EcoSanitation: Trading “Flush and Forget” for “Cycle and Sow”

“Flush and forget” or “drop and store” are some of the most common strategies for human waste “treatment” around the globe. These approaches can be seen in massive sewer systems that exhaust effluence away from communities, septic systems that hide and diffuse material locally, and common pit latrines that simply hide and cover the waste. These methods do not treat the waste so much as bury it or move it to another place in the world where it may become someone else’s problem. In doing so, households and communities are missing an incredible opportunity to turn waste into nutrients that can improve public health and reduce hunger.

EcoSanitation is a closed-loop concept of sewage treatment that employs the planet’s natural hydrological cycle to close the gap between sanitation and agriculture. The hydrological cycle, a term we use to illustrate the paths of water between atmosphere, earth and oceans, includes the essential process of evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the sum of water transfer to the atmosphere due to evaporation (from soil) and transpiration (from the metabolic processes of plants). This naturally occurring phenomenon, which separates water vapor from organic material, can be harnessed to safely process the nutrients of human waste while supporting the growth of edible fruits and vegetables.

Read more: EcoSanitation: Trading “Flush and Forget” for “Cycle and Sow” @ Engineering for Change.

Think Outside the Sewer

“Shit can move on trucks.” [Read more…]

Dealing with Human Wastes in Uncertain Urban Environments

After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti nearly 1.5 million people in the capitol were living in camps without access to sanitation. In response to the crisis, international agencies installed thousands of toilets within weeks. However, the absence of waste treatment facilities in the country further complicated the sanitation response.

The first treatment facility constructed post – earthquake was a thermophilic composting site designed to treat the wastes from 20,000 earthquake victims living in camps. Despite multiple hurricanes, a cholera epidemic, and political unrest, the SOIL composting facilities have treated over 500,000 gallons of human waste in the past three years, converting it to pathogen free compost, over 10,000 gallons of which has been sold for use in agriculture and reforestation projects.

The experience of thermophilic composting in Haiti is unique in scale and duration and can have global implications for waste treatment in both emergency and development contexts. The simple infrastructure requirements relative to more advanced technological approaches allow for rapid implementation in the wake of a disaster. The infrastructure itself is not dependent on an energy source and materials for construction can be sourced locally. Additionally, the straightforward operation and maintenance facilitate locally managed repairs and on-going service provision.

Thermophilic composting of human wastes in uncertain urban environments: a case study from Haiti (PDF), SOIL Haiti.

Poop by the Bucket: A Sewer Catastrophe Companion

“This illustrated guide presents a series of graduated responses you can do to keep yourself and your community safe from disease during the short term and long term disruption of sewer services. It’s a solution for managing excreta that’s not excreting problems later. This flexible system is built around ubiquitous and freely available 5-gallon buckets and based on World Health Organization guidelines for excreta reuse. On two occasions it has been successfully deployed from available resources with little pre-planning.”

Poop by the bucket


Sewage, Toilets, and Nutrient Cycles for Dummies


Mathew Lippincott writes: “I read with great relish your new article on human manure. I’ve been working on a project along the same wavelength. There is a small group of people (including ourselves) here in Portland, Oregon who have really gone for humanure, and we’re organizing. Through ReCode Oregon we’re proposing code changes to allow for user-built composting toilet systems. My partner Molly and I just completed six posters on the the topic of sewage, toilets, and nutrient cycles. I hope you like them. We’re working to design composting portable toilets right now, and the lack of knowledge amongst most people on soil processes and nutrient cycles was making us crazy.”

[Read more…]