Permaculture in India – Toilets, sanitation and waste water systems at the International Permaculture Convergence 2017

Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living based on the ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. The International Permaculture Convergence (IPC) is a biennial event where permaculture activists from across the planet come together to share and learn. From mid October to early December 2017 I was working at the IPC and Permaculture Design Course (PDC) taking place at Polam Farm in Telangana, India.

My main project was waste management (you can read more about that in this comprehensive blog post) and I was also somewhat involved with the sanitation and waste water systems.

Black water system

One of the systems at Polam Farm incorporated a series of pools to process the black water. The system was designed to work well during the usual day to day operation of the farm but was under excess stress and unable to cope with the increased number of people who visited the farm for the IPC and PDC. Water coming into the first pool was foul smelling on occasion, indicating that the system was over capacity. A concern was that contaminated effluent would be reaching the banana patch at the end of the pools or potentially causing harm to human health.

The solution, implemented before the IPC started, was to add carbon in the form of dry cotton plant sticks to the pools, tweak the design of the pools to improve the flow of water and construct separate toilets and urinals to reduce input to the system. I was involved in the early stages of the project by utilising the mapping skills I learnt on a permaculture design course, delivered by Shift Bristol, that I completed at the start of 2017.

Dry pit toilets

To reduce the input to the black water system and implement more sustainable toilets, dry pit toilets and water flush urinals were designed and constructed. The solution implemented was a vast improvement over the existing plastic portaloos that were installed at the farm for the event. As anyone who has used plastic portaloos knows, they are not a pleasant experience particularly in hot weather and they reduce the valuable resource of humanure to a waste product.

Dry pit toilets are a simple and effective design. Basically it’s a hole in the ground into which you do your business, then add carbon such as sawdust or rice husks, when it’s full cover it up with dirt, then wait one year and plant a tree on top. The tree will benefit from the rich nutrients to grow strong and healthy.

The Humanure Handbook was consulted during the design phase. I recommend this free resource to anyone interested in the subject.


I was involved somewhat in the early design and construction of the urinals. Basically you pee into a receptacle, a clay pot for ladies and an adapted water bottle for gents, which is then flushed with water into a soak away pit. The pictures below present the elegant solution that was implemented.

Respect and thanks

I was involved only very briefly in the design and construction of the waste water systems, toilets and urinals. The main work was completed by dedicated teams who all worked exceptionally hard to get everything ready for the IPC. The toilets and urinals were excellent, well used and enjoyed by all. The waste water systems coped well during the event. Respect and thanks to the teams who made it happen!

Find out more about Permaculture in India

Aranya Agricultural Alternatives

IPC India 2017

Permaculture India Network