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

  • mwaniki
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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?

Dear all

I have been following this discussion on ‘EcoSan’ very closely but was disappointed when the momentum ebbed suddenly without conclusion. That was a week ago and nothing has been forthcoming since.

Am interested in this because prior to the International Year of Sanitation i.e. year 2008, the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, Kenya launched the National Environmental Sanitation Policy in Nov, 2007.The implementation of the policy recognized that healthy and hygienic behaviour and practices begin with an individual. In reality, Elisabeth picked the conversation at a moment when it had reached a crescendo and as a result became uncomfortable by introduction of some new terminologies of toilet usage in this forum. Apart from that observation I wish to point out that the term environmental has yet to be used in the definition of EcoSan.

The other help to define the term is a visit to the revised edition of “Ecological Sanitation” co-authored and edited by Uno Winblad and Mayling Simpson-Hébert. Here the EcoSan concept is divergent depending on various locations. Different cases of the terminology are cited in various countries especially in south eastern Asia and there is also a discussion of EcoSan in urban areas in the handbook.

During the IYS (2008), the Africa Water & Sanitation in its Sep-Oct 2008 edition had the 'Emergency of Ecosan Solutions' in its editorial while Hagen von Bloh of then Gtz Kenya wrote on First Steps to Implementing EcoSan Technologies on Household Levels in the same edition.

But to sum up my contribution the work that was done by Christian Rieck, Heike Hoffmann and Dr. Elisabeth von Muench entitled Technology Review of Urine-diverting dry toilets (UDDTs) should not pass unmentioned.A summary of this work was published in the June 2013 edition of the Africa Water, Sanitation & Hygiene. These editions are available in our website www.afriwater.org .

When the authors were asked ‘Where they saw the challenges of the UDDT implementation in the future were’ the answer was very clear. ‘UDDTs have become better known of late and are now closer than ever to becoming mainstream.On the other hand, there is still lack of knowledge about them, while prejudices and controversies over technical details prevail among experts’………. The wise authors must have seen this conversation coming.

Kind regards / Mwaniki

Am the publisher of the Africa Water,Sanitation & Hygiene and the C.E.O. of Transworld Publishers Ltd.,Nairobi-Kenya.
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Re: Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem?

Dear Mwaniki,
I felt the same as you. I as well thought the (heated) discussion was very good and pointing to some conclusions and meanings and opinions (sure as always in these discussions some lengthy situations - but in general very interesting) and for me all these (now divided posts) points are together the ecosan discussion. I lost now the point where to answer as everything would have to be answered a bit but 3 threads at the same time is impossible to manage, therefore I lost contact.
So I don´t know how feel others about the division of an ongoing active thread.....is it better or worse... I think the most important readers are those of the moment ..therefore 1 thread is better than 3. From the point of an organized forum it might be better several threads... (probably this answer will be sorted out as well

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

Dear Mwaniki,
I think I misunderstood you and you misunderstood me. So I will try to make my point clearer.

I once suggested that this forum is getting out of control.

I don´t share that vision. I was complaining about too much control actually B)

that’s why there are several threads appearing in one conversation.

I think very often that it is natural that several threads appear in one conversation. and my point is that during exchange the thread in my vision should remain as it started, to make things easier to answer. When I am dealing with to lines of arguments about one subject, some might put it in two threads and I might think it leads to the same overall point, therefore separation cuts the conversation. (for me that was the case here for instance) Lets take the example of this thread. The Braunschweig aspect was separated -seems to be logic as it could be seen as separated. But this thread is named "Ecosan - what is it really? And what is the problem with ecosan? Is there a problem?" and I think the discussion about Braunschweig showed this very, very well (from the other extreme side - sewers are of the devil and sludge on the fields is = poisoning the world :evil: ) and this goes perfectly well with "only looners shit in a bucket and call it ecosan" :evil: or something like that.
I get amused (and motivated) with both comments, but my point is both are linked and should be discussed together. For one the worst about reuse is the contamination of industrial substances and for the other the pathogens - but both aspects related to reuse therefore to the main thread.

About

great length

Jürgen once wrote a good comment about the right length.

but because longer forum posts are often ignored. In internet slang, we also call this "tl;dr" (="too long, didn't read").

And really long posts possibly without any format I simply apply tl;dr .. therefore no harm, or only for the writer who did work, which is not read.

just to create confusion as a show off.

This is something which annoyed me as well, but I guess lately (one month) very well controlled ... isn´t it and in an open forum difficult do control without censuring. For me defintely the most difficult problem for the moderators.

I hope this got more clear?
Christoph
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  • ChrisBuckley
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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?

Responding to some of the references to the situation of UDDTs in eThekwini (only)

Urine diversion toilets (also referred to as UD or UDDT toilets) were piloted and then rolled out in the eThekwini Municipality as a response to the inclusion of large mainly rural areas into the municipal boundaries and the need to provide sanitation services to the unserved population. In the light of the challenges experienced by the Water and Sanitation Unit in managing the almost full ventilated pit latrines (VIPs), a different toilet system was considered to be the preferred route for a very much larger number of people. The cost of providing the sanitation services had to be within constraints of the government policy and subsidy limits. The ease of emptying pits was also taken into consideration. The dual vault urine diverting system was the end result of trials and pilot studies.

While inspiration was gained from the Ecosan concept, at no stage was the system referred to as Ecosan nor was any attempt made to promote the use of the two streams for agriculture. (Research on the potential for the reuse of these streams must not be mistaken for promoting the reuse by householders.)

The original intention was for the householder to manage their own waste (after a year of standing in the out-of-service vault) by removing the solids and transferring it into a suitably sited hole. The hole was to be covered by about 300 mm of soil. The householder was provided with a set of tools and personal protective equipment to undertake the task. During the period of the rollout of the toilet the household was visited on 5 occasions by a community health worker and instructed on the safe use, care and maintenance of the facility.

A quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) was undertaken on the emptying procedure and was presented at the 2008 WISA conference, Sun City, South Africa. (HEALTH RISK ASSESSMENT OF THE OPERATION AND MAINTANANCE OF URINE DIVERSION TOILETS IN eTHEKWINI MUNICIPALITY by M. Mnguni, S. Ndlovu, T. Gounden, W. Pfaff, N. Rodda and C. Buckley, 2008 - see attached below). Ascaris was taken as the pathogen of concern, and professional vault emptiers were the target subjects.

To date there has been a negligible take-up of excreta by the households for urban agriculture primarily because there is a negligible occurrence of household gardens.

During the passage of time, a solution has been found for the safe emptying of VIP pits and the contents can be managed with safety. The eThekwini Municipality is currently planning for the emptying of all VIP pits and UD vaults as a free municipal service. This should occur at scale in 2015.

The situation in the Municipality is dynamic. The influx of people to the rural areas and the growth of informal settlements has continued with an estimated 100 000 people per year. So the situation on the ground is very different to that at the start of the roll-out of the UD toilets. A new QMRA study is currently being undertaken by Rodda and co-workers. The Municipality was a partner in the Eawag VUNA project ( www.VUNA.ch ) investigating the recovery of nutrients from urine. Controlled agricultural trials are underway to assess the benefits of a range of excreta products.

In summary the eThekwini Water and Sanitation Unit is partnering with a number of organisations to investigate innovative sanitation services for poor people under the constraint of limited water supply and finances and mindful of the high unemployment and high prevalence of HIV / AIDS and TB within the population. The productive use of excreta is the goal. But until it can be proven to be sufficiently safe, this practice will not be promoted.

Chris Buckley
Pollution Research Group
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Durban
South Africa
prg.ukzn.ac.za/

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

madeleine - thanks for registering your clarification. So, apparently - at least based on SIANI'a definitions - not only have I been employing the "wrong" term all along to describe what it is I'm advocating for, but the phrase I've been relying upon is increasingly being used by industry in a targeted greenwashing campaign to mask the failings of our legacy wastewater systems. Great. How sad that we've allowed the term "ecological" as it pertains to sanitation to be co-opted in such a profound way.

Also, my overall worry is now heightened given that a word that's been even more co-opted (even more than "ecological") is "sustainable". Yes, even BP - the "Beyond Petroleum" altruists that we all know and love - wants us to know that it is striving for "sustainability":

http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/sustainability.html

Yuck. How frustrating that we're supposed to be OK with ecological sanitation being anything but.

Working from these two definitions has also made me rethink the entire basis of this thread. I am now totally confused. I thought the issue as proposed was our possibly spending too much time collectively promoting safe and sustainable alternatives to legacy wastewater systems (and the legacy management of excreta and washwater, etc.) but now I don't know what to think. What I do know is that I bristle when I come across any support - on this, a "sustainable sanitation" forum - for technologies like septic systems, sewers, wastewater treatment plants, effluent and sludge. So, I guess this translates into my opinion that this forum should focus only on real and lasting sanitation solutions (i.e. "sustainable sanitation") rather than "band-aids" (plasters) like "ecological sanitation". How odd to make that juxtaposition but I guess co-optation is like that.

Kai Mikkel Førlie

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

Well, look at it from this point: in countries with plenty of water (e.g. northern Europe) water is a quite sustainable method of transporting waste, especially when rainwater is used.

But you are right that industrial waste should not be simply diluted but rather treated at the source (as often the case in Europe), and that there need to be more stringent measures to prevent certain substances from reaching the environment (or consumers) in the first place.

But the real issue with legacy waste-waster systems is that they are way too expensive in construction and operation to be of any use in ~80% of the world, and that all too often they promote a "flush and forget" mentality with very little end of pipe treatment taking place.

Of course the nutrient cycling and all that are good goals too, but when looking at the huge need for safer sanitation in the world, I mainly see sustainable sanitation (as in dry toilets) as a model that is realistic to finance and operate in most of the world (and doesn't waste water in dry areas). I therefore think that there is a need to come up with a model that isn't seen as inferior to flush-toilets as people really don't like to be forced to use "second rate" technologies.

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

JKMakowka - Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

But while I can appreciate your notion of using rainwater to transport human waste I can't help but wonder if even this is somewhat misguided. After all I used to think the same thing - that those countries/regions/states that we generally think of as having plenty of water actually do - until I began looking deeper. For instance, I was shocked to discover that my own region of the world (the northeastern United States), a place I'd assumed is blessed with ample water - given the prevalence of precipitation and surface bodies of water - is actually experiencing water scarcity. Of course, here the rates of deliberate rainwater capture (rainwater harvesting and storage) are very low so there's a lot of room for expanding its use, but given our inability to manage the groundwater and surface bodies of water already available to us I worry that we'd ultimately exhaust rainwater too (were we to allocate it to sewers for the purposes of transporting human excreta).

And while I knew well that in contrast to per capita water usage in other industrialized countries (like Germany) our consumption of water here in the United States was totally unsustainable, what I didn't fully appreciate is how out of sync with natural limits our water consumption is - that is, until I learned that in nearby Rockland County (NY) there are actually plans afoot to construct a desalination plant on the banks of the Hudson Rover:

www.riverkeeper.org/.../waterf.../united-water-desal/

...and that elsewhere around New England (and the greater New England area) there are several other desalination plants already in operation.

Aquaria Taunton River Desalination Plant in Dighton, MA – http://www.aquariawater.com/

Swansea Desalination Facility in Swansea, MA – http://www.hdrinc.com/portf.../swansea-desalination-facility

Cape May Desalination Facility in Cape May, New Jersey - http://www.capemaycity.com/sustain.../WaterConservation.html

Keansburg Desalination Facility in Keansburg, New Jersey – http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/B3/20120328/NJNEWS/303280058/Keansburg-unveils-3M-water-plant?odyssey=mod_sectionstories

Obviously the existence of these facilities contradicts the commonly held belief that our region is a water-rich part of the world. Desalination, as you know, is an incredibly energy intensive and expensive (and polluting) technology that has historically been reserved for the most water scarce regions of the world (mostly desert nations). So, to find examples of it cropping up in my own backyard was quite ominous. And though I am just guessing here, I think that were we to undertake a serious review of the conditions in other similarly situated places (industrialized regions with unsustainable human populations, for instance) we'd find all kinds of corollaries.

Based on this reality, therefore, I don't think there's a place anywhere (at least in my own country) where water should be used to transport human excreta. We've proven that we can't be trusted with managing the basic elements of the process and so I worry that adding more water into the mix (in the form of captured rainwater) would just prolong the inevitable.

As for your assertion of legacy wastewater systems being, "...way too expensive in construction and operation to be of any use in ~80% of the world," I agree wholeheartedly and I'd even go so far as to argue that my own country should be included in your 80% figure. I base this on the fact that not only are we totally irresponsible when it comes to water usage but we're already having trouble maintaining our existing sanitation infrastructure (and we're yet not experiencing the full combined effects of the looming low-energy future and climate change). This is why I am advocating locally in Vermont for the kind of sustainable approaches that most of you are pursuing in locations throughout the Majority World (and in a few select pockets in the Minority World too).

In fact, my thinking has come so far that I now believe it to be flush toilets that are the inferior technology. This is so ingrained that every time I'm forced to use a flush toilet (which is to say almost all of the time) I am filled with disgust at the utter waste. The question I have for you, therefore, is do we need to devise an ecological/sustainable toilet design that's not seen as inferior to flush toilets (as you suggest) or do we need to open people's eyes to the realities that we all face and to the clear benefits of existing sustainable designs? I'm partial to the latter because I really believe that most people are looking for a way to do something positive and that with just a little encouragement these same folks could be convinced to embrace existing ecological toilet technology as a very effective means to this end. Otherwise, waiting for the "perfect" toilet design to come along might mean that we'll be waiting forever.


[End of Page 3 of the discussion]

Kai Mikkel Førlie

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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?

[Start of Page 4 of the discussion]

Chris Buckley - How wonderful to hear that the eThekwini municipality is moving to free pickup! This is exciting to me because not only does it further validate UD technology but it also normalizes and institutionalizes the surrounding practices. Household recycling rates (of consumables) shot up when my own city went to free curbside pickup so I can only assume that the same will happen in your case when it comes to human excreta. I see this as not unlike bicycle infrastructure; build it and people on bicycles magically appear (even where there may have been none visible before). I wish you all the best in rolling this out and I can't wait to observe the results, particularly if you are ultimately able to secure a safe reuse scheme for the byproducts - that's the real prize! :)

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

The irony is probably that you might be able to convince some people in the industrialized countries, but it is very unlikely to work in those countries still aspiring to be like the industrial countries. Thus at least as far as my line of work is concerned, only a as convenient to use design stands a chance in the longer run.

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

As Chris Buckley gave us some insight in his post above on the 80,000 UDDTs in operation in the Durban area (eThekwini), I want to bring this video to your attention that was just released by Eawag-Sandec (written and narrated by Elizabeth Tilley as part of her PhD research):



It is 6 minutes long and I very much enjoyed watching it. It is not your usual "my project is great" video but shows the people behind the data collection for the VUNA project which is making use of the UDDTs (and which is trying to further encourage their use by researching urine reuse options). More on the VUNA project is here:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/98-res...and-and-south-africa

The images shows quite well what is going on there, with a focus on urine collection and reuse (so far in this thread we have only spoken about the faecal matter and not the urine).

I liked the statement that Kai made above:

Chris Buckley - How wonderful to hear that the eThekwini municipality is moving to free pickup! This is exciting to me because not only does it further validate UD technology but it also normalizes and institutionalizes the surrounding practices. Household recycling rates (of consumables) shot up when my own city went to free curbside pickup so I can only assume that the same will happen in your case when it comes to human excreta. I see this as not unlike bicycle infrastructure; build it and people on bicycles magically appear (even where there may have been none visible before)

Interesting comparison between municipal pickup of faecal matter and provision of bike lanes. I wonder if this is true, very interesting thought.

Kris: I didn't fully understand your statement:

Thus at least as far as my line of work is concerned, only a as convenient to use design stands a chance in the longer run.


Would you say a UDDT is convenient enough to use or would you say that only flush toilets are convenient enough to use to "stand a chance in the longer run"? Isn't the eThekwini case living proof that a large scale UDDT system can work? Or would you say only in South Africa, not in Uganda, because the municiaplity is in better shape in Durban than elsewhere?

Joe mentioned somewhere above that the eThekwini example is not an ecosan example. I fully agree. And it is the perfect proof that a UDDT system can be sustainble sanitation without being ecosan (because no focus on reuse in this case). By the way, I purposefully call it UDDT system because we are talking here about more than just the toilet alone, it is also about the emptying, handling and removal + disposal.

The recommendation to the users so far (before the free pickup of the municipalty has been institutionalised) was to bury the dried faecal matter in their yard, probably under about 30 cm of soil (if I remember correctly). People were not advised to plants anything in that area, but in any case, the faecal matter is being returned to the soil where it adds organic matter if nothing else. So it's not reuse but it is in essence "closing the loop", isn't it?

And I actually think (correct me if I am wrong, Chris), that the toilet users don't use the urine and faecal matter in gardening activities to date not because the municipality has told them not to do it. But rather because they don't do any gardening at all and thus are not using any fertiliser. They simply don't have an interest in the fertiliser. If they had a need for fertiliser, they would probably use the urine and faecal matter, no matter what (just like those farmers in Pakistan uring raw wastewater and not treated wastewater to irrigate and fertiliser their crops with all the associated health risks for the farmers and consumers, see here in the post by Kevin:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/40-irr...d-fecal-sludge#10114 )

So perhaps it's actually a good thing (blessing in disguise?) that the eThekwini peri-urban residents are not into backyard gardening because it simplifies things - fewer health risks which have to be worried about and appropriately managed if the municipality deals with the dried faecal matter and not the users themselves?

Regards,
Elisabeth

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

muench wrote: Kris: I didn't fully understand your statement:

Thus at least as far as my line of work is concerned, only a as convenient to use design stands a chance in the longer run.


Would you say a UDDT is convenient enough to use or would you say that only flush toilets are convenient enough to use to "stand a chance in the longer run"? Isn't the eThekwini case living proof that a large scale UDDT system can work? Or would you say only in South Africa, not in Uganda, because the municiaplity is in better shape in Durban than elsewhere?


It was a pretty much off-topic remark, that we need to avoid a situation where UDDTs are seen as a step below flush-toilets on the so called sanitation ladder as otherwise they will be replaced sooner or later.

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

[Start of Page 4 of the discussion]

Elisabeth - In response to your question (and although slightly off topic) numerous well respected and oft cited studies worldwide have shown what happens when bicycling infrastructure is first brought to a community. Here's just one that I'm familiar with, (this one is focused on the US urban cycling mecca that is Portland, Oregon):

]https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/370893]

Of course the most obvious example is the Netherlands:



But not to be overlooked are the outstanding results of ciclovias in Latin America (and now elsewhere too) like the one that takes place weekly in the city of Guadalajara in Jalisco, Mexico:



[Disclaimer: I have direct ties to the production of this particular film.]

:)

Kai Mikkel Førlie

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