Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem?
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TOPIC: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem?

Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? 05 Sep 2014 15:10 #10021

  • muench
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Hi,

I want to pick up on a conversation that Joe Turner and Chris Canaday had last week on the definition of ecosan. It was in this thread, starting here:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/80-glo...tion-indicators#9929

It was in the thread discussing Brian's blog post about choosing the right indicators, but as it's a topic unrelated to his post, I have decided to start a new thread.

It started with Chris having an issue with Joe's statement (on his personal blog on 28 Aug. 2014: sanitation.joetnr.net/sanitation-good-in-parts/)

Joe said:
And the sector has its own crazy bunch of loons who want to insist that shitting in a bucket (also known as ecosan) somehow counts as treatment. It doesn't and it isn't.
(emphasis added by me; for non-English speakers: loon is short for lunatic which means a crazy person)

Chris then explained to Joe that ecosan (ecological sanitation) has a different definition than "shitting in a bucket".

He quoted the definition on Wikipedia (by the way, it would be great if someone could update the wikipedia entry on ecosan) as well as other definitions used by ecosan experts for years:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/80-glo...tion-indicators#9943


Chris said:
Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) is not equivalent to composting toilets. It is a much broader concept, very close to that of Sustainable Sanitation.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_sanitation :
--
Ecological sanitation (Ecosan) is based on an overall view of material flows as part of an ecologically and economically sustainable wastewater management system tailored to the needs of the users and to the respective local conditions. It ... is ... a new philosophy in handling substances that have so far been seen simply as wastewater and water-carried waste for disposal.

According to Esrey et al. (2003) ecological sanitation can be defined as a system that:

Prevents disease and promotes health
Protects the environment and conserves water
Recovers and recycles nutrients and organic matter


I agree with Chris on this point, and I am a bit disappointed at your response, Joe, where you state that:

I dispute the idea that solarization, heating and thermophilic composting are types of ecosan, which is short for ecological sanitation and is synomynous with composting toilets.
(emphasis added by me)

So you have decided that ecosan equates to composting toilets, or - even worse - to "shitting in a bucket" (with all the connotations that this involves, especially after saying it is the "loons" who advocate this - even though strictly speaking yes, faeces might be collected in a buckt for some types of toilets).

I just wonder which literature you are leaning on when you say that ecosan equates to composting toilets and nothing else? It is simply not true. Who has written that? Which experts or which peer reviewed journals? I would challenge anyone who says that.

Wouldn't it be better to accept the definition of those who have worked on ecosan approaches for decades?

A bit of history:

As far as I know, the term "ecosan" was first used in about the 1990s (or perhaps even late 1980s) by an NGO in Ethiopia called Sudea. They used it for urine-diverting dry toilets coupled with reuse activities. It was further used and defined by Swedish experts, some of which worked at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). SEI had a program, called EcosanRes, running from 2001-2011 where they did research on ecosan. GIZ also had a large program from about 2001 to 2012. From about 2007 (= foundation of SuSanA) and then 2012 (= new program name) onwards, GIZ chose to focus rather on sustainable sanitation systems and not on ecosan alone (meaning from then on less focus on reuse).

This is also further explained in the GIZ Technology Review on UDDTs (and a UDDT is not a composting toilet, and can be one form of ecosan; it may or may not include reuse activities):
www.susana.org/en/resources/library/details/874

(this technology review makes detailed statements about the safety of reuse, and - like you - says that the dry faecal material collected from UDDTs is in most cases not low enough in pathogens for care-fee reuse; it however advocates using the multiple barrier approach to reuse as recommended in the WHO Guidelines of 2006 - but that's a separate topic)

So with which justification can you insist on ecosan = composting toilets = shitting in a bucket? In the same sentence on your blog post, referring to people who are advocating ecosan systems as "crazy bunch of loons" is not very nice. Who exactly do you have in mind? The people working at SEI and GIZ? Or is Chris Canaday (for example) a loonatic in your view? Does it help our common cause to alienate people with such statements?

On a wider level, it still surprises me that "ecosan" is leading to such adverse responses from people. Time and time again I hear the comment that SuSanA is just "ecosan in disguise" (I guess this is because SuSanA was started - amongst others - by some people who had worked on ecosan in the past, e.g. Arno Rosemarin, Madeleine Fogde, Christine Werner, Arne Panesar). Even if this was the case, the fact that many more people joined later, who had no ecosan history, seems to be ignored. Of the nearly 4000 members of the SuSanA forum, how many of them are "ecosan purists" from way back? Not that many.

It seems to not matter that we stress time and time again that sustainable sanitation, and SuSanA, is different to ecosan, much broader, wider... Some people do not believe us. Even though you can already see on this forum that we have a range of topics here, not just UDDTs and reuse.

I have even been told that too many discussions on the forum are "hijacked" by people with an ecosan agenda (presumably meaning people pointing out that dry toilets (non flush) or even UDDTs could also be an option)? I don't think this is true but if anyone thinks it is, please point it out to me.

As most of us love this forum, let's try to be as inclusive of different approaches as possible. If someone feels that there is "too much ecosan" on this forum, please do come forward so that we can become aware of it..

Is there anything that we can or should do about this problem - if indeed it is a problem?

Regards,
Elisabeth

P.S. A related thread is this one from a few years ago where we discussed if the term ecosan should be replaced with "productive sanitation":
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/91-pro...ter-term-than-ecosan
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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Last Edit: 12 Sep 2014 08:41 by muench.
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Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 05 Sep 2014 17:19 #10022

  • Florian
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And the sector has its own crazy bunch of loons who want to insist that shitting in a bucket (also known as ecosan) somehow counts as treatment.


Haha, that is a good one!

The beauty of the term "ecosan" is that so many different things have been called ecosan that now basically everyone can just choose his own definition. If Joe thinks that ecosan means shitting in a bucket, well, that's up to him...

Now who are the looners, this is an entirely different question
Florian Klingel
Water and Sanitation Specialist at Skat Consulting Ltd.
Last Edit: 05 Sep 2014 17:58 by Florian.

Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 05 Sep 2014 20:04 #10024

  • JKMakowka
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Ahh, this is going to be a fun topic

Joe has a point that shitting in a bucket (or something else disagreeable) is all to often the impression the final "beneficiaries" are left with in many "quick fix" government projects involving Ecosan. Case in point the example that was recently posted from Namibia I think.

I can also understand that people get fed up with "experts" harping on and on about the benefits of sustainable sanitation, when for mostly non-technical reasons the approach has acquired a bad name in a country and can't be sold to decision makers and even the people supposed to use it (as partially the case here in Uganda).
Krischan Makowka
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” - Buckminster Fuller
Last Edit: 05 Sep 2014 20:09 by JKMakowka.

Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 05 Sep 2014 20:44 #10025

  • Florian
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JKMakowka wrote:
many "quick fix" government projects involving Ecosan.


Are there really many? governmental "quick fix" programmes I know usually are latrine or pour flush toilet building programmes, or even sewerage programmes, but ecosan*???

*which I understand here as UDDT toilets or similar, not "shitting in a bucket"
Florian Klingel
Water and Sanitation Specialist at Skat Consulting Ltd.
Last Edit: 05 Sep 2014 20:45 by Florian.

Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 05 Sep 2014 21:12 #10027

  • JKMakowka
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"many" as in "many but not all quick fix programmes". I agree that there aren't/haven't been so many, but seemingly sufficient to give Ecosan a bad name in many places.
Krischan Makowka
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” - Buckminster Fuller

Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 06 Sep 2014 00:00 #10029

  • arno
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In the early days during the 1990s when the term ecosan was something new, discussions were heated and confrontational. Supporters of ecosan claimed the corner on containment, treatment and reuse. The establishment defended deep pit latrines, and waterborne systems and they felt offended. Ecosan supporters criticised conventional sanitation for killing children, contaminating waterways with nutrients and pathogens and making Helminth worms a global pandemic with upwards of 2 billion cases. Some of these debates which took place openly in international meetings in Sweden and elsewhere were characterised by anger, persecution and personality clashes.

Things came to a head in 2003 in Kyoto at the World Water Forum when India's sanitation dilemma was discussed and proponents of flush systems said that dry toilets requiring emptying were in conflict with the laws against scavenging. With time, more and more ecosan installations were carried out around the world with both success and failures. I recall some of the comments at IWA conferences where conventional sanitation experts lauded their ecosan colleagues for being transparent and honest.

Indeed acknowledgement for ecosan came with the awarding of the Stockholm Water Prize in 2013 to Peter Morgan, a pioneer of handpumps and ventilated pit latrines (VIPs)in addition to ecosan toilets (the Arborloo, the Skyloo and the Fossa alterna). And this has continued with the awarding this week of the Stockholm Water Industry Prize to Neil MacLeod from Durban for several successes including the world's largest ecosan project (90,000 installations).

When skeptics learn that the most complete ecosan sewage treatment plant has been running in Braunschweig near Hannover, Germany for over 60 years, where everything is reused, the debate room goes quiet. www.abwasserverband-bs.de/en/who-we-are/history/

The debate we need should be more about the functionality, operations and maintenance of all sanitation systems, both simple and complex. The entire sector needs to enter the era of sustainable development and this spans sanitation, hygiene, and solid waste. Innovation is called for. And people and communities need to be at the centre since sanitation and waste are closely connected to attitudes and behaviour.

Of course we can have debates on the economics of onsite vs centralised systems in urban centres thus justifying the use of water in pipes to transport excreta to centralised treatment plants. Such systems have served a large part of the world well since they were introduced. But for parts of the world onsite sanitation remains the mainstay (eg Africa). In all cases there is a need to improve and rethink and to redefine food and partly digested food wastes as resources - especially since they can easily be reused for their energy, water and nutrient content. There is room for new ideas.

With the birth of SuSanA, clear definitions for both sustainable and ecological sanitation were arrived at. Please refer to these on the SuSanA website if you are not sure:
www.susana.org/en/about/faq#Is sustainable sanitation the same as ecosan?

When it comes to sanitation, everyone is more or less on a learning curve. This is because it is a very unfinished chapter in human development. We hope this Forum will add to your learning.

Greetings from Stockholm,
Arno
Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
Linnegatan 87D, Box 24218
10451 Stockholm, Sweden
arno.rosemarin@sei-international.org
Last Edit: 11 Sep 2014 09:12 by muench.
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Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 06 Sep 2014 08:31 #10030

  • pkjha
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Definition of Ecological Sanitation by Esrey et al. (2003) is a complete. Arno made it more clear.
Generation and utilisation of biogas from human excreta and safe reuse of effluent for agriculture purpose is also an Ecosan.

The report of the 1st Ecological conference held in 2001 in Nanning , China clearly defines Ecological sanitation and its objectives. The following is the quote from the report:

Some of these areas of consensus were as follows:

- Ecological sanitation is an approach, a way of thinking, rather than a technology or a
device. The approach is characterized by ‘closed-loop’ thinking and practice, whereby
the human need for a safe, congenial and dignified means of sanitation is met, the
nutrients excreted are safely redeployed in agricultural production, and ecological
security is maintained.

- There is no single ecological sanitation prescription or solution. A menu of options
must be considered, and choices offered to households and communities. There should
be choice of technology, and of focus to meet different needs and interests – including
health, agriculture, environmental stewardship, quality of life, and poverty reduction.
In order to make choices, people need to be informed about available alternatives and
their consequences by education, information exchange, popular media, drama, and
demonstration visits.

Pawan
Pawan Jha
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Foundation for Environment and Sanitation
Mahavir Enclave
New Delhi 110045, India
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Last Edit: 06 Sep 2014 09:16 by muench.
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Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 06 Sep 2014 10:09 #10032

  • AquaVerde
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Many thanks especially to Joe Turner who provoked this discussion by "shitting in a bucket" . Thanks to Chris Canaday and Elisabeth v. Munich who picked it up.

As in previous discussions, "sustainable sanitation" (also known as "ecosan", "resources-oriented sanitation", and many other aliases) should not be seen only through the glasses of purists, nor should it be too technology related, nor just sales driven.

Let’s please take this out of our narrow sanitation niche and the controversy about whether "ecosan = shitting in a bucket" and look at the bigger picture, which I may call "a common thread". Human development depends on resources (natural & human: know-how and labor force). Human resources are mostly "renewable", while many natural resources are not renewable during our lifetimes.

For better understanding: "a common thread" means common level of acting and thinking, them only acting within our sanitation niches (water based and not water based).

In my opinion, even if simple "shitting in a bucket" is keeping resources "alive" for reuse by future generations, it is an important part of our learning curve toward completing this very unfinished chapter in human development (Arno Rosemarin):

There is a general need to keep more --and hopefully ALL-- resources "alive" for future generations.

Therefore "sustainable sanitation" is part of this larger "red thread" of learning to establish a "circular economy" (also known as Cradle-to-Cradle, etc.). Any potential mistakes or bumps along the way are important and needed parts of our learning.

Thanks, Arno Rosemarin, for reminding me about the "old" ecosan near Braunschweig, which I visited in 1993, during my postgraduate MSc-course on Tropical Water-Engineering. At that time, I had no clue about "shitting in a bucket" and this "common thread"

Back then, my response was, "I certainly do not want to live in such a countryside where shit is reused...", in short I was not amused...

...since I did not yet have such a broad perspective on sanitation and waste management.

This Forum is contributing considerably to our collective learning about "shitting in a bucket" as a contribution to "the common thread".

Best Regards,
Detlef SCHWAGER
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Last Edit: 07 Sep 2014 12:48 by AquaVerde.

Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 06 Sep 2014 11:14 #10033

  • Florian
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Thanks Arno, for nicely summing up the historic of this discussion.

As I was with the gtz ecosan team for a while, I had the (often doubtful) pleasure to live through a part of these discussions on terminology and struggles between different camps of hardcore-ecosanies, conventionals and the ones between.

I thought that we are over this now, and therefore I'm mildley surprised that this has come up again once more. Even more suprising is that it comes in a form of statement loaded with ignorance from a quite active susana forum user. Learning curves were mentionned, but I rather see the opposite here. I wonder what has gone wrong here?

I totally agree with Arno, our discussion should not be any more around which technologies are good or bad, but how the right technologies can be selected for the different contexts, and more importantly how they can be made working properly and lastingly, and most importantly, how all this can be done by local goverments and people.

There are countless examples of failures for any type of technologies, just look at the number of ruins of sewer systems and wwtp out there (though the reputation of sewers and wwtp seems a bit more robust, compared to UDDT and similar newcomers on the market). But then, even "shitting in a bucket" can be part of a safe and relatively comfortable sanitation system, if done properly. What matters, is how things are done.
Florian Klingel
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Last Edit: 06 Sep 2014 11:39 by Florian.
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Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 06 Sep 2014 14:42 #10035

  • muench
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Interesting points made, thanks!

Florian, I also thought the times of fighting over terms and concepts and sanitation "ideologies" were over (this was one of the aims of the formation of SuSanA!), which is why Joe Turner's statement shocked me a bit - especially since he is a very valued long-term and frequent post on the forum with an impressive knowledge of the current literature and of all aspects related to reuse risks. I have enjoyed many, if not all, of his excellent contributions on the forum. It makes me think that if even he thinks that way, many others do, too (but don't normally pop up on this forum, and don't even bother to speak to us about this). Plus, then I was recently told again about this issue of "discussions on the forum being hijacked by ecosan people", and this perception got me worried.

So I think we still need to have this conversation, even though we thought that we didn't.

One thing towards Detlef:
You have written in your post above (and in previous posts): "sustainable sanitation" aka "ecosan" aka "resources-oriented sanitation" - (aka stands for "also known as"). This is not true though. Time and time again we stress that there is a difference between "sustainable sanitation" and "ecosan". It is not the same thing (see e.g. Arno's post above). In short: Ecosan is completely focused on reuse, whereas sustainable sanitation (and SuSanA) is not.

See also:
www.susana.org/en/about/faq#Is sustainable sanitation the same as ecosan?

++++
Is sustainable sanitation the same as ecosan?

No, sustainable sanitation and ecosan are not exactly the same. The main objective of sustainable sanitation is to protect and promote human health by providing a clean environment and breaking the cycle of disease. In order to be sustainable, a sanitation system has to be not only economically viable, socially acceptable, and technically and institutionally appropriate, it should also protect the environment and the natural resources. Ecosan systems also strive for sustainability but focus in particular on one of these criteria namely the resource protection via recovery of nutrients contained in excreta and household wastewater and on their safe reuse in agriculture. Information and documents concerning the ecosan concept can be found here: www.susana.org/en/resources/library?search=ecosan

++++

Sorry for nit picking on this one, I guess it is my acadmic side showing here.
But please let's not say that "sustainable sanitation aka ecosan".

Regards,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 06 Sep 2014 15:12 #10036

  • AquaVerde
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Dear Elisabeth,

for explanation:
I try to look first what have approaches (and humans too) in common not what is dividing them. I do not care what is it called by names and pre-posted intentions.
Just out of life experiences, I care very simple only about their practical results (my "red thread" to understand better):
- Is it maybe good towards reuse (Keeping resources "alive"?)? Yes! Good!
- Going already step by step slowly in this direction? Yes! Good too.
Just very much a switch like I/0, but accepting grey's too, beloved complexities are most of the time very-very simple...

Additional "purism" do not help.
Take it maybe more easy )

Regards,
Detlef
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Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem? Too much ecosan in SuSanA? 06 Sep 2014 15:25 #10037

  • muench
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Don't worry, I am taking it easy. I am not losing sleep over it.

But one thing I do react allergic about is when ecosan is equated to "sustainable sanitation", because this is in my opinion important to differentiate the two.

If you equate ecosan to sustainable sanitation, then you can also say "a cat = a dog", or "a house = a car"... or "a pit latrine = a septic tank"...

If we don't stick to certain conventions of terminology then we might as well give up.
This is one of the things that confuses the hell out of newcomers to sanitation. I remember being a newcomer myself some years/decades ago and I remember being confused by all sorts of terms being used arbitrarily, everyone making up their own definitions...

This is the reason why people like Eawag-Sandec are proposing a glossary of terms, see also this discussion: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/53-fae...onfusing-terminology

That's why people refer to Wikipedia to look for the definitions of terms and so forth.

So, therefore I do pledge that mixing up ecosan with sustainable sanitation by saying "it's all more or less the same thing" is not helpful for anyone. It just creates a messy situation.

But perhaps I am the only one who thinks in this way?

Greetings,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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