Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

  • BPopov
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Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Hello Everyone and Happy New Year!

I would like to initiate a discussion in Ukrainian media about the opportunities for decentralized WWT instead\together with traditional centralized one in Ukraine. Of course I am totally for decentralized sanitation. However, -- I would like to have more balanced views collected before stepping out as I am directly involved with promoting decentralized sanitation and therefore an interested person.
Ukraine is an empty field for sanitation at the moment. Only 3 percent of rural population has access to centralized WWT with the rest relying on whatever -- outhouses, leaking septic tank, straight pipes to the streams and so on. On the other hands WWTP serving towns are mostly in a very bad state since they were often built during Soviet times and worn out, undersized or technically outdated. Pollution of ground and surface water is catastrophic. And this in the middle of Europe (at least geographically)))!
My position that this is actually a very good situation since instead of copying and adopting expensive, energy consuming, non-recycling , cross-subsidised centralized WWT system of developed world we can leapfrog towards decentralized systems with source separation, local community based, nutrients and water recycling, integrated water management and so on. All the good stuff we are dreaming about and which inspires you and me.
However in my personal discussions I too often hear that this is a way too idealistic view. What I hear is that majority of people are too undereducated, reckless and passive to take proper care about their sanitation needs. Centralized plants are the only way to solve the problem. Either someone will come and build WWTP and connect people to them or there will be same no proper sanitation and same pollution.
But who will pay for that? EU funds like the case of Eastern EU countries? Ukraine is not EU country and probably never will be in foreseeable future. Why do no we rely on our own resources, common sense and latest ecosaniation knowledge? Why not to make Ukraine an example of eco innovations instead example of backwardness ? Back to the argument above.... People are not ready… Idealism… A vicious circle
Maybe a more spotted picture is needed. Maybe somewhere where communities are strong and willing ecosanitation is possible while major agglomerations need centralized end of the pipe plants.
Anyway I will be glad if some discussion happens. Ukraine is interesting place where we can learn a lot! Chaos bears opportunities for creative order!

Bogdan Popov
The Ecosolutions Forge
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  • phreymon
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Dear Bogdan,

Happy New Year!

That's a very interesting discussion topic, and I think both perspectives are right: there is a big potential for decentralised WWT in Ukraine, but it is also clear that one cannot expect every village or community to run its own WWTP properly. This is the biggest issue with small-scale/decentralised sanitation, and Ukraine would not be the only country in that case.

I've been working for five years on this topic in Egypt. There as well: a lot of potential, but many barriers. What we found, and was also concluded by other practitioners and researchers in other contexts, is if the wastewater treatment is decentralised, it still needs a certain level of centralised management. This means that you need to think at scale from the start, to be able to achieve economies of scale both in terms of implementation, and in terms of management. If you implement decentralised WWTPs in 50 villages, then you may have a small company in charge of monitoring, major O&M, and advice to local operators. This centralised management can be done either by the government, or by a private service provider. As mentioned by Kathy Eales for the case of Indonesia , "Scaling up entails more than replicating a large number of discrete projects".

You may be interested to have a look at our final report for the case of Egypt, on www.sandec.ch/esriss : Policy Recommendations for the Scaling-Up of Small scale Sanitation in Egypt .

I would also recommend the following report from WHO which provides case studies from Eastern Europe and Central Asia: Taking policy action to improve small scale water supply and sanitation systems. Tools and good practices from the pan-European Region .

All the best,

Philippe Reymond
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  • bowenarrow
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Perhaps the way forward is not sanitation but value. If it can be shown that the resource has a value with sanitation a secondary benefit both aspects succeed. It's ironic that such an idea would turn a decentralised system into a centralised system to achieve good sanitation and environmental outcomes.
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  • BPopov
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Dear Philippe!

Thank you very much for the response and for the very useful links to information! I will work through them the next days.
You mentioned very interesting subject - scaling up and centralizing the maintenance service for the decentralized units as a strategy. This introduces the necessary quality control.
It seems to me like real decentralized closed loop ecosanitation can exist ONLY when attached to active commercial agriculture production where the direct financial benefits on saving on fertilizers are observed and waste flows are turned into money. Basically we talk not about WWT plants but WWT farms. Can we expect that farm to provide maintenance for the “subscribers” collecting systems and include the costs into their product?

Bogdan Popov
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  • phreymon
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Dear Bodgan,

In my view, it really depends on the water and nutrient availability and costs, and the capacity of the sanitation system endproducts to actually meet the (large) demand of farms. I would rather see a wastewater treatment company/utility owning agricultural land rather than farmers owning and running a wastewater treatment plant. In Upper Egypt for example, the utility owns a few tree farms directly attached to large-scale WWTPs.

What do you have exactly in mind in your case? Small-scale sewer-based systems or a network of urine-diverting dry toilets such as done by Sanergy?

Cheers,

Philippe
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  • BPopov
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Dear Philippe!

I think it doesn’t matter what we call it a plant or a farm as soon as this is symbiosis of both. Trees growing on effluent in Egypt is great. What are the trees later used for?
I really like dry toilets with or without urine diversion but from my practical experience think their use is quite limited (unfortunately) People want flush toilets in their homes – that’s reality and very few would bother with installing UDT, change toilet behavior, put extra piping for separate flows, etc. Too much work, trouble and money. A mixed flow pipe coming out of house – that’s probably all what we have to deal with . I think it is more realistic to try to recover nutrients from that pipe. I see it like small-scale solid free sewer serving small neighborhood community and connected to the commercial polyculture small scale plant/farm growing organic stuff and animals and employing people from that community. Something like little Soviet collective farm))). The technology is probably septic tank at each yard or cluster and solid free sewer to the farm. Desludging and other maintenance is provided by the farm machinery which takes the sludge to the farm for composting or biodigesting with animal manure and agriculture wastes. Solid free effluent goes to the farm where treated through trickling filters (possibly vermifilters) with replaceable filter substrate that used later as growing media. Treated effluent goes to constructed wetland and then possibly crop irrigation in growing season or discharge.
I am not sure if this system would work for a city unless the farm is located on a brink of it. Or it should be a different city. But at least the above scheme can be a model for rural development plan.
Is that realistic?
Regards,
Bogdan

Bogdan Popov
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  • bowenarrow
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

From my experience in Australia as a manufacturer of Composting Toilets, the main reason why want waterless toilets is the fact that flushing toilets inevitably end up using drinking water to flush, and that this is objectionable. The second main reason for purchasing a composting toilet is a huge move away from inground septic systems that leak and contaminate streams and ground water.
While ever we just sit back and say that people "like" flushing toilets and say nothing about the downstream problems we are abrogating our environmental responsibilities. We at least should be telling people that there is another way, and a way of re-using what others call human waste.
Regards Ross
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  • BPopov
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Dear Ross!

You are 100 % right. We should tell people about the alternatives and promote waterless toilets in every possible way.
But unfortunately there is a huge gap between Ukraine and Australia about the level of environmental awareness you can rely on. It needs decades of economic, social and other development untill it somehow arrives here. So instead of beating our heads against the wall we might choose to do at least something during our limited lifetime.

On the other hand water toilets can potentially be part of non-polluting and nutrient recycling system. It's a challenge for us to offer those solutions.
Regards,
Bogdan

Bogdan Popov
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  • phreymon
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Dear Bodgan,

Difficult to say from the distance if it is realistic. It depends so much on the community and local context. What would be interesting as a first step is to estimate the quantities and characteristics of wastewater to be produced. This would help define the most appropriate technical options as well as the feasibility of the whole concept. If possible, I would rather go for simplified sewer systems, and avoid septic tanks or interceptors in front of each house. Basically, I think that one should go for systems with as little input as possible from every household, to lower the risk of failure. Then comes the question of enduse: who will use the biogas and how? Which area of land can the treated effluent irrigate? Are the farmers eager to cease land for this activity and maybe to shift to a crop that can be safely irrigated with treated effluent?

Reuse often implies adaptation and efforts, and the quantities of treated effluent and nutrients are often little compared to the needs. The right incentives need to be identified.

Best regards,

Philippe
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  • bowenarrow
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Morning Philippe.
The question of the need for treatment of effluent becomes much more reduced if urine is diverted at the source. This means that the valuable urine can be collected as a raw material requiring no separation at a treatment plant. I agree that treatment plants require a large area of land and the primary reason for this is the mixing of urine and solids at the source.
Regards Ross
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Dear Philippe!
Thank you for very useful input!
Probably the quantities and characteristic of average household waste water in rural Ukraine would be standard as soon as this household has the flush toilet, washing machine and shower
I agree that avoiding septic tanks at each yard make sense But what about the cost of simplified sewer compared to solid free one especially when pumping stations needed? Also frost protection issue during the cold season?
I try to base my suggestions for the small-scale farm integrated WWTS on what already exists to somehow develop it into sustainable system. What I see is that quite many village houses with flush toilets inside have septic tanks (or kind of them) in their yards with pipes to the open ditches along the streets to take the effluent away (eventually to the river). When septics got overfilled the sludge is put to the gardens – same done with the content of pit latrines. Use of human manure for fertilizer is in the local culture.
Another thing I observe is a big demand for manure from the small commercial family farms involved with vegetables growing due to high fertilizer cost. They travel around for 40-50 km to buy any manure including pit latrines content. The demand for manure is rising also since cattle population is steadily declining. The small-scale vegetable farming though is developing especially associated with glass-house growing
I think the right match could be small-scale WWTS and small-scale family farming. Then products and needs might be in comparable quantities.
Regards,
Bogdan

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  • goeco
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Re: Decentralized sanitation a way to go for Ukraine?

Bogdan, you're right, wastewater treatment isn't just about toilets, but all household wastewater. Water is always a necessary component, the issue is dealing with it.

Cost-efficiency is the single big issue with regards to scale. The only reason to go more centralised (bigger scale) is to reduce costs per participant. Theoretically the plant itself is more cost efficient but the sewer pipes do get expensive.

Then there are the products from waste. Products such as biogas require greater than household scale today, but maybe not tomorrow with technological advances? Products within the nutrient cycle might have different applications on a single household level compared with the community level...

Phillipe, I assume your preference for a "simplified sewer" is mainly driven by cost constraints for on-site treatment? What if a household system were available that was cost-competitive with larger scale alternatives involving pipes? One that produced no sludge, with no leachate contaminating groundwater or water courses.... A simple and reliable system requiring minimal maintenance, where the characteristics of the treated wastewater were of a standard suitable for irrigating food crops and rich in plant nutrients?

The golden egg? Nope, its horses for courses. Sufficient land is required to discharge to if the wastewater is rich in nutrients. No good in peri-urban Lusaka! What about Ukraine? I would suggest that in most cases there will be sufficient land with vegetation for households to discharge to in Ukraine...

The problem with fully centralised systems is one created by the very existence of cities. Lack of land. The cost of transporting the treated wastewater and sludge out to where land is available for cropping can be ignored because there is an alternative... treating the wastewater to remove the plant nutrients (in particular N) and discharging to the nearest waterway. Cheaper than reusing the nutrients on crops. Won't be a good look going into the future though, breaking the nutrient cycle is not sustainable into the long term.

I'm not convinced that simplified sewers without interception are the answer, maintenance is required which means management. That will be a weak link in some cultures, with failures imminent. Maintenance free is good. Intercepting the solids at the source would increase reliability and reduce cost of pipes. However, septic tanks are a ridiculously primitive way of intercepting solids.

Bogdan describes a highly risky approach to fertilising crops, using sludge from septic tanks and pit latrines. This will contain pathogens and will result in disease. The problem of FSM exists because most of humankind haven't found a better way of getting rid of their waste on site. One problem generates another problem. Yet vermifiltration offers a solution that is lower cost than the septic tank and generates no fecal sludge, only safe humus. Primary vermidigesters just intercept the solids and decompose them, so offer a solution allowing discharge of liquids into low cost small-diameter pipes for removal to a community treatment facility. Secondary vermifiltration offers a reliable low cost method for treatment on site.

The problem I see is that researchers are mostly unaware of the breakthroughs being made with this technology.
cheers
Dean

Dean Satchell, M For. Sc.
Go-Eco Sustainable Solutions
www.go-eco.co.nz
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