The objective of the work is to evaluate the performance of an innovative design of a trickling filter for small population sizes, which has been implemented for the post-treatment of sanitary effluent from a UASB (upflow anaerobic sludge blanket) reactor. The unit, named open trickling filter (OTF), operates with no side walls, no perforated bottom slab and no secondary settler. The OTF packing was 3.5 m high, composed of crushed stone, with a fixed distribution system made of channels with V-notch weirs. The OTF was operated with mean surface hydraulic loading rates of 4.1 and 9.3 m3 m−2 d−1, corresponding to population equivalents of approximately 250 and 550 inhabitants, respectively. For the surface hydraulic loading rate of 4.1 m3 m−2 d−1, the median removal efficiencies obtained by the OTF and overall system (UASB + OTF) were, respectively, 24 and 83% for total suspended solids (TSS), 44 and 79% for chemical oxygen demand (COD), 42 and 82% for biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), 40 and 40% for N-ammonia. For the surface hydraulic loading rate of 9.3 m3 m−2 d−1, the median removal efficiencies obtained by the OTF and global system (UASB + OTF) were 14 and 76% for TSS, 28 and 76% for COD, 25 and 86% for BOD, 15 and 15% for N-ammonia. Considering the great simplicity, no mechanization and small footprint of the system, these results can be considered satisfactory, suggesting that the OTF is suitable for small communities, especially in developing countries.