Piloting a low-cost hardware intervention to reduce improper disposal of solid waste in communal toilets in low-income settlements in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Farzana Yeasmin, Stephen P. Luby, Ronald E. Saxton, Fosiul A. Nizame, Mahbub Ul Alam, Notan Chandra Dutta, Abdullah Al Masud, Dalia Yeasmin, Anita Layden, Habibur Rahman, Rachel Abbott, Leanne Unicomb, Peter J. Winch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Bangladesh faces daunting challenges in addressing the sanitation needs of its urban poor. Maintaining the cleanliness and functionality of communal toilets is dependent upon periodic emptying of fecal sludge, and cooperation between users of communal toilets. Trash disposal into latrines can block the outflow pipes, rendering the toilets non-functional. Methods: Pre-intervention: We conducted in-depth interviews with five operators of fecal sludge emptying equipment and five adult residents who were also caregivers of children. We identified factors contributing to improper disposal of trash into communal toilets, a barrier to operation of the equipment, in low-income communities of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Intervention design: We developed behavior change communication materials to discourage waste disposal in toilets, and promote use of waste bins. We conducted six focus group discussions with adult male, female, landlord and children to select the preferred design for waste bins to be placed inside toilets, and finalize communication materials. Post-intervention: We then pilot-tested an intervention package to promote appropriate trash disposal practices and thus facilitate periodic removal of fecal sludge when the latrine pits become full. We conducted 20 in-depth interviews and four focus group discussions with community residents, landlords and cleaners of communal toilets. Results: Barriers to appropriate waste disposal included lack of private location for disposal of menstrual hygiene products, limited options for formal trash collection and disposal, and the use of plastic bags for disposing children's feces. A pilot intervention including behavior change communication and trash bins was implemented in two urban slum communities. Spot checks confirmed that the bins were in place and used. Respondents described positive improvements in the appearance of the toilet and surrounding environment. Conclusion: The current practice on the part of local residents of disposing of waste into toilets impedes the safe removal of fecal sludge and impairs toilet functionality. Residents reported positive changes in toilet cleanliness and usability resulting from this intervention, and this both improves the user experience with toilets, and also promotes the sustainability of the entrepreneurial model of Vacutug operators supported by WSUP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number682
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 29 2017


  • Communal toilets
  • Fecal sludge management
  • Low-income community
  • Toilet functionality
  • Urban sanitation
  • Waste disposal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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