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


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  • Elisabeth
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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: and ). 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.

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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  • ben
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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,

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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?

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)
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