The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2008 Winner

The Elephant Toilet

The Elephant Toilet

Providing innovative and sustainable sanitation solutions

“With a pilot programme to install over 1,000 Elephant Toilets which will benefit over 20,000 people in southern Malawi, ready to go, the project is at a really exciting stage of its development,” says programme director, Ian Thorpe.

The Elephant Toilet provides an innovative and sustainable sanitation solution which could benefit millions of people across Africa, and beyond.

Consisting of a concrete slab, and thatched roof hut construction for privacy, the Elephant Toilet is positioned over a three metre pit lined with stones. Users stand on the “ears” of the elephant pictured on the slab and urine is removed by the “trunk”, or channel, to an adjacent compost pit covered by earth to avoid odour. 

Grass and maize stalks are enriched by nitrogen rich urine in the pit and the compost is then used to grow vegetables. Users wash and disinfect their hands with the soap plant, Seso, which is grown adjacent to the toilet.

Solid waste decomposes faster with urine removed and the pit therefore takes longer to fill. When full, the Elephant Toilet slab is removed, and a fruit tree is planted over the pit and nourished by the solid waste. The toilet slab can be used again and again.

The Elephant Toilet benefits from simple design and construction which can be adapted to use local building materials and in which local communities can be easily trained. 

The productive use of human waste to develop rich compost for nutrition gardens results in the toilets paying for themselves and being more appropriate and sustainable than any other currently in use.

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