New : The Sanitation Circular Economy — Rhetoric vs. Reality

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New : The Sanitation Circular Economy — Rhetoric vs. Reality

Sanitation remains one of the most off-track Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with 3.4 billion people, about  46% of the world’s population, still without access to safe sanitation facilities .

Approaches such as Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) have helped shift countries towards Open Defection Free (ODF) status. Declarations on achievement of ODF status in countries like India and Nepal in 2019 were momentous and politically strategic,  unfortunately multiple studies and assessments  show that millions of people in these countries are still defecating in the open.
One promising message that can possibly trigger innovations around the sanitation crisis — is that ‘shit’ is not waste, but instead a  basic resource for a trillion-dollar global industry . A circular economy approach of resource recovery and reuse holds the promise of human shit becoming ‘Brown Gold’ through upcycling into energy (biogas production), agricultural (biomass fertiliser) and many more industrial outputs, even (potentially)  fuelling shit-powered flight . In addition, huge amounts of water can be recovered from human waste, as faecal matter alone is 75% water, and  urine is essentially 95% water . All told, in India alone, the predicted market for  waste recovery and re-use is as large as USD$9–28 billion.

While these solutions are potentially promising, questions remain: are these interventions viable, and, more importantly, is this the direction that will solve the sanitation crisis of nearly half the world’s poorest population — who have no safe and sustainable sanitation at all?
Building on evidence from field research in India, Nepal, Ghana and Ethiopia, the  Towards Brown Gold project  highlights three key issues for urgent consideration in currently popular framings of the sanitation circular economy (SCE).
Authored by Deepa Joshi (IWMI), Lyla Mehta (Institute of Development Studies and Norwegian University of Life Sciences) and Alan Nicol (IWMI)

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