A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

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  • AParker
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A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Adrian Mallory, Rochelle Holm and myself have just published:

A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Faecal sludge reuse could promote responsible waste management and alleviate resource shortages. However, for this reuse to be carried out  at scale, it needs to be financially viable. This paper reviews the  financial values of resource recovery from 112 data points from 43  publications from academic and grey literature. The results found 65% of the existing literature is projected rather than being based on observed data from products in practice, with limited studies providing  actual experiences of revenue in practice. Some of the estimates of the  potential value were ten times those observed in data from operating businesses. Reasons for this include pricing of products against  unrealistic competitors, for example, pricing briquettes against diesel  fuel, or difficulties in marketing or regulation of products in  practice. The most common form of reuse in practice is agricultural  composting, which is also the lowest value product. Few cases were able  to achieve more than $5/person/year from sludge reuse, therefore other  drivers are needed to promote proper human waste disposal, including the health and dignity of citizens, but which are not easily monetised.  Certification and recognition of product safety can improve the  perception of value and products. Resource recovery has a limited role in the financial viability of providing Circular Economy sanitation in  low-income countries. Instead, there is a need to focus on supportive  policies and subsidies enabling the transition towards a Circular  Economy supporting environmental quality, ecological health and human health.

You can download the full text for free here .

We'd love to hear your opinion about it!
Alison Parker
www.nanomembranetoilet.org
Apply to study our MSc in Community Water and Sanitation:
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  • Heiner
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear Alison,
your attempt to find a good economic base and calculation for a nutrient circle between producers and consumers is valuable and almost impossible at the same time. My opinion ;-)
We all look for market prices since we have no idea for another solution. Unluckywise exact this market prices lead to the "earth overshot day" in August 2020. So there is something wrong with our whole macro and micro calculations. Up to now there is no proofed or peer reviewed theory which takes in account the daily damage to our livelyhoods (? Lebensgrundlagen..).

See this link where a city farmer makes a very different calculation when using wastewater:


So when the companies or foundations ask for a calculation before they invest in clean environment  and sustainable production, ask them if they want to be responsible to take their profit out of the destruction of our environment further on. Even if this is done with a clear calculation and 10 % profit on top......

All the best,
Heiner
Heiner, the old farmer.....
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  • AParker
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear Heiner,

Thanks for your response, I'm glad you found it valuable.   As we say in the paper, there are many reasons to promote the circular economy and avoiding over-exploitation of resources is certainly one of them!

Alison
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear Alison,

A research paper is not easily understood by a plain engineer. We work with the results coming out of research and normally do not question them. Different in this case as I am quite interested in the economics of on-site sanitation.

I have one specific observation on [51], ‘apples from Uganda’ on which I want your advice whether I understand it correctly.·        
  • Table 1 specifies that this project uses urine as fertiliser.·        
  • Table 2 specifies that all three criteria (collection, production, price) are from a real business giving it a Theory Score of zero (0)·        
  • Table 3 calculates the value of the produce at 320 USD/p/y
If above is correct, I am wondering why the value of 320 USD/p/y does not appear in Fig. 1.  I would think that all 112 data points from 43 publications should be contained in this graph.

Curious to get your explanation,
Ciao
Hajo
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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  • Adrianm318
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear Heiner,

Thanks for your feedback, and I totally agree with you. Our paper specifically only aims to review the financial value in the current state, as seen in the title. This is because papers, companies and policies have argued that Circular Economy can financially drive improved sanitation, so our aim of the paper was to test that hypothesis to which the current answer is no. 

As we say in the discussion "For environmental, health and social reasons, CE systems of sanitation are worth pursuing, as they drive better waste management with all the associated health benefits. Unfortunately, most of these valuable contributions to society and the SDGs cannot currently be monetised."  My personal take is that current economic systems don't account for climate crisis and soil depletion etc, and therefore the financial value of circular economy is limited. So instead of the initial promise and idea of the financial potential, we need to shift policy and economic incentives to recognise the health of our population and environment. 

Hope that makes sense?

Adrian
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  • Adrianm318
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Hi Hajo,

The problem with the example of apples in Uganda that you mention is that it's no longer talking about the fertiliser or urine derived from sanitation, but an extra value  addition process which makes it difficult to compare with fertiliser value. the apple sales would derive from a combination of: other chemical fertilisers, seeds, additional labour, land. This means that the value at the point of sale is mostly not attributable to the compost/urine whereas the datapoints in the graph are directly from the sale of the treated product itself. For a weak metaphor if reviewing the financial value of car engines, it would not be wise to then put a value of a full car on the graph? it's comparing apples and oranges (terrible pun intended.) 

Happy to discuss more if that doesn't make sense?

Adrian
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  • Heiner
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear Adrian and Alison,

yes, our thoughts are very similar and I'm happy about that. But there is this very long dusty road to go.......
Two things I would like to add: 
We (you and me) connect easily our CE approach with the sdgs. But when I discussed the 17 sdgs here with some young people who were not involved in "CE thinking" I realised they did not. And reading the words the 17 sdgs again I had to admit, there is no strong connection to our goals. There is definitely a lack of "ecological development goals" when you just the sdgs as the base of future development.

Second: I guess we agree when I claim: we can't repair the system with the tools which lead into our crisis. ( my favorite books to this topic are from Maja Göpel, e.g. "The great mindshift"). Thats why I'm very reserved when als sorts of calculations are made, using the framework of our common micro and macro economy. I think we should do more and trials and invite the scientists to accompany. We made so may "errors" in the past, time to increase the number of trials ;-). In this youtube clip I added there was this farmer at 12 min. and some seconds who just "did". I think he should get some help to improve the safety of his products.

Last: the standards and regulations of GAP are mainly made for exports.... Again they are part of the dominating food production system which lead to the catastrophe  we are in. I think we need more regional concepts with more courage and sensitivity to our environment. And long time nature proofed nutrient circles should be in the centre of our efforts and not be a thing which is to avoid because of a stigma caused by Industrie and City folks...

Hope you don't live in the city ;-)

Beste wishes and much success for you,
Heiner
Heiner, the old farmer.....
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  • hajo
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Hi Adrian & Alison,

Yes, I agree that it makes no sense comparing apples and oranges, i.e. comparing value of FS based fertilizer with value of fruits and vegetables grown by using that fertilizer.

Maybe this unclarity is a bit caused by the title of your paper reading ‘… Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse ...’. How do you ‘value’ the ‘reuse’: by the ‘sales price’ of the reused FS or by the ‘value added’ by using the processed FS as fertilizer in growing the fruits? The latter is very difficult to establish as you say rightly, thus, I assume your paper tries to work out the first.

But even beyond that I am very skeptical about the findings of your research because of the following:
[*]
[/*]
  • The results found 65% of the existing literature is projected rather than being based on observed data from products in practice, …
  • The most common form of reuse in practice is agricultural composting, which is also the lowest value product.
  • Certification and recognition of product safety can improve the perception of value and products.
  • The current evidence of the potential to scale and achieve such revenues is fragmented and context specific.
  • ·As business models in the arena of FS reuse are often young and nascent, determinants of value such as scale, input waste, marketing, political recognition, and certification are not well understood.….
Because of all these limitations, I feel that the conclusion of this paper which reads ‘The review shows that the promise of CE (Circular Economy) sanitation is over emphasised in the current literature and is unlikely to act as a driver for improved sanitation’  this conclusion is hardly supported by the findings.

I may refer you to the following paper ‘Vermistabilization of sewage sludge (biosolids) by earthworms: converting a potential biohazard destined for landfill disposal into a pathogen-free, nutritive and safe biofertilizer for farms’ where it reads
 
  • Vermiprocessingof sludge from sewage and water treatment plants is being increasingly
    practiced in Australia …  (page 873).
  • TheHobart City Council in Tasmania is saving AU$56,000 per year just from avoiding
    landfill disposal and earning an equal amount (about AU$55,000) from the sale
    of vermicompost to the public (Datar et al. 1997).  (page 879).
I think that Circular Economy Sanitation (ecosan, closing the loop) is not taking off because it is not yet appreciated (as by your paper). Current policy- and decision-makers are focused on up-to-date, high-tech and expensive state-of-the-art sanitation. Sustainable sanitation is only tried by NGOs on pilot basis (‘Pilots Never Fail, Pilots Never Scale’) but not on scale and with determination so that it can prove its value.

Ciao
Hajo
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein

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  • AParker
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear Hajo,

Yes, I hope that if we were to repeat this review in a few years' time there might be some better values to report, as more low cost technologies are scaled up.   But for the time being, there is too little evidence that reuse can be a financial driver for sanitation.   Of course there are plenty of other good reasons to process human waste in a circular fashion, but financial profits are not one of them.

Alison
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  • hajo
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear Alison,

for some Australian utilities, reuse is a financial driver for CE sanitation as indicated in the paper quoted by me. There are further samples of vermicomposting treatment in India (at least 50 plants of different capacities) with the aim of producing humus for soil conditioning and effluent for irrigation. These samples have not been reviewed in your paper.

Therefore I feel that your statement that the promise of CE sanitation is over emphasised in the literature is not well enough supported and will not help making CE a driver for improved sanitation. My concern is that your paper will be used by someone else as source document for another research coming to the same conclusion, which in my eyes is based on projected, fragmented, nascent evidence.

ciao
Hajo
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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  • Heiner
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  • Posts: 48
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear all,

due to the climate,  ecological and social situation in general we need very very soon  full cost accounting!  As I wrote before: all the other calculations are from yesterday and not at all helpful to get the cart out of the dirt.
And who if not the members of this forum should be the leading ones to such an innovation??

without much patience,

Heiner
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  • Adrianm318
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Re: A Review of the Financial Value of Faecal Sludge Reuse in Low-Income Countries

Dear hajo, 

I know the pandemic has bitten economies hard but I don't think Australia really constitutes a low income county? Which is the focus of the review. Circular economy is much more viable in places that already have functioning sanitation chains and regulatory systems that mean that there are disposal costs that could be avoided (half of the value recovered from what you say, but unlikely to be applicable in low income countries). UK recovers 80% of biosolids last I checked but the state has already invested in and subsidised all the surrounding infrastructure making value recovery at the point of treatment possible. The argument in low income countries has often been that the value of the product could drive access to sanitation where it previously didn't exist (not comparable to a value addition/recovery in already functioning Australian systems). On the India cases, we have literature examples from India and they are in the paper and I've worked on a paper looking at CE in India in more detail. There were models that couldn't access state support were about to shut down suggesting that the value of compost alone wasn't enough, and other examples of businesses simply throwing away the compost because they couldn't sell it. 

I understand your point about the limitations and we're quite explicit about it ourselves but these are the conclusions we've drawn from what is out there. Hopefully better data can come and start to inform costing things that matter beyond finance as well as heiner says. 

Thanks 

Adrian 
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