Making sanitation count: developing and testing a device for assessing latrine use in low-income settings

Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Mar 20;46(6):3295-303. doi: 10.1021/es2036702. Epub 2012 Feb 28.


While efforts are underway to expand latrine coverage to an estimated 2.6 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation, there is evidence that actual use of latrines is suboptimal, limiting the potential health and environmental gains from containment of human excreta. We developed a passive latrine use monitor (PLUM) and compared its ability to measure latrine activity with structured observation. Each PLUM consisted of a passive infrared motion detector, microcontroller, data storage card, and batteries mounted in a small plastic housing that was positioned inside the latrine. During a field trial in Orissa, India, with ∼115 households, the number of latrine events measured by the PLUMs was in good agreement with that measured by trained observers during 5 h of structured observation per device per week. A significant finding was that the presence of a human observer was associated with a statistically significant increase in the number of latrine events, i.e., the users modified their behavior in response to the observer. Another advantage of the PLUM was the ability to measure activity continuously for an entire week. A shortcoming of the PLUM was the inability to separate latrine events that occurred in immediate succession, leading to possible undercounting during high-traffic periods. The PLUM is a promising technology that can provide detailed measures of latrine use to improve the understanding of sanitation behaviors and how to modify them and for assessing the intended health, livelihood, and environmental benefits of improved sanitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Equipment Design
  • Humans
  • India
  • Infrared Rays
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data*
  • Toilet Facilities / statistics & numerical data*