Navigating Multidimensional Social-Ecological System Trade-Offs across Sanitation Alternatives in an Urban Informal Settlement

John T. Trimmer, Hannah A.C. Lohman, Diana M. Byrne, Stephanie A. Houser, Fulgensio Jjuuko, David Katende, Noble Banadda, Assata Zerai, Daniel C. Miller, Jeremy S. Guest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Urban growth in low- and middle-income countries has intensified the need to expand sanitation infrastructure, especially in informal settlements. Sanitation approaches for these settings remain understudied, particularly regarding multidimensional social-ecological outcomes. Guided by a conceptual framework (developed in parallel with this study) re-envisioning sanitation as a human-derived resource system, here we characterize existing and alternative sanitation scenarios in an informal settlement in Kampala, Uganda. Combining two core research approaches (household survey analysis, process modeling), we elucidate factors associated with user satisfaction and evaluate each scenario's resource recovery potential, economic implications, and environmental impacts. We find that existing user satisfaction is associated with factors including cleaning frequency, sharing, and type of toilets, and we demonstrate that alternative sanitation systems may offer multidimensional improvements over existing latrines, drying beds, and lagoons. Transitioning to anaerobic treatment could recover energy while reducing overall net costs by 26-65% and greenhouse gas emissions by 38-59%. Alternatively, replacing pit latrines with container-based facilities greatly improves recovery potential in most cases (e.g., a 2- to 4-fold increase for nitrogen) and reduces emissions by 46-79%, although costs increase. Overall, this work illustrates how our conceptual framework can guide empirical research, offering insight into sanitation for informal settlements and more sustainable resource systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12641-12653
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 6 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge the Illinois Distinguished Fellowship and Dissertation Completion Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) for funding support for J.T.T., as well as support from the Social and Behavioral Science Research Initiative (SBSRI), the Center for Advanced Study, the Campus Research Board, and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) at UIUC. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant no. DGE-1746047. The authors also thank 10 survey enumerators from Makerere University, the Lubigi Sewage Treatment Plant, the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, the Kampala Capital City Authority, and Bwaise community members and leaders for their help with and participation in this study. Finally, the authors thank the staff of Community Integrated Development Initiatives, who helped to coordinate this study and communicate its findings to communities, utilities, local officials, and other organizations in Kampala.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Navigating Multidimensional Social-Ecological System Trade-Offs across Sanitation Alternatives in an Urban Informal Settlement'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this