Here at Sanitation First, we believe that our ecological ecosan models should be taking over the world of sanitation. We believe that more people knew about the world-changing, sustainable power of ecological sanitation.
We are taking this opportunity to shout about why ecosan should be changing the ways we think about sanitation. In order to spread the word, we have put together 17 reasons why we should all be talking more about ecological sanitation.
But firstly, what is ecological sanitation?
Ecological sanitation (otherwise known as ecosan) is an approach to sanitation that sees human excreta as a valuable resource, rather than a waste product. It recycles human excreta, and uses natural processes to transform it into a safe, natural compost and fertiliser.
All of our ecosan toilets are ‘Urine Diverting Dry Toilets’ (UDDTs). This system separates solids and liquids at source; the toilet has a special squat plate that separates urine from faeces.
In our rural ecosan toilets:
- The urine is collected and is safe to be used straight away as liquid fertiliser.
- Faeces are composted on site (in a chamber beneath the toilet), and dry ash is added to the waste to speed up its dehydration. Once fully decomposed, it can be used in agriculture as a soil-conditioning fertiliser.
Our urban ecological sanitation toilets (called ‘GroSan toilets’) are slightly different. The GroSan toilet system takes the ecosan model and builds upon it, adapting it to the unique demands of slum environments. It is a container-based sanitation (CBS) system; waste is captured in sealable containers, which, after 28 days of decomposition, are removed and transported to an offsite compound. The solid waste containers are stored in the compound for a further 90 days before they are treated using organic processes, in order to create a commercial grade, agricultural compost. The urine is also treated to produce an enhanced liquid fertiliser.
Why should ecosan be changing the world of sanitation?
1. Ecosan can transform the way the world approaches sanitation
Sanitation-related illness, pollution, water scarcity, soil quality, population rise, urbanisation, agricultural productivity, and food insecurity are all global issues that bridge the so-called ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ worlds. We should not see ecosan as only the solution to small-scale, local issues, but as an opportunity that should be embraced worldwide.
2. Ecosan is sustainable
Ecosan is not about disposal; it’s about recycling and transforming. It supports the idea of a circular economy. Ecological sanitation is a closed loop circuit; nutrients are reused and recycled rather than being wasted.
3. Ecosan prevents waste from polluting the environment
Ecosan UDDTs are above ground structures and all human waste is sealed and contained. Ecosan toilets act as a barrier between waste and the environment, which prevents sewage from polluting bodies of water.
4. Ecosan puts the idea of ‘prevention, not treatment’ into practice
Ecological sanitation is about preventing pollution before it has been created. This means keeping raw sewage out of water sources, rather than treating water sources post-contamination, or preventing intestinal illnesses, rather that treating them in hospital.
5. Conventional approaches to sanitation can be dangerous, polluting, and wasteful
Flush-and-Discharge toilets are:
- Highly dependent on how the sewage is treated
- Costly to maintain
- Dependent upon a constant water supply, and waste large amounts of clean water
- Unaffordable for many
Drop-and-Store toilets, such as pit latrines and septic tanks, are:
- Unsuited to many environments, such as rocky ground and where the ground is hard
- Not able to be used in areas where the groundwater level is high, as microorganisms from the sewage will contaminate the drinking water
- Unsuited to densely populated and crowded areas, such as slums, due to cross-contamination
- Contain standing water, which attracts mosquitoes and flies to breed in the sewage and to transmit harmful pathogens
- Often abandoned when the pits fill up, dangerously emptied by hand, or simply released into the surrounding environment
6. Ecosan toilets can be built anywhere
The construction of ecosan toilets is not affected by high water tables, hard rock or scarce water sources. The are even ideally suited to high intensity environments, such as slums.
7. Ecosan is affordable
Ecosan toilets are inexpensive compared to the installation of traditional sewers, septic tanks, and treatment plants. Furthermore, ecosan doesn’t require: a constant water supply for flushing, pipelines, or expensive watertight constructions.
8. Ecosan toilets are designed to last for decades
Ecosan toilets are easy to maintain, and they have a long lifespan.
9. Ecosan saves water
Ecosan toilets don’t require water. This preserves this valuable natural resource, and has fewer environmental costs compared to a flushing toilet.
10. Ecosan breaks down pathogens in faeces
Ecosan does this through the natural processes of decomposition and dehydration. When faeces decompose, the ‘pathogens in them die and break down’, meaning that ‘viruses, bacteria and worm eggs are destroyed’ (Winblad, U. and M. Simpson-Hébert 2004:4). Ecosan toilets thus make faeces safe to reuse.
11. Ecosan toilets form a barrier between faeces and flies
Ecosan reduces standing water and, through the dehydration process, reduces extra humidity. This means that flies and mosquitoes do not breed in the sewage. Furthermore, the urine and faeces containers are completely sealed, so there is a physica barrier between the faeces and flies.
12. Ecosan reveals huge concerns with conventional, chemical fertilisers
Chemical fertilisers are progressively degrading the world’s farmland. In the long term, chemical fertilisers deplete the soil of nutrients, destroy essential microbes, and make the soil more acidic, lowering its fertility. In fact, the Earth’s soil is being depleted of nutrients at more than 13% the rate they can be replaced . Furthermore, chemical fertilisers cannot replace topsoil. Earth is losing 25bn tonnes of topsoil per year (Winblad, U. and M. Simpson-Hébert 2004:74). This loss of topsoil is a huge concern, because it leads to diminished agricultural productivity, thus threatening food security.
13. Ecosan returns nutrients to the soil
Conventional approaches to sanitation misplace soil nutrients. The nutrients are ingested by humans, released through excreta, and then disposed of. Ecosan, however, returns these nutrients to the soil, in a circular process. Ecosan restores a natural cycle.
14. Ecosan compost improves the quality of the soil
Compost made from faeces can increase the availability of nutrients in the soil, increase the soil’s organic matter content, and improve the soil’s water-holding capacity (Winblad, U. and M. Simpson-Hébert 2004:75). Soil with a greater water holding capacity requires less watering, meaning that it is better able to withstand dry seasons and drought.
15. Ecosan allows for urine to be used as an extremely effective fertiliser
The use of urine as a fertiliser is also hugely beneficial in agriculture; it creates a tougher environment for the survival of microorganisms, it increases the die-off rates of pathogens, and it stops mosquitoes breeding (Winblad, U. and M. Simpson-Hébert 2004:9). Both human faeces and urine can, therefore, be used to improve soil structure and supply nutrients to the soil.
16. Ecosan increases food security
Ecosan compost improves agricultural yields, thus increasing food security. Our GroComp compost, for example, has proven to drive at least a 10% yield increase for banana farmers and a 60% yield increase for okra, compared to chemical fertilisers.
17. Ecosan saves lives
Local waters that are toxically contaminated by raw sewage are key contributors to high levels of disease and sickness. Harmful pathogens and parasites are ingested by humans, leading to diarrhoea and other intestinal illnesses. By restricting human waste from entering the open environment, ecosan prevents raw sewage from contaminating water tables and spreading these serious, and often deadly, illnesses. We have seen that after ecosan toilet installation, users are healthier, and they spend less on healthcare, thereby increasing their overall quality of life.
| Ecosan | Ecological | Sustainability | Sanitation | Toilets | Pollution | Health | Soil | Compost |
Kramer, S. et al. (2011) The SOIL Guide to Ecological Sanitation, Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL). Available from: http://www.oursoil.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Complete-Guide-PDF.pdf
Morgan, P. (2007) Toilets That Make Compost: Low-Cost, Sanitary Toilets that Produce Valuable Compost for Crops in an African Context, Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute.
Winblad, U. and M. Simpson-Hébert (2004) Ecological Sanitation, Stockholm: Stockholm Environmental Institute.
Mercola. (2013) How Organic Farming Could Release Us From the Curse of Fertilizer. Available from: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/02/fertilizer.aspx?e_cid=20130702_DNL_JLY4DNOMIN_JLY4BAN_art_1&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20130702JLY4DNOMIN
Geiger, Owen. (2014) Ecosan Composting Toilet. Available from: http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/ecosan-composting-toilet/
Water Aid. Ecosan Toilets – An Alternative to Conventional Sanitation in Vulnerable Locations. Available from: http://wateraidindia.in/blog/ecosan-toilets-an-alternative-to-conventional-sanitation-in-vulnerable-locations/
Environment. (2015) How do Fertlizers Affect the Environment. Available from: https://www.environment.co.za/environmental-issues/how-do-fertilizers-affect-the-environment.html
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