4.1 Pit toilets

Any toilet in which the faeces and urine go directly into a hole in the ground is called a pit toilet. Pit toilets are also called latrines, drop-hole toilets and bore-hole toilets.

Toilets of this type are still in use in Australia, particularly in remote areas where water is in short supply. These toilets are always located away from the main dwelling and should always be located away from community water sources to prevent contamination of the water supply. To give privacy they are usually inside a properly constructed building. However, they are sometimes surrounded by roughly constructed walls and may not have a roof.

There are different kinds of pit toilet. The most common ones are described below.

Dry drop-hole toilets

This type of toilet is a hole in the ground which is only a few feet deep. There may or may not be a seat over the hole.
Fig.  2.2: Dry drop-hole toilet with roughly constructed seat and walls.
Fig. 2.2: Dry drop-hole toilet with roughly constructed seat and walls.

As the hole fills with sewage, bacteria will break down some of the materials into effluent. If the hole fills up too quickly, there is not enough time for the bacteria to break down any of the sewage.

Drop-holes can fill up quickly if a lot of people are using them. This is because they are not deep enough. When they are nearly full they must be filled up with soil. A new hole then needs to be dug, and the seat and walls transferred to the new site.
Fig.  2.3: Dry drop-hole toilet with properly constructed walls and roof but without a seat.
Fig. 2.3: Dry drop-hole toilet with properly constructed walls and roof but without a seat.

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Bore-hole latrines

This type of toilet has a seat on top of a deep hole. These toilets can be used for a long time because they are slow to fill up. The sewage slowly breaks down because of the action of germs and any wastewater soaks into the ground.

When the hole is nearly full, a new one is dug and the old one filled up with soil.

The breakdown process can be assisted by adding half a bucket of water to the pit once a week.
Fig.  2.4: A bore-hole toilet with a bucket for adding water to the disposal pit.
Fig. 2.4: A bore-hole toilet with a bucket for adding water to the disposal pit.

VIP latrines

An enhanced version of the pit is the vented improved pit (VIP) latrine. This is a dry drop-hole toilet which has been specially designed so that any flies which enter the hole and crawl over the sewage cannot escape and carry disease-causing germs to people and food. Odours (smells) are reduced and any that do occur are directed away from the community by choosing the right site for the toilet.

The VIP latrine has a special snail-shape design. The walls meet the roof and the floor allowing no light into toilet area except through a special air-vent pipe which lets some light into the pit under the seat.

This light attracts flies up into the vent pipe. The top opening of the vent is covered by a fly-proof mesh and this prevents the flies from escaping. Attracted by the light they will stay here until they die. The darkness in the toilet area discourages them from returning back up through the hole in the seat.
Careful siting of VIP latrines is particularly important so that odours are blown away from nearby houses as much as possible. It is also important to site the latrine so that the doorway faces in the direction from which most of the prevailing wind comes. All light should be kept out of the toilet area when not in use.
Fig.  2.5: A VIP latrine.
Fig. 2.5: A VIP latrine.

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4.2 Pan closet toilets

Pan closet toilets were once common in Australian towns. However most, if not all, have been replaced by septic tank and leach drain or full sewage or effluent systems.

Pan closet toilets had a bucket under the toilet seat. These toilets were also called bucket latrines. The buckets containing the sewage (nightsoil) were taken away once a week, or more often if necessary, and a clean, empty bucket put in its place. Special contractors were employed by local authorities to do this work in towns. To stop flies getting into the bucket the toilet seat had a lid on it.

To keep the contents in the buckets during transport, lids were put on them. The buckets were then emptied into a special trench at the local rubbish tip. They were washed immediately with phenol or some other disinfectant ready for use again.

4. 3 Chemical toilets

This is a special type of toilet in which chemicals are used to break down the faeces and urine. It is not often used in dwellings, but is common in caravans and small leisure boats.

Chemical toilets are also used in portable (able to be moved) facilities, for example, in toilets on construction sites or at special public events, such as outdoor music festivals.

The chemical toilet has a tank attached to it to which chemicals are added. Where small capacity tanks are required, such as in caravans, the tanks are usually under the seat. However, where a number of toilets with a large capacity are needed, such as on a large building construction site, one large tank may be placed under the ground to receive the sewage from all of the toilets.

The chemicals treat the sewage to break down the solid materials to a liquid. When the tank is full, the effluent is pumped out and disposed of at an appropriate site, such as a rubbish tip. The tank is rinsed out and more chemicals are added before it is used again.
Fig.  2.6: Chemical toilet.
Fig. 2.6: Chemical toilet.
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