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Household rubbish pits

How to dispose of household waste safely using a rubbish pit

2004 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Photo: Jim Loring/Tearfund

From: Pollution – Footsteps 59

We all have a role to play in reducing the damaging effects of pollution

A rubbish pit is a way of disposing of household waste by burying it, after it has been reduced or recycled as much as possible. This helps prevent contamination of water supplies and breeding of flies and rats which may spread disease to people in the community. A rubbish pit reduces unpleasant smells and removes household waste from sight.

Household rubbish should be sorted before it is considered for the rubbish pit. Organic materials, such as vegetable peelings, should be used to make compost. Other types of household rubbish could be reused or recycled. Avoid putting batteries and other toxic waste in a rubbish pit as these will contaminate the soil and water sources.

An average rubbish pit should be the size of two or three doors. This size of rubbish pit will last for about five years for an average family. For large households, the rubbish pit could be bigger.

Selecting a site 

The following factors should be considered:

Distance The rubbish pit should be far enough from wells and streams to protect water sources from contamination. More than 30m is recommended. It should be far enough from houses to stop people falling in, but not so far that waste has to be carried a long way. Between 20m and 100m is recommended.

Geography The rubbish pit should not be located on valuable land, such as crop land. If the pit is dug on wet ground it may smell bad.

Groundwater The bottom of the pit must be at least 1m above the level of groundwater during the rainy season. If necessary, dig a test hole 1m deeper than the bottom of the proposed pit just after the rainy season. If no groundwater is observed in the hole, the site is suitable.

Cover soil The pit should be located near ground which can be easily dug. Keep the soil that has been removed for covering the rubbish.

Digging the rubbish pit 

The rubbish pit should be between 1m and 1.5m deep. It is a good idea to dig only about 1m of the desired length of the pit to start with. Otherwise the rest may fill with soil due to wind and water erosion.

Using the rubbish pit 

When rubbish is placed in the pit, cover it with a thin layer of soil. Do not leave exposed waste in the pit. Compact it and cover immediately. 

When the waste and cover soil have nearly risen to the ground surface, place a final thick layer of soil or composted material. Then dig a new pit. 

Based on USAID (1982) Water for the World technical notes: 


Care must be taken when handling waste to prevent cuts from sharp-edged scraps. 

Cleanliness is important to prevent the spread of disease. People should wash their hands after handling household waste, especially before preparing and eating food.

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