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

123k views

Page selection:
  • KaiMikkel
  • KaiMikkel's Avatar
  • Toilet Activist
  • Posts: 133
  • Karma: 3
  • Likes received: 55

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

Elisabeth - Your example of commercial composting operations accepting desiccated feces is exactly what I was getting at. Without the necessary infrastructure in place - be it adequate marketing, curbside pickup, centralized processing centers and farmers on board to accept the material or adequate marketing, bicycle lanes, bicycle lockers, workplace showers, etc. - then there's little (and likely no) chance for sustainable sanitation (or cycling as an alternative to driving) to take off in a given community. Absent this kind of 'visible stuff' all one typically gets is fringe groups operating outside the rest of society.

Its my assertion that all of these visible attributes serve to normalize any given social practice. My analogy of curbside recycling of consumer packaging points to this as well. Widely disseminated and brightly colored plastic bins emblazoned with the recycling triangle go a long way towards normalizing and stimulating the practice of recycling. Of course, it's not all that's needed but I would argue that its an essential component. Maybe this is why so many rural Westerners who lack door-to-door pickup go out of their way to purchase specially labeled bins (rather than make use whatever they already have laying around) to contain the recyclables that they then transport to the regional MRF (Materials Recycling Facility).

As for the fact that talking about urine and/or feces is not nearly as acceptable as discussing bicycles, you're exactly right. But its not like this is something we can't overcome. Like anything its just a matter of education. As you point out, the now permanent and very popular sustainable/ecological toilet installations at venues like Glastonbury are no doubt working well to educate festival goers about sustainable sanitation solutions. We just need to take it to the next level. And I would almost argue that the fact that we haven't typically talked about this stuff is more the hurdle than what it is we're talking about. For instance, until relatively recently we never talked about recycling or controversial issues like family planing or homosexuality. But now these are fairly common conversational topics. Put another way, we can sell people pet rocks so we can certainly sell them sustainable sanitation! Its just a matter of finding people willing to promote these technologies widely in the West (something that is starting to happen).

Examples in the USA like Eugene, Oregon, serve as beacons in showing us what is possible as far as promoting sustainable sanitation in the West is concerned. Similarly, the work already well underway in Sweden and elsewhere in the E.U. is also inspirational because it further proves that our fellow Westerners are not immune to adaptation. But again, we just need to take this much much further.
Kai Mikkel Førlie

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
You need to login to reply
  • ben
  • ben's Avatar
  • Water and sanitation engineer
  • Posts: 107
  • Karma: 11
  • Likes received: 57

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

Dear all,

Thanks for this very nice topic, bringing us far from the manichean views good ecosan Vs bad sewerwebs.

If I can add some rather personal spiritual view of Ecosan (I like joe's self definitionas "shit philosopher"). For me Ecosan means that we find a system that is giving us the feeling that we are part of an ecosystem.

I don't know if other parents felt the same but from my personal experience giving birth (rather witnessing it) was a huge shift from "we, human, are a so superior specie" to "we are just a smarter kind of apes". And many people asked me "What ?! You plan to re-use human shit" and I love to see their reaction when I answer them "because you think your shit is different from other mammals, that somehow it can't be treated and re-use the same way by nature ?". Obviously it can't because different mammals' feces affect the other species diferently, but I hope you got my point. When you defecate in a dry toilets and when you witness the safe re-use of it, there's a big mental shift operated on the place we consider ourself in our environment : Ecosan is not only about technic but I believe as well about a sensation and a perception of ourselves, human, in this planet.

I'm talking about because, through my company Ecosec, this is one of our raising awerness line : Dry toilet makes users actors, it changes citizens from poluteur to environmental activist, this is why it is a much more powerfull message than a flyer or a documentary on water scarcity.

Hope one day this line could be added to the ecosan definition.

Whishing you all a good day,

Ben
The following user(s) like this post: canaday, arno, Carol McCreary
You need to login to reply
  • Elisabeth
  • Elisabeth's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Freelance consultant since 2012 (former roles: program manager at GIZ and SuSanA secretariat, lecturer, process engineer for wastewater treatment plants)
  • Posts: 3372
  • Karma: 54
  • Likes received: 928

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

Kris: OK, then it's clear. Hopefully one day the comform level of toilets will no longer be judged only based on how much water they use (the more water, the more "comfortable" and therefore the better) but in terms of overall functionality – and if they are fit for purpose (and lack of smell; that's still key).

Kai: If we try to take the bike lane analogy further (I am still not sure if the analogy works) then there must have been lots of lobbying in the background for the bike lanes in cities in the USA before these bike lanes did appear (and lobbying to keep them in place, see current controversy about scrapping of some bike lanes in Toronto!). Netherlands was the "easy", exceptional case as it's so flat there that it's so easy to cycle...(or perhaps they also had exceptional municipal planners with great foresight?!).

However, maybe one difference is that the benefits of cycling are easier to communicate and hence it's easier to lobby for it than the benefits of a dry excreta management system. E.g. There is no shame attached with talking about cycling compared to the shame when talking about toilets and excreta.

In any case, political will (and pressuring from lobby groups) is crucial in both cases to make a change in established infrastructure setups.

But I think there are signs that things are moving in the right direction:

Take the example of composting: once the operators of commercial composting plants are willing/able to also process faecal matter (alongside the garden waste and kitchen waste that is already being processed), then this will open up another piece of missing infrastructure for dry toilets.
(see on the forum here: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/70-com...-sludgemobile-toilet and forum.susana.org/forum/categories/52-mob...mit=12&start=12#9977 ). In the case of mobile toilets at festivals there seems to be a trend (unless it is just my skewed perception from reading too much on this forum?) to move away from chemical toilets to composting toilets. And that’s in developed countries. So this could be a good start.

Regards,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Freelance consultant on environmental and climate projects
Located in Ulm, Germany
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethvonmuench/
You need to login to reply
  • KaiMikkel
  • KaiMikkel's Avatar
  • Toilet Activist
  • Posts: 133
  • Karma: 3
  • Likes received: 55

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

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
The following user(s) like this post: indiebio
You need to login to reply
  • JKMakowka
  • JKMakowka's Avatar
  • Just call me Kris :)
  • Posts: 1041
  • Karma: 35
  • Likes received: 358

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.
The following user(s) like this post: indiebio
You need to login to reply
  • Elisabeth
  • Elisabeth's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Freelance consultant since 2012 (former roles: program manager at GIZ and SuSanA secretariat, lecturer, process engineer for wastewater treatment plants)
  • Posts: 3372
  • Karma: 54
  • Likes received: 928

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
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Freelance consultant on environmental and climate projects
Located in Ulm, Germany
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethvonmuench/
The following user(s) like this post: indiebio
You need to login to reply
  • JKMakowka
  • JKMakowka's Avatar
  • Just call me Kris :)
  • Posts: 1041
  • Karma: 35
  • Likes received: 358

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.
The following user(s) like this post: indiebio
You need to login to reply
  • KaiMikkel
  • KaiMikkel's Avatar
  • Toilet Activist
  • Posts: 133
  • Karma: 3
  • Likes received: 55

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! :)
Kai Mikkel Førlie

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
The following user(s) like this post: Elisabeth
You need to login to reply
  • KaiMikkel
  • KaiMikkel's Avatar
  • Toilet Activist
  • Posts: 133
  • Karma: 3
  • Likes received: 55

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

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
The following user(s) like this post: Carol McCreary
You need to login to reply
  • JKMakowka
  • JKMakowka's Avatar
  • Just call me Kris :)
  • Posts: 1041
  • Karma: 35
  • Likes received: 358

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.
The following user(s) like this post: indiebio
You need to login to reply
  • KaiMikkel
  • KaiMikkel's Avatar
  • Toilet Activist
  • Posts: 133
  • Karma: 3
  • Likes received: 55

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

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
You need to login to reply
  • former member
  • Posts: 101
  • Likes received: 3

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.

++++++++
Note by moderators: This post was made by a former user with the login name ChrisBuckley who is no longer a member of this discussion forum.

This message has an attachment file.
Please log in or register to see it.

The following user(s) like this post: Florian, indiebio
You need to login to reply
Page selection:
Share this thread:
Recently active users. Who else has been active?
Time to create page: 0.293 seconds