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


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  • JKMakowka
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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?

Ahh, this is going to be a fun topic ;)

Joe has a point that shitting in a bucket (or something else disagreeable) is all to often the impression the final "beneficiaries" are left with in many "quick fix" government projects involving Ecosan. Case in point the example that was recently posted from Namibia I think.

I can also understand that people get fed up with "experts" harping on and on about the benefits of sustainable sanitation, when for mostly non-technical reasons the approach has acquired a bad name in a country and can't be sold to decision makers and even the people supposed to use it (as partially the case here in Uganda).
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  • Florian
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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?

And the sector has its own crazy bunch of loons who want to insist that shitting in a bucket (also known as ecosan) somehow counts as treatment.

Haha, that is a good one! :lol:

The beauty of the term "ecosan" is that so many different things have been called ecosan that now basically everyone can just choose his own definition. If Joe thinks that ecosan means shitting in a bucket, well, that's up to him...

Now who are the looners, this is an entirely different question ;)

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


I want to pick up on a conversation that Joe Turner and Chris Canaday had last week on the definition of ecosan. It was in this thread, starting here:

It was in the thread discussing Brian's blog post about choosing the right indicators, but as it's a topic unrelated to his post, I have decided to start a new thread.

It started with Chris having an issue with Joe's statement (on his personal blog on 28 Aug. 2014: )

Joe said:
And the sector has its own crazy bunch of loons who want to insist that shitting in a bucket (also known as ecosan) somehow counts as treatment. It doesn't and it isn't.

(emphasis added by me; for non-English speakers: loon is short for lunatic which means a crazy person)

Chris then explained to Joe that ecosan (ecological sanitation) has a different definition than "shitting in a bucket".

He quoted the definition on Wikipedia (by the way, it would be great if someone could update the wikipedia entry on ecosan) as well as other definitions used by ecosan experts for years:

Chris said:
Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) is not equivalent to composting toilets. It is a much broader concept, very close to that of Sustainable Sanitation. :
Ecological sanitation (Ecosan) is based on an overall view of material flows as part of an ecologically and economically sustainable wastewater management system tailored to the needs of the users and to the respective local conditions. It ... is ... a new philosophy in handling substances that have so far been seen simply as wastewater and water-carried waste for disposal.

According to Esrey et al. (2003) ecological sanitation can be defined as a system that:

Prevents disease and promotes health
Protects the environment and conserves water
Recovers and recycles nutrients and organic matter

I agree with Chris on this point, and I am a bit disappointed at your response, Joe, where you state that:

I dispute the idea that solarization, heating and thermophilic composting are types of ecosan, which is short for ecological sanitation and is synomynous with composting toilets.

(emphasis added by me)

So you have decided that ecosan equates to composting toilets, or - even worse - to "shitting in a bucket" (with all the connotations that this involves, especially after saying it is the "loons" who advocate this - even though strictly speaking yes, faeces might be collected in a buckt for some types of toilets).

I just wonder which literature you are leaning on when you say that ecosan equates to composting toilets and nothing else? It is simply not true. Who has written that? Which experts or which peer reviewed journals? I would challenge anyone who says that.

Wouldn't it be better to accept the definition of those who have worked on ecosan approaches for decades?

A bit of history:

As far as I know, the term "ecosan" was first used in about the 1990s (or perhaps even late 1980s) by an NGO in Ethiopia called Sudea. They used it for urine-diverting dry toilets coupled with reuse activities. It was further used and defined by Swedish experts, some of which worked at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). SEI had a program, called EcosanRes, running from 2001-2011 where they did research on ecosan. GIZ also had a large program from about 2001 to 2012. From about 2007 (= foundation of SuSanA) and then 2012 (= new program name) onwards, GIZ chose to focus rather on sustainable sanitation systems and not on ecosan alone (meaning from then on less focus on reuse).

This is also further explained in the GIZ Technology Review on UDDTs (and a UDDT is not a composting toilet, and can be one form of ecosan; it may or may not include reuse activities):

(this technology review makes detailed statements about the safety of reuse, and - like you - says that the dry faecal material collected from UDDTs is in most cases not low enough in pathogens for care-fee reuse; it however advocates using the multiple barrier approach to reuse as recommended in the WHO Guidelines of 2006 - but that's a separate topic)

So with which justification can you insist on ecosan = composting toilets = shitting in a bucket? In the same sentence on your blog post, referring to people who are advocating ecosan systems as "crazy bunch of loons" is not very nice. Who exactly do you have in mind? The people working at SEI and GIZ? Or is Chris Canaday (for example) a loonatic in your view? Does it help our common cause to alienate people with such statements?

On a wider level, it still surprises me that "ecosan" is leading to such adverse responses from people. Time and time again I hear the comment that SuSanA is just "ecosan in disguise" (I guess this is because SuSanA was started - amongst others - by some people who had worked on ecosan in the past, e.g. Arno Rosemarin, Madeleine Fogde, Christine Werner, Arne Panesar). Even if this was the case, the fact that many more people joined later, who had no ecosan history, seems to be ignored. Of the nearly 4000 members of the SuSanA forum, how many of them are "ecosan purists" from way back? Not that many.

It seems to not matter that we stress time and time again that sustainable sanitation, and SuSanA, is different to ecosan, much broader, wider... Some people do not believe us. Even though you can already see on this forum that we have a range of topics here, not just UDDTs and reuse.

I have even been told that too many discussions on the forum are "hijacked" by people with an ecosan agenda (presumably meaning people pointing out that dry toilets (non flush) or even UDDTs could also be an option)? I don't think this is true but if anyone thinks it is, please point it out to me.

As most of us love this forum, let's try to be as inclusive of different approaches as possible. If someone feels that there is "too much ecosan" on this forum, please do come forward so that we can become aware of it..

Is there anything that we can or should do about this problem - if indeed it is a problem?


P.S. A related thread is this one from a few years ago where we discussed if the term ecosan should be replaced with "productive sanitation":
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