents a rare opportunity to do so. The data will assist relief organizations in selecting culturally appropriate technology, potentially saving money, lives, and reducing the environmental impact of managing human feces.

What are the goals of the project?

Our goal is to clearly identify cultural, technical, and health-related barriers to recycling human waste products. We will provide answers to the following questions:

  • Can human waste be safely recycled in rural areas of developing countries?
  • What cultural barriers exist to such technologies?
  • Are there health risks associated with recycling human waste? If so, how can they be avoided?
  • What can be modified about existing technologies to make them more accessible and safe?


  • $5,900Primary Investigator Time
  • $10,400Research Assistant's Personnel Costs
  • $4,500Travel Expenses
  • $1,200Survey Paperwork and transcribing costs.

Water Missions International, a water engineering nonprofit, seeks to obtain additional funding for a research study to complement a community development project funded by a coalition of Rotary Clubs from California, Oregon, Illinois and Venezuela.

The Rotary funded, community development project includes construction of 80 latrines in two Honduras communities as a pilot test prior to implementing additional latrines for the remaining households in the future. The pilot test will randomly assign households to receive either a traditional flush toilet or a composting toilet that allows for recycling of waste products as fertilizer. This pilot test allows WMI the rare and unique opportunity to study related social, technical, and health-related issues.

Without this research, the health impacts of different toilet systems will remain unknown, and nonprofit, nongovernmental, and governmental institutions that work in this area will remain motivated to choose technologies which may not be in the best interests of the people being served.

Donors will be given access to a database/website where they can track the project's progress, see maps and reports, and even track actual expenditures in real time.

Meet the Team

Jeffery Deal
Jeffery Deal


Dr. Deal presently serves as Director of Health Studies for Water Missions International and is an adjunct professor of anthropology for the College of Charleston.

He is a member of the London International Development Centre, a Fellow in the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and a Fellow in the American College of Surgeons. He holds Board Certification in Tropical Medicine from the Royal College of Physicians and is a member of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology.

A Land At the Centre of the World (Markoulakis Publications), his ethnography of the Dinka Agaar of South Sudan is now in its second edition. In addition to writing fiction, his previous publications span the fields of microbiology, anthropology, and surgery. When not working in the field, he lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with his wife of thirty-seven years.

Additional Information

Typical Latrines in Developing Countries: