Wastewater reuse scheme in Braunschweig, Germany - is this an ecosan system? Is it good/sustainable?

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  • KaiMikkel
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Re: Wastewater reuse scheme in Braunschweig, Germany - is this an ecosan system? Is it good/sustainable?

Elisabeth - thanks so much for your comments and critique. And now my response...

You wrote, "It is just not helpful to be so polemic about this." It seems on this matter we'll just have to disagree. Recent examples in my home country like:

-- California (drought)
-- Toledo (cyanobacteria toxins)
-- Charleston (industrial chemical)
-- Detroit (water shutoffs)

…point to what I see as the clear and present need to at the very least (and on a large scale) isolate human excreta management from water. And to clarify, I don't approach my efforts so much from a place of (as you wrote):

"toxic sewage sludge is dangerous" so "we must all use dry toilets”

…as instead:

"our current water use is untenable", "we can't afford the systems we currently have" and "the systems we currently rely on are inefficient and ineffective".

Of course, the toxic angle of the story certainly makes for good headlines (which helps to get peoples' attention) but as you know there's SO much more to the story. What I strive to make people understand is that we desperately need solutions (i.e. technologies) that will not only stand the test of time but that can actually do good instead of poisoning us. But what I absolutely don't agree with is squandering public resources to prop up systems that we know for a fact will implode during the next man-made or natural disaster, or in the absence of one of these, in the face of our looming low energy future. If my stance on this is polemic then so be it.

That said, I concur that phasing out flush toilets is only one half of the equation and that the other "half" (industrial, commercial and residential washwater) is a major hurdle. But, to paraphrase another of your comments, we have to start somewhere and we have to implement these changes in small calculated steps. Because we get such a ‘big bang for the buck’ by removing toilets from the sewer loop it’s the task I've chosen to focus on first, followed next by onsite greywater and thereafter by rainwater harvesting and storage. I see no reason why these solutions cannot be implemented in rural, peri-urban and even urban areas.

But, in getting back to your notion of regulating industrial waste in wastewater, I urge you to read the US EPA Inspector General’s report titled “More Action Is Needed to Protect Water Resources From Unmonitored Hazardous Chemicals” that was just released four days ago:

http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2014/20140929-14-P-0363.pdf

…to get an idea of what we're up against in this country when it comes to tackling this massive problem. We are truly in the dark ages so I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that it will be easier to phase out flush toilets than to regulate even a tiny percentage of the toxics that end up sewers.

Sadly, in reviewing the aforementioned report, its apparent that little has changed since the US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its own seminal report on the matter back in 1996, titled “Dishonorable Discharge”:

http://static.ewg.org/reports/1996/Dishonorable-Discharge.pdf?_ga=1.226750557.1519011657.1412138430

And finally, yes, I most certainly do have a dry toilet at home; in my case, it’s a “Nature’s Head” UDDT. In fact, it’s the only toilet we have installed in our 220 square foot (20 square meter) completely off-grid urban house that we built from scratch ourselves. For what it’s worth, we also rely solely on harvested and stored rainwater (purified with the use of a hand-powered reverse osmosis pump/filter) that supplies – via marine foot-powered pumps – two sinks (kitchen and bathroom), a solar/wood/or alcohol heated hand-pressurized shower system (indoors) and a solar-heated gravity-fed shower (outdoors), a simple onsite greywater system, a modest 12volt (DC) electrical system powered by deep cycle batteries that are charged via a small solar array, and for heat and cooking, a marine alcohol-powered range, a marine cast-iron wood stove (with stainless steel flue), an insulated solar oven and a battery-powered woodgas camp stove, the latter two of which we only use outdoors, for obvious reasons.

You see, I too am a big believer in living what I preach. :)
Kai Mikkel Førlie

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
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  • Dena Fam
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Re: Wastewater reuse scheme in Braunschweig, Germany - is this an ecosan system? Is it good/sustainable?

I forgot how much I enjoyed reading this forum for the all the passionate posts! thanks for contributing Kai!

And I was thinking that polarising the discussion in regard to two main sanitation options i.e. sewers systems and dry toilets, disregards a whole range of other options in between that can potentially be more sustainable than existing systems i.e. vacuum toilets, recycled on-site sewerage systems, single building, community or precinct scale sewer systems...There is never going to be a one-size-fits-all option because not everyone will accept dry toilets as a viable sanitation system - whatever option is adopted it will have to be accepted by the community and appropriate for the environmental context its installed...

In Australia (where Im from) and California as you well know, water scarcity has been a driver for the emergence of alternative water and sewerage systems such as recycled water schemes and decentralised systems more generally. You're right in suggesting we cant afford our current systems (large scale water borne sanitation systems) but there are new, innovative business models emerging for water and sanitation systems, checkout this project and report my institute was involved in producing with the Australian Water Recycled Centre of Excellence to look at the risks, barriers and costs of recycled water schemes in Australia waterrecyclinginvestment.com

These are great examples of how not only business models are changing but regulatory frameworks are adjusting to support the development of decentralised recycled water schemes that recover and reuse water and overcome the issue of industrial pollutants. You might reply that some of these high tech recycled water systems are too expensive as well and that we cant afford this kind of investment...but I suppose it all comes down to how you quantify the costs, are you just considering the energy, capital and maintenance costs? or do you also consider the value of green open space as a result of recycled water schemes in your calculations...

I appreciate your passionate support of dry toilets and as you mentioned they may very well be more appropriate for rural and peri-rural communities (if these communities accept them - the issue of community acceptance hasn't come up in this discussion yet?)....but I don't think they're appropriate in every circumstance, and I doubt you will ever completely 'phase out' flush toilets (in Australia we're down to a 1.5/3L flush toilets and the use of waterless urinals which is much more efficient than the old 11L toilets - that's progress!!!), there are also other options for dealing with water scarcity, industry waste and economic costs of sanitation...than dry toilets

Dena
Dr Dena Fam
Senior Research Consultant
Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Institute for Sustainable Futures
University of Technology Sydney
Phone: (+61)2 9514 4950
Fax: (+61)2 9514 4941
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  • joeturner
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Re: Wastewater reuse scheme in Braunschweig, Germany - is this an ecosan system? Is it good/sustainable?

KaiMikkel wrote: joeturner - If it is as you say and there is an accounting, "...of these materials and the [associated] risk," then how do you explain the rapid rise of Class A sludge in the United States, a material that differs from Class B sludge only in that it has undergone a limited exothermic reaction? Existing regulations explicitly exempt Class A sludge from the restrictions that determine where and in what quantity sludge can be dumped. So, in other words, Class A sludge (and products containing it) can be applied anywhere and in any volume - the land-loading limits for heavy metals accumulation no longer apply. How is this an accounting of the dangers present in sludge? Again, I'm approaching this conversation from the point of view of North America.


Apologies, I missed this post.

It is a risk assessment and the US authorities have assessed the risks to health as part of their regulation. It may be wrong, I am not defending it - however there is very little direct evidence of harm to health of these systems. In contrast there is a lot of evidence about the partial effectiveness of dry systems. If centralised systems were replaced with dry decentralised systems, many more people would get sick.

Moreover, there's a growing body of evidence that suggests that sludge is anything but free from human pathogens (recall that we only test and control for a few indicator pathogens) and that it (and the infrastructure that produces it) is serving as a very effective breeding ground for antibiotic resistance bacteria.


This is true however centralised systems are an 'in progress' epidemiological study and therefore it is possible to compare the risks with other forms of system. It is very clear that however inadequate the central systems are at destroying pathogens, they are several magnitudes more effective reliable than any dry system.

I echo your echoing of my concern regarding toxics in sludge. Amazingly, at least here in the US, the jury's still out regarding the extent of the threat that's posed by the plethora of the industrial toxins present in sludge. But like the above, there's a growing body of evidence that suggests that these synthetic pollutants - the vast majority of which no one tests for and which are subject to bioaccumulation and biomagnification - are taken up by food crops and feed crops and that they also migrate down into the soil, enter the water table and/or flow into surface waters (thanks to erosion) likely ending up on our plates and in our glasses. In general, thanks to the corrupting influence of industry which has acted effectively to limit the amount of independent research that's been done to date (or discredited same), we're only just beginning to scratch the surface regarding what we're up against when it comes to toxics in sludge (or,for that matter, toxics in water). So, given this, I think its disingenuous at best to state that sludge is safe. We simply don't know for sure, but things aren't looking good.


Not at all, again this is a conflation of issues. The tolerance to risk in N America and Europe to risks from faecal wastes is much less than from other areas so we are concerned with risks that others are not considering because they have much more pressing risks - with obvious faecal pathogens. The risks to health of metals and toxins from faecal wastes are clearly managable and far lower than those from pathogens in faeces. If it was any other way, huge numbers would be seeing dramatic health effects from reused faeces from these systems. There is no evidence of that.

I think the facts do show that there exists only a very limited accounting of what's in sludge and that this is a deliberate action by regulators (which is curiously highly favorable to industry) in order to permit the continued dumping of this highly toxic material onto agricultural land and other land. Landfills and incinerators are expensive so government is catering to the lowest common denominator by essentially expanding the boundaries of our landfills to include (in the case of Class A sludge) basically everywhere. This is obviously moving us in the direction opposite from where we need to be going which is towards truly sustainable alternatives. And knowing what I know about the highly suspect industry funded studies that you allude to (that show all is well) and other independent third party studies which show quite the opposite, I am moved to err on the side of caution and to push for what by all logical reasoning are safer and far more lasting options.


Dry toilets are in no way safer than functioning centralised wastewater treatment systems even with the additional possible risks you highlight.

I will agree that centralised systems are arguably not sustainable but they are very clearly much safer than decentalised dry toilets.

Its important to note the following:

-- Dry toilets don't waste precious water like flush toilets do;
-- Dry toilets, assuming they are managed appropriately, do not directly pollute water - exactly the opposite of flush toilets.
-- The byproduct(s) of dry toilets, assuming that the pharmaceutical angle is properly addressed and certain precautions are taken to reduce pathogens, represents a free source of vital plant nutrients whereas the byproducts of WWTPs are basically a "toxic soup";
-- Onsite greywater systems mimic the natural water cycle, the opposite of what sewers do; and
-- Reliance on onsite rainwater harvesting and storage absolutely demands conservation which is exactly opposite from the effect that's produced by being hooked up to a pressurized (and seemingly endless) municipal supply.


I would agree with some of this however the pathogen risk alone of dry toilets is far higher than of centralised systems. Indeed, the only way that a few people can safely use dry toilets in N America and Europe is because of the centralised sanitation systems which stop the pathogens from ever becoming endemic. This would never have happened if the only toilets available were dry toilets.

Said another way, it seems to me that a person who not connected to municipal water and sewer but is the recipient of a targeted education campaign, is provided with secure options when it comes to the disposal of toxic substances and who is also outfitted with and reliant on a dry toilet, onsite rainwater harvesting and storage (or deliveries of finite supplies of water) and onsite greywater generally won't make excessive use of water nor will they tend to irrevocably pollute water or their immediate surroundings. This is in marked contrast to a person who is connected to a seemingly endless municipal water supply and a bottomless sewer. We still have the resources in the West that would allow us to dramatically reinvent the way we manage water, washwater and human excreta. We only lack the will.


Well I would agree but only in theory. Untested and unsupervised dry toilets are not reliable in terms of killing pathogens. I accept that there are problems with the sustainability of centralised systems but there would clearly be health consequences in moving from the existing systems to everyone using dry toilets.
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  • Florian
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Re: Wastewater reuse scheme in Braunschweig, Germany - is this an ecosan system? Is it good/sustainable?

joeturner wrote: If centralised systems were replaced with dry decentralised systems, many more people would get sick.
(...)

It is very clear that however inadequate the central systems are at destroying pathogens, they are several magnitudes more effective reliable than any dry system.
(...)

I will agree that centralised systems are arguably not sustainable but they are very clearly much safer than decentalised dry toilets.
(...)

Indeed, the only way that a few people can safely use dry toilets in N America and Europe is because of the centralised sanitation systems which stop the pathogens from ever becoming endemic. This would never have happened if the only toilets available were dry toilets.
(...)

I accept that there are problems with the sustainability of centralised systems but there would clearly be health consequences in moving from the existing systems to everyone using dry toilets.


Repeating it so many times doesn't make it any more true.

A sewer, a wastewater treatment plant, a dry toilet, many dry toilets, all can be very safe or very unsafe, depending on how it is done.

Large scale application of dry toilets in Europe or the US is a bit hypothetical from the current perspective, but I have no doubts that it could be done as safely as current sewer based sanitation.

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  • HAPitot
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Re: Wastewater reuse scheme in Braunschweig, Germany - is this an ecosan system? Is it good/sustainable?

Dear all,

Interesting discussion, indeed! Thanks to all of you, who have contributed! And to Kai in particular - we need fighters and people who live their ideas like you!

You cannot believe how much I have learnt to hate my flush toilet here in Moroto, Uganda. I am getting at most one hour of water per day out of the piped water system - and guess in what state my flush is! How much I wish I could throw out that piece of crap and replace it by an ecosan (I used to use one before, and it was working sooo much better!) But I fear the prosecution by my landlord if I did something like that... And damaged the precious flush! The worst of it all: I am the advisor on water and sanitation here in Moroto - but that's another issue.

But back to Brauschweig: From what I know, it is a pretty large industrial town. Wikipedia is saying the following about the economy of Braunschweig:
Braunschweig was one of the centres of the industrialization in Northern Germany. During the 19th and early 20th century the canning and railroad industries and the sugar production were of great importance for Braunschweig's economy,[42] but eventually other branches such as the automotive industry became more important, while especially the canning industry began to vanish from the city after the end of World War II.[43] The defunct truck and bus manufacturer Büssing was headquartered in Braunschweig. Current factories in the city include Volkswagen, Siemens, Bombardier Transportation, and Bosch.
The fashion label NewYorker, the publishing house Westermann Verlag, Nordzucker, Volkswagen Financial Services and Volkswagen Bank have their headquarters in the city. Also two major optical companies were headquartered in Braunschweig, Voigtländer and Rollei.
During the 1980s and early 1990s the computer companies Atari and Commodore International both had branches for development and production within the city.[44][45]
Braunschweig is the home of two piano companies, both known worldwide for the high quality of their instruments: Schimmel and Grotrian-Steinweg. Both companies were founded in the 19th century. Additionally Sandberg Guitars is based in Braunschweig.

So, it would really be important to know about what they do with effluents from industry, hospitals, etc. in order to even consider the idea of ecosan in connection with such a large sanitation system, however good it may look on paper. How is it regulated, monitored and how are regulations enforced?

Regards, H-A
Hanns-Andre Pitot
M.Eng. Environmental Pollution Control
presently in Seesen, Germany
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  • KaiMikkel
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Re: Wastewater reuse scheme in Braunschweig, Germany - is this an ecosan system? Is it good/sustainable?

If not even safer...no more multi-million gallon (or liter) accidental releases into surface waters of raw or partially treated sewage and even less of a chance of deadly cyanobacteria (blue green algae) outbreaks. Shall I go on? :)
Kai Mikkel Førlie

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  • Bhaskar
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Re: Wastewater reuse scheme in Braunschweig, Germany - is this an ecosan system? Is it good/sustainable?

Hi Kai

Would you like to add a simple fish pond to treat sewage.

You can use urine to grow fish, the way you are growing plants.
Clean technology promoter.

I am working on a clean technology product to grow Diatom Algae in large waterways. Diatoms account for about 25% of all photosynthesis on Earth and hence are the best solution to consume CO2, N and P and oxygenate water and feed fish.

I am a Chartered Accountant but am now an entrepreneur focussed on clean technology.
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