Toilet Tuesday: the Arborloo

Toilet Tuesday Aug 18, 2020

I'm starting a new series: every Tuesday, I'll try to review a sanitation technology. Let's start with a favourite of mine: the Arborloo!


The Arborloo is a toilet as simple as it is beautiful: dig a shallow (1 - 1.5m) hole in the ground, add on a lightweight superstructure, that's your toilet. When you're done with your business, add a dose of ash, earth, sawdust... anything that will remove the smell, really. When the pit is almost full, dig a new hole, move the superstructure over the new one, and cover the first one. Finally, plant a tree over the old pit, which will grow beautifully thanks to your manure. That's it!

How it works, by SuperManu on Wikimedia Commons

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The Arborloo is known as the brainchild of Dr Peter Morgan, who looks like Sanitation Santa and has spent a lifetime creating wonderful and simple water pumps and toilets in Zimbabwe. We will come back to the Blair toilet! His website has lots on the Arborloo by the way, and Duncan Mara used to compile many resources too.

Of course, the Arborloo is a twist on what previously existed, like the fossas migratórias, just as elegantly named. The Treebog is a more advanced version, clearly for more British allotment enthusiasts than your average rural Southern African family.

Arborloo + EcoPee
Cute, right?


The Arborloo is as seducing as it is infuriating for sanitation enthusiasts. Judge by yourself:

  • It has all the perks of ecosan  – growing plants from your waste – without the drawbacks: no need to touch shit compost! As a result, even ecosan-haters have been found to like the Arborloo, as you don't have to deal with cheesy photos of hands holding compost with a seedling in the middle.
  • Relying on a lightweight and movable superstructure means that it is easy to adopt... and easy to count as "unimproved" as it doesn't necessarily improve your privacy or sense of safety. But hey, they look good!
  • You can't spot one easily: how do you know who fertilised that hefty banana plant over there? Therefore it's hard for NGOs to count them. Which can be a blessing...
  • It combines a Latin word (arbor- for tree) and a colloquial English one (loo for toilet), which is just poor etymological practice. On the other hand, the origin of the word loo takes you down a fun rabbit hole...


Still my favourite ecosan toilet.


Cover image credits: SuperManu on Wikimedia Commons
More information: SSWM toolbox
Suggestions for future reviews welcome!