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An Environmental Audit
For Benedictine Communities

Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania
at Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force
About the authors:

This Environmental Audit for Benedictine Communities in Central and South

America was prepared under the direction of members of the Benedictine Sisters
of Erie, PA whose work with Earth Force, Inc. gives expression to the
Community’s commitment to Ecological Stewardship.

Principal author, William L. Bartlett, graduated from Edinboro University of

Pennsylvania with Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Mathematics; he has
been an advocate for environmental protection and human rights through his
work with various non-profit making organisations. Presently he is preparing to
spend a year serving as an Americorps volunteer working with Lake Erie-
Allegheny Earth Force, where he will continue to work with groups of youth
trying to implement sustainable changes in their communities. He remains very
grateful for the Benedictine community of Erie, and for his beautiful son who
was born during the preparation of this manual.

Annette Marshall, OSB has served as Director of Administration for the

Western Pennsylvania (USA) branch of Earth Force* since 1997. After twenty-
five years as teacher and school administrator in Catholic elementary and high
schools, she now enjoys sharing her love for nature and her commitment to
developing the next generation of civic leaders with school teachers
and youth leaders.

Pat Lupo, OSB has served as Program Director for the Western Pennsylvania
(USA) branch of Earth Force since 1997. Daily through the education of
teachers and students and in her personal commitment to local, state, national
and bi-national boards, Pat models responsible citizenship
and environmental stewardship.

Margarita Dangel, OSB has served as Education Director for the Western
Pennsylvania (USA) branch of Earth Force since 1997. Her position as a
summer camp director and assistant for environmental education at the
Benedictine owned center prepared her in many ways to guide youth and
educators to become actively involved in their community. Her goal is to help
young people realize that they are really needed in their community and that
they can contribute to finding solutions to environmental problems.


Cover image: “Web of Life” painting by Daniel Fallshaw
An Environmental Audit
for Benedictine Communities

William L Bartlett
Margarita Dangel OSB
Pat Lupo OSB
Annette Marshall OSB

Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force, Erie, PA, USA

This publication is funded by The World Bank’s Faiths
and Environment Initiative* with support from the
President’s Contingency Fund in partnership with ARC
(Alliance of Religions and Conservation)†

The authors would like to thank:

Joanne Robinson – Handbook Co-ordinator, ARC
Tony Whitten – Coordinator, the World Bank’s Faiths and Environment Initiative
Bekir Onursal and John Morton – World Bank peer reviewers
Richard Prime – designer
P. Martin Neyt OSB and Gisela Happ OSB – AIM, Alliance Inter-Monastères, Paris
Jordi Sánchez – translation into Spanish
IoL Language Services Ltd (Débora Chobanian) – translation into Portuguese

Published in London 2006

This edition is also published in Spanish and

© Earth Force, Inc. 2006


FOREWORD by Joan D Chittister OSB . . . . . . vii The health effects of air pollution . . . . . . . 18
What’s causing the problems? . . . . . . . . . . 19
ABOUT THIS MANUAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix What’s being done? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
What can we do? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1


Outdoor Air Pollution: Inventory . . . . . . 20
1. Vehicles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
2. Community Transportation Practices. . . 21
Environmental Stewardship in Benedictine 3. Public Transportation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Life: Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 4. Other Internal Combustion Engines . . . 22
5. Other Combustion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Environmental Stewardship in Benedictine 6 Ozone depleting substances . . . . . . . . . . 23
Life: Inventory. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 7. Herbicides and Pesticides . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
1. Prayer and Liturgy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 8. Community Tree Preservation . . . . . . . . 23
2. Ministries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 9A. Expert Environmental Information
3. Community Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Source. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
4. Community Leadership . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 9B. Expert Public Health Information
5. Community Resource Management . . . . . 7 Source. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
6. Investments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Outdoor Air Pollution: Evaluation. . . . . . 24
Environmental Stewardship in Benedictine 1. Community Vehicles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Life: Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 2. Community Transportation Practices. . . 27
1. Prayer and Liturgy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 3. Public Transportation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
2. Ministries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 4. Other Combustion Engines . . . . . . . . . . 30
3. Community Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 5. Burning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
4. Leadership . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 6. Ozone Depleting Substances . . . . . . . . . 31
5. Resource Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 7. Pesticides . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
6. Investments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 8. Community Tree Preservation . . . . . . . . 31
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 9. Expert Information. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

Indoor Air Pollution: Assessment . . . . . . 34

Overview of Chapter:Air Pollution, Indoor Air pollution—Inside . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
and Outdoor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Air, Earth’s Sacred Gift. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Indoor Air Pollution: Inventory. . . . . . . . 34
Combustion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 1. Types and uses of community fuel . . . . . 34
Definitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 2. Getting fuel; buying and gathering . . . . 35
Overview of Outdoor and Indoor Air 3. Fuel drying (for biomass fuels). . . . . . . . 35
Pollution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 4. Health and Wellbeing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
5. Smoking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Outdoor Air Pollution: Assessment . . . . . 16 6. Ventilation of the Kitchen area . . . . . . . 36
This Chapter’s Assessments . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 7. The stove . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Our Atmosphere: A Gift to be Preserved . . 16 8. Smoke extraction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Problems in the Air . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 9. Education, Policy, and Civic Engagement38

Listening To The Earth

Indoor Air Pollution: Evaluation . . . . . . . 38 Site-Specific Source: Evaluations. . . . . . . 61

1-2. Types, Uses, Costs of Community’s Surface water (A) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Fuel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Ground Water: Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
3. Fuel Drying . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Ground water: Dug wells (B) . . . . . . . . . . . 62
4. Health and Wellbeing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Ground water: Boreholes (C) . . . . . . . . . . . 63
5. Smoking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Ground water: Springs (D). . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
6. Ventilation of the kitchen area. . . . . . . . 39 Rainwater (E) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
7-8. The stove and smoke extraction . . . . . 40 Water vendors (F) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
9. Education, Policy, and Civic Engagement41 Piped Water (G) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41

Water Conservation: Inventory . . . . . . . . 69
1. Monitoring Water Consumption . . . . . . 69
2. Leaks and plumbing fixtures . . . . . . . . . 69
Water: Catalyst and Crisis . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 3. Water Provider’s Practices . . . . . . . . . . . 70
Water: The Catalyst of Life . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 4. Education and Personal Habits . . . . . . . 70
Water: Global Crisis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 5. Using Greywater. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
Uses and Abuses of Water Resources . . . . . 46
Assessment of Community Practices . . . . . 47 Water Conservation: Evaluation . . . . . . . 70
1. Monitoring Water Consumption . . . . . . 70
Drinking Water Quality and Source 2. Leaks and plumbing fixtures . . . . . . . . . 71
Protection: Inventory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 3. Water Provider’s Practices . . . . . . . . . . . 71
1. Main Drinking Water Source . . . . . . . . . 47 4. Education and Personal Habits . . . . . . . 72
2. Potential sources of pollution: . . . . . . . . 48 5. Using Greywater. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
3. NGO involvement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
4. Community Water Governance . . . . . . . 49 46 Ways of Saving Water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
5. Water Quality Testing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Saving Water Outdoors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
6. Water Treatment by the Community . . . 49 General Water Saving Tips. . . . . . . . . . . . . 75


7. Water Storage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50

Drinking Water Quality and Source

Protection: Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Overview: Sanitation, Municipal Waste, and
1. Water sources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Hazardous Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
2. Water Source Pollution Hazards . . . . . . 51
3. Water resource protection committee . . 52 Community Excreta Handling and
4. Water Governance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 Sanitation: Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
5. Water quality testing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Ecological Sanitation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
6. Water Treatment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 Sanitation and Population Explosion: A
7. Water handling. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Deadly Mix? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Excreta: Environmental Pollutant and Health
Hazard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Site-Specific Source: Assessment . . . . . . . 57 Sewered Sanitation Technology: Problematic
A Surface Water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 and Unsustainable . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
B Dug Well . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Sustainable Approach to Sanitation, and this
C1 Borehole: Deep with Mechanized Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
Pumping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
C2 Borehole with Handpump . . . . . . . . . . 58 Community Excreta Handling and
D Spring . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Sanitation: Inventory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
E Rainwater Collection and Storage . . . . . 59 1. Mix or No-Mix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
F Vendors (Tanker Trucks) . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 2. Soil conditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
G Piped Water (General) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 3. Characteristics of Sanitation System: . . 82
G1 Piped Water (from Storage Tank) . . . . 60 4. Resource Recovery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
G2 Piped Water (from Water Provider) . . 60 5. Sewer Network . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
6. Waste Water Treatment . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84

7. Hygiene Behavior . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 1. Community Waste Generation Survey 118
8. General Sanitation Practices . . . . . . . . . 85 2. Community’s Practice for Solid Waste
Collection and/or End-Disposal . . . . . . . . 119
Community Excreta Handling and 3. Solid Waste Collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
Sanitation: Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 4. Recycling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
1. Mix or No-Mix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 5. Land Disposal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
2. Soil Conditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86 6. Seeking Expert Information . . . . . . . . . 125
3. General Characteristics of Sanitation 7. Cleaning of Public Areas . . . . . . . . . . . 126
System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86 8. Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
3i. Characteristics of Sanitation System: Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
Plumbing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
3ii. Characteristics of Sanitation System: Hazardous Products and Wastes:
Components . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94 Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
3iii. Characteristics of Sanitation System: An Overview of this Assessment . . . . . . . 129
Emptying . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 What is Hazardous Waste? . . . . . . . . . . . 129
Evaluation of Sanitation Facilities (3-3iii) . 97 How Hazardous Waste Affects Health. . . 130
4. Resource Recovery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 How Hazardous Waste Affects the
5. Sewer Network. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 Environment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
6. Wastewater Treatment . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101 What needs to be done? . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
7. Hygienic Behaviors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103 Your Community’s Responsibility . . . . . . 133
8. General Sanitation Practices . . . . . . . . 103
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104 Hazardous Products and Wastes Handling:
Inventory. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Community Solid Waste Management: 1. Hazardous Product Survey. . . . . . . . . . 133
Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 2. Hazardous Product Handling. . . . . . . . 134
Preserving the Gifts of Garbage . . . . . . . . 105 3. Quantities and Priorities . . . . . . . . . . . 135
The Inherent Dangers of Solid Waste . . . 105 4. Legislative Policy Framework and Regional
The Waste Crisis: A Burden Borne by the Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
Poor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
Contributions to the Mismanagement of Hazardous Products and Wastes Handling:
Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109 Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
What’s Being Done? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109 1-2. Hazardous Product Inventory and
Community Action. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 Handling. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
3. Quantities and Priorities . . . . . . . . . . . 149
Community Solid Waste Management: 4. Legislative Policy Framework and Regional
Inventory. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149
1. Community Waste Generation Survey 110 Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150

2. Community Waste Collection and
Disposal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
3. Solid Waste Collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
4. Recycling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113 Energy: The Animation of the Universe 155
5. Land Disposal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114 Properties of Energy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
6A. Waste Handling Workers or Workers’ Many Forms of Energy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
Association . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 Electricity, a Special Form of Energy . . . . 156
6B. Governmental Regulatory Agency . . . 116 Electricity: Modern ‘Utility’ . . . . . . . . . . . 156
6C. Environmental Information Source . . 116 The Grid and Social Inequality . . . . . . . . 157
6D. Expert Public Health/Safety Producing Electricity, Creating
Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116 Catastrophes? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
7. Cleaning of Public Areas . . . . . . . . . . . 117 Sustainable Alternatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
8. Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117 Keeping Energy Sacred . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

Community Solid Waste Management: Electricity Production Practices:

Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118 Inventory. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160

Listening To The Earth

1 Community Consumption . . . . . . . . . . 160 4. Refrigeration and Freezing . . . . . . . . . . 176

2 Community Generative Potential . . . . . 160 5. Water Heating . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
3 Community Generative Practices . . . . . 160 6. Lighting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177
4. Sources of Expert Information . . . . . . . 161 7. Electric Motors and Pumps . . . . . . . . . 177
5. Electricity Provider Governance. . . . . . 162 8. General Conservation Practices . . . . . . 177
6. Public and Environmental Safety. . . . . 163
7. Provider Quality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163 Electricity/Energy Conservation:
8. Community Practices and Education . . 163 Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 178
1. Community Energy Use . . . . . . . . . . . . 178
Electricity Production Practices: 2. Air Conditioning/Cooling . . . . . . . . . . . 178
Evaluation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164 3. Air/Space Heating . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
1. Community Consumption . . . . . . . . . . 164 4. Refrigeration and Freezing . . . . . . . . . . 181
2. Community Generative Potential. . . . . 164 5. Water Heating . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182
3. Community Generative Practices. . . . . 165 6. Lighting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
4. Sources of Expert Information . . . . . . . 169 7. Electric Motors and Pumps . . . . . . . . . 183
5. Electricity Provider Governance. . . . . . 169 8. General Conservation Practices . . . . . . 184
6. Public and Environmental Safety. . . . . 170 Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184


7. Provider Quality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
8. Community Practices and Education . . 171
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172 ACTION PLAN
Prioritizing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
Conservation Practices: Inventory. . . . . 173 Evaluating Options. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
1. Community Energy Use . . . . . . . . . . . . 173 Generating an Action Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . 189
2. Air Conditioning/Cooling . . . . . . . . . . . 173
3. Air/Space Heating . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174 Appendix: General Resources . . . . . . . . . . 190

A Benedictine Consciousness
Whose Time Has Come—Again
by Joan D. Chittister OSB

f you are wondering why you are even considering such a thing as an ‘environmental audit’ in

I a life that seems so removed from such processes, consider the time in which you live.

There are two moments in history when Benedictinism has been needed in a very special way:
the first was in the 6th century; the second is now.
In the 6th century, Europe was reeling from the loss of civil order and the breakdown of
agrarian communities. Farm lands lay in ruin from the movement of foreign invaders across
Europe, trade routes were unsafe with the loss of the Roman Legions and the countryside was left
overgrown and in ruins.
To that sorry state, Benedictinism brought a new system of order, a new pattern of life, a new
commitment to the land and to life. Almost 700 years later, Cistercian groups again devoted
themselves to the reforestation, the replanting and the reclamation of some of the worst land in
As a result of those conscious efforts, Europe became a garden again. Life thrived. People
organized themselves into productive communities. Agriculture flourished everywhere.
Now, in this last century, our own century, after over 100 years of erosion, pollution, and the
diminishment of natural resources by most unnatural means, the whole world is becoming alert
to the relationship between the gift of creation and sins against creation again.
The garden we were given to live in as a people, we have failed to tend. The solemn
commitment we made as a species to steward the fruits of the earth we have failed to honor.
On the contrary. We have all taken it for granted, even while it was being plundered right in
front of our eyes.
The industrial revolution that made the robber barons rich also made the globe poor: We
poisoned our fresh waters and drowned them in tin cans and coffee cups. We wasted our forests
and drained the world of their medicinal herbs. We turned farmland into grazing land to make
cheap hamburgers and so denied the people of the land, the very land they needed to live. We
belched gasses into the atmosphere till people died from the lack of fresh air. We saturated our
farmlands with chemicals which, in the end, ironically, bled them dry of nutrients. We stripped
the globe of whole species of animals. We dealt carelessly, recklessly, heedlessly and arrogantly
with the very resources that sustained us.
Now, we find ourselves locked in mortal struggle between those who are trying to redeem those
resources and those who are simply committed to making even more quick money on what’s left
of them. We find ourselves faced with those whose philosophy of life is “after me the deluge,”—
who use what’s available without restraint and leave the problem of scarcity to generations to
come—and those who simply fail to understand the magnitude of the problem and so go on
blindly, using what we should be saving, destroying what we cannot do without.
Time is of the essence; the future is at stake. We are choosing between a philosophy of
consumption that gobbles up the world for its own satisfaction and a philosophy of co-creation
that is committed to preserving natural resources for the sake of those to come.

Listening To The Earth

We are choosing now between those who are willing to drain the present for the sake of
personal gratification and those who, loving the present, love it enough to preserve its richness
for the sake of the future, as well.
Clearly the whole world needs Benedictinism again, needs a mindset that cares for the tools of
life “as if they were vessels of the altar.” We need a sense of balance, of enoughness, of
stewardship and a sense of the eternal presence of God. We need a life lived in harmony with the
seasons, the sun, the self and the other.
For Benedictines, an environmental audit is not a fad. It is not a social nicety. It is certainly
not an option. It is simply a contemporary manifestation of an ancient commitment to the
rhythm of the earth, the needs of the community and the God of Creation.
Congratulations to those who see its sacramental value, its claim to the Benedictine heart.
They shall be called blessed for centuries to come, just as our ancestors before us.

About This Manual

Intentions municipality, or town is implied, the word

“community” will be qualified with adjectives such
his manual was assembled specifically for as “larger” or “greater.”

T Benedictine religious communities in the

Latin American and Caribbean (LAC)
region. Nevertheless, the majority of the manual’s

content can easily be applied to any population, The following controversial presumptions underlie
especially those living in the LAC region. While the content of this manual:
most of the explanatory text focuses on the
conditions of the LAC region, the main 1) That a respect for Creation, or reverence for
environmental principles that underlie the the environment to which we are
regional—specific information are applicable to intrinsically connected, is an essential
any region of the world. It was intended that this spiritual attitude.
manual be as broad as possible, give attention to 2) That industries, governments, and
both rural and urban environments, but address municipal operations (like water suppliers,
only those issues that can be affected by the trash haulers, etc) should be operated in a
actions of ordinary citizens. transparent and democratic manner; that is,
The main intentions of this manual are to (1) that citizens should both be able to know
educate the reader about environmental problems how a system is operating and be able to
and crises being faced by the world’s populations directly influence the operation.
today, (2) to provide the communities that utilize 3) Best practices are those that minimize or
the manual with a means of assessing how their eliminate adverse environmental impacts.
daily practices may contribute to these problems, 4) That despite the enormity of the
and (3) offer ideas and resources regarding better environmental problems being faced—
practices. which are often large enough and serious
Thus, each subject area consists of three enough to be called crises—there is still
segments: an introduction, an inventory, and an hope that future generations may still live
evaluation. The introductions provide background on this earth, and thus that actions we take
information about the subjects at hand, including today can make a difference.
the scope and importance of the problems, and
how individuals’ actions contribute to the Guidance for using this manual
problems. The inventories, then, are series of
questions which are suggested approaches to For ease of understanding, it is recommended that
inventorying the behaviors of community the introductory material—contained in the
members. Lastly, each suggested inventory is Preface and Introduction—is read in its entirety
followed by an evaluation section that provides before reading the main text. It should be noted
more information specific to the questions asked in that the chapters in the main text are not
the inventory sections. organized in a chronological or methodological
order; that is to say that the chapters may be used
Terminology in any order. The last chapter, “Developing an
Action Plan,” is intended to help guide
Since this manual was written specifically for communities into a decision making and action
religious communities, throughout the work, the planning process after conducting one or more
word “community” will often be used. When the inventories. Thus, this chapter can be read as soon
word is left unqualified, it may be assumed that the as the community is ready to take action. The
referent of the word is your religious, or intentional resources found in the appendix can be used
community. If the larger population of a barrio, throughout the process. It is recommended that

Listening To The Earth

you review the appendix before beginning the work thus the entirety of available Spanish
of the audit so that you may be familiar with the literature was not utilized, with very few
resources available to you in your work. exceptions.
As mentioned before, each chapter begins with 2) The inventories are intended to analyze the
an introduction section that provides background practices that are shared in a general way
information about the subject at hand. Following by the population of the LAC region. As
the introduction are one or more assessments such, they do not adequately account for
which focus upon a particular set of practices. The the vast diversity of living conditions
assessments will vary in their applicability to an encountered throughout this region. Thus,
individual community’s characteristics, and a each inventory can at best be considered a
community can choose which assessments it will suggested list of questions to ask. This work
perform. Nevertheless, it is recommended that an in no way can make a claim to provide a
entire chapter be read over completely before thorough analysis of a community’s total
making the decision, as some parts of an contribution to environmental pollution.
assessment may be found to apply even when most 3) The majority of entries provided in the
of it does not. appendix unfortunately assume that
internet connectivity is available. As well,
Content sources and acknowledgements there is an overabundance of English
This manual was mainly edited in the United
States by an English speaking editor. It was Nevertheless, the amount of information
composed primarily with resources publicly provided by numerous citizens, agencies,
available on the Internet, and all attempts have industries, and governments around the world that
been made to acknowledge the actual sources used. is pertinent to the environment of LAC is truly
(See the Endnotes.) amazing and beautiful. Much gratitude is given by
Given these characteristics, there are several the authors of this manual to all those working
weaknesses to the manual which suggest possible towards a sustainable future, especially those that
improvements. The three most important publish their material for the benefit of all
weaknesses, in the authors opinion are: humanity.

1) The resources used were written in English, Un otro mundo es posible!

Steps to a Successful Environmental Program

ongratulations for your environmental Guidelines for Establishing a Successful

C stewardship! The very fact that you are

reading this publication is evidence that
your community has within it a seed for improving
Environmental Program

1. Create a team or committee to take charge

your community’s environmental practices. of the work of the Environmental Program.
Hopefully, like you, your religious community has In general, the best way to approach the
the will to live sustainably; nevertheless it takes implementation of an Environmental Program in
more than just will-power to achieve this, and the your community is to form a team that is
intention of this publication is to help you go responsible for carrying out the work of the audit,
further. assessing the results, producing ecological
In our present world, it is becoming ever more alternatives, and then helping the community to
important that communities adopt a sustainable implement the changes. Perhaps this work may
manner of life that is in harmony with nature and begin with one or more motivated individuals in
not opposed to it. Today, in all countries, we are your community who would like to increase the
facing the grievous effects of atmospheric environmental stewardship of your community, or
degradation, water pollution, and soil depletion. maybe it begins with a directive from above; but
Aside from upsetting the intricate balances found whatever provides the initial impetus for the
within God’s creation, we are now finding that project, it is important that there is an identifiable
chronic, debilitating, and often fatal, human head or executive member of the project. Besides
diseases are on the rise. And it is our day-to-day the executive member, it is important that
habits that make the greatest contribution to the representatives from each department or service
ongoing ecological devastation. branch of your community serve on the committee
To get the most out of this manual, it is (e.g. housekeeping, administration, grounds-
recommended that your community establish an keeping, ministries, etc…) Beyond this, any other
ongoing Environmental Program. An interested members of the community can
Environmental Program implies that there is a volunteer to serve on the committee.
team of people that are charged with the oversight
of community environmental practices. This team, Characteristics of an Environmental Program Team
or committee, ensures that your community’s • Leadership: Someone in charge and
practices are continually moving towards accountable for the Program
improving the relationship between your • Regular Communication: Hold regularly
community and the Earth. Hopefully, with the scheduled meetings to discuss progress and
resources found herein, you will be able to assess share new information or ideas
your community’s ecological impact, find policies • Recordkeeping: Record meetings,
and practices that need to be changed, and gain discussions, and progress
ideas for more sustainable alternatives. The goal of • Shared vision: Develop and share a vision
a successful Environmental Program is to change of what your community will look like at
your community’s practices in a permanent the height of ecological stewardship.
manner. This requires thoughtful analysis, • Consensus: Cooperative decision-making to
evaluation, and planning by a dedicated ensure a unified orientation
committee. • Longevity: Maintain the Program’s team to
continue progress

Listening To The Earth

The committee should begin by establishing present your findings to the community at large for
common ground by agreeing to fundamental their input in prioritizing. Practices that were
principles that will guide the work of the program found to be critically important or dangerous
(e.g. a respect for Creation), and then extrapolating should, of course, be addressed first if possible.
these principles into a shared vision of what your
community could achieve someday if it were to Once your team has assessed your community’s
realize all these principles in everyday practices. present practices, has established relationships
with people or agencies that can further your
2. Community Environmental Inventory understanding of issues and alternatives, and has
The next major task of the team is to identify your established priorities, you are ready to give serious
community’s environmental problems or threats consideration to alternative courses of action and
and related community information, including its their potential consequences. Your team should
strengths. This is the step where your team gains develop a list of alternatives solutions to any one
awareness and creates visions: i.e. seeing “what is” problem. In creating this list, the rationale,
and “what can be” more clearly, in terms of beneficial impacts, expected difficulties, costs, and
environmental risks and sustainable development. measurability of each alternative should be
This is the step in which the chapters that follow included for analysis. Once this list is generated
can be utilized most effectively. your team may wish to consult with the entire
In addition, it is recommended that you community and/or outside experts, for help in
identify and analyze relevant public and private deciding which alternative to choose.
policies in addition to your community’s policies
and practices. Examine who makes policy and how, Characteristics of a Reasonable Option for Action
and strive to understand different perspectives on • Compatible with the overall program goals
issues. • Acceptable to those who will work to
In using this manual, it may be helpful to achieve them
choose to work on only one section, or • Understandable by everyone
environmental topic, at a time. Several of the • Motivational to encourage participation of
assessments included in this manual are fairly entire community
involved, and so several problems may be • Achievable with a reasonable amount of
identified within one assessment. Thus, to prevent effort
being overwhelmed by data, problems, and • Measurable over time
options, it may be a good idea to limit your team’s
focus to one area until your team feels that it has 5. Taking Action
the capacity to move onward. Once your team has decided what it needs to do,
an action plan needs be developed and
3. Forging partnerships implemented. This plan should include the
As you conduct your inventory, you will have specifics regarding how to acquire and mobilize the
several opportunities to create relationships with resources necessary for success, and a deadline
experts, industries, and government officials. It is established. A budget may need to be created, and
important to establish productive relationships funding secured. The plan should include how to
and working alliances with these people whenever effectively communicate the change to other
possible. These relationships provide a means of community members. As well, the means of
increasing your team’s knowledge, experience, and assessing the action’s success should be developed.
power. Thus, these partnerships can enhance your With all this accomplished, the action plan should
ability to effect change not only within your be executed and the results measured over time.
religious community, but also throughout the
larger community. 6. Looking Back and Ahead
Periodically, especially after an action plan has
4. Setting Priorities and Evaluating Options been executed, the Environmental Program team
Generally, the results of your audit identify several should reflect upon and assess the Program itself.
areas that could be improved, but changing them Identify successes and failures, strengths and
all at once is impractical. Thus, it is important to weaknesses, difficulties and examples of efficient
prioritize your findings, and possibly even to functioning. The overall progress and effectiveness


of actions taken should be assessed. It is important

to address the problems identified with the
Program, but it is equally important to celebrate its
The goal of this reflection period is to update
the Program with your learned experiences, and to
identify the next steps to take to continue moving
your community toward sustainability.

Chapter 1
Benedictine Life and Ministries

Environmental Stewardship in are telling us is that our planetary life-support

system is in danger—and that it needn’t be, if we
Benedictine Life: Assessment take perfectly feasible steps to protect it.”
n the past 1500 years, Benedictines have held Environmentalists around the globe are calling for

I Environmental Stewardship as an essential,

defining value. It is an explicit policy of most
Benedictine monasteries and communities
action on behalf of the planet. As earth citizens we
have a responsibility to respond. As Benedictines
we have a responsibility to help create a new vision
worldwide to apply environmental stewardship for our planet by applying 1500 years of lived
principles to their land, buildings and work. This community experience to the new realities facing
section of the Environmental Inventory is designed us. “When looking back at Benedict of Nursia and
to examine the extent to which your community his legacy,” McCarthy, OSB, offers, “humility
embraces this core value, grows in its emerges as the primary gift that Benedictines can
understanding of environmental responsibility, and offer a new millennium: a gift that will give
expresses it in prayer, ministry and community life. positive shape to the human relationship with all
The Earth Charter, forged at The Council for a the cosmos.” Humility helps us recognize that as
Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993, human beings we are not outside or above the
challenges all of us: “We stand at a critical moment community of life. As spoken by Native American
in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose Chief Seattle, “We have not woven the web of life;
its future. As the world becomes increasingly we are but a strand within it.” We depend on the
interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds whole for our very existence.
great peril and great promise… The choice is ours: Today, we are challenged to extend the
form a global partnership to care for the Earth and one traditional Benedictine value of stewardship by
another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the abandoning dominance and embracing inter-
diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in dependence. We must recognize that our care for
our values, institutions, and ways of living.” the earth extends far beyond this time and place.
Just as our understanding of the universe in Native peoples of the Americas have long taught us
which we live and the interrelatedness of all of to evaluate all that we do in light of “the seventh
nature has been stretched and deepened by recent generation.” That is, our actions today must be
cosmological discoveries, stewardship needs to be viewed in terms of how they will affect those to be
stretched to recognize the co-dependence that we born seven generations from now.
share with the rest of the natural world. Anne Sustainability, meeting the needs of the present
McCarthy, OSB, writes, “Stewardship assumes a without compromising the ability of future
relationship in which the human is dominant: generations to meet their own needs, is a call to
primary, central, the superior species responsible justice. Sustainable living is an approach to social
for all other lesser species. This essential and economic, indeed, all activities, for all
dominance, even if a very benevolent, responsible societies, rich and poor, which is compatible with
dominance is being critiqued in our day as the preservation of the environment. It is based on
troubling at best and destructive at worst.” a philosophy of interdependence, of respect for life
Humans were not placed on the earth to dominate. as well as non-living parts of Nature, and of
Rather, humans are one of many species sharing responsibility for future generations.
this earth, part of a vast web. If humans are to
prosper, so must the entire web. Principles for sustainable living include:
We are living in a time when the ability of the • respect and care for the community of life
earth to support future generations has been called • improve the quality of human life
into serious question. Donnella Meadows explains, • conserve the Earth’s vitality and diversity
“What the scientists and now also the economists • minimize the depletion of non-renewable resources

Listening To The Earth

• keep within the Earth’s carrying capacity community ministry locations?

• change personal attitudes and practices 123456789
• enable communities to care for their own
environments To what extent does the community include an
• provide a national framework for integrating understanding of sustainable living practices as part of
environment and conservation its education/expectation of employees working in its
• create a global alliance ministries?
Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living, 123456789
If your community offers retreats, to what extent is
As we look to this section of the audit, we do so attention given to the relationship between humans and
knowing that today’s call to Benedictine the cosmos, between humanity and the earth?
Stewardship is a call to sustainable living. If we 123456789
hold stewardship as a core value in our lives, it will
not be assigned to a segment of life; it will Is your community involved in teaching?
permeate what we think and how we pray, minister Yes / No
and live together in community.
If so, to what extent does it recognize the need for
ongoing environmental education and training for itself
and all those engaged in religious instruction?
Environmental Stewardship in 123456789
Benedictine Life: Inventory
To what extent does it promote environmental education
(please answer where relevant according to the following within its schools/ organizations, especially among youth
numerical gradation: 1 = not at all, 9 = to a great and children?
extent) 123456789

To what extent does it pursue peacemaking as an

1. Prayer and Liturgy essential component of conservation action?
To what extent does the community use songs/hymns,
readings, and/or symbols during Community Prayer In its ministry of hospitality, to what extent does the
that call attention to creation? community model the use of sustainable practices and
123456789 promote these for guests?
To what extent does the community include reflection on
stewardship, sustainability, creation, responsible living, 3. Community Policy
etc. in its communal prayer?
123456789 To what extent does the Community believe that
sustaining environmental life systems is a religious
To what extent does the community celebrate special duty?
days/ observances that give attention to the universal 123456789
call to care for the earth? (i.e. Earth Day)
123456789 To what extent do community members implement
individual and communal actions on behalf of
To what extent does the community promote the use of sustainable living?
reflection materials that encourage ongoing development 123456789
of ecological values?
123456789 Has the community committed itself to sustainable
practices through the development of a community
2. Ministries policy, expression in a corporate commitment or mission
statement, and/or publication of a position paper?
To what extent are sustainability practices promoted in Yes / No

Chapter 1: Benedictine Life and Ministries

4. Community Leadership Environmental Stewardship in

Benedictine Life: Evaluation
To what extent does the Community Leadership
emphasize env-ironmental issues in teaching and At the end of each discussion section, there will be
guidance to the community? statements and a list of numbers from which to choose.
123456789 Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment
of how well your community represents the statement
To what extent does the Community Leadership given. (1 = disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9
recognize the need for ongoing environmental education = agree completely, no change needed)
and training for themselves and for community
members? 1. Prayer and Liturgy
As prayer and liturgy are the central expression of
Has the Community Leadership called for a self-review a religious community’s intentionality, these
and auditing process on conservation issues and its elements can be the most powerful means of
renewal on a regular basis? expressing and reinforcing your community’s core
Yes / No values. The content of your community’s liturgical
life serves as a profound teaching opportunity, as it
5. Community Resource Management raises the awareness of the praying community and
helps to strengthen the members’ commitment to
If the community sponsors events/gatherings, to what the values expressed. Hence, if environmental
extent does the planning include attention to sustainable sustainability is indeed a core value of your
practices such as purchasing locally grown food, avoiding community, it should find expression in prayer and
excessive use of paper products, recycling, use of green liturgy.
products or services, mass transportation? If, on the other hand, your community does not
123456789 include environmental consciousness in its prayer
life, you should determine why. Is it the case that
To what extent is the community involved in sustainable environmental stewardship is not a shared value of
food production and consumption? your community? Is it a value that is simply
123456789 unexpressed for lack of knowledge or resources? Or
does the absence of inclusion reveal a division
To what extent does the community encourage within your community regarding this value? Each
sustainable land use practices such as organic food reason has its own set of possible solutions, and
production, pesticide/herbicide reduction, habitat God’s inspiration should be sought to help guide
protection, maintaining green zones and/or use of land your efforts in uniting your community to accept
for the poor? and express the importance of environmental
123456789 sustainability in this most important aspect of
your community life.
6. Investments Consult the references listed at the end of this
chapter for resources on incorporating
To what extent does the community use investment environmental consciousness into your
criteria that promote ecological principals? community’s prayer life.
To what extent does the Community incorporate
To what extent does the community use fair trade environmental consciousness into its prayer life?
practices devoid of financial, economic and political 123456789
123456789 2. Ministries

Ministries are the most direct way that your

community can express its commitments and
values to the greater community. As such, they can
be the most powerful means of demonstrating

Listening To The Earth

leadership through example. Whether your greater chance that the policies may not be realized
community expresses its service through in everyday practice. Leaders play a tremendous
education, spirituality programs, providing food or role in unifying and influencing the actions of the
other alms to the poor, or other ministry, the community since they are ultimately responsible
deeply held values of your community are for executing community decisions. Thus it is
naturally expressed both by the content and important that your community’s commitment to
structure of the ministry itself, and by the actions environmental stewardship be reflected in the
of the individuals delivering the ministry. Thus, it communications and decisions made by the
is important that your community ministries are community leadership. The leader(s) of the
informed by agreed upon principles, including community should see to it that sustainable
environmental stewardship. Environmental principles are realized in ministries, liturgy, and
stewardship can be expressed in any ministry. educational activities, as well as in the
Your community’s ministries should exemplify administrative, fiscal, and domestic affairs of the
environmentally sustainable practices and respect community. It is suggested that a permanent
for Creation to the greatest extent possible. All committee should exist to continually review the
those engaged in ministerial activities should be sustainable practices of all community affairs, to be
educated about both the importance of sustainable responsible for educating the rest of the
practices, as well as ways in which they can community regarding environmentally conscious
exemplify these in their ministry. A deep respect practices, and to regularly update the leadership on
for Creation should be modeled in all activities. developments.
The resources found at the end of this chapter
may be helpful in improving the Earth- To what extent does the Community’s leadership give
centeredness of your ministries. expression to environmental consciousness?
To what extent does the Community incorporate
environmental consciousness into its ministries? 5. Resource Management
The keystone to environmental sustainability is
3. Community Policy the proper management of resources. Thus, to
express its commitment to sustainable principles,
The practices of individual members of your your community should definitely manage its own
community are ultimately the true expression of resources in the most sustainable manner possible.
your community’s environmental stewardship; Community resources include the property,
however, having policies in place which inform and buildings, equipment, and other commodities
guide the actions of community members helps to owned by the community. Buildings, properties,
unify and clarify the community intentions and and community events should be managed in a
values. Furthermore, having policies in place way that minimizes the impact on the
provides the opportunity to hold community environment.
members accountable for their actions. Thus, it is The following chapters of this manual were
important that your community adopt policies to designed to more closely examine how well your
strengthen and inform each member’s community incorporates sustainable practices into
commitment to environmental stewardship. its resource management.

To what extent does the Community incorporate To what extent does the Community incorporate
environmental consciousness into its community policy? environmental consciousness into resource management?
123456789 123456789

4. Leadership 6. Investments

Even if your community has policies regarding While it is certainly the intention of investment to
environmental stewardship and/or sustainability maximize the return, doing so without regard to
practices, without the support and espousal of what or who is being invested in is nothing short of
these by the community leadership, there is a irresponsible. Investments should be made in line

Chapter 1: Benedictine Life and Ministries

with community principles. Investing money is If you found areas of your community life that could be
simply a way of encouraging those who receive your improved in regard to environmental stewardship and
investment to succeed so that you can profit as sustainability, list them below:
well. Hence to realize your community’s
commitment to environmental sustainability, the Category (I-III)
environmental record of potential investments Issue 1
(companies and funds) should be reviewed before
your community makes the decision to invest. Or,
if there are already standing investments, these
should be audited in the same way and adjustments
made if deemed necessary. In addition, if your
community does own stock in a company with
questionable practices, you can exercise your rights Issue 2
as stockholders to bring attention to these issues at
stockholder meetings, or directly influence
company decisions if the company is small enough
or your position large enough.

To what extent does the Community incorporate Issue 3

environmental consciousness into its investments?

Issue 4
Now enter the scores from each section in the
column on the right:

1 Prayer and Liturgy

2 Ministries
Now categorize each issue listed above into one of
3 Community Policy the following three categories:

4 Community Leadership I = Most important. Should be addressed immediately

II = Important, but does not demand immediate
5 Community Resource Management attention. Must be addressed
III = Current practice should be improved, but is not
6 Investments immediately important

Listening To The Earth

Acknowledgements for Chapter 1 Berry, 1999, Bell Tower NY. Dedicated to all children,
the book calls us to experience creation as a source of
The information contained in this chapter has been adapted from the wonder and delight. We are urged to move into the
following sources: future making use of the four-fold wisdom available (of
Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living,
indigenous peoples, of women, of classical traditions
World Conservation Union, United Nations and of science), using this moment of grace to
Environmental Program and World Wildlife Fund, transform this cenozoic era into the ecozoic.
Geneva, Switzerland, 1980 Voices of Hope in the Struggle to Save the Planet, by
The Earth Charter: A Religious perspective, in A Source
Marjorie Hope and James Young, 2000, ApexPress,
Book for the Community of Religions, Joel Beversluis, Council on International and Public Affairs, Inc., 777
International Coordinating Committee on Religion and United Nations Plaza, Ste. 3C, New York NY 10017;
the Earth, ed. Chicago: The Council for a Parliament of 800/316-2739. Beginning with the prophetic voice of
the World’s Religions. 1993, Preamble. Thomas Berry, the book continues with the lives and
ideas of key spiritual leaders in Judaism, western and
A Humble Stance: Benedictines’ Gift to the eastern Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto,
Cosmos, McCarthy, Anne, OSB. American Benedictine and faiths of Native Americans and two other
Review, Volume 58, 2nd edition. p. 52. indigenous peoples.
Expert Statements Worth Paying Attention To, The Environmental Books for Children. All available from
Global Citizen, Meadows, Donella,, Wordsworth, a publishing service. Write for catalogue
Sustainability Institute, Hartland, VT to Wordsworth, 702 NE 24th St. Newton KS 67114,
(316) 283-6708.

Resources for Chapter 1 Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the
Sacred Meet, edited by Ellen Bernstein, Jewish Lights
Internet Resources Publishing, Sunset Farm Offices, Rte.4, PO Box 237,
Woodstock, VT 05091; 800-962-4544. The first book
Alliance of Religions and Conservation: in the emerging field of religion and environment to ARC is a secular body that helps the reflect a Jewish ecological perspective.
major religions of the world to develop their own
environmental programs, based on their own core Ecology and Religion: Scientists Speak, John E. Carroll
teachings, beliefs and practices. The web site contains and Keith Warner, OFM, editors, 2000, Franciscan
several resources, both online and available in print. Press, Quincy University, Quincy IL 62301; 217/228-
5670; An interfaith group of
Catholic Conservation Center: religious scientists articulate their understanding of the Available en español. relationship between religion and ecology. The book
This site contains several resources on incorporating challenges the various faith communities to address the
environmental consciousness into Catholic life. environment as a legitimate religious concern.
National Catholic Rural Life Conference: Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All Creation, a The NCRLC is is a membership resource packet of the US Catholic bishops’ Renewing
organization grounded in a spiritual tradition that the Earth program, includes homily helps; articles on
brings together the Church, care of community and ecological spirituality, environmental hazards, the good
care of creation. Their website contains a variety of life and the problem of consumption; guidelines to
information on environmental topics, particularly of integrate environmental education into responsibilities
interest to agricultural congregations. of parish committees; environmental justice resources,
Earth Ministry/ Caring for Creation: and much more. Available from Environmental Justice The mission of Earth Program, US Catholic Conference, 3211 Fourth St.
Ministry is to inspire and mobilize the Christian NE, Washington DC 20078, 800/235-8722.
Community to play a leadership role in building a just Love of Nature and Environmental Activism: Danger or
and sustainable future. (In English only.) There are Duty for Christians, by Paul Hansen, available from
several resources available here, including a 225 page Hansen, 2899 Agoura Rd., West Lake Village CA
handbook of their own. 91361; 805/498-6066. A helpful booklet for Christians
EcoCongregation: working with Christians who are new to, or opposed to, Based in Europe, earthkeeping.
EcoCongregation offers an ecumenical toolkit that Discovering Your Life-Place: A First Bioregional
encourages churches to weave creation care into their Workbook, by Peter Berg, Planet Drum Foundation,
life and mission. They also provide an environmental 1998. Leads readers to a new appreciation of their
audit manual with several modules. bioregion through practical, hands-on map-making
Print Resources (in English) exercises, for rural or urban areas, all ages. Order from
Embracing Earth: Catholic Approaches to Ecology, by Planet Drum Foundation, PO Box 31251, San
Albert J. LaChance and John E. Carroll,editors, Francisco CA 94131; 415/ 285-6556;
1994,Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY, 800/258-5838.
Collection of seminal contributions by contemporary Ministering with the Earth, by Mary Elizabeth Moore
Catholic writers. Besides the editors, authors include: ($20), 1998, Chalice Press, St. Louis MO. Stories and
Thomas Berry CP; Miriam Therese MacGillis, theological discussion view the Earth as a sacred
Frederich G. Levine, David Toolan SJ, Mary Rosera creation of God in which we participate in a covenantal
Joyce, and more. relationship. Using the metaphor of quilt making, the
The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, by Thomas author challenges us to orient our spiritual life and
ministry in partnership with (rather than caring for)

Chapter 1: Benedictine Life and Ministries

the Earth. Appendix includes a retreat design “Quilting different religious perspectives, explore ways to respond
a life in Relation to God and to God’s Creation.” to the environment as the spiritual issue of our time.
Holy Ground: A Resource on Faith and the Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth, by
Environment ($5) 1997, by Sojourners, 2401 15th St. Howard Clinebell, Ph D, The Haworth Press, 1996; 10
NW, Washington DC 20009; 800/714-7474. Study Alice St., Binghamton NY 13904. Clinebell brings
guide for four sessions – Covenant with Creation; together long overlooked issues at the boundary
Systems of Environmental Degradation; Environmental between human health and the health of the natural
Racism; Justice and Living Rightly with the Earth; environment; plus theories and methods of ecological
writings, resources, activities and discussion questions. diagnosis, treatment and education.
Forty Nights; Creation Centered Night Prayer, by Divided Planet: The Ecology of Rich and Poor, by Tom
Daniel J. McGill, Paulist Press, 997 Macarthur Blvd., Athanasiou ($24.95), Little Brown, New York, 1996. A
Mahwah NJ 07430, (201/ 825-7300) 1994. Blending challenging analysis of social and economic conditions
ecology and ecumenism, these prayers are the author’s of the ecological crisis. A call to institute the radical
personal response to the spiritual and intellectual social and economic changes required to shift the
transformation of our age. Each of the 40 prayer priorities of the New World Order with its ever
services may be used alone or with responses from a widening gap between rich and poor.
community. Women and the Environment, by Annabel Rodda,
Celebrating the Earth, by Scott McCarthy, 1998 1991, United Nations Publications, 2 UN Plaza, Room
Resource Publications, Inc., 160 E. Virginia St., San DC2-853, Dept.COO3, New York NY 10017, 800/253-
Jose CA 95112; 408/286-8505. An earth-centered 9646. Focusing on women’s roles as users, producers
theology of worship with blessings, prayers and rituals and managers of the earth’s resources, the book
that link Christian spirituality with the natural cycles explains all the major environmental issues and reveals
and patterns of earth. how women can be a major force for environmental
Ponderings From the Precipice: Soulwork for the New change. Includes a glossary of environmental terms, a
Millennium, by James Conlon,1998 Forest of Peace guide to education and action, bibliography and
Publishing, 251 Muncie Rd., Leavenworth KS 66048; resource guide.
800/659-3227. Forty-eight short reflections intended as Your Health and the Environment: A Christian
companions for moments of meditation. Perspective, by Shantilal P. Bhagat, 1998, Eco-Justice
Nature, God and Pulpit by Elizabeth Achtemeier, 1992, Working Group of the National Council of Churches.
paperback, Eerdmans. Intended primarily for preachers, Each of 13 chapters provides a biblical anchor,
this book draws together and interprets all the biblical information, suggestions and. discussion questions.
materials dealing with the natural world and God’s Order from NCC Environmental Justice Resources,
relation to it. It also relates the materials to findings of 800/762-0968.
modern science. Caring for Creation: Reflections on the Biblical Basis of
The Greening of Faith: God, the Environment, and the Earthcare, by Lisa Lofland Gould, 1999, Friends
Good Life, John E. Carroll, Paul Brockelman, and Mary Committee on Unity with Nature, Burlington VT. Five
Westfall, editors, 1996, University Press of New chapters focus on Celebration, Humility, Connections,
England, University of New Hampshire 1995. Fifteen Right Relationship and Stewardship; study guide
philosophers, theologians and environmentalists, from included.802/658-0308

Listening To The Earth

Chapter 2
Air Quality Assessment

Overview of Chapter: process efficiency and fuel type. Generally,

combustion results in the emission of complex
Air Pollution, Indoor and mixtures of gases, organic pollutants, metals, and
Outdoor fine particles.
As a result of our practices, indoor and outdoor
Air, Earth’s Sacred Gift environments are widely contaminated by
complex mixtures of combustion-derived gases
ir is our most precious resource, even and particles, and these pollutants create both

A though it is often taken for granted. All

living things need air to survive. Without
water a person cannot live for more than a couple
local and global human and environmental health

days, but without the oxygen found in air a person Definitions

would die within minutes. In fact, all animals and
even plants need air to survive. Unfortunately, In order to understand and communicate about
poor air quality, or polluted air, can be dangerous air pollution, it is quite helpful to know a little bit
to life. Air that contains human-produced about the most common air pollutants. These are
pollutants can and does kill plants, trees, and particulate matter (PM), oxides of nitrogen (NOX), oxides of
small organisms, and can cause extreme illness in sulpher (SOX), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon
humans. It is up to us to become aware of and monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), carbon dioxide (CO2) and
change those practices of ours which contribute to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These are not by any
the poisoning of the Earth’s atmosphere. means the only pollutants, but they are the most
common. Each is described below.
Combustion Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles
found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke,
The most common way that humans affect air and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in
quality is by burning different materials and fuels. the air for long periods of time. Some particles are
The process of burning is called combustion. large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke.
Combustion in its various forms is probably the Others are so small that individually they can only
main source of both indoor and outdoor air be detected with an electron microscope. They
pollution, and thus it will be mentioned come from a variety of sources such as cars, trucks,
frequently in this assessment. For this reason, it buses, factories, construction sites, tilled fields,
may be helpful to briefly describe combustion. unpaved roads, stone crushing, and burning of
The most obvious example of combustion is a wood. PM is usually categorized by the size of the
simple fire like those used for cooking or heating, particles; e.g. PM10= less than 10 microns,
burning refuse or cropland. However, internal PM2.5= particles up to 2.5 microns, etc.) In
combustion engines, like those used in general, the smaller the particles the more
automobiles, trucks, generators, tractors, as well dangerous they are to living tissue.
as other engines like those used in airplanes, or Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless
those used in lawn care equipment also use gas that is formed when carbon in fuel is not
combustion for energy, and are very important burned completely. It is a component of motor
sources of pollution. Combustion of fuels (usually vehicle exhaust, and so higher levels of CO
oil, coal, or natural gas) is also used for the generally occur in areas with heavy traffic
production of electricity, as well as other industrial congestion. In cities, 85% to 95% of all CO
processes that require heat. emissions may come from motor vehicle exhaust.
Not only are combustion processes diverse, but Other sources of CO emissions include industrial
the by-products emitted by them vary with processes (such as metals processing and chemical

Listening To The Earth

manufacturing), residential wood burning, and dissolves in water vapor to form acid, and
natural sources such as forest fires. Woodstoves, precipitates as acid rain. SO2 interacts with other
gas stoves, cigarette smoke, unvented gas and gases and particles in the air to form sulfates and
kerosene space heaters are sources of CO indoors. other products that can be harmful to people and
The highest levels of CO in the outside air their environment.
typically occur during the colder months of the Over 65% of SO2 released to the air, or more
year when the air pollution becomes trapped near than 13 million tons per year, comes from electric
the ground beneath a layer of warm air (a process utilities, especially those that burn coal. Other
called inversion). sources of SO2 are industrial facilities that derive
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is also a pollutant, even their products from raw materials like metallic ore,
though it is an important natural component of coal, and crude oil, or that burn coal or oil to
the atmosphere. Plants need it to grow; thus, produce process heat. Examples are petroleum
vegetation removes CO2 from the air, and in turn refineries, cement manufacturing, and metal
provides us with the oxygen we need. CO2 is also processing facilities. Also, locomotives, large ships,
a product of all combustion reactions. Carbon and some nonroad diesel equipment currently
dioxide is not directly harmful to our health; burn high sulfur fuel and release SO2 emissions to
however, one important characteristic of CO2 is the air in large quantities.
that it is able to reflect heat back towards the Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, is a general
earth. This process is called the ‘greenhouse term that covers a wide range of organic (i.e.
effect,’ and consequently, CO2 is called a carbon-containing) compounds. VOCs may result
‘greenhouse gas.’ When too much greenhouse gas from combustion processes, or from the
exists in the atmosphere, the temperature of the evaporation of gasoline, solvent, and other organic
earth begins to rise, and this can cause many compound vapors. VOCs (especially methane)
severe problems. Since this is occurring, CO2 is an contribute to global warming, and they react with
important pollutant to consider. (The greenhouse other pollutants to form ground level ozone. Some
effect and global warming will be discussed more VOCs are in and of themselves toxic and
fully below in the Outdoor Air Pollution section.) hazardous to human health. Sources of VOCs
Nitrogen oxides, or NOX, is the generic term for a include: paints, paint strippers, and other
group of highly reactive gases, all of which contain solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays;
nitrogen and oxygen in varying amounts. Many of cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and
the nitrogen oxides are colorless and odorless. air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive
However, one common pollutant, nitrogen dioxide products.
(NO2) along with particles in the air can often be Finally, Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs are pollutants
seen as a reddish-brown layer over many urban that affect the amount of ozone found in the
areas. NOX gases can also dissolve in water; when upper levels of the atmosphere—called the ‘ozone
this occurs in the atmosphere, the NOX causes layer.’ The ozone layer is the important
acid rain. Furthermore, NOX react with other component of the Earth’s atmosphere that blocks
pollutants to create smog. Nitrogen oxides form dangerous radiation from hitting us on the
when fuel is burned at high temperatures, as in a ground. CFCs have been used extensively as
combustion process. The primary manmade refrigerants, aerosol propellants, and solvents, and
sources of NOX are motor vehicles, electric are also used in some industrial processes. Once
utilities, and other industrial, commercial, and CFCs enter the atmosphere, it takes a very long
residential sources that burn fuels. NOX can also time before they stop affecting the ozone layer.
be formed naturally. Thus, although their use and production has
Sulfur dioxide, or SO2, belongs to the family of dramatically declined on account of a successful
sulfur oxide gases (SOX). These gases dissolve international agreement, called the Montreal
easily in water. Sulfur is prevalent in all raw Protocol, it will be at least 100 years before their
materials, including crude oil, coal, and ore that effects on the ozone layer disappear because of
contains common metals like aluminum, copper, their long atmospheric lifetimes.
zinc, lead, and iron. SOX gases are formed when Opposite is a table which summarizes the
fuel containing sulfur, such as coal and oil, is information about these pollutants.
burned, and when gasoline is extracted from oil, or
metals are extracted from ore. Like NOX, SO2

Chapter 2: Air

Most Common Air Pollutants

Pollutant Description Sources Health Effects Welfare Effects

Headaches, reduced
Motor vehicle mental alertness,
exhaust, indoor heart attack,
Carbon Monoxide Colorless, odorless Contribute to the
sources include cardiovascular
(CO) gas formation of smog
kerosene or wood diseases, impaired
burning stoves fetal development,

Combustion of any
Carbon Dioxide fuel, including oil, Does not directly
Colorless, odorless Major contributor to
(CO2) coal, natural gas, impair human
gas global warming
diesel fuel, gasoline, health
etc. Deforestation

Coal-fired power Contribute to the

plants, petroleum Eye irritation,
formation of acid
Sulfur Dioxide Colorless and refineries, wheezing, chest
rain, visibility
(SO2) reactive gas manufacture of tightness, shortness
impairment, plant
sulfuric acid and of breath, lung
and water damage,
smelting of ores damage
aesthetic damage
containing sulfur

Susceptibility to res- Contribute to the

Motor vehicles, piratory infections, formation of smog,
electric utilities, and
Nitrogen Dioxide irritation of the lung acid rain, water
Reddish brown, other industrial,
(NO2) and respiratory quality deteriora-
highly reactive gas. commercial, and symptoms (cough, tion, global warm-
residential sources chest pain, difficulty ing, and visibility
that burn fuels breathing) impairment

Eye, nose, and throat

irritation; headaches,
Gasoline, solvents, loss of coordination, Major contributor,
Volatile Organic Reactive carbon con- industrial processes, allergic skin reaction, along with NOx, to
fatigue, dizziness,
Compounds (VOC) taining compounds pesticides and other nausea; damage to ground level ozone,
chemicals liver, kidney, and cen- or smog
tral nervous system.

Vehicle exhaust and Eye and throat

Gaseous pollutant certain other fumes. irritation, coughing,
Ozone (O3) Plant and ecosystem
when it is formed in Formed from other respiratory tract damage
the troposphere air pollutants in the problems, asthma,
presence of sunlight lung damage

Compounds Reacts with ozone in

containing carbon, Used as refrigerants, upper atmosphere
chlorine, fluorine, aerosol spray Generally do not
Chlorofluoro- whcich destroys the
and hydrogen easily propellants, solvents, directly impair
carbons (CFCs) ozone layer.
converted from and foam-blowing human health
liquid to gas and Contributes to
vice versa global warming

Eye irritation, Visibility

Very small particles Diesel engines, asthma, bronchitis, impairment,
of soot, dust, or power plants, lung damage, cancer, atmospheric
Particulate Matter other matter, industries, heavy metal deposition, aesthetic
(PM) including tiny windblown dust, poisoning, damage
droplets of liquids wood stoves cardiovascular

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2006)

Listening To The Earth

Overview of Outdoor and Indoor Air Gift to Life, as it is used by all plants and animals
Pollution to sustain life. While it is generally available
everywhere, today it is often in a condition that is
The air surrounds us all, and we all share this gift not suitable for human health nor for
with each other. Yet despite this many of our environmental sustainability. These unacceptable
personal and communal practices are not in accord conditions tend to especially occur in larger cities
with the need to respect and protect this sacred where industrial activities are concentrated,
gift. The quality of Earth’s air has been transportation networks are intense, and
deteriorating by alarming degrees over the past population density is high. Wherever we live, it is
century because of humanity’s use of fire, our job to make sure that we do our part not to
uncontrolled or inadequately controlled industrial contribute to these problems, and to help correct
processes, and internal combustion engines. them wherever possible. It is the intention of this
Although many people are now aware of the assessment to help your community achieve these
problems, and the need to do something about goals.
them, much is still left to be done. The Earth’s atmosphere consists of a number of
In addition to outdoor sources such as factories, gases and water vapor which provide an
power plants and vehicles, a person’s health can be environment within which life can flourish.
seriously affected by exposure to indoor air Unfortunately, the atmosphere is being affected by
pollution. Polluting fuels (wood, coal, etc.), poor human activities in ways that are threatening the
ventilation conditions, and long exposure times are life-sustaining ability of the air. The air is used by
responsible for conditions of ill-health. To make all forms of Life in a vital process called respiration,
matters worse, relatively little attention has been or breathing. People and other animals inhale
paid to the significant risks associated with the oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide; plants are vice
indoor use of solid fuel for cooking and heating. versa. Unfortunately, as pollutants deteriorate the
Simple stoves burning solid fuel (mostly biomass air quality, we are now breathing in irritating and
fuel) are used by about half of the world’s people. harmful gases along with the natural constituents
Poor ventilation and inefficient combustion result of our atmosphere; thus, breathing air may now be
in significant daily exposure ,particularly of women contributing to disease.
and young children, to a host of dangerous The gases in our atmosphere provide other gifts
pollutants. to life on earth besides the ability to breathe. Some
gases, particularly carbon dioxide, have the ability
to trap heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere,
allowing the globe to maintain the stable
Outdoor Air Pollution: temperatures necessary for life. However, an excess
Assessment of these gases cause temperatures to increase
around the world—a process called ‘global
This Chapter’s Assessments warming.’ The water vapor in the atmosphere is
also an essential component for life. As part of the
The two assessments in this chapter are intended to ‘water cycle’ (the endless cycle through which
help you identify ways in which your community water flows from the earth to the sky and from the
pollutes the air, and will hopefully encourage better sky to earth), water on earth evaporates into the
practices. Specific attention is paid to indoor air air before returning again as precipitation. The
pollution because it is such a widespread but process of evaporation and precipitation helps to
overlooked problem, particularly in rural areas. purify water so that life on the surface is
Besides these two assessments, it is continually provided fresh, clean water.
recommended that your community also complete Unfortunately, because human activities have
the Energy Assessment, Chapter Five, since a large contaminated the air, pollution is now mixing with
portion of air pollution is a consequence of energy the water vapor before precipitating as a
production. contaminated solution. This effect of pollution is
called ‘acid rain.’
Our Atmosphere: A Gift to be Preserved The upper levels of the atmosphere include a
layer of a special type of oxygen, called ‘ozone.’
The air is a vital environmental resource, a Sacred This ozone functions as a protective filter which

Chapter 2: Air

prevents the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays from in Latin America aggravates the problems of air
burning the life that exists on the earth’s surface— pollution. Without a sustainable policy framework
like us. However, some forms of air pollution are to guide development, this growth is occurring at a
destroying this protective characteristic of the considerable and often increasing cost. More
atmosphere, progressively increasing our exposure people, more industry and more motor vehicles
to harmful radiation from the sun. will continue to produce ever-worsening air
The earth’s atmosphere has also been a source pollution, unless serious changes are made to the
of aesthetic pleasure; it has provided us with a practices and policies of city dwellers.
window in which we may glimpse the grandeur Below we will discuss four main phenomena
that our Creator has wrought. However, especially that are caused by air pollution. These problems
in densely populated urban areas, the clear blue are found in geographic regions all around the
skies have been replaced by a hazy, murky, world, some have severe implications for the future
malodorous cloud. This phenomenon is also a of life on this planet, and all are the result of
result of pollution, and we call it ‘photochemical human activity.
smog,’ or simply smog.
Each of these problems will be discussed more Smog or Ground-level Ozone
fully below. Ozone is the same molecule regardless of where it
is found, but its significance varies depending on if
Problems in the Air it is up high (stratospheric) or closer to the ground
(troposheric). Stratospheric ozone is found in the
Many Latin American cities are slowly becoming region between 10 and 50 km high. This is called
uninhabitable because of air pollution. Santiago, the ‘ozone layer.’
one of the most polluted urban areas in the world, On the other hand, a high accumulation of
is often forced to declare environmental ozone gas in the lower atmosphere closer to ground
emergencies on days of extreme air pollution, level is air pollution and can be harmful to people,
resulting in school closures and a severe reduction animals, crops, and other materials. Ground level
in outdoor activities. The emissions measured in ozone is a secondary product created by the
other South American metropolises can reach reaction of different types of pollution. Nitrogen
dizzying heights. In Mexico City, for example, oxides and hydrocarbons (VOCs) are known as the
around 5 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel chief ‘precursors’ of ozone. These compounds react
are consumed every day. As a result, 53,000 metric in the presence of sunlight to produce ozone. The
tons of gaseous substances are generated. sources of these precursor pollutants include cars,
Unfavorable topographic and meteorological trucks, power plants and factories, or wherever
conditions in some cities, like Mexico City, further natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, and oil
exacerbate the impact of pollution: as the Valley of are combusted.
Mexico obstructs the dispersal of pollutants from These gaseous compounds mix like a thin soup
its metropolitan area, the hills surrounding in the atmosphere, and when they interact with
Santiago do the same. Thus the air pollution sunlight, ozone is formed. Ground level ozone is
concentrates above such cities, seriously increasing generally called ‘photochemical smog’ or simply,
both the visible and palpable effects of the ‘smog.’ Smog is the gas responsible for the hazy
pollutants. cloud that often surrounds cities. The general
When pollutants are emitted into the air, the reaction is:
area surrounding the source of emission is the first
to experience effects; the most acute impacts of VOC+NOX+HEAT+Sunlight=Ozone
urban air pollution generally occur in this vicinity
or region. However, since the atmosphere is always Ozone pollution, or smog, is mainly a daytime
in motion, emissions from one area eventually problem during summer months because sunlight
disperse and mix with the flowing air. Hence, the plays a primary role in its formation.
impacts of air pollution extend beyond the
immediate areas and become problems for Global Warming or Greenhouse Gas
neighboring locales and, indeed, the rest of the Emissions
world. Like light hitting a mirror, the sun’s heat bounces
The rapid and sustained growth of many cities off the Earth, back towards space; however, like the

Listening To The Earth

roof of a greenhouse, carbon dioxide and certain the lungs. This narrows air passages and irritate the
other gases (called greenhouse gases) trap some of lungs, thereby contributing to pneumonia and
the heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere. Without bronchitis and the weakening the body’s immune
greenhouse gas, the Earth would be frozen; but system.
with too much of it, temperatures rise around the
globe. This phenomenon is called ‘global warming.’ Ozone Layer depletion
Global warming is happening at an alarming rate The ozone layer, i.e. stratospheric ozone located
as you read this, largely on account of humanity’s 10-50 km in altitude, is extremely important to us
combustion of fossil fuels. The ramifications of because it is how the Earth shields us against
global warming are predicted to be severe: higher harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun, which would
temperatures mean many areas will become cause serious harm to living things if not filtered. It
deserts; ocean levels will be significantly higher, is suspected that a variety of biological
flooding coastal regions, and reducing the amount consequences, including increases in skin cancer,
of available fresh water; weather patterns will be damage to plants, and reduction of plankton
affected, potentially causing greater natural populations in the world’s oceans would result
disasters. Scientists continue to speculate about from increased UV exposure.
and observe many other significant consequences. Unfortunately, the ozone layer is being
Scientists and world governments have been destroyed, or depleted by chemicals that humans
taking these consequences very seriously, and on are releasing into the air. These chemicals include
account, have entered into several international chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as well as other ozone
agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, which has depleting substances. Atmospheric levels of these
been signed by over 140 countries. For these chemicals have increased dramatically in the last
countries, and for citizens throughout the world, 30 years, and consequences have been observed in
reducing greenhouse gas emissions is now the ozone layer.
considered a necessity. Worldwide public and governmental concerns
Making the situation more critical is the fact about ozone depletion led to the adoption of the
that Nature’s own method of ‘scrubbing’ CO2 out Montreal Protocol in which it was decided that
of the atmosphere—trees and other plants—is chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting
similarly being assaulted by human activity, in the chemicals, such as methyl chloroform, should have
form of deforestation. Deforestation, or the large- been completely phased out by the end of 1999.
scale cutting down of trees, is a major problem Some countries had proceeded to ban all
throughout the world, and especially in Latin production of chloroflurocarbons even before this
America. Lush forest land is destroyed or date. Many consider this international agreement
‘developed’ so that humans can use the wood from to have been the most successful agreement ever
the trees, or extract resources from under the trees, implemented, as most countries have fully
or utilize the land for grazing cattle or growing complied and atmospheric levels of ozone
crops, while little or no effort is made even to depleting substances have leveled off, and in some
replant some of what has been cut down. cases declined.

Acid Rain The health effects of air pollution

Acid rain is caused primarily by emissions of
sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (NOX). When Air pollution is causing severe respiratory problems
these chemicals mix with water, they become acidic among city dwellers, with higher rates of
compounds. Acidic precipitation kills plants and pneumonia and many premature deaths from
animals in bodies of water. It eats away the surface respiratory diseases. The World Health
of buildings and structures, and damages soils and Organization estimates that 100 million people in
forests. It can also cause respiratory problems for Latin America have health problems related to air
humans. As a lake becomes more and more acidic, pollution. In the case of particulate matter (PM),
many of its small life forms die. This removes the recent PAHO studies show that more than
food source for fish which then die as well. As soil 100,000 people die each year in the region due to
becomes more acidic, vegetation that draws water PM exposure. For example, in São Paulo and Rio
from the soil can be damaged or die. Acid rain de Janeiro alone, 27 million people are exposed to
affects human health when tiny drops of it enter high levels of particulate air pollution, which is

Chapter 2: Air

estimated to cause at least 4000 annual cases of eighty percent of urban air pollution in the LAC
premature mortality. region can be attributed to vehicle use. Vehicles are
As with most social problems, urban air generally powered by either a gasoline or diesel
pollution generally has a higher impact on the engine, both of which spew a great deal of dirty
urban poor than on the population in general. The emissions into the air, including CO, VOCs, NOX,
health of the poor is often below average to begin and CO2. In some areas of LAC, engines release
with, and thus their resistance to disease is significant amounts of lead into the air (note,
reduced, and the chances that they will suffer however, that leaded fuel is now illegal to use in
health effects from air pollution are increased. most areas). Furthermore, the sprawling nature of
Secondly, the housing of the poor is usually low contemporary urban development compounds the
in quality, poorly ventilated, heated by very basic problem because residents must increasingly rely
systems using fuels and techniques which produce on personal vehicles for their needs. Public
high levels of indoor pollution; the same is true of transportation, which can be an environmentally
cooking facilities In some poor urban areas, indoor sound solution to the problem, is rarely
air pollution is the most serious health threat. successfully developed or implemented. Vehicle
Lastly, the urban poor often live in the less emissions regulations and on-board equipment
attractive areas which are often near air pollution exist that can also do a great deal to curb
sources in heavily exposed down-wind areas; this emissions, but their implementation is problematic
typically exposes them to highly localized and tardy for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, it
concentrations of air pollution which are much is ultimately the vehicle operators who are
more severe than the average levels measured responsible for reducing and eliminating vehicular
elsewhere in the city. air pollution—and they can do a great deal simply
by properly maintaining their vehicle, and
What’s causing the problems? following pollution-conscious driving practices.

The vast increase in industrial facilities and Deforestation and agriculture

activities, large-scale agricultural operations, and Natural forests cover 47% of the land area of Latin
personal transportation vehicles over the past 30 America, and the Amazon basin accounts for one-
years has been accompanied by a steady increase in third of the world’s tropical forest area. These
airborne emissions. The increase of large-scale forests are an important source of products,
agricultural operations has also meant a vast fuelwood and employment for local people, a
decrease in the amount of forest cover. Since trees major source of foreign exchange for governments,
and other vegetation do a great deal to purify the serve important functions in protecting watersheds
air, the relationship between deforestation and and freshwater resources, act as a storehouse for
agriculture is a particularly injurious one. carbon and support a significant portion of the
world’s biodiversity.
Industrial processes and Energy Production Unfortunately, Latin America is losing around
The trends emerging from recent inventories 58 million hectares of natural forest per year, even
suggest that more than 50% of emissions come though the rate of deforestation in, for instance,
from industrial production, most especially energy the Amazon has slowed considerably since the
generation. Industrial pollutants originate mostly mid-1990s. Most deforestation in Latin America is
from fuel being combusted to generate electricity. due to expansion of the agricultural sector,
In oil producing countries, emissions from the considerably less is due to logging, and only about
refining process are also significant— for example, 4 per cent is due to the construction of
in Mexico City, almost 60% of SO2 emissions infrastructure. In addition, demographic pressure,
originate from industry, including oil refineries in unemployment and inequitable land distribution
the metropolitan area. In many countries, mining are important drivers for the further degradation of
activities also result in local deterioration of air forests. At the same time, there is a gross imbalance
quality. between destruction and reforestation, with only 1
hectare planted for every 25 hectares destroyed.
Use of Personal Vehicles The combination of these trends leads to the
Depending upon the city and the particular type of prospect of increased soil degradation, more
pollutant in question, anywhere from fifty to frequent flooding and the degradation of

Listening To The Earth

freshwater resources. This conversion of primary

tropical forests to agriculture and to secondary How to reduce air pollution
vegetation is a significant change on a global scale.
• If 190,000 car owners started to get
What’s being done? regular tune-ups, they will keep some 40
million kilograms of carbon dioxide out of the
Fortunately, urban populations are becoming atmosphere.
better informed about the nature of the air • If consumers set their air conditioners six
pollution, and are increasingly unwilling to let it degrees higher, it will save 190,000 barrels of
worsen. In many cities, both popular and official oil a day—and eliminate all those pollutants
attitudes have changed and there is a growing that come from burning the oil to produce the
political commitment to the need for change. electricity involved.
In LAC, there are at least three regional urban (Source: US EPA)
air quality programs that represent international
partnerships. The first is the Clean Air Initiative in
Latin American Cities, supported by a partnership What can we do?
that includes donor agencies, private companies
and foundations, NGOs and a technical secretariat When environmental scientists talk about air
at the World Bank. One of the main goals of this pollution, they talk in terms of millions of tons of
initiative is to promote the integrated development pollutants. It is not easy to relate such figures to
or enhancement of action plans to improve air the smoke that comes out of your chimney or the
quality in metropolitan centres. Six cities are exhaust coming out of your car. However, our
currently participating: Buenos Aires, Lima-Callao, individual contributions to air pollution, when
Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Sao added to hundreds or thousands of other small
Paulo. sources, do great harm to the environment and are
The second regional initiative is the Program dangerous to health. This means that we are all
Aire Puro in Central America, supported by responsible for the pollution that occurs.
Switzerland. The main goal of this program is to Conversely, however, every habit that we change
improve urban air quality through the training of and teach to someone else is a direct benefit to the
professionals in the automobile industry sector, environment.
establishment of inspection and maintenance If we all do our share to reduce air pollution, the
programs for automobiles, and public awareness. benefits will be tremendous—see the example
Third, PAHO’s Regional Plan on Urban Air opposite.
Quality and Health proposes activities to be The following inventory is meant to evaluate
undertaken by countries to improve indoor and your community’s contribution to atmospheric
outdoor air quality. It covers areas such as policy, (i.e. outdoor) airborne emissions, as well as to
standards and regulation; environment and health indicate several alternatives for more sustainable
surveillance; and education, training and public practice.
Besides these international partnerships, each
country and region generally has some intiatives,
policies, or dedicated organizations that are
Outdoor Air Pollution: Inventory
intended to curb society’s airborne emissions.
For example, the Brazilian program of adding 1. Vehicles
alcohol to gasoline has reduced their carbon
dioxide emissions by some 30 per cent, and has Does your community own and operate any vehicles?
significantly decreased other pollutants as well. Yes / No
Despite this, Brazilians do not believe their efforts
have been sufficient, and São Paulo now restricts If Yes then complete the following questions for
private car circulation, as do Mexico City and each vehicle—if more than one vehicle, use extra
Santiago. paper:

Chapter 2: Air

Year of manufacture of vehicle: Is there a person in your community responsible for the
maintenance of the vehicle(s)?
Make and Model of vehicle: Yes / No
Name of person responsible:

Record the distance driven by the vehicle, and the

amount of fuel used over the course of a week: Contact the mechanic that maintains and services
Kilometers driven (km): the vehicle (may or may not be the person listed
Liters of fuel used (L): above):
Is the vehicle regularly maintained according to the
Now calculate the fuel efficiency by dividing the distance manufacturer’s suggested schedule?
driven by the amount of fuel used: (for example 100 km Yes / No
/10 L = 10 km/L) (if maintenance schedule is unknown, you may contact the
Fuel efficiency (km/L): manufacture to request the information)

What type of fuel is used to power the vehicle? Has the mechanic been trained to service vehicles that
c Gasoline have emissions control devices?
c Diesel Fuel Yes / No
c Ethanol or methanol (alcohol)
c Bio-Diesel Are the maintenance expenses of the vehicle(s)
c Natural gas or Propane incorporated into the regular budget?
c Electricity Yes / No
Other (name):

What pollution control, or emission control devices are 2. Community Transportation Practices
present on the vehicle? (if unsure, you may need to ask
a mechanic) What is the cumulative distance that your community
c Catalytic converter members drove through the course of one month?
c Positive crankcase ventilation valve
c Exhaust gas return valve
c Electronic fuel injection (This can be determined by listing all community vehicles,
c Evaporative collection and purge reading their odometers, waiting a month, reading their
c Fuel tank cap odometers again, subtracting the two readings, and adding all
Other (name): the distances together)

Observe the vehicle with the engine running and note Does your community make an intentional effort (e.g.
the characteristics of the exhaust smoke: by use of policy or established protocol) to minimize the
Amount: amount of distance driven?
c Visible plumes Yes / No
c Light wisps
c Not visible In which of the following practices does your community
Color: participate?
c Blue c Car-pooling / ride sharing
c White c Trip planning
c Black/grey c Public Transit
c Bicycling or Walking
Who operates the vehicle? Other (name):
Other (name):
Does the operator check the following fluid levels each
time the vehicle is refuelled? Are the members of your community educated about
c Motor oil driving habits that reduce fuel efficiency?
c Transmission fluid Yes / No
c Engine coolant

Listening To The Earth

3. Public Transportation Item (type of equipment):

Is/are there any form(s) of public transportation What type of fuel powers the engine (tick all that
available for use in your larger community? apply):
Yes / No c Gasoline
If so, which modes are available?: c Diesel fuel
c Ethanol or methanol (alcohol)
c Bio-diesel
c Natural gas or Propane
For each of public transportation modes available, c Electricity
determine the party that is responsible for the Other (name):
management of the service.
Name of Service: Who is responsible for the maintenance of this engine?

Name of contact person: (name of person)

Contact information: Is the engine maintained according to the schedule

provided by the manufacturer? (if maintenance schedule
is unknown, you may contact the manufacture to request
What percentage of the population uses the transit the information)
service? Yes / No

What problems is the service facing? Or, what restricts According to the operators of the equipment, as well as
the expansion of these services? the community consensus, how important or essential is
this equipment?
(Luxury item, unnecessary……Critical for community life)
If applicable, does the service enforce—or must the
service comply with—emissions regulations for their fleet Do the operators of the equipment make an effort to run
of transportation vehicles? the engine only when necessary, and turn it off when not
Yes / No in use?
If so, describe: Yes / No / Sometimes

Are the maintenance expenses of the engine(s)

incorporated into the regular budget?
Yes / No
What avenue(s) do(es) the public have to influence the
management decisions affecting the service? 5. Other Combustion

Besides a cooking fire or other indoor uses, does your

community burn fuel or rubbish for any other purpose?
Yes / No

4. Other Internal Combustion Engines According to the community’s consensus, how important
or essential is this practice?
Does your community own and operate any other 123456789
internal combustion engines? (consider generators, (Useless/unneccessary…Critical for community life)
tractors, power equipment, motorized bicycle/ cart, etc)
Yes / No (Refer to the next section, ‘Indoor Air Quality
Assessment’ to evaluate indoor uses of
If Yes then complete the following questions for combustion)
each vehicle (if there are more than one engine,
additional paper will be required): Is there a community policy that prohibits the burning

Chapter 2: Air

of the following materials? Does your community intentionally plant trees, or

c Plastics organize tree-plantings in your larger community?
c Motor oil Yes / No / Not applicable
c Rubber
c Other petrochemicals Is your community active in the struggle to stop the
c Painted items deforestation that is occurring throughout forested
c Electrical equipment regions in Latin America?
Yes / No
6 Ozone depleting substances If Yes describe how:

Does your community use any aerosol products (i.e.

products that have a propellant that sprays the product
through a nozzle, and contained within a metal can)?
Yes / No
If so, does the product contain a chlorofluorocarbon 9A. Expert Environmental Information Source
(CFC) propellant?
Yes / No It will be helpful to contact an environmental
advocacy organization or agency that can provide
Does your community use any refrigerators or air reliable, expert data about the atmospheric
conditioners? pollution occurring in your area.
Yes / No Name of Organization:
If so, does your community have a trained technician
service this equipment, in the interests of preventing Name of contact person:
the release of refrigerant into the atmosphere?
Yes / No Contact information:

7. Herbicides and Pesticides

Does your community, or a nearby agricultural According to these experts, what are the main sources of
operation (farm, plantation, etc.) regularly spray atmospheric pollution in your area?
pesticides or herbicides on fields?
Yes / No
If so, do members of your community experience any
of the following symptoms around the time of
pesticide application? According to these experts, what policies (i.e. laws or
c Irritated eyes legislation) exist regarding airborne emissions that are
c Headaches applicable to your locale?
c Fatigue
c Difficulty breathing
c Incidence of asthma
c Disorientation
According to the organization, what are the most
8. Community Tree Preservation important actions people can take to reduce the
How would you rate the tree cover of the landscape of
your geographical vicinity?
(Densely urbanized…Some tree cover…Wooded areas…Dense

Does your community have a policy that is intended to

preserve any trees that are on community grounds?
Yes / No / Not applicable

Listening To The Earth

9B. Expert Public Health Information Source If we are to preserve the Earth’s air for
ourselves, the Earth’s other creatures, and future
It will also be helpful to contact a public health generations, we must prevent as much vehicular air
advocacy organization or agency that can provide pollution as we can. There are three primary ways
reliable, expert data about the incidence of disease to reduce vehicular air pollution: (1) Minimize
amongst the population. distances driven, (2) Maximize fuel efficiency, (i.e.
Name of Organization: drive more distance per unit of fuel), and (3)
Reduce emissions: Emit fewer pollutants per unit
Name of contact person: of fuel or unit of distance.

Contact information: 1. Minimizing distances driven: The best way to reduce

emissions is to eliminate them by not generating
them in the first place. Refer to point 2 on page 28
for a more in-depth look at reducing use of
According to these experts, what is the incidence of community vehicles.
pulminary and/or heart disease attributable to
atmospheric pollution in your municipality? 2. Increasing Fuel Efficiency: Fuel efficiency can be easily
calculated by determining how many kilometers
were driven in between fuelings, and then dividing
this number by the volume of fuel consumed.
Greater fuel efficiency means that the amount of
According to the organization, what can people do to pollution emitted during a vehicle’s trip is reduced
protect themselves from the harmful effects of air simply because less fuel is used. Several factors
pollution? influence a vehicle’s fuel efficiency, including
proper maintenance, engine wear, driving style,
vehicle condition, engine calibration, as well as
environmental considerations such as road surface
condition and the relative flatness of terrain.
Basically, the harder an engine has to work, the less
fuel efficient it becomes. It is a good idea to keep
records of the vehicle’s fuel consumption, and to
review them regularly so the person responsible for
Outdoor Air Pollution: the vehicle’s maintenance can be made aware of
Evaluation sudden changes in fuel efficiency. If there is a
sudden change, take corrective action. The vehicle
At the end of each discussion section, there will be may have a leak or be in need of service.
statements and a list of numbers from which to choose.
Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment 3. Reducing Vehicular Emissions: Vehicular emissions can
of how well your community represents the statement be reduced in many ways. The main factors that
given. (1= disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9 influence a vehicle’s emissions are: (a) Type of fuel,
= agree completely, no change needed) (b) Emissions control devices, and (c) Preventative
1. Community Vehicles (a) Fuel Type: The type of fuel used to power the
engine is probably the most important factor to
Vehicular air pollution is one of the largest consider. Emissions are greatest for the combustion
environmental problems in Latin America, of gasoline, a bit reduced for diesel fuel, and more
especially in urban and peri-urban areas, and it is so for bio-diesel; they are considerably reduced for
largely due to the practices of individual citizens. alcohol, and minimal for vehicles powered by
All vehicles emit some amount of pollution, and natural gas or propane. Electric vehicles do not
most vehicles operated in Latin American emit a emit air pollutants directly; however, the
significant amount. Thus it is that Latin American production of the electricity used to charge the
vehicle operaters and users can do a great deal to vehicle does (See Chapter 5, Electric Energy
prevent atmospheric pollution. Assessment).

Chapter 2: Air

Often different fuels are blended to reduce

emissions without requiring equipment
Alternative Fuels
modification. The box on the next page describes
some of the most common alternative fuels used to Biodiesel
reduce emissions. Biodiesel is a diesel fuel that is produced from
A note about leaded gasoline: It is now internationally organic materials. It can be processed from any
illegal to manufacture or sell new vehicles requiring number of suitable plant oils. Biodiesel offers
leaded gasoline. Similarly, the sale of gasoline the advantages of not releasing sulpher oxides,
and does not release prehistoric carbon into the
containing lead or lead additives is also illegal. This
atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases
regulation has dramatically reduced the amount of (CO2). Bio-diesel is often sold as a blend with
lead that enters the atmosphere. Lead was once regular diesel fuel.
one of the most prevalent pollutants, and also one Alcohol
of the most hazardous.
Ethanol is widely available and produceable
(b) Emissions control devices: In many countries, throughout Latin America, and much is already
vehicles are required by law to be equipped with produced from sugar cane, particularly in Brazil.
properly functioning emission control devices. Each ton of sugar cane has the energy potential
Although similar legislation exists in some Latin of 1.2 barrels of oil. Between 2003 and 2004,
American countries, in the few places where it does Brazil produced 1.4 billion liters of alcohol. Of
the 17 million light vehicles circulating in Brazil,
exist, the regulations are often not enforced.
some 3 million use bio-fuels or some other
Nevertheless, with or without legislation, vehicle mixture.
owners have the option to only purchase vehicles
Methanol is another liquid alternative fuel.
that are equipped with emission control devices. However, methanol is corrosive, and thus it is
The main emission control device is a catalytic expensive to convert existing vehicles to use this
converter. This device looks similar to a muffler, fuel. Today, it is sold as a blend of 85% methanol
but is positioned nearer to the engine than a and 15% gasoline, commonly called M85.
muffler. The catalytic converter does the most to The easiest way to integrate the use of alcohol is
remove a range of pollutants like carbon monoxide by using a low-level blend of ethanol and
(CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and gasoline commonly referred to as ‘gasohol.’
Most conventional automobiles and trucks can
sometimes nitrogen oxides. However, the life of a use gasoline blended with up to 10% ethanol,
catalytic converter is not infinite, and it can be without any modification to their fuel systems
easily damaged by an engine that is not running or engines, while still being covered by the
properly. Furthermore, since the catalytic converter manufacturer’s warranty.
only functions properly when the engine’s air/fuel Propane and Natural Gas
mixture ratio is adjusted appropriately, this fact Propane is currently the most widely available of
necessitates electronic engine controls and sensors. the alternative fuels. Most vehicles produced in
Other emissions control components include an North America can be converted to propane
exhaust-gas return valve, which functions to reduce operation. Propane is stored under pressure in
cylinders that are located under the vehicle or in
the amount of nitrogen oxides that the engine
the trunk or rear compartment. It is also
produces; a positive crankcase ventilation valve possible to leave the original gasoline system in
which prevents internal engine gases from being place as a backup.
released; a fuel tank cap and evaporative vapor Natural gas (methane) is generally considered to
return valve, which both work to prevent VOCs be the cleanest of all the commercially available
from being released by the fuel; as well as a variety fuels and produces low tailpipe emissions. Most
of sensors and actuators which function to of the vehicles produced in North America can
continuously control the efficiency of the engine’s also be converted to operate on natural gas. As
with propane, the gas is stored in high-pressure
cylinders that are located under the vehicle, or
Most modern cars are equipped with some in the trunk or rear compartment. Because the
emission control devices. However, not every new fuel has a low energy content, you need to refuel
vehicle available in Latin America is guaranteed to the vehicle more frequently. For convenience,
be equipped with such components. Look for most conversions leave the original gasoline
vehicles that are OBD-II compliant, as this system in place in case you need to refuel in a
location where natural gas is unavailable.
indicates that the vehicle has a full range of such

Listening To The Earth

Finally, be aware that pollution will increase manufacturer or a nearby dealer to obtain a copy
dramatically if a vehicle’s emission control system of the owner’s manual if your community does not
is tampered with or leaded gasoline is used in a have one.
vehicle designed for unleaded gasoline. In many By taking proper care of a vehicle, its life is
countries these activities are illegal—for individual extended, its resale value increased, and its fuel
vehicle owners as well as for fleet operators and efficiency optimized. Records should be kept of the
auto technicians. Any tampering with emission preventive maintenance carried out to ensure that
control components may not only drastically the manufacturer’s recommendations are followed.
increase emissions but is likely to have a negative Like all material creations, combustion-powered
effect on vehicle performance and durability. vehicles naturally tend to deteriorate with age and
(c) Preventative maintenance: A vehicle’s emissions usage, and as a result, emission levels can rise
can be reduced, and its performance enhanced if significantly as the engine ages. Good maintenance
the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance is required to keep emission levels at or near design
guidelines are followed. The owner’s manual levels. A preventative maintenance program
specific to a particular vehicle contains a wealth of specifically targeted toward emissions control can
information. It outlines recommended especially identify problem vehicles and assure
maintenance intervals, product specifications, and their repair. If a modern car has high emissions, it
operating procedures. The manual also explains is usually due to a defined malfunction that needs
the manufacturer’s warranty of the emission to be fixed.
control system, if so equipped. Contact the Every vehicle has some items that need to be
Common Causes of Vehicle Smoke
(Note: it is normal for smoke to appear during only the first few seconds after engine startup)

Gasoline engines
Color of smoke Diagnosis Probable causes

Coolant or water leaking into • Bad head gasket

combustion chamber • Cracked block or cylinder head

• Oil leaking into combustion chamber

• Worn piston rings, valves or cylinders
Blue Engine oil being burned
• Bad exhaust manifold
• Bad head gasket

• Clogged air filter

• Carburetor, choke, fuel injection, or emission system
Black/Gray Incomplete fuel combustion malfunction
• Ignition timing off
• Low compression due to engine wear

Diesel engines
• Faulty fuel injection system
• Incorrect fuel injection and valve timing
White Improper air/fuel mixture
• Engine overheating
• Faulty fuel pump and/or injection pump

• Excess engine oil

Blue Engine oil being burned
• Worn piston rings, valves or cylinders

• Damaged air filter

• Faulty fuel injection system
• Clogged air filter
Black/Gray Incomplete fuel combustion • Wrong grade of fuel
• Incorrect fuel injection pump timing
• Engine overheating
• Low compression ratio
Source: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 2002

Chapter 2: Air

checked on a regular basis and others that need to required in Latin American cities as well.
be replaced periodically. These include the air filter, Nevertheless, with the proper instruction and
vacuum and coolant hoses, oil, oil filter, fluids, comprehension of engine controls, any individual
belts, and so on. It’s also important to keep the can perform their own inspection. But, it remains
tires inflated to the recommended pressure. This important that a vehicle be serviced by a skilled
will minimize tire wear and help your vehicle get technician who understands modern emission
the best possible fuel economy. Check the tire control systems. See the resources provided at the
pressure at least once a month and maintain the end of this chapter for more information regarding
maximum tire pressure specified by the vehicle vehicle emissions inspection education programs.
manufacturer. This will decrease fuel consumption
and emissions. Regular vehicle maintenance and inspections are an
The most important maintenance requirement important priority in our community
is regular oil changes. Oil is the vehicle engine’s 123456789
‘life blood.’ It reduces wear caused by friction
between the moving parts of the engine and Our community includes emissions reduction as a
removes acids, sludge and other harmful criterion for fuel choice
substances. Oil helps to cool the engine, provides a 123456789
seal between the cylinder walls and the pistons,
and prevents the engine from rusting. Eventually, Our community includes emissions reduction as a
oil becomes contaminated and its performance criterion for vehicle purchases
additives deteriorate, so it is important that the oil 123456789
be changed regularly. Neglecting to replace worn-
out oil can result in severe damage to the engine 2. Community Transportation Practices
The oil filter should be changed with every oil
change. (Refer to the Hazardous Products and Reducing cumulative distance driven
Waste section of the Waste Handling chapter, page The most important way that your community can
138, for a discussion regarding the proper disposal reduce their atmospheric pollution is to simply
of used motor oil, as well as other fluids and drive less—this means reducing the cumulative
materials used on your vehicle.) amount of distance that your community members
In addition to having the vehicle serviced drive. The world now realizes that vehicles are
according to the maintenance schedule a quick driven too much. Since most vehicles are compact
walk-around inspection to check for fluid leaks, to mid-sized sedans, they generally hold only 2-5
low tire pressure, and exhaust smoke passengers, and are often operated for the purposes
characteristics should be performed every time of only a single individual. This pattern of vehicle
someone uses the vehicle. Routinely inspect the use is extremely inefficient. Thus, the most basic
spot where the vehicle is parked for evidence of way to reduce your community’s cumulative
fluid leaks. Leaking fluids are not only a sure sign vehicle use is to reduce the need for individual
that the vehicle needs repair, but the fluids are also trips.
harmful to the environment. Below are common While reducing cumulative distance may
fluids that can leak from a vehicle: require a higher degree of coordination and
planning than is presently practiced in your
colour of drippings fluid community, the benefits are numerous. Less wear-
Black or dark brown: motor oil or grease and-tear on community vehicles means less
Yellow or green: coolant or antifreeze maintenance, less fuel expenses, more cooperation
Pink or red: transmission fluid amongst community members, and less pollution.
Clear: brake fluid, power steering fluid or gasoline Probably the easiest ways to reduce distance are:
advanced planning of trips, sharing rides, and
The table on the previous page describes some using other means of travel besides the small
of the most common causes for vehicle smoke—a pollution generators known as cars. Each are
vehicle’s exhaust should normally be very light, discussed below.
almost invisible. Trip planning: By planning errands such that
Compulsory emissions inspections are required several tasks are undertaken during a single trip,
by law in some countries and are beginning to be your community can get the most out of the time

Listening To The Earth

any one members spends behind the wheel. Avoid unnecessary idling: Do not allow a vehicle’s
Several tasks can be accomplished when you go engine to run when it is not being driven. If
somewhere by simply driving to a central location practical, this may extend to any situation in which
and parking, and then walking, biking, or using you are going to wait for more than 30 seconds. To
public transit between destinations. accomplish this, several car manufacturers now
Ridesharing: Ridesharing can also be an ideal way produce ‘hybrid-electric’ vehicles that incorporate
to reduce your community’s contribution to an automatic shut-off into their design. ‘Hybrid’
pollution. Every time a ride is ‘shared’ (i.e. two or vehicles also reduce emissions by supplementing
more people with their own itineraries use the the combustion engine with an electric motor
same vehicle), at least one individual trip is which is charged by the vehicle’s own braking
eliminated. energy.
Other modes of travel: Briefly, the main alternate Plan your route to reduce ‘stop-and-go’ driving: Driving
modes of transportation to small vehicles are: in traffic is not always avoidable. But whenever
public transport, pedestrian travel, and bicycling. possible, plan trips outside rush hour and peak
Because public transport greatly reduces the traffic periods. Try to ‘smooth’ your driving by
number of individual trips needed by many people, accelerating and decelerating gradually,
the use of public transportation is a great way to anticipating stops and starts for traffic lights,
reduce cumulative mileage. See question #3 for a changing traffic speeds, and so on. A vehicle that is
more in-depth look at public transportation. crawling along releases about three times more
Biking or walking to a destination creates no smog-producing VOCs than one cruising at the
pollution at all. These activities have the benefit of most fuel-efficient speed. Also, avoid rough roads
also increasing a person’s physical fitness level. where possible: smooth road surfaces can reduce
Unfortunately, as roads expand in cities, fuel consumption by 10 to 30%.
walking options are often reduced substantially. Reduce the use of air conditioning: Use of a vehicle air
Limited investment in sidewalks combined with conditioner increases load on the engine. This can
space constraints mean that sidewalks along streets increase emissions and decrease fuel economy. Try
are often either non-existent or very narrow, opening the window or the fresh air vent to cool
forcing individuals to walk in the streets, where the inside of your vehicle. Also, park in the shade
they must compete for space with motorized if you can to prevent the car from heating up in the
vehicles. In addition, as motorized vehicle traffic sun. Besides keeping the interior temperature of
grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for your car more comfortable, you will lessen the
individuals to cross by foot without some pollution and waste that occurs when gasoline
supporting infrastructure such as stoplights. These evaporates from the engine and gas tank.
problems are only exacerbated if decisions are Reduce vehicle weight: Your car burns more gas and
made to widen the streets to accommodate more emits more pollution when the engine is operating
vehicle traffic. under high load; that is, when it is working
Bicycles also face growing impediments. They, especially hard. Extra load is created by carrying
too, must compete for space with motorized extra weight. Thus, remove excess weight from
vehicles, and are often outlawed altogether on vehicle and keep the vehicle free of unnecessary
major streets. Moreover, even if they can be used to objects which would add weight.
reach a public transportation stop, there is no safe Drive vehicle as smoothly as possible: Maintain
means of storing the bicycles, either by locking moderate speeds and accelerate smoothly—i.e.
them up or by taking them onto the public avoid speeding and abrupt starts and stops. The
transportation vehicles. In addition, bicycles are optimum fuel economy for most vehicles is
often treated as a luxury item and are assessed achieved at a steady speed of between 80 and
substantial tariffs, if imported. 100km per hour. Tests show that most cars use
about 10% less fuel when driving at 90 instead of
Driving efficiently 100km/hr. Avoiding speed changes saves fuel.
Even a perfectly maintained car will pollute more Accelerate and decelerate gradually. (This will also
than necessary if it is driven carelessly. Your car’s reduce engine wear.) Anticipating traffic
emissions will be lower if you apply common sense movement will help you avoid frequent brake
to your driving and follow some basic rules like applications. Stepping on the accelerator too
these below: heavily can use up to four times as much fuel as

Chapter 2: Air

moderate acceleration. Refer to the owner’s

manual to determine optimum gear shift points for
manual transmissions. When going up hills, let the The Case of Mexico City
vehicle’s speed drop off gradually or shift to a
Using Transport Policy to Combat Air Pollution
lower gear when necessary. When driving down
hill, ease up on the accelerator and let gravity move Mexico City may well have the most polluted air
of any city in the world. The city is nestled in a
the vehicle. valley 2,300 meters high, surrounded by
mountains and subject to frequent inversions.
Members of our community strive to minimize the The thick layer of ozone and other air pollutants
amount of distance driven that blanket the city, 83% of which are produced
123456789 by the area’s 2.5 million vehicles, has reached
such levels that the quality of life has been
severely affected. To reverse the steadily
Members of our community make every effort to drive deteriorating situation, in 1990 the government
efficiently launched a comprehensive program centering on
123456789 improved transportation. This involves reducing
the number of private cars, cleaning the gasoline
3. Public Transportation produced in the country’s refineries, and
replacing the engines on 3,500 old diesel public
buses. In addition, the 1995-2000 Program to
Good public transportation systems used by a large Improve Air Quality in Mexico City (Proaire)
fraction of urban citizens are critical in terms of introduced new activities in the field of
minimizing costs, air pollution, oil dependence and monitoring, education and public participation.
traffic congestion. Yet, presently these systems are Other initiatives included the establishment of
the Valley of Mexico Environmental Trust Fund,
inadequate in most cities; they tend to be poorly
which is maintained with tax revenue from petrol
maintained, highly polluting, often uncomfortable, and finances air quality improvement activities,
and limited in accessibility. the Automatic Environmental Monitoring
There are many varied forms of public Network, Environmental Emergency Programs, ‘A
transportation, including buses, rapid transit bus Day Without a Car’ Program, a reforestation
lines, trains, subways, mono-rails, trolleys, taxi programme and environmental education in the
metropolitan area of Mexico City. Some of the
services, as well converted pick-up trucks. key actions being introduced to reduce urban air
The larger-scale public transit systems are found pollution include:
• Requiring drivers to leave their cars home one
Transformation of Bogotá working day per week
• Setting emission standards in bidding
In just a few years, innovative planning documents for new bus engines the same as those
transformed Bogotá, Colombia into the world’s in effect in California
leading model for sustainable urban design. The • Raising subway fares to cover the costs of the
once polluted and congested city, where many new bus engines as well as subway improvements
people were unable to reach vital destinations, • Rationalizing the routes of the 60,000 private
now has one of the world’s most efficient and mini-vans that carry riders from low-density
accessible transportation networks. suburbs to the city center
Latin America’s largest network of bicycle routes, • Raising the price of gasoline by 12.5% and
150 miles long (250 km) using ensuing revenues to fund the
environmental program
A world-class Bus Rapid Transit system of • Requiring that, by the end of 1990, all new
dedicated bus lanes called TransMilenio vehicles sold must be equipped with catalytic
The world’s longest pedestrian-only street, converters
spanning 10.2 miles (17 km); and hundreds of • Regulating that all vehicles be inspected twice a
miles of sidewalks, many through the city’s year to check auto emissions, with a monitoring
poorest neighborhoods program to detect and penalize cheaters.
In addition, the program involves tree planting,
Car-Free Sunday, when many streets are closed to
creation of new parks, substituting less-polluting
motorized traffic to make space for thousands of
fuels in power plants and other industries, and
cyclists and pedestrians
improving industrial efficiency.
(Source: Institute for Transportation and Devlopment (Source: Leitmann, 1991)
Policy, 2003)

Listening To The Earth

particularly in large metropolitan areas, while services do exist, the movement should be toward
smaller systems exist in other areas. On any scale, reducing the emissions from this service. Consider
there are problems that such service systems face. that a fleet of diesel-fueled buses driving in
In some cases the problems overwhelm the service, congested urban traffic use more fuel and emit
and it becomes lost to the public. In other cases, considerably more pollutants than, e.g. the same
the cost of the service prohibits the general public, buses driving in their own unobstructed lanes, or
from using it. In addition, a lack or deficiency of the same buses using a cleaner fuel.
logistical control can severely affect the reliability
and usefulness of the service. Thus, to be effective Our community utilizes public transportation whenever
and beneficial, a public transit system should be it is a feasible alternative to driving
well planned, accessible, and equitable. 123456789
In LAC, as in other parts of the world, the
traditional pattern for developing urban Our community publicly supports the development of
transportation systems has been first to invest in and sustenance of public transportation
road infrastructure. Public transportation systems 123456789
and their associated infrastructure, whether road-
based or not, are rarely planned for or invested in 4. Other Combustion Engines
during this initial period. Such an investment
strategy, similar to what has occurred in most of The evaluation information for this question can
the cities in North America, breeds the creation of be reasonably adapted from the information
a personal automobile-based transportation provided in question number 1, as the operative
system. As cities grow, the existing infrastructure principles are the same.
fosters transportation demands being met by
personal automobiles, further fueling demand for Our community strives to minimize emissions from the
expanding the road-based system, which, in turn, engines we use besides those belonging to vehicles
stimulates the development of urban sprawl. As a 123456789
result, when attention turns to designing public
transportation systems and their associated 5. Burning
infrastructure, the sprawling nature of a city’s
development limits the applicability of public In some areas, particularly those that lack a
transportation. Either only a small portion of a comprehensive system of waste collection, open
city’s residents are able to make use of the public burning of waste by residents can be a major
transportation system, or the cost of developing a contributor to air pollution. Open burning of waste
transportation system sufficiently extensive to can produce mixed and very toxic fumes. Burn
serve a large fraction of the city’s population is barrels often emit acid vapors, carcinogenic tars,
prohibitively expensive. The consequence, and ‘heavy metals’ such as lead, cadmium and
inevitably, is to fortify and expand the personal car- chromium, as well as dangerous levels of carbon
based system instead. Because there are powerful monoxide. The closer you stand to the burn barrel,
interests (e.g. car manufactures, oil companies, the more of these harmful chemicals you inhale.
etc.) that actively, if covertly, oppose public Residual ash is another result of incomplete
transportation initiatives, sometimes political combustion. Frequently, a significant portion of
action is necessary to oppose these forces. In these material in the barrel—especially at the bottom—
cases, as well as in areas where there is no public is not burned up. Ash disposal outside of a sanitary
transit available, but there is a need, political landfill can cause problems sooner (for those
action is often required to motivate the municipal immediately exposed) or later (for example, if
leaders to commit to a project, or to keep them water contacting the ash becomes contaminated
committed to the sustainability of an existing and gets into groundwater and/or surface water).
service. Your community should be aware of these See the Waste Handling Assessment, Chapter 4
and other issues surrounding the sustainability of to take a closer look at your community’s waste
public transportation in your area, and become disposal practices.
actively engaged in ways your community feels Materials that absolutely should not be burned
appropriate. in a burn barrel are tires, plastics, electrical
For the areas in which public transportation equipment, and rubber. These also should not be

Chapter 2: Air

burned in a furnace, wood stove or similar home Refrigerant found in appliances should also be
heating system. Painted surfaces as well as various reclaimed before disposal of the appliance. A
petrochemicals also release a great deal of trained technician is capable of emptying a
pollutants into the air, so they also should not be refrigeration system without leaking any refrierent
burnt. into the atmosphere. This refrigerent can then be
Even the smoke generated by a large number of re-used. Thus, it would be helpful for your
simultaneous leaf fires can cause significant health community to locate a technician that is capable of
problems. Leaf smoke can irritate the eyes, nose performing this work.
and throat of healthy adults. But it can be much
more harmful to small children, the elderly, and Our community strives to eliminate the use of CFCs
people with asthma or other lung or heart diseases. 123456789

Our community strives to eliminate the use of fire as a 7. Pesticides

waste disposal option
123456789 Pesticides and herbicides that are sometimes used
in agricultural operations are generally very
6. Ozone Depleting Substances biologically toxic substances. This means that they
have many negative health and environmental
A single chlorine atom, released by the action of effects. In general, these products should not be
UV radiation on chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, is used unless they are deemed absolutely necessary.
capable of destroying tens of thousands of ozone Nevertheless, several farms—particularly larger
molecules during its residence in the stratosphere. scale operations—do use these products on a
CFCs are found mainly in either (1) aerosol cans regular basis. Besides reaking havoc on the
that were manufactured more than a decade ago, ecosystem within which the product is used,
(2) industrial processes, or (3) refrigerants used in airborne particles of the product can be inhaled and
air conditioners and appliances. may cause problems in humans. Health problems
Prior to 1976, the most common propellants are exacerbated in cases of chronic exposure. Thus,
used for aerosol spray cans were CFC’s, but their if pesticides or herbicides are used in your vicinity,
use has been subsequently banned by many inventory the community for signs of exposure, and
governments. Therefore, many aerosol cans still seek help or advice from environmental or health
have on their label, ‘Does Not Contain CFC’s’. agencies if several people display similar symptoms
CFC propellants were replaced by propane and associated with these chemicals.
other gases, most of which contribute to VOC
emissions and pose other dangers like flammability. Our community is aware of the dangers of pesticide and
It is best if your community chooses not to use any herbicide usage
aerosol products. However, if your community has 123456789
any, be sure to use the product up before disposal.
Refer to Chapter 4 for more information regarding Our community strives, through whatever means, to
waste handling. If your community possesses any protect ourselves and our larger community from
CFC aerosol sprays, the best thing to do is to locate pesticide/herbicide use
a service that is capable of safely handling the 123456789
CFCs and turn the products over to them for
disposal. 8. Community Tree Preservation
Vehicle air conditioning systems in models
earlier than 1994 contain, and leak, CFCs. The air It would be hard to overstate the value of trees.
conditioners of most later models use refrigerants Trees are an extraordinarily valuable and essential
that are less harmful to the ozone layer than CFCs. component of a healthy environment. Trees are
If a vehicle air conditioner contains CFCs, ensure one of the largest sources of oxygen, which we need
that it is properly maintained. Have the air to breathe. One acre of trees generates enough
conditioner serviced by a facility that is certified to oxygen each day for 18 people. Alternately, trees
capture, clean and recycle the used CFCs rather also consume and store carbon dioxide, the gas
than simply venting them into the air and refilling largely responsible for global warming; a single tree
the unit. stores on average 28 kilograms of carbon annually.

Listening To The Earth

Besides affecting these critical gases, trees also 9. Expert Information

directly reduce pollution by filtering pollutants out
of the air; they cleanse the air by intercepting and It is important to be involved in local efforts to
slowing particulate materials causing them to fall reduce air pollution. Aside from the air pollution
out of the air, and by absorbing pollutant gases that your community members may generate,
into leaf surfaces. Pollutants abated by trees there may be industries, utilities, or practices of
include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, carbon your larger community that greatly contribute to
monoxide, carbon dioxide (required for tree the deterioration of air quality but that are beyond
growth), ozone, and small particulates less than 10 your community’s direct influence. For this reason,
microns in size. it is important to educate yourself about the
Trees are a critical part of the water cycle; one overall quality of air in your area, and to discover
acre of trees on a summer day transpires close to the main causes behind the pollution present in it,
4000L of water back into the atmosphere. Trees as well as what policy framework exists within
prevent soil erosion, while increasing groundwater which polluters must operate.
recharging by intercepting, slowing, evaporating, Expert agencies like environmental protection
and storing water through normal tree functions. It organizations and public health organizations are
is estimated that trees alone could reduce by 95% likely to have considerable knowledge about the
the amount of sediment that erodes from prevailing environmental conditions, and they may
‘developed’ landscape. also have ideas regarding action steps to take in
Trees provide shade and wind breaks, lowering order to correct problems. Unfortunately, funds are
the temperature in areas that would otherwise be often limited, so the information that the
under direct sunlight, and offering shelter against organizations have to share does not end up being
strong winds. Similarly, trees also reflect and broadcasted throughout the population. Thus,
absorb sound energy, while adding a natural ‘white your community, for example, can help spark more
noise’ through the movement of branches and widespread citizen engagement by sharing any
leaves. education that you receive from these
Trees are living systems that interact with other organizations.
living things in sharing and recycling resources—as In general, it is a wise idea for your community
such, trees are living centers where living thing to have relationships with such organizations. Let
congregate and are concentrated. It is a fact that them know that you care. Learn about local efforts
people feel more comfortable and at ease when in and issues, and what the agencies are doing about
shaded, open areas of trees as compared to urban them. One of the driving forces behind reducing air
areas surrounded by non-living things. People’s pollution is citizen concern and involvement.
preferences for locating areas of social interactions Besides educating citizens, community members
in calming, beautiful, and nature-dominated areas may speak up at public hearings to let officials
revolve around the presence of community trees know how they feel about air pollution problems in
and forests. Furthermore, people are not the only your community, they may report problems, or
ones who thrive in an environment replete with they may actually serve on administrative or
trees; many forms of wildlife need trees as part of advisory boards that work directly to solve air
their habitat, and such bio-diversity increases the pollution problems.
health of any ecosystem. Tackling urban air pollution requires
Thus, it is advisable that your community do all coordinated actions at many levels. National
that it can to preserve and augment the number of governments are the level at which many needed
trees on your grounds, as well as throughout the policies and regulatory frameworks are set; the
larger community. responsibilities for implementation are divided
between several ministries including energy,
Our community holds the preservation of trees and industry, transport, trade, finance, environment
forest on our grounds as a priority and health. Sub-national authorities often have
123456789 major enforcement responsibilities for
environmental regulations, and local governments
Our community makes explicit efforts to end typically manage key areas such as land use and
deforestation throughout Latin America urban transport planning. There are also other,
123456789 non-governmental stakeholders with important

Chapter 2: Air

roles. For example, of the approximately US$1.3

Billion invested in the Santiago Metropolitan Pesticides/Herbicides: action
Region over the last decade, 90% was from the
private sector. 8 Tree Preservation: community land
The development of a comprehensive strategy
for tackling air pollution requires a level of Tree Preservation: deforestation
information and understanding that is often
lacking. Thus, an important role that national and 9 Expert Information
local authorities can also be influenced to play is to
develop capacities and support activities to collect
reliable air quality data, develop emissions Now that you have comprehensively examined your
inventories, model air quality and its impacts, community’s contribution to air pollution, how would
identify measures for improving air quality and you rate, overall, your community’s practices in these
assess costs across sectors, besides drafting and regards?
enforcing environmental legislation.
It is important that the surrounding Excellent / Satisfactory / Poor / Critically
communities be aware of what is being released by deficient
manufacturers in their area. All appropriate
measures should be taken to eliminate the release If you found that problems exist, list them below:
of hazardous substances into the air. Category (I-III)
Problem 1
Our community has developed relationships with and
utilizes the information available from expert
organizations in our area

Conclusions Problem 2

Now enter the scores from each of the preceding

sections in the column on the right:

1 Community Vehicles: maintenance Problem 3

Community Vehicles: fuel choice

Community Vehicles: purchasing

2 Transport: minimizing distance Problem 4

Transport: efficient driving

3 Public Transportation: use

Public Transportation: advocacy

Now categorize each problem listed above into one
4 Other Combustion Engines of the following three categories:
I = Critically important. Currently dangerous,
5 Burning must be addressed immediately
II = Important, but not immediately dangerous.
6 Ozone depleting substances Must be addressed
III = Current practice should be improved, but is
7 Pesticides/Herbicides: education not immediately important

Listening To The Earth

Indoor Air Pollution: Assessment pollutants add up to a great deal of disease and
environmental degradation; however, when smoke
Air pollution—Inside is concentrated by walls and a roof, the dangers
become much more critical.
Air pollution can affect our health in many ways Inside most Latin American households, the
with both short-term and long-term effects. stove or cookstove is the major source of emissions.
Different groups of individuals are affected by air The indoor air pollution that comes from
pollution in different ways. Some individuals are cookstove fires is the most harmful and deadly
much more sensitive to pollutants than are others. problem facing most people of the countryside,
Young children and elderly people often suffer especially the women and children.
more from the effects of air pollution. People with
health problems such as asthma, heart and lung
disease may also suffer more when the air is
polluted. The extent to which an individual is
Indoor Air Pollution: Inventory
harmed by air pollution usually depends on the
total exposure to the damaging chemicals, i.e. the The following sections are designed to help your
duration of exposure and the concentration of the community make an inventory of its indoor air
chemicals must be taken into account. Consider pollution. This is so that the community can assess
that indoors, gases can rapidly become much more both the sources of indoor air pollution, as well as
concentrated than outdoors. what is being done (or can be done) to help
Examples of short-term effects include irritation improve the community’s practices.
to the eyes, nose and throat, and upper respiratory The following inventory is based around the
infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. likely main sources of a community’s indoor air
Other symptoms can include headaches, nausea, pollution: cooking/heating, and smoking; thus, it
and allergic reactions. Short-term air pollution can will especially examine the kitchen area. However,
aggravate the medical conditions of individuals the principles of efficiency and ventilation of a
with asthma and emphysema. cookstove readily apply to any other use of fire
Long-term health effects can include chronic that your community might have. Each question is
respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and discussed in the section following the inventory,
even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys. where you will be provided a means to evaluate
Continual exposure to air pollution affects the your responses, and directions to go for
lungs of growing children and may aggravate or improvement.
complicate medical conditions in the elderly.
Indoor air pollution, like atmospheric pollution, 1. Types and uses of community fuel
is generally a result of combustion. Combustion is
a chemical reaction that lets off a great deal of Here is a list of fuels you might be using:
energy. We experience this energy as the light and Biomass Fuels:
the heat that comes off a flame. Harnessing this Dung
energy has been very useful to us. Fire is a reaction Wood
which breaks ‘organic’ matter down into smaller Agricultural residues
bits. (Organic matter is anything that has the Other residues
element ‘carbon’ in it.) Residue briquettes
‘Incomplete combustion’ means that the fuel is Charcoal
not being fully broken down. We see evidence of Liquid and Gas Fuels:
incomplete combustion whenever we see smoke. Kerosene (Paraffin)
Most of the pollution from fire comes from Bottled gas (LPG)
incomplete combustion. Biodiesel or other liquid bio-fuel
Smoke is made up of a wide variety of particles Biogas
and gases. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a very deadly Solar Energy:
gas that is a result of incomplete combustion. Solar cooker
There are many other dangerous components like Solar electric (solar PV)
nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, and Other Fuels:
suspended particle matter. In general, all these Grid electricity

Chapter 2: Air

Batteries c Falling down with load

Wax candle c Twisted/sprained ankle
Any other fuel (specify): c Broken bones
c Cuts/lacerations from blades or saws
Using the list above, what types of fuel do you use for c Back strain
the following purposes? c Dehydration
main fuel secondary fuel c Dizziness or fainting
Cooking: c Other problem reported
Lighting: Other problem reported:
Keeping warm:
Heating water: 3. Fuel drying (for biomass fuels)
Cooking for selling:
Cooking animal feed: Do you ever use ‘green’ fuel (i.e. wood or plants that are
Electrical equipment: still growing, or have been growing very recently, when
Other task 1 (specify): collected)
c not applicable—do not use biofuel
Other task 2 (specify): c never
c occasionally
c usually
2. Getting fuel; buying and gathering c always

What is the source of your main type(s) of fuel? The main fuel that you use – about how dry is it
c Raw biomass (wood, dung) usually?
c Petroleum products c not applicable—do not use biofuel
c Converted biomass (e.g. Biogas, biodiesel, c Very dry
plant oil, residue briquettes, etc) c Dry
c Grid electric—if so, is it generated from c Damp
coal, oil, nuclear or hydro? c Wet
c ‘Green’
c The sun Definitions:
c Other source (specify) Very dry: wood that is completely dry having been outdoors
c Fuel 1 in very dry weather for a long period, or kept to dry in the
c Fuel 2 house for some weeks at least;
Dry: wood that does not feel damp, was gathered when the
If you buy fuel, how much do you pay for it per week? weather was variable and has needed to be dried in the house
(show unit of currency) for several days;
Wood: Damp: wood that feels slightly damp, has not been dried in
Charcoal: the house;
Kerosene (paraffin): Wet: wood that is wet due to prevailing rain and dampness
Bottled gas: rather than because it is green (see below), and not having
Grid electricity: been dried to any degree in the house;
Batteries: Green: wood that was cut while still growing, or was doing so
Wax candles: very recently, so that the wood contains sap.
Other (e.g. gelfuel):
Total cost: Do you dry your main fuel before use?
c not applicable (not biofuel or always very
If your fuel is gathered, who is responsible for gathering dry)
it? c always
c usually
How many hours a week are spent gathering fuel? c occasionally
c never
Check any problems encountered by those collecting fuel:
c Supply is scarce

Listening To The Earth

4. Health and Wellbeing c Semi-open

Survey the members of your community and any Permanent ventilation in roof of kitchen:
workers that work there. In what ways does smoke affect c None
their health? Answer each question by indicating the c Small holes (less than 10cm in diameter)
percentage of people that report each symptom, i.e.: c Large holes (more than 10cm in diameter)
1 = 0-25% c No roof, or very open roof
2 = 26-50%
3 = 51-75% Does the kitchen area have eavespace?
4 = 76%-100% c none
c All round room
How many people are being interviewed for this c Along outside walls
question? c Along walls within house

What percentage report itchy, watery or irritated eyes? How many windows are in the room where cooking is
What percentage report a persistent cough?
How many doors are there in the kitchen?
What percentage presently have a chest illness?
Are the door(s) usually open or closed?
What percentage report having a shortness of breath?
Can any black soot or residue be found on the walls,
What percentage report having frequent headaches? ceiling, or other locations?

7. The stove
5. Smoking
Type of stove—main stove and secondary stove (choose
How many members of the community smoke? from the following):
main secondary
Do people smoke inside? c c Three-stone or two-stone fire (i.e.
No / Occasionally / Yes, regularly open fire)
c c Shielded (from wind or air currents)
Has your community been educated about the health mud fire or mud stove (including
and environmental effects of smoking? chimney stove)
Yes / No c c Wood-burning ceramic stove (made
of fired clay)
Does the community have a smoking policy? (e.g. smoke c c Metal stove
only in designated areas) c c Improved charcoal stove
Yes / No c c Pressurized kerosene stove
c c Non-pressurized kerosene stove
Is the community policy explained to all members and c c Gas stove
guests? c c Solar cooker
Yes / No c c Grid-powered electric stove

Are there designated smoking areas? If unsure, or if you have ‘other’ type of stove, please
Yes / No describe:
If Yes where are these areas located?

6. Ventilation of the Kitchen area

If the stove burns biomass fuels, does the stove (or fire
Is the kitchen: pit) have a grate upon which the fuel is placed?
c Enclosed Yes / No / Not applicable

Chapter 2: Air

Is the space between the flame and the burner plate(s) If Yes do people sleep in that room?
or pots minimized?
Yes / No

Does the burning area have insulation to absorb and (list who sleeps there)
retain heat? (e.g. Clay, sand, brick, etc.)
Yes / No / Not applicable 8. Smoke extraction

Can the burning chamber be closed, excepting an inlet Is there any type of smoke extraction in the kitchen
for air? (chimney stove, hood etc)?
Yes / No Yes / No

If the stove has spaces for multiple pots, are there plates If the answer is Yes rate the condition of each type of
to block unused burner areas? extraction device on a scale from 1-5 (1 being ‘poor’).
Yes / No / Not applicable Consider things like rust, holes, cleanliness, state of
If the stove has spaces for multiple pots, can the air flow
to each be controlled with internal baffles? Extraction method: 1-5
Yes / No / Not applicable Chimney (built into structure of building):
Smoke hood (semi-permanent fixture):
If the fire is internal, are there dampers on the air inlet Other (specify):
to control the size of the flame?
Yes / No / Not applicable If ‘other’ smoke extraction method, please describe or
sketch it:
Is there a flue (i.e. chimney) built into the design of the
Yes / No

Observing the stove in operation, answer the

following questions:

How much smoke does the fire produce?

c none visible
c light wispy If there is a smoke extraction device, watch the
c gray and steadily produced stove in operation and answer the following
c fairly heavy with some soot questions:
c thick with black soot
Can or does the smoke reenter the building through
What color is the flame? eaves, windows, or doors?
c Blue Yes / No
c Yellow
c Orange Does the smoke drift toward another home?
c Red Yes / No
c Occasional flame, mostly smoldering coals

How many people usually sleep in the room with the Maintenance:
main stove? Is there someone in your community that is charged
with maintaining all exhaust systems (chimneys, etc)?
Is this stove usually kept alight at night? Yes / No

Is a stove used in any other room in the house other Does your community have a regular maintenance
than the kitchen? schedule for chimneys and vents?
Yes / No Yes / No

Listening To The Earth

9. Education, Policy, and Civic Engagement compressed residues, liquid fuels, gaseous fuels,
solar energy (most efficient).
Has everyone in your community been educated about Thus, using dung as fuel (without first
the dangers of indoor air pollution? converting it into biogas) releases the greatest
Yes / No amounts of particulate matter, carbon monoxide,
and several other pollutants. Burning corn cobs or
Does your community have a policy on indoor air stalks, or other crop wastes is slightly cleaner than
pollution? dung. Cleaner yet is wood, charcoal, coal, or other
Yes / No solid fuel types. However, all these ‘biomass’ fuels
release a great deal of pollutants because they do
Does your community have an active plan to help not often burn completely. This is why liquids and
educate the public about air pollution, deforestation, gases release much less air pollution.
and better practices? Bottled gas, kerosene, and other heating liquids
Yes / No and gases are much cleaner relative to wood.
Nonetheless, all of these fuels let off carbon
Is your community taking steps to address or change dioxide and usually carbon monoxide, which are
public policies which affect air quality (e.g. forest use, both pollutants that can concentrate into
emission standards, fuel standards, etc)? dangerous levels indoors. In addition, if the fuel is
Yes / No petroleum based, there are still a number of
pollutants released besides carbon dioxide and
carbon monoxide, like sulfur oxides and volatile
organic compounds. ‘Biofuels’—for example, gases
Indoor Air Pollution: Evaluation made from the digestion of dung, or ethanol made
from corn, or diesel made from seeds—release far
At the end of each discussion section, there will be a statement fewer pollutants than their petroleum
and a list of numbers from which to choose. Choose a number counterparts.
from 1-9 to indicate your assessment of how well your If your community uses electric power (from
community represents the statement given (1= disagree, the grid) for heating or cooking, refer to the
community practices unhealthy; 9= agree completely, no change chapter in this manual about energy, Chapter 5.
needed). By far, the cleanest, most efficient means of
heating and cooking is the sun, or solar energy. The
1-2. Types, Uses, Costs of Community’s Fuel use of solar energy releases no pollution and uses
no fuel. You can use passive solar warmers to bake
The purpose of these questions is to inventory the bread, to boil water, to heat vegetables, as well as
types, uses, and costs of the community’s fuel. many other tasks that would normally require the
Making an inventory of the types of fuels used burning of fuel. Solar technology is rapidly
for various purposes helps your community spreading throughout Latin America because the
develop a clear picture of your community’s required materials are generally available and
practical fuel choices. It is often the case that inexpensive, and, of course, because there is a lot
several different fuels are used within a community, of sun!
but each for their own purposes. It should be your The cost is an important aspect to keep track of,
community’s goal to maximize the efficiency and because it measures how much of the community’s
cleanliness of fuel for each purpose that fuel is resources are being used for fuel. These resources
needed, with the priority being set on those fuels may be monetary or they may be in the form of
which are used most often. personal labor. If a decision is made to change
The choice of fuel has perhaps a greater effect fuels, or to include the use of solar heating, keeping
upon the amount of pollution emitted by burning track of the fuel costs becomes an important
than any other single factor. Basically, the hotter means of judging the efficiency of the fuels.
and cleaner that a fuel burns, the less pollution it Refer to the resources at the end of this chapter
lets off. The gradient of efficient burning is as to find additional information regarding bio-gas,
follows (this is general and does not include factors cooking fuels, and solar cookers. Resources for bio-
like dryness or stove capabilities): dung (least gas production can also be found in the Waste
efficient), crop residues, wood, charcoal or Handling, Chapter 4.

Chapter 2: Air

Our community strives to use very efficient sources of 5. Smoking

fuel and monitors how much of our resources we spend
on fuel Research has proven without a doubt that smoking
123456789 is very injurious to both the smoker’s health and to
those who inhale second-hand tobacco smoke. It is
3. Fuel Drying extremely harmful to one’s health, particularly to
one’s lungs and heart. Since the environmental
In some cases, the use of wood or other biomass tobacco smoke let off by smokers is as harmful to
fuels is unavoidable. In these cases it is most others in poorly ventilated areas as it is to the
important to create situations in which the fuel smoker, it is important to the health of the
burns as hot and completely as possible. This can community to have a smoking policy that restricts
be accomplished by using an efficient cookstove, smoking to open areas that are well ventilated.
and by drying the fuels being used. Although adopting such a policy may represent
If your community uses wood or other residues a divergence from the normal cultural habits, it is
for fuel, be sure to have a sheltered area available very important that the policy be explained to
in which to store recently collected wood or crop everyone affected by it: community members,
wastes. Fuels should be dried until they are as dry workers, and guests alike. The explanation of
as possible (preferably a week or more). policy may serve as an opportune time to educate
There should be a regular program in place to about the dangers of smoking. Educating smokers
rotate the fuels so that the driest are always what and non-smokers alike about the dangers of
are burned, and recently collected fuels have ample smoking is an important step to take to reduce the
time to dry before use. numbers of people smoking.

Our community takes steps to ensure that any biomass Our community strives to eliminate the dangers of
fuels are thoroughly dried before attempting to burn environmental tobacco smoke
them 123456789
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
(choose 10 if not applicable) 6. Ventilation of the kitchen area

4. Health and Wellbeing The purpose of these questions is to provide the

rational background to deciding how important it
It is important to survey the members of your is for your community to increase the ventilation
community, including any workers that spend time of your cooking areas.
there, especially those that spend a lot of time in or A properly working cookstove will have the
near the kitchen. ability to pull in as much air (i.e. oxygen) as it
Shared health problems (especially respiratory needs to burn the fuel, and it will vent all exhaust
diseases) may indicate that indoor air pollution is outside into the atmosphere away from people or
a real problem in the community that should be confined spaces; however, the ventilation of the
addressed immediately. kitchen area is also very important.
The presence of smoke may immediately cause Roof vents (not including flue pipes or
irritated eyes, headaches, or coughing. Longer term chimneys) and eavespaces are important in order
exposure may lead to upper and/or lower that vapors are able to escape. However, any
respiratory infections like pneumonia. In addition, venting near the ceiling or roof must be coupled
long term exposure to smoke may lead to with venting closer to the ground, like doors,
emphysema, lung cancer, chronic obstructive windows, or other openings. In addition, windows
pulmonary disease, and other debilitating diseases. and doors also serve the important function of
Those most at risk are those who do the providing light to the working areas of the kitchen,
cooking, or those who sleep near sources of smoke. which makes operating in the kitchen much safer.
Poorly ventilated kitchens will most likely show
Our community shows no signs of health problems evidence of soot or smoke residues on the walls,
related to smoke inhalation. ceilings, or settled on surfaces. If any evidence of
123456789 poor ventilation is found, structural improvements
should be considered.

Listening To The Earth

Nevertheless, since several of the structural 5. Maximize user satisfaction by making the
improvements that could be made to increase stoves convenient to use (with local fuels, cooking
ventilation are costly and/or labor intensive, these pots, and utensils) and able to easily prepare local
questions about kitchen design can be used to dishes well
indicate the relative importance of upgrading the 6. In summary, only a stove with what might be
efficiency of the cookstove, or the installation of a called robust efficiency will consistently save fuel
chimney or vent hood. For example, if your kitchen under conditions of actual use. Stoves must be
has no windows, only one door, and very little easy to use and fuel efficient under a variety of
eavespace, it is very important that the smoke is conditions: when it is boiling, simmering, baking,
vented. However, if there are roof vents, eavespace, or frying food; when it is using only one opening of
windows, and a door, replacing a chimneyless stove a large, three-pot stove; and when it is dirty or
is less important than making sure that the stove is worn. Cookstoves are workhorses, not racehorses,
burning efficiently. and must be designed accordingly.
It is important to include the comments of all It is absolutely essential that all fires are vented.
those who work in the kitchen (not only those who That is, each stove should have either a built-in
are community members) in this inventory, since chimney vented outdoors, or a vent hood which is
they may have a more intimate knowledge of the similarly vented outside. If any fire in your
kitchen, stove and ventilation problems than community is not equipped with such a device,
anyone else. installing one is the highest priority in order to
improve indoor air quality. Ample kitchen
Our community’s kitchen is very well ventilated. It has ventilation (with eaves, windows, roof vents, etc.)
adequate eavespace, is well lit, and shows no signs of reduces the danger of concentrated exhaust smoke,
soot or smoke build-up but does not completely alleviate it. Consider that
123456789 on a day where the air is stagnant, air currents do
not flow through the kitchen, and thus do little to
remove the smoke. References to resources to help
7-8. The stove and smoke extraction you in this can be found in the categorized
reference section in the back of this manual.
The cookstove and its smoke extraction device are It is important that all chimneys, vents, stoves,
the crux of the indoor air pollution matter. The or other heating device be checked on a regular
cookstove should be as efficient as possible. schedule to ensure proper operation. The
Efficiency not only makes the operation of it inspection schedule might be as infrequent as once
cheaper, it greatly reduces the amount of air a season, but it is very important that it occur. Any
pollution released by it. There are a few simple vent must be intact (without holes), clean and free
principles to keep in mind when designing or of obstruction. All burners must be functioning
upgrading a cookstove. properly, smoke shouldn’t be escaping into the
There are an incredible variety of cookstove kitchen with a well designed cookstove. It is
designs; but the qualities of a good cookstove are probably best if one person is put in charge of the
as follows: regular maintenance of cooking, heating, and
1. Maximize combustion of the fuel by keeping ventilation systems within the community.
the temperature high and ensuring the presence of Refer to the resources at the end of this chapter
sufficient oxygen to find more information regarding indoor air
2. Maximize radiative heat transfer from the pollution, cookstove designs, and ventilation.
fire to the pot(s) by keeping the pot as close to the
flame as possible Some care and thoughtfulness has been put into the
3. Maximize convection from the fire to the design of our community’s stove(s). All stoves are
pot(s) with a stove design that passes as much of directly vented with either a chimney or a vent hood.
the hot gases over the pot(s) as possible; reduce They are as efficient as they can be for the primary type
drafts of fuel used
4. Maximize conduction to the food pot(s) by 123456789
using an insulating material for the stove so that
the heat is retained and concentrated near the

Chapter 2: Air

9. Education, Policy, and Civic Engagement Now that you have comprehensively examined your
protection of indoor air quality, how would you rate,
Reducing indoor air pollution is everyone’s overall, your community’s practices in these regards?
responsibility. Therefore it is important that Excellent / Satisfactory / Poor / Critically
everyone be aware of the dangers of smoke and deficient
how to avoid its concentration inside confined
spaces. Reducing indoor air pollution should not If you found that problems exist, list them below:
only be a personal policy, but a community policy Category (I-III)
as well, since it affects all members of the Problem 1
Spreading the principles of clean air needs to
happen not only within your community, but
within your municipality, country, and throughout
the world. Thus to protect God’s creation, it is
important that your community work at all levels
to educate and change policies regarding air Problem 2

Our community has made a point to create policies to

protect the quality of air both within and outside the
community buildings. We are actively engaged in
educating each other and the general public about air
quality issues Problem 3


Now enter the scores from each section: Problem 4


1-2. Fuel types, uses and costs

3. Biomass fuel drying

4. Health and well being

5. Smoking Now categorize each problem listed above into one

of the following three categories:
6. Kitchen ventilation I = Critically important. Currently dangerous,
must be addressed immediately
7-8. Cookstove and smoke extraction II = Important, but not immediately dangerous.
Must be addressed
9. Education, Policy, Civic Engagement III = Current practice should be improved, but is
not immediately important

Listening To The Earth

Some suggestions for reducing Indoor Air Pollution Your Car and Clean Air: What YOU Can Do to Reduce
Pollution. EPA, Office of Mobile Sources, United States
Fuel types / Alternate fuel-cooker combinations: Environmental Protection Agency, document 420-F-93-
002. Available online:
• Briquettes and pellets
• Charcoal, Kerosene Energy-Environment Linkages in the Urban Sector.
• Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) Leitmann, Josef, UNDP/World Bank/UNCHS Urban
• Biogas, Producer gas Management Program (UMP). Discussion paper, 1991.
• Solar cookers (thermal) Environmental Issues Information Sheet: Air Pollution.
• Other low smoke fuels Smith-Sebasto, University of Illinois Extension. 2000.
• Electricity Full text available online:
Drying biomass fuels:
• All biomass is thoroughly dried
Urban Air Quality Handbook. Prepared and written by
Tobacco smoking:
the staff and consultants of the Sustainable Cities
• Only in well ventilated areas or outdoors Programme, UNCHS, Kenya. Available online:
Kitchen design and placement of the stove:
• Shelters/cooking huts GEO3: Global Environmental Outlook. UNEP, 2002.
• Windows/ventilation holes Available online:
• Eavespaces Smoke – the Killer in the Kitchen. Warwick, Hugh and
• Stove at waist height Alison Doig, ITDG Publishing, London, UK; 2004
Improved ventilation Ecological Cookers: An essential element in Bettering
• Hoods/fireplaces and chimneys (built into structure Household Health. Whitfield, David, Fundación
of house) CEDESOL. Available by request online:
Improved cooking devices:
Chapter 2: Resources for Air Quality
• Chimneyless improved biomass stoves
• Improved stoves with flues attached Sustainable Urban Transport Project for Latin America:
Kitchen practices: Cra. 14 # 94a- 24 of.
409; Bogotá, Colombia; Tel: (+571) 635 9048; Fax:
• Use of pot lids
(+571) 635 9015. SUTP is dedicated to advancing
• Good maintenance
sustainable transportation practices throughout
• Sound operation
developing countries. They are a great resource for
• Partially pre-cooked food
policy makers and concerned citizens. Their free
Sourcebook for Policy Makers in Developing Countries
Source: ITDG, 2004 (modules available in Spanish and English) provides a
tremendous amount of information and guidance on
topics such as: vehicle maintenance and inspection,
cleaner fuels, eco-driving, mass transit options, and
raising public awareness.
Chapter 2: Acknowledgements Clean Air Initiative: The
Clean Air Initiative is a project of the World Bank that
The information contained in this chapter has been adapted from the advances innovative ways to improve air quality in
following sources: cities by sharing knowledge and experiences through
The Origin, Fate, and Health Effects of Combustion By- partnerships in selected regions of the world. La
Products: A Research Framework. Avakian, Maureen D., Iniciativa de Aire Limpio en Ciudades de América
Dellinger, Environmental Health Perspectives. Latina (IAL-CAL) tiene como propósito revertir el
VOLUME 110, NUMBER 11, November 2002. deterioro de la calidad del aire urbano en América
Latina, que es el resultado de la creciente urbanización,
Emissions of Rural Wood-Burning Cooking Devices, A aumento del transporte vehicular, y de la producción
thesis submitted to the Faculty of Engineering, Ballard- industrial.
Tremeer, Grant, University of the Witwatersrand,
Johannesburg, 1997. Available online: Environmental Protection Agency of the United States: pages available in spanish.
Many resources on air pollution, mobile sources, and
Smoke, Health, and Household Energy, Volume 1. Bates, pollution prevention.
Liz and the Smoke Team, UK Department for
International Development, 2005. Available online: Resources for the Future: Offer several articles and reports on air pollution, climate
change, and pollution prevention.
Urban Transportation: Challenges facing Latin America.
Bleviss, Deborah Lynn, 1999. Available online: Drive Green - Environmental guide to driving: From
Environment Canada, a guide to better driving
Central America: Environmental Issues. Energy practices.
Information Agency, United States Department of
Energy, 2002. Online: GREENTIE: GREENTIE was an international directory of suppliers whose technologies
help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. GREENTIE

Chapter 2: Air

ceased collecting new information at the end of March Energia: International Network on Gender and
2005. Nevertheless, the information will remain Sustainable Energy: Tel:
available through this web site’s search facilities as it +31.(0)33.4326044 (Netherlands). ENERGIA is an
represents one of the World’s most detailed repositories international network on gender and sustainable energy
of such information. which links individuals and groups concerned with
energy, sustainable development, and gender.
Diesel Emissions Evaluation Program:
ENERGIA’s goal is to contribute to the empowerment Check under their listed
of rural and urban poor women through a specific focus
research projects for diesel maintenance guidelines and
on energy issues. ENERGIA provides numerous
best practices.
publications and resources toward improving cooking
Emissions of Rural Wood-Burning Cooking Devices: practices. Ph.D thesis by
Aprovecho Research Center:
Grant Ballard-Tremeer which offers a detailed analysis
The Aprovecho Research Center website contains
of cookstove designs and their emissions.
construction plans for many different cook stove
Renewable Energy Policy Project (Center for Renewable designs
Energy and Sustainable Technology):
SPARKNET: SPARKNET REPP’s goal is to accelerate the use
is an interdisciplinary interactive Knowledge Network
of renewable energy by providing credible information,
focusing on energy for low-income households in South
insightful policy analysis, and innovative strategies
and East Africa.
amid changing energy markets and mounting
environmental needs by researching, publishing, and HEDON Household Energy Network:
disseminating information, creating policy tools, and The HEDON Household
hosting highly active, on-line, renewable energy Energy Network is an informal forum dedicated to
discussion groups. improving social, economic, and environmental
conditions in the South, through promotion of local,
Biomass Cooking Stoves discussion forums:
national, regional and international initiatives in the
household energy sector.
This site exists to help people develop better stoves for
cooking with biomass fuels in developing regions. Professor Kirk R. Smith: University of California, Berkeley: Excellent
ountries/country.htmlLinks to biomass cooking stove resource on the effects of indoor air pollution from
resources in different countries. cookstoves.

Listening To The Earth

Chapter 3
Drinking Water—Quality and Source Protection

Water: Catalyst and Crisis account for 3.5 per cent and soil moisture accounts
for only 1.5 per cent.

Water: The Catalyst of Life Fresh water is a limited resource. Our demands on it
can not be unbounded.
ater is essential to all forms of life on

W earth. It is a critical part of any

ecosystem. Without water, neither
vegetation nor animal life can survive. Our own
Water: Global Crisis

The Earth, with its diverse and abundant life

bodies are made up of over 70% water. forms, including over six billion humans, is facing
Water is unique in that it is the only substance a serious water crisis. All the signs suggest that it is
to naturally exist in all three of its physical states getting worse and will continue to do so, unless
within the Earth’s atmosphere. Water can be found corrective action is taken. This crisis is one of
as ice or snow in its solid form, as liquid water, and water governance, essentially caused by the ways
as gaseous water vapor. in which we, as humans, mismanage water.
Perhaps more importantly, water is the key Despite its limited supply, the human demand
ingredient that allows the environmental elements for freshwater is increasing exponentially. Humans
of the Earth to keep moving and intermingling. are now using groundwater at a rate much faster
Water is the ‘universal solvent’ capable of than the Earth can replenish it by absorbing
dissolving almost everthing. In an organism, water precipitation. There are two main factors
is needed as a medium for the transport of responsible for the increasing demand: 1) The
nutrients, minerals, and ions, as well as for human population is continuing to skyrocket,
hydration. rapidly approaching 7 billion people; and 2)
Unfortunately, this property of water means Individuals, per capita, are using more water.
that both beneficial and harmful substances can be While there are several factors affecting the
dissolved in and dispersed throughout a body of population increase, per capita consumption is
water, and then ingested by living organisms. directly affected by our personal practices.
The Earth’s water is continually cycling from Especially in urban areas, people tend to have very
the atmosphere, where it exists as water vapor or wasteful water-use habits. In rural areas,
precipitation, to the earth’s surface, where it either agricultural practices may make wasteful use of
is absorbed as ground water or ‘runs off ’ the land water; however, in many rural areas the critical
to become surface water. This cycle is called the problems are water scarcity and inadequate supply.
hydrological (or ‘water’) cycle. Once upon the Adding to the crisis, the health or quality of
surface, the water returns to the air either through existing water supplies is rapidly deteriorating. The
the process of evaporation, or via biological environment has a natural absorptive, self-
processes. Thus, plants, and animals (including us) cleansing capacity. However, this capacity can be,
help to return water back to the air. and is being exceeded. Humans are polluting water
Of the Earth’s water supply, only 2.5% is fresh much faster than the Earth can clean it.
water; the rest is salt water. Of this amount, close As a result of these problems: millions of people
to two-thirds is locked in glaciers or permanent die each year from thirst, or water-based illnesses;
snow cover. This means that less than one percent biodiversity is lost; livelihoods are affected; natural
of the Earth’s water is available to us to drink. food sources (e.g. fish) are damaged; and high
If the polar ice caps and glaciers are not clean-up costs result.
considered (since their waters are locked in place), This reduction in both water quantity and
groundwater accounts for nearly all usable quality has serious impacts on not only ourselves,
freshwater. Lakes, swamps, reservoirs and rivers but on ecosystems, and the Earth’s life in general.

Listening To The Earth

In many areas of the world water has become a other groundwater sources are linked to piped
very scarce resource, and safe water has truly distribution, limited disinfection is usually carried
become a rarity. Correcting these critical out prior to consumption.
impairments is of global significance. In addition to its use as drinking water, water
from beneath the ground has been exploited for
Therefore, to ensure their own health, and the health of domestic use, livestock and irrigation since the
the environment, communities must: earliest times. Groundwater use has grown
• Ensure source adequacy and quality of drinking water consistently ever since successful methods of
• Take care to safely handle and/or treat drinking water bringing the water to the surface have been
• Identify and eliminate wasteful and polluting practices developed.
• Ensure sustainable protection of its water source In Latin America, many of the continent’s
largest cities, Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires and
Uses and Abuses of Water Resources Santiago, obtain a significant proportion of their
municipal water supply from groundwater. In the
Humans affect the quality of the Earth’s valley of Mexico City, over 1,000 deep wells supply
groundwaters, surface waters, and atmospheric 3.2 billion cubic meters per day, which is about 95
waters. Ground and surface waters are being per cent of the total supply to a population of
overconsumed and polluted, while atmospheric nearly 20 million people. (WHO)
waters are greatly affected by air pollution. Thus, Unfortunately, while groundwater may be
below we will discuss the uses and bad cheap and abundant, the critical measure of these
management practices that adversely affect sources is not their volumes, but their renewability.
groundwater and surface water, while reserving a When groundwater sources are tapped beyond
discussion of air polluting habits for another their capacity for renewal, water levels drop,
chapter. (See the Outdoor Air Quality Assessment, aquifers become brackish through salinization,
Chapter 2). pumping costs increase, and sooner or later the
resource is depleted.
Groundwater The dominant role of groundwater resources is
Often the importance of groundwater is clear and their use and protection is, therefore, of
underestimated. It is customary to think of fundamental importance to human life and
groundwater as being more important in arid or economic activity.
semi-arid areas and surface water as more
important in humid areas. However, inventories of Surface water
groundwater and surface water use reveal the Humans use surface water for a large variety of
worldwide importance of groundwater. The reasons reasons. Some of the major uses of surface water
for this include its convenient availability close to are:
where water is required, its natural quality which is 1. sources of drinking water supply
generally adequate for potable supplies, and the 2. irrigation of agricultural lands
relatively low capital cost of development. 3. industrial and municipal water supplies
A principal feature of groundwater bodies 4. industrial and municipal waste disposal
which distinguishes them from surface water is the 5. navigation
relatively slow movement of water through the 6. fishing, boating and body-contact recreation
ground. This means that residence times in 7. aesthetic value
groundwaters are generally orders of magnitude Rivers are our most important freshwater
longer than in surface waters. Once polluted, a resource. Social, economic and political
groundwater body could remain so for decades, or development has, in the past, been largely related
even for hundreds of years, because the natural to the availability and distribution of fresh waters
processes of through-flushing are so slow. contained in riverine systems.
As groundwater in its natural state is often of Upstream use of water must only be undertaken
good microbiological quality, it is often the in such a way that it does not affect water quantity,
preferred source for drinking water. In many cases, or water quality, for downstream users. Use of river
groundwater sources do not receive any form of water is, therefore, the subject of major political
treatment, as they are low-cost supplies designed negotiations at all levels.
for community-management. Where boreholes or In addition to the above list of uses, lakes are

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

prime regions for human settlement and achieving these goals. In addition to these
habitation. It has been commonly believed that inventories, Chapter 4 on Waste Management
large lakes have an infinite ability to absorb or provides information regarding safe sanitation
dilute industrial and municipal waste, and it is practices and preventing diffuse chemical
largely as a result of human waste disposal pollution, and the Outdoor Air Quality
practices that monitoring and assessment are Assessment in Chapter 2 provides information
proving to be necessary in many large lakes. about the ways in which our air pollution affects
water quality.
Good surface water quality is essential for providing
drinking water, maintaining fisheries, and for the
provisions of recreation and bathing. The degradation of
water induced by agricultural use and by industrial and
Drinking Water Quality and
municipal waste disposal practices must be stopped. It is Source Protection: Inventory
incumbant upon every stakeholder in a watershed to
protect it from degradation. 1. Main Drinking Water Source

Assessment of Community Practices What is/are the main source(s) of your religious
community’s drinking water? Check all that apply:

We have seen that in order for communities to
ensure their health, the health of their larger Surface Water
community, and the health of ecosystems, it is c Spring
necessary that they: c River/ Stream
• Ensure source adequacy and quality c Pond/ Lake
• Take care to safely handle and/or treat c Dam

drinking water
• Identify and eliminate wasteful and polluting Dug Well
practices c Private well
• Ensure sustainable protection of their water c Open public well

Communities in rural areas may not have Borehole
wasteful habits, but may instead be faced with an c Private well
inadequate supply. Assessment of source selection Public well
may thus be more important to consider for rural Mechanical pump
communities; however, communities in urban c Handpump

areas may have to focus more on their wasteful
water use habits. Spring
Safe handling of water is most important to c Open spring
assess in poorer communities, where source or tap c Protected spring

sharing is more frequent, or compromised water
sources are more prevalent. Rainwater
Ensuring sustainable source protection is c Covered container
everyone’s concern and responsibility. Aside from c Open Container

direct measures, (for example, protection of a
spring,) source protection means becoming Commercial Water Vendor
involved in all levels of water management. c Small water vendor
Communities should be aware of what decisions c Tanker Truck
are being made that affect their water source, and c Bottled Water

become advocates for its protection. Political
action may be necessary to ensure that protective Piped water
policies are both made and enforced. c House connection
Public standpipes
The inventories that follow are designed to help Gravity fed
your community assess how well it strives towards c W/service reservoir

Listening To The Earth

c Water Provider G2 Distance Comment

c Other (specify): Agricultural activity
c Livestock
Is the water collected off-premises?
Yes / No c Crops—commercial

If so, how often is water collected? c Crops—small scale

c Everyday
c Once a week c Chemical storage
c Longer
—how long does it take to travel to the source, collect Other (specify):
the water, and return?
Distance Comment
Do water shortages often occur in your community? Industrial activity
Yes / No c Food processing
In the case of a water shortage:
c Textiles
Where will water be collected?
c Tanneries
Does your community share water with neighbors?
Yes / No c Brewery
How far away are alternative sources of water and
how long does it take to collect the water? c Small scale industry
(including garages)
Are there known problems with the alternative c Slaughterhouse
source’s water quality?
Yes / No c Mining

Now proceed to the section entitled ‘Site-Specific Other (specify):

Source Assessments,’ found on pages 60-64 to
further develop information regarding the safety of Distance Comment

letters A-G next to your selections above to locate

your water source. Use the capital bold-faced Miscellaneous
c Deforestation
the questions pertaining to your source(s).
c Erosion

2. Potential sources of pollution: Other (specify):

Identify which activities occur within the vicinity of your

water source. Remember to consider activities that occur 3. NGO involvement
upstream, if a moving body of water:
Distance Comment Is there an NGO, committee or group within your
c Residential larger community that attends to the maintenance,
preservation, and/or protection of your water source, e.g.
c Construction a groundwater or watershed protection group?
Yes / No
Other (specify): Name of Organization:

Does an individual from your religious community serve

on this committee?
Yes / No

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

4. Community Water Governance the water source for drinking water quality?
Yes / No
Does your larger community have a body (i.e.
Committee, organization, corporation, government Was the testing:
bureau, etc.) which is in charge of water governance? c A one time occurrence
Yes / No c Part of a regular testing cycle
Testing interval:
Is there an individual from your religious community
serving as a member of the governing body? Are the results of the tests made available to the public?
Yes / No / Not applicable Yes / No

How reliable is the governed water supply? Does the water source have any chemical pollution
c Very Reliable (uninterrupted supply) problems?
c Reliable (no disruptions for months) Yes / No
c Fair (some disruptions in the past few
months) Does the water source have any biological problems?
c Intermittent (disruptions on a weekly Yes / No
c Sporadic (only available a few times a Explain the problems identified with the water source:
c Inadequate (supply is critical concern)

Are fees established for the water supply?

Yes / No What are the recommendations for improving the water
source, if any are known:
How were the fees established?
c Vote
c Decree with community input
c Decree without community input
c Other (specify): Does your community test source water quality itself?
Yes / No
Was everyone’s interests represented in the vote?
c Yes, everyone was represented or could vote 6. Water Treatment by the Community
c Only men were represented / could vote
c Only landowners were represented/ could Does your religious community treat your water in any
vote way to make it safer to drink?
c Other restriction (specify): Yes / No / Not applicable (water treated by supplier)

What happens if someone does not pay on time? If you do, what methods do you use?
c Receives a reminder c Boil
c Access refused c Solar Distilled/Disinfected
c Collector visits again c Add Bleach/Chlorine
c Water turned off c Sedimentation/Settling
c Other (specify): c Sieve it through cloth
c Candle filters
Does your community include water expenses as part Other (specify):
of the budget?
Yes / No Is water treatment a standard protocol?
Yes / No
5. Water Quality Testing
If bleach or chlorine is used, does your community
Has a government regulatory agency, or other qualified chemically test the water?
entity (besides the Water Provider, if one exists) tested c Yes, chlorine levels are tested

Listening To The Earth

c We have test kit, but do not use it Drinking Water Quality and
c We do not have test kit Source Protection: Evaluation
Is there someone in charge of overseeing water At the end of each discussion section, there will be a
treatment? statement and a list of numbers from which to choose.
Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment
Name of supervisor: of how well your community represents the statement
given. (1 = disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9
= agree completely, no change needed)
Does the community include water treatment expenses as
part of the budget? 1. Water sources
Yes / No
Each water source listed as an option in this
7. Water Storage question is followed by a capitalized, bold-faced
letter. This letter is meant to indicate the
Is drinking water stored in containers? appropriate inventory to complete in the next
Yes / No / Sometimes section, called ‘Site-Specific Source Assessments,’
found on page 60. The sets of questions found
What type(s) of container(s) is/are used to store therein help you determine the safety of your
drinking/ cooking water? water sources, and describe standard protection
c Narrow-mouthed vessels methods. Following the inventories and
c Wide-mouthed vessels evaluations, there is a list of things to consider if
c bowls or pots your community decides to improve its water
source. The inventory for your source(s) should be
Are the containers covered? completed at this point, and the results assessed
All / Some / None below.
To promote community health, an easily
Are the containers clearly labeled or recognizable? accessible water supply should be available that
All / Some / None provides sufficient safe water to meet community
needs. There are many types of low-risk water
How often are the water storage container(s) cleaned supplies for drinking and other domestic uses.
with soap? Often, communities have unprotected water
c Once a day sources, such as springs, traditional wells and
c Once a week ponds, which are open to contamination and pose
c Less than once per week a potential health risk. To ensure that the water is
c Never potable, the water supply should be protected and
the water should be treated before use.
Is this a regular habit/protocol? Unprotected sources can be improved, and this
Yes / No may be preferable to constructing completely new
How do you draw water from the water container(s)? In general, it is best to be able to rely upon one
c Pouring source for all your community’s drinking water
c Spigot/Tap needs. Relying only upon one source minimizes the
c Dipping amount of resources a community must spend
Other (specify): monitoring the safety of their sources.
c Both pouring and dipping If your main source often goes dry,
consideration should be given to undertaking the
If drawn by dipping, what is used to remove water? construction of an additional water supply. In cases
c Same receptacle/cup used to drink from of water shortages, water is often obtained from
c Special receptacle only for drawing drinking alternative sources, or from neighbors. In such
water cases, it is important to treat the water as if it were
contaminated, since you cannot be sure of its

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

Our community’s drinking water source is nearby and due to operational failures and leaks due to
measures are in place for its protection*. The source corrosion or structural failure of pipes or tanks.
consistently provides an adequate and safe supply. Petroleum and petroleum products are the most
123456789 important because they are widely used.
*NOTE: Source Inventory must be completed The cost of aquifer restoration measures and/or
before answering this question. provision of alternative water supplies after major
incidents of this type can be extraordinarily
2. Water Source Pollution Hazards expensive. All too often the expense is not paid,
and the disasters do not get cleaned up.
There are a number of hazards to the sustainability of
both groundwater and surface water resources. The World vi. Agricultural habits
Health Organization points out these following Agricultural land-use and cultivation practices
pertaining to groundwater: have been shown to exert major influences on
groundwater quality. Under certain circumstances
i. Unsewered sanitation serious groundwater pollution can be caused by
Contamination of groundwater supplies by agricultural activities.
unsewered sanitation. Problems usually arise where
the water table is so shallow that on-site sanitation vii. Mining activities
systems discharge directly into the saturated zone. A range of groundwater pollution problems can be
Often the most serious problems arise in medium associated with mining activities. The nature of the
to smaller sized towns and in densely populated pollution depends on the materials being extracted
peri-urban and rural areas where local, shallower, and the post-extraction processing. Coal, salt,
and often untreated, groundwater sources are used. potash, phosphate and uranium mines are major
In these circumstances, direct pollution of the polluters
source at the wellhead by the users, by livestock
and by wastewater can be a serious problem. viii. General sources of contaminants to rivers
and lakes:
ii. Contamination at source
Unprotected extraction points allows a. Direct point sources
contamination to enter well/ spring waters directly. Municipal and industrial discharges.

iii. Leaks in sanitary sewers b. Diffuse agricultural sources

Leakage is a common problem, especially from old Wash-off and soil erosion from agricultural lands
sewers, and may be caused by defective pipes, poor carrying materials applied during agricultural land
workmanship, breakage by tree roots, settlement use, mainly herbicides, pesticides and pesticides.
and rupturing from soil slippage or seismic activity
c. Diffuse urban sources
iv. Disposal of waste Wash-off from city streets, from horticultural and
The most common method of disposal of solid gardening activities in the sub-urban environment
waste is by deposition in landfills. Also, and from industrial sites and storage areas. Street
municipalities and factories will sometimes create litter, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, pet and
ponds for liquid waste . Unfortunately, very few yard waste, motor oil, anti-freeze, household
landfills or ponds are built to sanitary standards, hazardous wastes, and paint are just a few of the
and many are simply raw dumps. Contaminates pollutants that find their way into storm drains.
leach from the landfills (dumps) into the This water travels from storm drains into local
groundwater. streams, ponds, and lakes, and ultimately into local
streams and rivers.
v. Industrial accidents and spills
Groundwater pollution incidents from major d. Waste disposal
industrial complexes are becoming more common Pollution from solid and liquid industrial waste
and are often the subject of major, expensive disposal sites and from municipal and household
investigations and clean-up activities. The causes hazardous or infectious waste.
include accidents during transportation, spillages

Listening To The Earth

e. Fecal contamination of water (surface water or ground water) have a

The primary water quality issue in rivers. Although committee consisting of stakeholders that attend
this applies to both rural and urban areas, the to the environmental quality of the water resource.
situation is probably more critical in fast-growing The committee should have broad participation
cities where the population growth rate still far from the surrounding populace, and should not be
exceeds the rate of development of wastewater limited by gender, occupation, education, or
collection and treatment facilities income.
Your religious community could have at least
f. Salinisation one person serve on such a committee, if one
Increased mineral salts in rivers may arise from exists, so that your community is able to
several sources: (i) release of mining wastewaters, contribute to the betterment of local water
(ii) certain industrial wastewaters, and (iii) resources. This member can serve as a liason
increased evaporation and in the river basin representing your religious community’s interests
(mainly in arid and sub-arid regions) resulting from to the committee, and the committee’s interests
reservoir construction, irrigation returns, etc. back to the community.
If no such committee exists, a motivated
g. Acidification individual of your community could be encouraged
Occurs as a result of: (i) direct inputs of acidic to organize one.
wastewaters from mining or from specific
industries, either as point sources (e.g. sewers) or There is a committee that attends to the health of our
diffuse sources (e.g. leaching of mine tailings), and water source and our religious community is represented
(ii) acidic precipitation (acid rain) mainly from the in that committee.
burning of fossil fuels. 123456789

The hazards to our community’s water source have been 4. Water Governance
inventoried and no significant risks exist.
123456789 Local water management is everywhere valuable,
especially in times of water scarcity, but it requires
3. Water resource protection committee good governance to fulfill its potential. Good
governance is open, participatory, and responsible.
Water resources are shared resources. The activities It undertakes careful research so that decisions are
of many people affect the quality of the water made based on factual evidence, and works
source, and it is easy for the actions of just a few deliberately to better the lives of its poorest and
people to affect the entire community’s water most vulnerable members. The condition of
supply. Thus, it is important that all the women, minorities, and the landless poor is a
stakeholders, (those people that use or affect the specific responsibility of the institutional authority.
water source) are aware of the health of the water It is now recognized that women in poor
body and how their activities might affect the communities must be involved in local water and
quality of the water. sanitation management. They work longer hours
It is also important that a group of local people, than anyone else on domestic water and hygiene,
local stakeholders, are able to communicate both and they are experts.
to other stakeholders, and to larger regulatory Participation in the water management body
bodies (e.g. governments) about the conditions of should be broad, with the interests of all
their water resources, and about the problems stakeholders represented. Thus, it is important
facing it. that your religious community have a member
Although national or regional governments serve on the body, if that is possible.
often have divisions whose stated purpose is the To make and carry out sustainable resource
protection of water or environmental resources, decisions, good governance requires institutional
these governmental entities are often slowed by capacity. That includes the capacity to gather and
their internal beaurocratic processes, and/or have a assess relevant information, to deliberate, to
geographical region to cover that far exceeds the execute policies, and to answer responsibly to
capacity of the staff. members of the community. On the smallest,
For these reasons, it is advisable that each body simplest scale, institutional capacity represents a

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

neighborhood’s ability to build and maintain a principles, and our religious community is represented in
shared network that stores and distributes the management body.
rainwater around a few city blocks. It is the forum 123456789
where villages up and down a hillside can
apportion seasonal runoff for maximum usage and 5. Water quality testing
minimum losses of water and soil. It is the
mechanism that can mobilize a community’s Water of poor microbial quality can have a
capital investment in a wastewater recycling plant significant impact on the health of community
or in new-technology groundwater pumping members by causing disease and contributing to
systems. It is the recognition that management the spread of epidemics. Water quality should
involves administrative and financial tasks, as well therefore be monitored on a regular basis. Ideally,
as technical ones, that regular maintenance is as it should be tested by staff working with qualified
important as initial construction, and that from bodies such as a governmental Health
time to time enforcement of rules and regulations Department/ Ministry of Health, or Ministry of
will be necessary. It is the deliberation in which Environment. There are also both national and
environmental quality is acknowledged as a value, international NGO’s that provide water quality
and where the interests of future generations are monitoring services. The community should
heard and accepted. request such support, particularly if it suspected
Communities attempting local water that the community water supply is contaminated.
management need supportive links with their The test results should be provided to the
‘senior’ governments. This is especially important community and if any problems arise, the
in the management of watersheds and aquifers that community should request recommendations for
must be shared with others. Creating coherent solutions.
relationships between local management and wider
watershed approaches goes to the heart of good Microbial quality
water management. Governments can encourage The principal method of assessing the microbial
the diffusion of new and helpful knowledge, quality of water is to test for bacteria whose
especially to its agencies and extension services. presence indicates that feces may be in the water.
These arms of government have the organization An analysis of the test results is usually beyond the
with the expertise and resources to speed resources of communities and will be carried out
dissemination and promote education. By by health or water officials. Some kits have been
diffusing the results of research and development, developed for community use, but the results of
governments multiply many times the value of new these tests should be analysed with caution.
knowledge to local communities. So doing, with Water quality tests look at the microbiology of
NGOs and others, they enlarge the national wealth water samples to identify viral, bacterial and
and the welfare of citizens. parasitical agents linked to hepatitis A, diarrhea,
Unfortunately, there is a trend in Latin America typhoid and other illnesses. The major concern of
toward the ‘privatization’ of water management. microbiological testing is whether feces have
Meant to reduce the burden placed upon contaminated the water supply, as most of the
government, privatized water supplies are infectious water-related diseases, such as cholera
managed by corporate managers, with the goal of and dysentery, are caused by fecal contamination.
making a profit for the corporation’s stockholders. Although these diseases can also be transmitted
The stockholders are most often not the through poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation,
stakeholders, and quite often live in distant control of drinking-water quality is one of the main
countries. In most scenarios of privatized water ways of preventing their spread.
supplies, the corporate management is not open, Microbiological testing should be conducted
participatory, and not responsive to the needs of whenever a new water source is put into use.
the poor. Regular monitoring should continue afterward, on
Activism at all levels becomes essential if your at least a monthly cycle. More frequent testing
community is suffering hardships due to poor should be conducted if a problem is identified until
management of water resources. the problem has been corrected and the quality has
stabilized. Furthermore, it is advisable to test water
Our water supply is managed with good governance after a heavy rain, as flooding and increased flow

Listening To The Earth

can change the properties of a water body. 6. Water Treatment

Sanitary inspection Sometimes the best option for improving water

An analysis of water quality usually also includes a quality is to treat water in the home, by boiling,
sanitary inspection. This is a visual assessment of filtering, chlorinating or leaving the water to settle.
the water supply, using standard forms to record These options are discussed in more detail below.
information, to see whether fecal pollution exists
and whether such pollution could reach the water Boiling
source. Sanitary inspections can be undertaken by Bringing water to a rolling boil will destroy
communities on a regular basis as part of operation pathogens in the water and make it safe to drink.
and maintenance, and forms have been developed Boiled water tastes ‘flat’, but if it is left for a few
in several countries to help communities undertake hours in a partly filled, covered container, it will
these inspections. Many of the risks to the water absorb air and lose its flat taste.
supply relate to improper operation and
maintenance activities in the area around the water Canvas filters
source, and sanitary inspection can be used to Canvas bags are the simplest type of home filter.
ensure that these tasks are carried out to keep the The bag is filled with water and the water is
water supplies safe. Refer to Chapter 7, Waste collected as it seeps out of the bag. This makes the
Handling Assessment, for more information water cleaner and, although it does not remove all
regarding sanitary inspections. pathogens, is particularly useful for removing
Cyclops containing guinea-worm eggs. Bags that
Chemical quality have been specially treated to prevent them from
It may also be necessary to test community water rotting are available.
supplies for harmful chemicals. Certain chemicals,
such as fluoride, nitrate and arsenic, represent a Candle filters
health risk, whereas others, for example iron, Candle filters are hollow, porous ceramic
manganese and sulfate, may cause consumers to cartridges. Although they do not filter out all
reject the water because it is unpleasant to drink or pathogens, they should remove the larger ones
stains clothes and causes other problems. Testing is such as protozoa, worms and bacteria (but not
usually done by health or water officials, but viruses). Ceramic candles need careful
community members can play a key role by maintenance and should be cleaned and boiled at
demanding that such analyses are carried out, and least once a week, even if they are not clogged. If a
by informing officials of any developments that candle filter becomes clogged, it should be
may cause contamination of the water supply. scrubbed under running water with a stiff brush
When a water supply is first developed, a full water free of soap, grease or oil. To reduce the risk that
quality analysis should be carried out. The water will pass through a candle without being
community should request feedback regarding this filtered, such as through a small crack, candle
analysis and ask for guidance concerning the filters should be regularly inspected and replaced if
suitability of the water source for drinking. necessary. In some countries it is common to both
You should be able to find much information filter and boil water. Where this is done, the water
about water quality testing from the resources
listed at the end of this chapter. For example, the Household water treatment
World Health Organization promotes water
In Bolivia, household water treatment was
quality monitoring through its Healthy Villages introduced into two communities where water
program. quality was generally poor... After the treatment was
introduced, fecal contamination of water samples
was reduced by over 90% and the incidence of
We are satisfied that our community’s water source is diarrhea dropped by almost 50%. Similar
regularly tested for microbial quality, and has also been improvements have been observed in other
tested for chemical quality. The community is informed countries, such as Bangladesh, demonstrating that
household treatments can be effective.
of the test results and no problems exist. Source: Diarrhoea prevention in Bolivia through
123456789 point-of-use water treatment and safe storage,
Epidemiology and Infection, 122:83-90,
Quick RE et al, 1999

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

should be filtered first and then boiled. Some from the ground seeds of Moringa oleifera
filters incorporate silver into the candle, but this (horseradish tree) and Moringa stenopetala,
does not disinfect the water and the candle acts sprinkled onto the water surface.
simply as a normal filter. It should be stressed that settling does NOT
remove all pathogens, silt or clay. The settling of
Disinfection particles may reduce pathogens but some will
One method of treating water in households is to remain, and water should be boiled or disinfected
add chlorine. This will kill most bacteria and some before it is consumed.
viruses. Since the taste of chlorine disappears when Many of the resources listed at the end of this
water is left in open containers, a very small lump chapter will help you identify the various water
of bleaching powder or one drop of household treatment technology options that may be
bleach can be added to a 20-liter water container reasonable for your community.
and the mix left to stand for at least 30 minutes.
After this time, if a faint smell of chlorine can be Our community treats our water to ensure that it is safe
detected in the water, it should be low-risk and to drink. We strive to use environmentally friendly
palatable to drink. Chlorine should only be added treatment methods.
to clear water otherwise it will be absorbed by the 123456789
dirt in the water. Moreover, chlorine that has been
stored for some time will lose potency. The use of 7. Water handling
disinfectants as a household treatment system has
been successfully implemented in Latin America Frequently, water collected from a communal point
and Asia. and transported back to houses for use becomes
Despite its effectiveness, the use of chlorine contaminated because of poor handling.
poses several risks that may be avoided by using Community members should therefore be aware of
other disinfection methods. Many of the the risks of contaminating the water and how it
compounds formed when chlorine reacts with can be prevented.
contaminates in water are carcinogenic, and/or are All water containers should be clean, especially
‘persistent environmental pollutants,’ meaning inside. It is always best to clean the insides of
that they do not decompose and remain in the storage containers with either detergent or
environment, often accumulating to unsafe levels. chlorine. Leaving a capful of bleach in a sealed
In addition, sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) plastic or metal container full of water for 30
is very toxic, and poses severe health risks if minutes will kill most pathogens. If detergent or
consumed undiluted. Extreme caution should be chlorine is not available, the insides of clay pots
taken whenever chlorine is used. can be cleaned with ash. If ash must be used, it
Other disinfection systems have been should be from a fire of organic fuel, not metals,
developed for treating household water, plastics, paints, or electronic equipment. Plastic or
particularly the use of solar radiation. Simple metal containers should be cleaned weekly by
methods of solar disinfection (e.g. SODIS, which putting clean sand and water inside them and
requires little more than a capped plastic bottle shaking for a few minutes. The top of the water
and some tape or paint), can effectively treat water, container should be covered to stop dust and other
although they may take longer than chlorine contaminants falling into the drinking-water. For
disinfection. Performed correctly, solar disinfection the same reason, water containers should also have
is very safe and ecologically friendy, and thus is a a narrow neck. It is best for water to be poured
practical and preferable alternative for water from the container to prevent contact with dirty
treatment. fingers and hands. When scoops are used to take
water out of the storage container they should be
Sedimentation/Settling clean and kept inside the water storage jar. They
Where water is cloudy or muddy, a simple should never be placed on the floor.
treatment is to allow particulates in the water to
settle overnight. Clear water at the top of the Our community takes the utmost care to preserve the
container is then poured into a clean container. quality of our drinking water any time that it is stored
Adding certain chemicals can help settling, such as for use.
a pinch of aluminium sulfate (alum), or powder 123456789

Listening To The Earth

Problem 2
Now enter the scores from each section in the column at

1. Water source adequacy and safety

2. Water source pollution hazards

Problem 3
3. Water resource protection committee

4. Water governance

5. Water quality testing

6. Water treatment
Problem 4
7. Water handling

Now that you have comprehensively examined your

drinking water quality and source protection measures,
how would you rate, overall, your community’s practices
in these regards?
Excellent / Satisfactory / Poor / Critically

If you found that problems exist, list them below: Now categorize each problem listed above into one
Category (I-III) of the following three categories:
Problem 1 I = Critically important. Currently dangerous,
must be addressed immediately
II = Important, but not immediately dangerous.
Must be addressed
III = Current practice should be improved, but is
not immediately important

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

Site-Specific Source: Assessment is a list of questions to be considered if your

community decides to improve its water supply.

boldface letters A-G found on page 50 in the preceding A Surface Water

Below, each method of water extraction, as indicated by the

inventory, has an associated set of questions. Answer the

inventory questions, and then continue to the discussion section. 1) Is there excessive logging or visible erosion on the
If at first some of the terminology used in the questions is unclear banks/ shore of the water body?
to you, go back and read over the previous discussion section Yes / No
associated with your source before completing the inventory.
2) Is there run-off from urban area(s), or other human
The purpose of the following inventories is to settlements entering the water body?
assess the level of protection that exists at the Yes / No
point of extraction. Included within these analyses
are abbreviated sanitation inspection questions, 3) Are there any farm animals or crop production
since the major cause of poor drinking water upstream, polluting the source?
quality is poor sanitation. Yes / No
In order to ensure that water supplies can
provide water that represents a limited risk to 4) Is the water body used for public bathing?
health, adequate source protection measures
should be in place that prevent pathogens or 5) Are industrial waste streams or sewage discharged
harmful chemicals from entering the supply. into the water body?
Source protection measures should be in place for Yes / No
all water sources that are used for domestic
consumption, and different measures will be 6) Must people enter the water in order to withdraw it?
required at different levels. Yes / No
It may be necessary to identify what basic
measures are required at local and broader scales, 7) Is the intake (if one exists) unprotected?
and to identify the people responsible for Yes / No
undertaking protection work. This may include
communities and users as well as water suppliers, 8) Is the intake unscreened?
planners and environment protection bodies. The Yes / No
preceeding inventory should help you to assess the
level of protection afforded by NGOs and/or water 9) Is the means of intake protection in need of
governance bodies, as well as what environmental maintainence or repair?
problems may threaten your water source quality. Yes / No
Following the inventories and discussions, there
10) Are algae blooms a problem in the water body?
Characteristics of low-risk water sources Yes / No

Water (A)’, on page 61.

Refer to the evaluation below, labeled ‘Surface
• The water source is fully enclosed or protected
(capped) and no surface water can run directly into

B Dug Well
• People do not step into the water while collecting
• Latrines are located as far away as possible from 1) Is there a latrine within 10m of the well?
the water source and preferably not on higher Yes / No
ground. If there are community concerns about this,
expert advice should be sought.
• Solid waste pits, animal excreta and other 2) Is the nearest latrine uphill of the well?
pollution sources are located as far as possible from Yes / No
the water source.
• There is no stagnant water within 5 metres of the 3) Is there any other source of pollution within 10m of
water source. the well? (e.g. Animal breeding, cultivation, roads,
• If wells are used, the collection buckets are kept industry, etc)
clean and off the ground, or a handpump is used.
Yes / No

Listening To The Earth

4) Is the drainage faulty, allowing ponding within 5m 7) Is the floor of the pumphouse permeabe to water?
of the well? Yes / No
Yes / No
8) Does water form pools in the pumphouse?
5) Is the drainage channel cracked, broken, or in need of Yes / No
Yes / No 9) Is the well seal unsanitary?
Yes / No
6) Is the fence missing or faulty?
Yes / No 10) Does the water change colour after heavy rain?
Yes / No

C2 Borehole with Handpump

7) Is the well uncovered or is the cover faulty or
Yes / No
1) Is there a latrine within 10m of the borehole/well?
8) Does the well lack a cement pad (apron) or is the Yes / No
cement less than 1m in radius around the top of the
well, or are there cracks in the floor? 2) Is there a latrine uphill of the borehole?
Yes / No Yes / No

9) Does spilt water collect in the apron area? 3) Are there any other sources of pollution within 10m
Yes / No of borehole/well? (e.g. Animal breeding, cultivation,
raods, industy, etc)
10) (if applicable) Is the handpump loose at the point Yes / No
of attachment to the well head?
Yes / No 4) Is the drainage faulty, allowing ponding within 2m
of the borehole?
11) Does the water change colour after heavy rain? Yes / No
Yes / No
Refer to the evaluation below, labeled ‘Ground 5) Is the drainage channel cracked, broken, or in need of

Water: Dug Wells (B)’, on page 66.

Water Overview’ and then continue to ‘Ground cleaning?
Yes / No

C1 Borehole: Deep with Mechanized Pumping 6) Is the fence missing or faulty?

Yes / No
1) Is there a latrine or sewer within 100m of
pumphouse? 7) Is the apron less than 1m in radius?
Yes / No Yes / No

2) Is the nearest latrine unsewered? 8) Does spilt water collect in the apron area?
Yes / No Yes / No

3) Is there any source of pollution within 50m? 9) Is the apron cracked or damaged?
Yes / No Yes / No

4) Is there an uncapped well within 100m? 10) Is the handpump loose at the point of attachment
Yes / No to the apron?
Yes / No
5) Is the drainage around the pumphouse faulty?
Yes / No 11) Does the water change colour after heavy rain?
Yes / No
6) Is the fencing damaged, allowing animal entry? Refer to the evaluation below, labeled ‘Ground
Yes / No Water Overview’ and then continue to ‘Ground

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

Water: Boreholes (C)’ 3) Is guttering that collects water dirty or blocked?

D Spring
Yes / No

4) Is the top, or the walls of the tank cracked or

1) Is the spring unprotected (i.e. unimproved)? damaged?
[If the answer is yes, skip to 5. Answer yes to 2- Yes / No
Yes / No 5) Is water collected directly from the tank (no tap on
the tank)?
2) Is the masonary protecting the spring faulty? Yes / No
Yes / No
6) Is there bucket in use and is this left where it can
3) Is the backfill area behind the retaining wall eroded? become contaminated?
Yes / No Yes / No

4) Does spilt water flood the collection area? 7) Is the tap leaking or damaged, or absent?
Yes / No Yes / No

5) Is the fence absent or faulty? 8) Is there any source of pollution around the tank or
Yes / No water collection area?
Yes / No
6) Can animals have access within 10m of the spring?
Yes / No 9) Is the tank clean inside?
Yes / No

7) Is there a latrine uphill and/or within 30m of the Refer to the evaluation below, labeled ‘Rainwater

F Vendors (Tanker Trucks)

Yes / No

8) Does surface water collect uphill of the spring?

Yes / No 1) Is the discharge pipe dirty?
Yes / No
9) Is a diversion ditch above the spring absent or non-
functional? 2) Can the discharge pipe touch the ground?
Yes / No Yes / No

10) Are there any other sources of pollution uphill of 3) Is the delivery nozzle dirty or in poor condition?
the spring (e.g. Solid waste) Yes / No
Yes / No
4) Is the tanker ever used for transporting other liquids?
11) Does the water change colour after heavy rain? Yes / No
Yes / No
Refer to the evaluation below, labeled ‘Ground 5) Is the inside of the tanker dirty?

Water: Springs (D)’.

Water Overview’ and then continue to ‘Ground Yes / No

E Rainwater Collection and Storage

6) Does the tanker fill through an inspection cover?
Yes / No

1) Is rainwater collected in an open container? 7) Does the tanker leak?

Yes / No Yes / No

Vendors (F)’
Refer to the evaluation below, labeled ‘Water
2) Are there visible signs of contamination on the roof
catchment? (e.g. Plants, excreta, dust, etc.)
Yes / No

Listening To The Earth

G Piped Water (General)

Refer to the evaluation below, labeled ‘Piped Water

G2 Piped Water (from Water Provider)

1) Do any tap stands leak?
Yes / No

2) Does surface water collect around any tapstand? Name your Water Provider:
Yes / No
Contact the Water Provider and answer these
3) Is the area uphill of any tapstand eroded? following questions:
Yes / No
1. Who is the contact person?
4) Are the pipes exposed close to any tapstand?
Yes / No
2. When there is a problem with your water supply,
5) Is there any human or animal waste within 10m of who do you contact, and how?
any tapstand?
Yes / No

6) Is there a sewer within 30m of any tapstand? 3. Does the provider treat the water?
Yes / No Yes / No

7) Has there been a discontinuity in the last 10 days 4. If Yes, what treatment method(s) do they use?
at any tapstand? c Chlorination
Yes / No c Sedimentation
c Filtration
8) Are there signs of leaks in the main pipes? Other (specify):
Yes / No
5. What are the most common water supply problems?
9) Is the main pipe exposed anywhere? c Leaks
Yes / No c Sediments
c Broken pipes
10) Does the water change colour after heavy rain? c Smells
Yes / No c Illegal withdrawal
c Bacterial contamination
11) Is the system’s water source untreated before being c Broken meters
distributed? c Treatment not working
Yes / No c Fees not paid

G1 Piped Water (from Storage Tank)

Other (specify):
What is being done to correct these problems?
12) Does the pipe leak between the source and storage
Yes / No
6. Do they test water quality?
13) Is the storage tank cracked, damaged, or does it Yes / No
7. How often is it tested?
14) Are the vents and covers on the tank damaged or
open? 8. What percentage of tests conform to standards (e.g
WHO Drinking Water Quality standards)?

Refer to the evaluation below, labeled ‘G Piped

15) Is dirt or other debris present on the vents or
Yes / No Water’

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

Site-Specific Source: Evaluations normally would be keeping the water healthy.

Surface waters have traditionally been used as
At the end of each discussion section, there will be a few sources of drinking-water. Although they are easily
statements and a list of numbers from which to choose. contaminated, the water quality can be improved
Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment by careful use. For example, if platform steps or
of how well your community represents the statement ramps are constructed at the water edge, people
given. (1 = disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9 can be encouraged not to walk into the pond or
= agree completely, no change needed) lake when collecting water. This improvement

Surface water (A)

helps to stop the discharge of guinea-worm eggs
into the water. Nevertheless, dirt deposited on
these structures can enter the water, especially
Surface water sources are always more vulnerable when it rains. Preventing urination and defecation
to contamination than groundwater sources and as close to or in a pond may reduce schistosomiasis.
a result should always be treated before Pumps mounted on the banks of ponds can also
consumption. supply water to people away from the pond, but
While protection measures are less effective these may be difficult to maintain. Alternatively, a
than for groundwater, it is still important that protected intake with a layer of sand as filter can
catchments for reservoirs, river and lakes are be constructed in the pond or lake and be
protected as far as possible from polluting connected to a handpump. It is important to keep
activities. Typically, pollutants will include the intake protection works in good repair to
microbiological contamination, suspended solids, prevent damage to the pump or clogging of pipes.
inorganic and organic pollutants. Whichever method is used, however, domestic
Defining protection of surface water water drawn from ponds and lakes must always be
catchments is often difficult as they often draw treated before consumption.
water from large areas. Critical components of
surface water protection should include the Our community’s water source has a protected intake
prevention of excessive logging in upper reaches of which is well maintained.
rivers and lake catchments, prevention of 123456789
untreated discharges of domestic and industrial
wastes, control of urban run-off and prevention of Our community strives to make the point of water
encroachment into the immediate area around an extraction, and the surrounding area sanitary.
intake or a reservoir. The latter is often a particular 123456789
problem in Latin American countries and
represents a major source of pollution. Our community strives to maintain a zone of protection
In many water bodies, there are natural around the body of water used for drinking water.
mechanisms that may reduce the pollutant load 123456789
such as aquatic plants and the formation of heavy
metal complexes in sediments. However, while Our community is satisfied with the quality and
these often provide reasonable protection, it quantity of water provided by this source.
should be stressed that a pollution-reduction 123456789
strategy should be developed. Aquatic plants may
die, and if not harvested, may release Ground Water: Overview
contaminants during decay. Sediments may
become disturbed and release pollutants back into Groundwater sources, whether small community-
the water. managed point sources or utility-operated
Sometimes aquatic life is hazardous to water boreholes supplying distribution networks, often
quality, as is the case with algae blooms. When the become contaminated. This may result from
water body is heavily loaded with nutrients (from widespread contamination of an aquifer from
agricultural run-off, sewage, etc.) fast-growing pollutant sources or because the point of
aquatic plants may bloom. These blooms may add abstraction or discharge has been poorly protected
unpleasant, and sometimes poisonous, tastes to or maintained and allows direct routes for
the water. As well, they may deplete the water’s contaminated surface water to enter the source.
dissolved oxygen, and destroy the ecosystem that The first level of ground water source protection

Listening To The Earth

is the immediate sanitary protection works at the Ground water: Dug wells (B)
source. These works are primarily designed to
prevent contaminated surface water or wastewater Dug wells are usually shallow wells dug by hand,
from directly entering the water source and although some may be quite deep. Wells are often
preventing other hazards that may allow direct lined with bricks.
contamination of the aquifer. Unless artesian water is tapped, many dug wells
Such works include measures such as casting go dry or have very little water in dry periods
concrete aprons on the ground surface and sealing because it is difficult to sink wells below the water
of upper levels of boreholes and dug wells, and the table without using more sophisticated excavation
construction of diversion ditches and covering of techniques.
the backfill area of springs. Good source protection Dug wells are often more vulnerable to
at this level depends in part on good design and contamination than other point sources because it
construction, but the maintenance of such is difficult to make the lining of the well
measures when put in place is extremely impermeable and the means of withdrawing water
important. Well-designed sanitary protection can easily become unsanitary. In some cases, dug
measures may easily deteriorate if they are not wells are constructed to reduce the specific risk of
maintained. guinea worm transmission and therefore only have
The next stage of source protection is to define an headwall to prevent people from entering the
areas where land-use and in particular the release well. However, such wells may still be
of contaminants will be controlled—a process contaminated and it is therefore preferred that dug
usually referred to as groundwater protection wells should be covered and either a handpump or
zones. Several zones may be defined, typically windlass installed to withdraw the water.
including an inner zone to protect against Where water is collected by a bucket, this may
microbiological contaminants, a second zone to contaminate the well, particularly if each person
control chemical contamination and a final zone to uses their own bucket and the area is not well
protect recharge. All zones are usually determined fenced to prevent animals from having access to
by a travel time – i.e. the time expected for a the well. Dug wells can be improved by using a
microbe to reach a water source from the ground protected intake. This may use a filter box installed
surface. Such zones must take into account the at the base of the well. Where wells are used, you
vulnerability of the aquifer, the nature of the should ensure that these are covered, have a
hydrogeological regime and the likely hydraulic headwall of at least 30cm above the apron and a
load applied. handpump or windlass is used.
For the inner zone, a value of 50 days is often Ponding around the well provides a great
used. Some research may need to be persued in environment for insect breeding which contributes
order to determine the characteristics of your to the spread of disease. Furthermore, ponding
groundwater aquifer. The hydrogeological around a well which does not have a concrete
department in the national water resource apron (or one that is cracked), can easily
management body should define travel time safety contaminate the well water.
zones based on hydrogeological surveys. Rainwater may also affect the water quality of a
The further zone may be defined for chemical dug well. If the water turns a different color after a
contaminants, again based on an estimated travel period of rain, this indicates an unsanitary
time that will reduce contaminants to acceptable condition. Water is seeping into the well from areas
levels. Where natural chemicals represent a of the ground that it usually doesn’t, or is moving
problem, it is important to identify whether certain through the earth faster than it is able to be
parts of the aquifer represent a higher risk and to filtered.
define depths of abstraction that may reduce the The shaft of an improved dug well should have
problem. a concrete lining above the dry-season water table
A final zone may be defined to cover the and a series of concrete rings (caissons) sunk below
recharge area to provide protection for both quality this level to ensure a year-round supply of water.
and quantity of water. The purpose of all these The lining acts both to protect the shaft from
zones is to control land-use in such a way that it collapse and to prevent surface water from
does not create a significant deterioration in source infiltrating into the well at shallow depths.
water quality. The top of the well (the wellhead) should be

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

built up by at least 30 cm and an apron cast Our community is satisfied with the quality and
around it to prevent surface water from entering quantity of water provided by this source.
the well directly. 123456789

Ground water: Boreholes (C)

Generally, a permanent cover should be put
over the well and water drawn by a handpump or
windlass and bucket. A communal rope and bucket
attached to the well can be used to draw water, but Boreholes are narrow holes drilled into the ground
the bucket and rope should be kept off the ground. that tap into groundwater. Boreholes can be drilled
One way to do this is to put a hook inside the well using motorized rigs operated by trained staff, but
and always store the bucket on it. Once a dug well this is expensive. Boreholes can also be drilled by
is completed it should be cleaned with chlorine hand using an augur, or by forcing water into the
and the pump installed. ground under pressure (‘jetting’). If a community is
The advantage of improved dug wells is that involved in the actual sinking of the borehole, it is
they can be deepened and, if the handpump or likely to use auguring or jetting because these are
windlass fails, water can still be collected, although less expensive methods, but it is not possible to
care should be taken not to contaminate the water sink deep boreholes with these methods.
by using individual buckets. However, dug wells Depending on the depth of the groundwater, a
are more likely to go dry in prolonged dry periods, handpump may be required to bring the water to
or if large volumes of water are pumped from the surface. The practical limit for most
nearby deep boreholes, and they are easily handpumps is 45 metres; beyond this a motorized
contaminated. Nevertheless, they provide a low- pump (diesel, electric, wind or solar powered) may
cost water supply and communities can be actively be required.
involved in their construction. As the borehole is drilled, a lining of plastic,
In some arid areas, dug wells have traditionally steel or iron is sunk to protect the hole from
been constructed in sandy riverbeds. Where collapse. The lining has slots in the bottom section
flooding is rare, such wells can be improved to to allow water to enter the borehole and gravel is
provide dry-season water sources. To protect the placed around the bottom of the lining to improve
well from river damage during the rainy seasons flow and provide filtration. The top few metres
the well opening can be covered with a concrete around the borehole should be sealed using
slab and a concrete barrier built upstream from the concrete, and a concrete apron is cast around the
well. In sandy riverbeds with water-resistant top of the borehole to prevent surface water from
bedrock beneath, walls can be constructed under flowing into the lined shaft. A stand is usually cast
the sand to create sand dams. These collect the into the apron to provide a stable base for the
river water and can ensure that nearby wells are pump. Once the borehole is completed it should be
productive for longer periods in the dry season. cleaned with chlorine and the pump installed.
However, keep in mind that changing the structure Unfortunately, many boreholes worldwide are
of the riverbed may have unwanted environmental no longer working because simple repairs have not
effects and should be done only after an been carried out. Consequently, if a borehole is
environmental impact study. drilled in a village, it is important that
Abandoned wells should be closed to avoid maintenance costs and activities can be met by the
polluting groundwater. community. Finances should be managed to ensure
that funds can be raised for maintenance. In
Our community’s dug well has well maintained addition, it is particularly important to make sure
protection measures. that all required spares can be purchased within a
123456789 reasonable distance from the village. For major
repairs beyond the skills of the community, clear
Our community strives to keep the point of water information as to how these repairs will be carried
extraction, and the surrounding area sanitary. out should be requested from the relevant agency.
123456789 Boreholes usually provide good quality water,
but the water sometimes contains harmful
Our community strives to maintain a zone of protection chemicals, such as fluoride and arsenic, or nuisance
around the well. chemicals such as iron. Community members
123456789 should either carry out chemical tests, or request

Listening To The Earth

actual recomended size for protection zones is

dependent upon many factors. An expert’s advice
should be sought to determine the protection
zones necessary for your particular borehole.
Such problems may include poor drainage of
wastewater that allows stagnant water to form
pools close to the borehole; the deterioration in the
apron leading to undercutting of the borehole; or a
handpump being loose at the base where it is
attached to the apron. These all require attention
to prevent future problems and the community
should be encouraged to make minor repairs and
Handpump on a borehole
clean the environment close to the borehole to
Source: World Health Organisation
prevent contamination. Again, where fences are
that tests be carried out by the government agency lacking and there is no means of ensuring surface
or otherwise, and the results fully discussed with water cannot flood the apron area, the risks of
the community. contamination will increase and the community
While it is often found that boreholes have a should work to address these problems.
better water quality than other point sources For boreholes, it is often important to prevent
because they are sunk deeper into the ground and latrines and animal enclosures from being
often have greater protection against constructed close to the borehole as these may
contamination, problems may exist which may allow direct contamination of the groundwater.
reduce the quality of water from a borehole. You should always try to ensure that such hazards
Because of their depth, a larger protected area are a protecting distance away from the borehole
around them is required than for a dug well. In the and if there are latrines uphill, you should increase
general case, 10 meters surrounding a this distance if possible. Boreholes where the top of
handpumped borehole, and 100 m surrounding a the rising main (the pipe that comes out of the
mechanized pump are recomended. However, the ground) cannot be sealed represent a particular

Operational and Maintenance Tasks for a Borehole

Wet season—after
Activity Dry season Wet season—routine
heavy rainfall
grease working parts of the
at least once per week at least once per week at least once per week

check hand pump to see whether at least once per at least once per at least once per
worn parts need replacement quarter quarter quarter

make sure fence is in good at least once per at least once per at least once per
condition and make repairs quarter quarter quarter

check drainage channels and clean at least once per month at least once per week clean if required

clear rubbish away from area

at least once per week at least once per week clean if required
around borehole, particularly uphill

keep paths and grassed areas aboce

at least once per month at least once per month clean if required
borehole clear of rubbish
check whether any water collecting
close to the borehole and clear if at least once per month at least once per week clean if required
carry out regular inspections of the
at least twice per week daily after every heavy rain
borehole and note any faults

Source: Howard, Guy. Water Supply Surveillence, 2002

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

hazard as this means that surface water may be the ground. The area behind the wall or box is
able to directly enter. In this case, try to create a backfilled with sand and stones to filter water as it
concrete ring around the top of the pipe and if enters the box and help remove contamination in
possible seal this by making a small plinth for the the groundwater. The backfill area is capped with
handpump to rest on and extend the rising main clay and grass is planted on top.
into the base of the handpump. The whole area should be fenced and a ditch
dug above the spring to prevent surface water from
Our community’s borehole has well maintained eroding the backfill area and contaminating the
protection measures. spring. The collection area should be covered with
123456789 concrete and sufficient space left beneath the
outlet pipe for people to place jerry cans and
Our community strives to keep the point of water buckets. A lined drain should be constructed to
extraction, and the surrounding area sanitary. carry spilled water away from the spring. The
123456789 water could be used for laundry, to feed an animal-
watering trough or for irrigating a garden. In other
Our community strives to maintain a zone of protection situations spilled water may be drained to a soak-
around the borehole. away pit or to the nearest surface water body. To
123456789 prevent mosquito breeding, water from the spring
should not be allowed to form pools.
Our community is satisfied with the quality and For protected springs, it is important to look at
quantity of water provided by this source. the state of the protection works—including the
123456789 backfill area—to see whether these show any

Ground water: Springs (D)

deterioration, like cracks, tilting, leaks, crumbling,
etc... In many cases, the deterioration in the
immediate sanitary protection works is more
A spring is where underground water flows to the important in causing contamination than the
surface. Springs may occur when the water table hazards such as pit latrines. However, the
meets the ground surface; these are called gravity deterioration in the sanitary protection measures
springs. Other times water is forced to the surface are important to improve irrespective of what the
because the water-carrying layer meets an quality of water is like from any samples taken. For
impermeable layer (gravity overflow springs or instance, the catchment area may become eroded
contact springs). In some cases, groundwater is held and lose its vegetation cover and at the same time
under pressure and springs come to the surface there is no fence and the uphill diversion ditch is
because of a natural break in the rock, or because a either absent or faulty. The erosion of the
shallow excavation is made (artesian springs). catchment areas results from two major factors: (1)
Springs can make very good water supplies The lack of a fence means that both people and
provided that they are properly protected against animals can get access directly onto the catchment
contamination. If springs are found above the area and may cause erosion by creating footpaths
village, they can feed a pipe system for providing or by making holes in the ground. (2) The lack of
water close to homes. When a spring is at the a diversion ditch allows surface water to run
same, or lower, level than the village, it can still be directly onto the backfill area that not only causes
protected, but greater care is needed and it is erosion but also may allow water to directly enter
unlikely that water will flow through the pipe the water source. If only the backfill area is
system by gravity. The first step in deciding improved without putting in place the fence and
whether a spring should be protected is to diversion ditch, the risk of contamination in the
determine whether it provides enough water for longer-term will remain.
the expected number of users. This can be done by Designs for protected springs should be used
measuring the time it takes for the spring to fill a that enclose the area for where backfill media will
bucket of known volume, and estimating how be placed, which enables both flow to be directed
many liters are used per day. towards the outlet pipes and to ensure that
To protect a spring, a retaining wall or box is filtration is maximised during flow through the
constructed, usually with concrete, around the backfill media. The backfill media should be gravel
‘eye’ of the spring, where the water emerges from with a nominal diameter of less than 25mm. This

Listening To The Earth

The spring box should always be protected from

erosion and inundation. This can be done by
providing an uphill diversion ditch that has a
concrete lining, stone pitching or well-compacted
clay and putting a fence around the protected area.
The number and size of outlets of the spring
should be carefully considered. In many cases,
there is a problem of congestion at the source and
this may lead to significant problems. This may be
overcome by increasing the number of outlets by
constructing a spring box with outlets on several
sides. Where this is not possible, several filling
points can be fitted to a single delivery pipe by
using a ‘T’-junction. It is also usually better to use
smaller diameter pipes for the outlets. When large
pipes are used, a large proportion of the water may
be lost during collection and this may increase
problems with congestion. By using a smaller pipe
diameter, not only can the water be directed more
A well-protected spring
effectively into the collection vessel, but may also
Source: World Health Organisation
allow more pipes to be used.
provides greater filtration potential than larger An example of a well-protected spring is shown
aggregates that are often used, thus increasing the opposite. Although protected springs require very
possibility of removing contaminants that may little maintenance, far less than a borehole with
enter the structure. The gravel pack should be handpump, basic checks should be carried out (see
overlain by layers of clay and sand to provide table).
additional protection against the entry of
contaminated surface water with a top layer of soil, Our community’s spring has well maintained protection
which is essential to be able to support an measures.
adequate vegetation cover. 123456789

Operational and Maintenance Tasks for a Protected Spring

West season— Wet season—after
Activity Dry season
routine heavy rainfall
at least once per at least once per
Clear uphill diversion ditch clean if required
month week
Clear drainage ditch from at least once per at least once per
clean if required
outlets month week
at least once per dry at least once per
Slashing grass inside fence not necessary
season month
Make sure steps are clean and at least once per at least once per
clean if required
not broken week week
Clear rubbish away from
at least once per at least once per
around spring, particularly clean if required
week week
Keep paths and grassed areas at least once per at least once per
clean if required
above springs clear of rubbish month month
Trim hedge once it reaches a do not trim in dry when hedge reaches 4
not necessary
height of 4 feet season feet
Carry out regular inspections
at least twice per after every heavy
of the spring and note any daily
week rains
Source: Howard, Guy. Water Supply Surveillence, 2002

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

Our community strives to keep the point of water Water should be drawn from a tap at the base
extraction, and the surrounding area sanitary. of the tank, rather than with a bucket, which may
123456789 contaminate the water. It is better not to bury the
collection tank, even partially, since contaminated
Our community strives to maintain a zone of protection water from the soil can enter the tank. Covering
around the spring. the tank is also essential for preventing
123456789 contamination of the water and for reducing
opportunities for disease vectors to breed.
Our community is satisfied with the quality and The household should make sure that the roof
quantity of water provided by this source. is not overhung by trees or close to food stores as
123456789 this may encourage rodents and lead to excreta

Rainwater (E)
being found on the roof.

Our community’s rainwater collection apparatus is well

Although rainwater can be a good source of water maintained and sanitary.
for drinking and domestic use, it may be seasonal, 123456789
and it is often difficult for a community to rely on
rainwater alone. Collecting sufficient rainwater for Our community is satisfied with the quality and
an entire community also requires relatively large quantity of water provided by this source.
roofs and tanks, and the supply may still not be 123456789

Water vendors (F)

sufficient. Nevertheless, using rainwater is a free
and low-impact means of satisfying at least part of
the community’s drinking water needs.
If the rainwater is to be used for drinking it is In general, the better you know the source and
better to collect it from a roof, rather than from a handling of your purchased water, the more
ground catchment where it may become confident you can be in its quality. A great variety
contaminated. Ground catchments are more of water quality from various vendors should be
appropriate for agricultural use. expected since the water in a tanker can be
Using roofs to collect rainwater is relatively easy contaminated in many ways. If the inside of the
and a lot of water can be collected. For example, 50 tanker is not regularly cleaned, or becomes
mm of rainfall on a 4 m2 roof yields 200 litres of contaminated (e.g. by filling the tank with a tube
water. All that is required are gutters around the through an inspection cover), the water quality is
roof that discharge into a collection tank. The compromised.
roofing material is important and hard surfaces, Nevertheless, if your country, province, or other
such as iron sheets or tiles, allow more rain to be governing body has enforceable standards for
collected than softer surfaces such as thatch and marketed drinking water, you may be reasonably
grass, which absorb water. Hard surfaces are also assured of its quality.
easier to keep clean and are less likely to have
insects and animals living in them. Our community is satisfied with the service of our
Any roof used to collect rainwater for human vendor, and are assured of its water quality.
consumption must be thoroughly cleaned at the 123456789

Piped Water (G)

start of the rainy period. Birds and animals may
leave feces on the roof and these can be a source of
pathogens. There should be a system for diverting
the flow of water in gutters away from the tank, so Many villages may have piped water systems that
that the first rains (which are more likely to pick supply communal taps or yard taps. These piped
up contamination from the roof) are not collected. water systems are often small and rely on
A small filter may be added to the top of the community management, and many use untreated
collection tank as an added protection. The tank groundwater sources. Small piped water systems are
should also be cleaned every year and any silt or usually fed by gravity, either from protected springs
algal matter removed. After cleaning and before or from surface water above the village, although
use, the tank should be scrubbed using a chlorine some may be supplied from boreholes fitted with
solution (bleach). motorized pumps. Most piped water supplies

Listening To The Earth

Another problem with piped systems is that

users often do not consider the impact of how
much water they use, and may not think it is
important to turn off the tap after use. When there
is a lot of water, this may not have negative
consequences. However, where the amount of
water available is limited, if users at the high end
of the system leave taps running, users lower down
may suffer shortages or intermittent service. This
can force them to use less safe sources of water.
Moreover, if the pipes are dry or have very low
flow rates, surface water may enter the pipes and
contaminate the piped water. Users of piped water
systems should thus be aware of the impact of their
Example of a standpost
water use on others and good water use should be
Source: World Health Organisation
promoted. This could be supported through village
include storage tanks so that water is always regulations or by-laws that penalize people who
available, even when demand is heaviest. Such persistently abuse the system.
tanks are usually necessary because the rate of Sanitary risks often occur within the
water use at peak times of the day (often early environment immediately around the tap. These
morning and early evening) is greater than the are problems like the exposure of a pipe close to
average rate of use throughout the day. The tanks the tap, finding stagnant water close to the tap or
also provide emergency storage in the event of a the erosion of the area around the tap. In many
breakdown. When planning a piped system, cases, contamination occurs because of these
community members should consider carefully problems rather than as a result of poor supply
where to locate the taps, so that everyone has management. In these cases, attention should be
relatively easy access. However, the design of piped focused on ensuring that the area around the tap
systems can be quite complicated and it may not be and the customer main is kept clean and that the
possible to place taps where people would prefer. pipe remains buried.
It is important to determine that the water used In many cases, the pipe that connects the tap
as the source for the pipe system is sanitary. The riser to the supply main is buried at a very shallow
main source water should be treated before depth and therefore is easily exposed and
distribution, in order for potable water to be damaged. The particularly weak points are the
available to the taps. If your water source is not joints at the connection to the supply main (where
treated before distribution, be sure to treat the pressure may be highest) and the joint between the
water yourself. supply pipe and the riser pipe at the tap itself. In
Piped systems require regular maintenance. the latter case, this is often damaged when many
Pipe leaks need to be repaired rapidly to prevent people use the tap and the riser pipe has no
water loss, and to prevent surface water from support. Where this is the case, users of the taps
entering the pipes and contaminating the supply. should be encouraged to put in a support for the
Also, communal taps are likely to be used heavily riser pipe. Where there are existing taps, this may
and users may not be as careful as they would be have to be a metal support, but for new taps, the
with their own taps. As a result, the taps are more use of a concrete plinth should be encouraged.
likely to break and will need frequent replacement. Communities may sometimes put lengths of
One way of dealing with these issues is to give hose on the tap to improve the direction of flow of
someone in the community responsibility for water where the tap design cause a wide stream of
checking communal taps and making repairs. To water to flow from the tap. These attached hoses
prevent the accumulation of stagnant water around may cause contamination and their use should be
community taps, which could become mosquito discouraged. One way to reduce the need for using
breeding sites, community members could build a such attachments is to use taps that have an insert
concrete ‘apron’ at the base of the taps and include that directs water into a single stream even at high
a drain and a soakage pit. An example of a pressure.
standpost is shown above. An alternative approach is to reduce the

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

distance between the tap outlet and the opening Water Conservation: Inventory
on the water container. The height of the riser pipe
can be reduced to a level that is just above the (These questions apply primarily to communities in
height of the usual container. Riser pipes do not urban areas with individually tapped piped water
need to be 0.5m high if the usual container is only supplies.)
0.3m high. Another approach, which may be
appropriate when the tap is already in place, is to
construct a small plinth to rest the container on 1. Monitoring Water Consumption
that will raise the container up to close to the
height of the tap. This will also help to support the Estimate the number of liters of water that the
tap against damage. community uses in a day. Try to minimize the
For more information regarding sanitary guess-work by actually measuring as much as
plumbing practices, refer to the WHO publication possible. If your water is metered, you can simply
listed at the end of this chapter, ‘Health Aspects of divide the amount of water used per period by the
Plumbing.’ number of days in the period.

Our community is satisfied with the quality and Amount of water used per day:
quantity of water provided by the water system.
123456789 2. Leaks and plumbing fixtures

Our community does all it can to maintain the safety Is there a plumber (someone charged with maintaining
and sanitary conditions of its tapstands and piping. water lines, faucets, toilets, sinks, etc.) in the
123456789 community?
Yes / No
Factors for communities considering water
supply improvements The following questions should be directed to the
• Have community members been fully consulted person responsible for making plumbing repairs:
about the type of water supply?
• Have community members had previous Are all faucets or taps free of leaks or drips?
experiences with water supply improvements and
Yes / No / Not Applicable
have these been reviewed?
• How will the water supply be managed to ensure
that it is reasonably accessible to everyone in the Are all toilet fill lines free of leaks?
community? Yes / No / Not Applicable
• How will initial costs be paid and is the
community expected to provide labour?
• Will labour be provided free or will the Are all garden hoses free of leaks?
community have to raise funds to cover labour Yes / No / Not Applicable
• What are the long-term financial implications of
the choice of water supply? Is all plumbing free of leaks?
• Can the community afford to pay expected Yes / No / Not Applicable
operation and maintenance costs?
• What spare parts are required and how often
should they be replaced? Does the community have replacement parts that are
• Who sells these spares and where are they commonly needed (eg. washers, fittings,
obtained? faucets/valves)?
• What tools are required and where can they be
obtained? Yes / No / Not Applicable
• Who will be trained to operate and maintain the
water supply? Are routine checks of pipes and faucets performed?
• What skills should operators have and what
training will they receive? Yes / No / Not Applicable
• What long-term support can the community Is there a procedure in place for reporting leaks?
expect from the government and other agencies? Yes / No
• If major repairs are required, whom should you
Describe Procedure:
contact and who will pay?
• Will the quality of the water be tested?
• How often will testing be done and how will the
information be communicated to the community?

Listening To The Earth

3. Is a mop and bucket or a broom used to clean the

If available, are water-conserving devices in use in ground/ floor, instead of a hose or dumped water.
the community? Yes / No / Not Applicable
Yes / No / Not Applicable
5. Using Greywater
Does your community use composting toilets?
Yes / No / Not Applicable Is greywater (wash water, not contaminated with feces)
collected and reused?
3. Water Provider’s Practices Yes / No / Not Applicable

Contact your water provider and to answer the Used water is collected from the following sources: (check
following questions. all that apply)
Water provider: c Showers
c Kitchen sinks
Name of contact person: c Bath tubs
c Bathroom sinks
Contact infromation: c Utility sinks
c Dishwasher
How much water is lost from the system through c Washing machines

What measure(s) is/are the provider taking to alleviate

Water Conservation: Evaluation
any leakage problems?
Communities need to conserve water resources for
future generations; the following discussion
addresses several ways in which this can be
accomplished. Following the discussion section is a
reference chart filled with a variety of ways to
Has the provider assessed the effect that the water conserve water.
system’s intake has on groundwater levels? If so, describe
it below; or if not, ask why it has not been done: At the end of each discussion section, there will be a
statement and a list of numbers from which to choose.
Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment
of how well your community represents the statement
4. Education and Personal Habits given. (1 = disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9
= agree completely, no change needed)
Is the community well-informed about the need for water
conservation, and about personal habits that could be 1. Monitoring Water Consumption
changed in order to not be wasteful of a valuable
resource? There are good reasons to determine the amount of
Yes / No water your community uses on a daily basis. For
instance, by comparing month to month changes,
1. Is an effort made to reduce the amount of time spent your community can continually assess their
in showers, or to reduce the amount of water used in the consumption of water.
showering process? How much does a person need? To sustain a
Yes / No / Not Applicable reasonable quality of living requires between 25 to
80 litres of water per person per day. If the
2. Is an effort made to shut off the tap/ faucet when consumption is much higher than this, much of
water is not being used (e.g. When brushing teeth or extra use is probably due to careless wasting. In
washing dishes, etc) such a case, it may be important to assess the water
Yes / No / Not Applicable needs of the community. Although tedious, by
interviewing the various members of your

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

community about their water usage, you many grossly out of proportion with the waste that the
determine why the consumption is so high. water flushes.
Inessential uses of water should be identified and • Install a composting toilet, if appropriate, and
eliminated, and less consumptive practices should you can do away with using water to flush away
be disseminated throughout your community. your wastes. The added benefit to this simple
technology is the rich compost at the end of the
Our community regularly keeps track of our water process, returning nutrients back to the soil that
consumption and consistently strives to minimize the would otherwise end up in rivers. In China and
amount used. Japan night soil (as it is called) has been
123456789 scrupulously collected for centuries to fertilise the
fields. Composting toilets need no water and
2. Leaks and plumbing fixtures depend on bacterial action to break down harmful
bugs in the waste.
Check for leaks, especially faulty washers, and (Consult the resources listed at the end of this
repair them. It’s probably best if the community chapter for more information regarding water
has at least one person that is responsible for conservation technologies. More information
maintaining plumbing and plumbing fixtures. about composting toilets can be found in the
The community should keep a small inventory Sanitation Assessment in Chapter 4.)
of commonly needed parts and tools needed to
repair the most common problems. A good Our community has clear policies and procedures
inventory is best stocked according to the regarding water leaks, so that any leaks are quickly
accumulated history of the community’s plumbing repaired.
problems (water leaks). The experience of a 123456789
community plumber is one way to keep track of
the history, but maintaining records is a wise idea Our community also strives to use water conserving
also. devices whenever they are available.
There should be routine inspections, especially 123456789
in the most common problem areas, such as areas
that receive high amounts of useage (community 3. Water Provider’s Practices
sinks, taps, etc.). In addition, all community
members can be a part of a continual inspection by Write to, or call your local Water Provider and find
reporting any leaks encountered. The reporting out how much water it loses in its pipes through
process should be easy, standard, and known to all leakage and what measures it is taking to alleviate
community members. the situation. In some areas this figure is over one
Fit water conserving devices. Many commonly third.
used appliances can be modified to conserve water Communities should discuss with the Water
or bought specifically for their water conserving Provider the short- and long-term impacts of water
qualities: supply improvement on water resources. For
• Spray taps and faucet aerators are an example, sinking too many boreholes in an area
alternative to steady flow taps enabling a smaller may cause serious depletion of water held
volume of water to achieve the same results. underground and even cause water sources to dry
• Low flow shower heads can be fitted to up.
maximise water coverage and minimise water This can also lead to deteriorating water
volume. quality: as the water table falls, domestic boreholes
• In the toilet: By adding a sealed plastic bottle must be sunk deeper into underground water that
filled with water inside your toilet cistern or by may contain harmful chemicals such as fluoride or
adjusting your ballcock, the amount of water used arsenic.
per flush can be reduced to a minimum. Because community members are the principal
Alternatively a dual flush toilet system can be stakeholders of local water resources, they should
fitted which discharges a small volume of water for always assess the longer-term effects of water
liquid waste and a larger volume for solid waste, pumping on the environment and should be
efficient flushing depends upon the velocity of the actively involved in evaluating the risks.
water rather than the volume which tends to be Especially if shortages occur, if costs rise, if

Listening To The Earth

metering is in place, if the water system is loosing Think twice

a lot of water, or the groundwater table is being Much water conservation is common sense:
rapidly depleted, the Water Provider is not being • Washing clothes: Use full loads in your
managed in the best interests of the community washing machine, or if purchasing a machine look
that it is serving. In such a case, the community for economy features such as half load capability or
should do what is necessary to ensure that the reduced water consumption.
Water Provider’s management practices are • Refrigerate drinking water in order to prevent
changed. running the tap for long periods waiting for cold
Our community actively pressures our Water Provider • Conversely, insulate hot water pipes to
to use the best management practices it can to conserve prevent running the tap for long periods waiting
water. for hot water.
123456789 • Wash dishes by hand, using one bowl for
washing and one for rinsing. Bowls are filled with
4. Education and Personal Habits less water than it takes to fill the sink.
• Use showers instead of baths. Have baths as a
Water conservation treat, a sensual experience to be relished once in a
Although it is important that people use enough while. Showers with low flowheads use far less
water for good hygiene, it is also important not to water than the averag bath.
waste water. Piped water supplies are particularly • Collect rainwater. This collected water can be
vulnerable to wastage; if they are not properly used for most applications but care should be
managed, the community as a whole may suffer taken if you suspect any leaching of particles from
water shortages and people will have to wait longer your roof surface. If this is the case then the water
to collect water. Most piped water systems leak can still be used for washing your car, or bicycle,
and need to be checked regularly and repaired as and watering ornamental, (non edible) plants.
soon as faults are discovered. Taps should also be • Car washing: It is possible to wash a car with
turned off immediately after use and children only one bucket of water. But does it really need
discouraged from playing with taps. washing?
• Garden watering: To save water and to give
Why conserve water? your plants the maximum benefit it is best to water
Ultimately, the fresh water available to a out of direct sunlight, i.e., in the evening. This will
community depends upon the amounts of rainfall, cut down on water loss due to evaporation. Avoid
local hydrology and the geology of the area. sprinklers, which use water indiscriminately, and
If the community takes out more water than try to target the water precisely where it is most
the natural system will allow, then this leads to a needed. Grow plants in beds, not containers.
lowering of the water table and possible dramatic • Save cooking water and use it as stock or as a
effects upon water quality, future water supplies base for soups; it can be kept for several days in a
and agriculture. It also has harmful consequences cooler or frozen.
for the wildlife/amenity value of the landscape,
reducing flowing rivers to muddy puddles. Our community is well informed about the need for
Faced with the problems of over abstraction water conservation practices, and our members adapt
from natural water bodies the knee-jerk reaction is their behaviour accordingly.
to construct more reservoirs. This solution impacts 123456789
heavily upon the wildlife/amenity value of natural
landscapes and alters the hydrology of the area. 5. Using Greywater
The sane alternative to this tinkering response is to
use the water you have in a sustainable way by Recycle greywater
conserving and recycling it. All the water used in the community, apart from
A community must value their water supply toilet flush water, can be re-used to some degree.
and ensure that the community’s demands upon it Water can be collected from seven main sources:
are not too great, so that the supply can last into • Showers
the future. • Bath tubs
• Bathroom sinks

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

(These three together use 75% of non-flush water detected by making a test for pH. Any possible
used in the home and contain less than 10% of the harmful effects can be minimised by diluting the
particulates) greywater with collected/fresh or filtered water.
• Washing machine Explore the resources listed at the end of this
• Utility sinks chapter to learn of inexpensive and safe ways to
• Dishwashers adapt your plumbing to reuse greywater.
• Kitchen sinks
Our community makes the most reasonable use of our
Making use of Waste Water greywater.
A temporary solution is to manually bucket the 123456789
water, usually termed greywater, from the source to
its eventual destination. A more sophisticated Conclusions
method is to re-route the drain pipes of the fixtures
and appliances from which you intend to re-use Now enter the scores from each section in the column at
water into a common discharge buffer tank. A right
small electric or hand pump may be needed if score
gravity feed is not possible, dishwashers and
washing machines have their own discharge pumps 1. Water consumption monitoring
which are capable of delivering water to an
elevated storage tank. 2. Leaks and plumbing fixtures

Greywater qualities & uses 2. Water conservation devices

The quality of the greywater the community
collects ultimately depends upon what it is 3. Water Provider’s practices
collected from, and how well it is filtered before re-
use. Greywater can generally be used as a flush 4. Education and personal habits
water without any treatment besides simple
filtration. Greywater can also be used on garden 5. Using Greywater
and potted plants, although more filtration might
be considered for this application.
Particles can be filtered out by using a simple Now that you have comprehensively examined your
mesh filter on the plughole. Soap and detergent community’s water conserving habits, how would you
residues can be harmful to plants, so it is best to rate, overall, your community’s practices in these
use bio-degradable cleaning products, sparingly. regards?
If the greywater is passed through several Excellent / Satisfactory / Poor / Critically
filtering systems i.e a settling tank, then grease deficient
trap, then sand filter, the resulting water can be
used with little worry over the potential If you found that problems exist, list them below:
accumulation of harmful chemicals. It can be Category (I-III)
applied to all types of vegetation. Problem 1
If you do not possess the space or resources for
this kind of filtration the greywater that you have
so scrupulously saved can still be used to top up
your toilet system, or used selectively in the
garden. In this case, care should be taken to water
only ornamental plants or mature well established
vegetable plots, it is also advisable to avoid contact Problem 2
between the greywater and the vegetation itself, i.e
water the soil around the plants only.
Sodium, contained in detergents, can build up
after lengthy periods of application necessitating
adding gypsum to the soil to lower the alkalinity
which sodium causes. This build up can easily be continued

Listening To The Earth

3. Repair dripping taps by replacing washers. If your tap is

Problem 3 dripping at the rate of one drop per second, you can
expect to waste over 5,000 liters per year which will add
to the cost of water and sewer utilities, or strain your
septic system.
4. Check for toilet tank leaks by adding food colouring to the
tank. If the toilet is leaking, colour will appear within 30
minutes. Check the toilet for worn out, corroded or bent
Problem 4 parts. Most replacement parts are inexpensive, readily
available and easily installed. (Flush as soon as test is
done, since food colouring may stain tank.)
5. Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues,
insects and other such waste in the rubbish bin rather
than the toilet.
6. Take shorter showers. Replace you showerhead with an
Problem 5 ultra-low-flow version. Some units are available that allow
you to cut off the flow without adjusting the water
temperature knobs.
7. Use the minimum amount of water needed for a bath by
closing the drain first and filling the bath only 1/3 full.
The initial burst of cold water can be warmed by adding
hot water later.
8. Don’t let water run while shaving or washing your face.
Now categorize each problem listed above into one Brush your teeth first while waiting for water to get hot,
of the following three categories: then wash or shave after filling the basin.
I = Critically important. Currently dangerous, 9. Retrofit all wasteful household taps by installing aerators
must be addressed immediately with flow restrictors.
II = Important, but not immediately dangerous. 10. Operate automatic dishwashers and clothes washers only
Must be addressed when they are fully loaded or properly set the water level
III = Current practice should be improved, but is for the size of load you are using.
not immediately important 11. When washing dishes by hand, fill one sink or basin with
soapy water. Quickly rinse under a slow-moving stream
from the tap.
12. Store drinking water in the refrigerator rather than letting
the tap run every time you want a cool glass of water.
13. Do not use running water to thaw meat or other frozen
foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or by
using the defrost setting on your microwave.
14. Kitchen sink disposals require lots of water to operate
properly. Start a compost pile as an alternate method of
disposing food waste instead of using a garbage disposal.
Garbage disposals also can add 50% to the volume of
solids in a septic tank that can lead to malfunctions and
46 WAYS OF SAVING WATER maintenance problems.
15. Consider installing an instant water heater on your
1. Never put water down the drain when there may be kitchen sink so you don’t have to let the water run while
another use for it such as watering a plant or garden, or it heats up. This will reduce heating costs for your
cleaning. household.
2. Verify that your community is leak-free, because many 16. Insulate your water pipes. You’ll get hot water faster plus
homes have hidden water leaks. Read your water meter avoid wasting water while it heats up.
before and after a two-hour period when no water is being 17. Never install a water-to-air heat pump or air-conditioning
used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, there is system. Air-to-air models are just as efficient and do not
a leak. waste water.

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

18. Install water softening systems only when necessary. Save 31. Outfit your hose with a shut-off nozzle that can be
water and salt by running the minimum amount of adjusted down to fine spray so that water flows only as
regenerations necessary to maintain water softness. Turn needed. When finished, ‘Turn it Off ’ at the tap instead of
softeners off while on vacation. at the nozzle to avoid leaks.
19. Check your pump. If you have a well at your home, listen 32. Use hose washers between spigots and water hoses to
to see if the pump kicks on and off while the water is not eliminate leaks.
in use. If it does, you have a leak. 33. Check all hoses, connectors and spigots regularly.
20. When adjusting water temperatures, instead of turning 34. Consider using a commercial car wash that recycles water.
water flow up, try turning it down. If the water is too hot If you wash your own car, park on the grass to do so.
or cold, turn the offender down rather than increasing 35. Avoid the installation of ornamental water features (such
water flow to balance the temperatures. as fountains) unless the water is recycled.
21. If the toilet flush handle frequently sticks in the flush
position, letting water run constantly, replace or adjust it
General Water Saving Tips

Saving Water Outdoors 36. Create an awareness of the need for water conservation
within your community.
22. Don’t over-water your lawn. As a general rule, lawns only 37. Be aware of and follow all water conservation and water
need watering every 5 to 7 days in the summer and every shortage rules and restrictions that may be in effect in
10 to 14 days in the winter. A hearty rain eliminates the your area.
need for watering for as long as two weeks. 38. Encourage your employer to promote water conservation
23. Water lawns during the early morning hours when at the workplace. Suggest that water conservation be put
temperatures and wind speed are the lowest. This reduces in the employee orientation manual and training program.
losses from evaporation. 39. Patronise businesses that practice and promote water
24. Don’t water your street, driveway or sidewalk. Position conservation.
your sprinklers so that your water lands on the lawn and 40. Report all significant water losses (broken pipes, open
shrubs ... not the paved areas. hydrants, errant sprinklers, abandoned free-flowing wells,
25. Install sprinklers that are the most water-efficient for each etc.) to the property owner, local authorities or your Water
use. Micro and drip irrigation and soaker hoses are Management District.
examples of water-efficient methods of irrigation. 41. Encourage your school system and local government to
26. Regularly check sprinkler systems and timing devices to be help develop and promote a water conservation ethic
sure they are operating properly. It is highly among children and adults.
reccommended that anyone who purchases and installs an 42. Support projects that will lead to an increased use of
automatic lawn sprinkler system should also install a rain reclaimed waste water for irrigation and other uses.
sensor device or switch which will override the irrigation 43. Support efforts and programs to create a concern for water
cycle of the sprinkler system if inadequate rainfall has conservation among tourists and visitors. Make sure your
occurred. To retrofit your existing system, contact an visitors understand the need for, and benefits of, water
irrigation professional for more information. conservation.
27. Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches. A 44. Encourage your friends and neighbours to be part of a
lawn cut higher encourages grass roots to grow deeper, water conscious community. Promote water conservation
shades the root system and holds soil moisture better than in community newsletters, on bulletin boards and by
a closely-clipped lawn. example.
28. Mulch to retain moisture in the soil. Mulching also helps 45. Conserve water because it is the right thing to do. Don’t
to control weeds that compete with plants for water. waste water just because someone else is footing the bill
29. Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground such as when you are staying at a hotel.
covers, shrubs and trees. Once established, they do not 46. Try to do one thing each day that will result in a savings
need to be watered as frequently and they usually will of water. Don’t worry if the savings is minimal. Every drop
survive a dry period without any watering. Group plants counts. And every person can make a difference. So tell
together based on similar water needs. your friends, neighbours and co-workers to ‘Turn it Off ’
30. Do not hose down your driveway or sidewalk. Use a and ‘Keep it Off ’.
broom to clean leaves and other debris from these areas.
Using a hose to clean a driveway can waste hundreds of (Source: Water Ambassador)
liters of water.

Listening To The Earth

Acknowledgements for Chapter Three internet page contains technical

and educational resources regarding water quality and
The information contained in this chapter has hygiene.
primarily been adapted from the works of Guy Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
Howard, especially from the following three (WSSCC) By UN mandate,
publications: the Council seeks to accelerate the achievement of
Howard, Guy. Water Quality Surveillance: A Practical sustainable sanitation, hygiene and water services to all
Guide. WEDC, Loughborough University, 2002. people, with special attention to the unserved poor
Available online from through: advocacy and awareness raising campaigns,
Howard, Guy. Water Supply Surveillance: A Reference and facilitating concerted action programmes focused
Manual. WEDC, Loughborough University, 2002. at improved sanitation and hygiene service delivery.
Available online from Water, Engineering, and Development Centre
Guy Howard, with Claus Bogh, Greg Goldstein, Joy (WEDC) is one of the world’s
Morgan, Annette Prüss, Rod Shaw, Joanna Teuton. leading institutions concerned with education, training,
Healthy Villages: A guide for communities and research, and consultancy relating to the planning,
community health. World Health Organization, 2002. provision, and management of infrastructure for
Available online from: development. Their internet site provides access to numerous documents regarding safe water handling.
ings/healthvillages/ WaterAid is an
In addition, the World Health Organization’s international non governmental organisation dedicated
Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality, 3rd Ed. were exclusively to the provision of safe domestic water,
used as a reference, as well as the WHO publication: sanitation and hygiene education to the world’s poorest
people. WaterAid helps local organisations set up low
Water quality assessments: a guide to the use of biota, cost, sustainable projects using appropriate technology
sediments and water in environmental monitoring, 2nd that can be managed by the community itself.
edition. Edited by Deborah Chapman. Published on
behalf of UNESCO, WHO and UNEP. London, E & WELL—Resource Centre Network for Water,
FN Spon, 1996. Sanitation and Environmental Health is a resource
The information used in the discussion regarding water centre network providing access to information and
governance (Question 4 of the Drinking Water Quality support in water, sanitation and environmental health
Assessment) was adapted from: David B. Brooks, for the Department for International Development
In_Focus: WATER Local-level Management . IDRC, (DFID) of the British Government.
2002. Available online: IDRC
ID#21857 World Water Council mission is ‘to
promote awareness, build political commitment and
Resources for Chapter Three: Water trigger action on critical water issues at all levels,
including the highest decision-making level, to facilitate
Capacity Building for Integrated Water Resources the efficient conservation, protection, development,
Management Cap-Net is an planning, management and use of water in all its
international network for capacity building in dimensions on an environmentally sustainable basis for
integrated water resource management. It is made up of the benefit of all life on earth.’
a partnership of autonomous international, regional Young Water Action Team
and national institutions and networks committed to is a global network of
capacity building in the water sector. young water professionals and students aged 18-30
Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing with members in more than 40 countries. In
Countries SANDEC’s mandate partnership with international water organisations,
is to assist in developing appropriate and sustainable YWAT is creating a network of young people who are
water and sanitation concepts and technologies dedicated to tacking the world’s challenges with water,
adapted to the different physical and socio-economic sanitation and hygiene.
conditions prevailing in developing countries. International Water and Sanitation Center (IRC):
Life Water Canada is a non- P.O. Box 2869; 2601 CW Delft; The
profit organization training & equipping the rural poor Netherlands. Tel: +31 15 219 2939. News and
in Africa to drill wells and build washrooms. information, advice, research and training, on low-cost
water supply and sanitation in developing countries.
Inter-American Water Resources Network Information available in Spanish, including a large IWRN is a network of networks library of documents.
whose purpose is to build and strengthen water
resources partnerships among nations, organizations, World Health Organization Water, Sanitation and
and individuals; to promote education and the open Health Division,
exchange of information and technical expertise; and to WSH
enhance communication, cooperation, collaboration division’s aim is the reduction of water and waste
and financial commitment to integrated water and land related disease and the optimization of the health
resources management within the context of benefits of sustainable water and waste management,
environmental and economic sustainability in the with an objective of assisting citizens to understand
Americas. and act on the health impacts of their actions. WHO
has hundreds of full text manuals available on-line and
UNICEF: United Nations’ Children’s Fund by order.

Chapter 3: Drinking Water

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Fundacion Sodis para America Latina, Universidad is the regional division of WHO Mayor de San Simon, Cochabamba, Bolivia, Castilla
with contacts and offices present in most countries: 5783 Telefono (+571) 4 454 2259
Headquarters (USA): 1-202-974-3000 Fundacion Sodis is a non-
Cuba- (53-7) 831-0245 profit organisation whose mission is to promote the
Nicaragua-(505) 289-4200 low-cost and effective Sodis method of water treatment
Argentina- (54-11) 4312-5301 throughout Latin America.
Dom. Rep.- (1-809)562-1519
Panama- (507) 212-7800
Bahamas- (1-242) 326-7390
Ecuador- (593-2) 246-0330 Print Resources
Paraguay- (595-21) 450-495
Barbados: (1-246) 426-3860 Cassinath, Natasha; R. Garcia; Trabajando Juntos:
El Salvador- (503)298-3491 Un manual de campo para trabajar con proyectos de
Peru- (51-1) 421-3030 agua. (2nd Ed.). Red Centroamericana de Manejo de
Belize- (501) 224-4885 Recursos Hidricos (CARA), 2002. Available from the
Guatemala- (011-502) 332-2032 Universidad Nacional
Puerto Rico- (787) 274-7608 Autónoma de Nicaragua: (505) 278-6981, or online at
Bolivia- (591-2) 241-2303
Guyana- (592) 225-3000
Suriname- (597) 471-676 World Health Organization (WHO). Guidelines for
Brazil- (55-61) 426-9595 Drinking-water Quality: 3rd ed. WHO Press, 2004.
Haiti- (509) 260-5700 WHO. Health Aspects of Plumbing. Published jointly
Trinidad- (1-868) 624-7524 by WHO, and World Plumbing Council. WHO Press,
Chile- (56-2) 264-9300 2006.
Honduras- (504) 239-0136
Uruguay- (598-2) 707-3590 WHO. Healthy Villages. WHO Press, 2002.
Colombia- (57-1) 347-8373
Jamaica- (1-876)967-4626
Venezuela- (58-212) 267-1622
Costa Rica- (506) 258-5810
Mexico- (5255) 5089-08-60

Listening To The Earth

Chapter 4
Sanitation and Waste Handling

Overview: Sanitation, Municipal section that provides background information on

the topic under discussion. The first assessment
Waste, and Hazardous Waste deals with your community’s handling of human
ince the dawn of humanity, people have not excreta; the second deals with your handling of the

S only consumed the gifts of the Earth, but

have also left behind things of their own
creation. Important and ubiquitous items left
other forms of solid waste that are generated by
your community; and finally some attention will
be directed to your community’s handling of
behind include feces and corpses; furthermore, hazardous materials. The intention of the chapter
there are broken tools, clothes, vacated dwelling is for you to assess with what level of respect your
structures, and a whole host of other things that community regards its waste, and how ecologically
we broadly refer to as ‘waste’. Many of these sound your waste handling practices are.
‘wastes’ pose significant health hazards to humans,
but also to other animals, plants, and entire
In many ways it is unfortunate that we consider
Community Excreta Handling
these ‘wastes’ as undesirable, as things to simply be and Sanitation: Introduction
disposed of, as a burden, etc. As a consequence of
this attitude, humans have had to contrive ways to Ecological Sanitation
dispose of their wastes, and these means have
generally consisted of concentrating (or Sanitation refers to the supply of good-quality
collecting/centralizing) the waste into one location drinking water, proper disposal of excreta, hygiene
and burying it or piling it up. Landfills (i.e. garbage in the preparation of meals, cleanliness in the
dumps), wastewater treatment plants, cemetaries, home, and the collection and final disposal of solid
etc. are all examples of this response. waste. Basically, sanitation consists of our means of
Unfortunately, as the human family has grown proctecting ourselves from the inherent dangers of
tremendously in size, this type of response has our own excrement, and the feces of other animals.
created numerous catastophic messes around the Sanitation practices, and sanitary habits are
globe. Sprawling garbage dumps are plaguing the very important for the prevention of many diseases
landscape, they pollute groundwater and surface and parasitic infections. Parasites are living
water, and are breeding grounds for many pests. creatures that feed on other living creatures,
Sewer systems have been responsible for poisoning causing the host organisms harm in the process.
the earth’s waters, making them unfit to drink or The eggs and larvae of parasites are often very
swim in. Hazardous wastes have been small and are easily ingested. Similarly, many types
accumulating not only in waters and soils, but also of harmful bacteria are present in fecal matter that
in the living tissue of organisms—including us! can cause painful and mortal infections, and which
Perhaps the time has come for us to change our can occur quite easily.
attitude into one in which we strive to recognize ‘Sanitation,’ for the purposes of this
our ‘wastes’ as the gifts and resources that we assessment, refers specifically to your system of
naturally produce. A very great percentage of the handling and managing human excreta. A variety
waste we generate can actually be reused in a of styles of latrines, flush toilets, and sewer
variety of ways. It is our challenge to find or create networks are all examples of sanitation technology
ways to recycle those wastes for which we haven’t that is presently used. Ecological, or sustainable
currently any use. sanitation means that all elements of sanitation are
In this chapter, three specific areas of waste in balance, and that the system poses no threat to
generation and handling will be examined in human health nor to the earth’s health.
depth. Each will be preceded with an introductory

Listening To The Earth

Sanitation and Population Explosion: A Deadly million children die of diarrhea, deaths that could
Mix? have been prevented by good sanitation: millions
more suffer the nutritional, educational, and
Unfortunately, sanitation is a critical problem in economic loss through diarrheal disease that
many places around the world because of rapid improvements in sanitation, especially human
population growth and unsuitable technological excreta management, can prevent.
responses. Sanitary conditions for much of the Overall, the World Health Organization
world’s population are not improving despite the estimates that nearly 3.3 million people die
enormous suffering caused by poor sanitation. annually from diarrheal diseases, and that a
For as long as the human population was small staggering 1.5 billion suffer, at any one time, from
and dispersed over a large area, sanitation was not parasitic worm infections stemming from human
such a problem; however, the situation has excreta and solid wastes in the environment.
dramatically changed. The human population is Besides the infectious diseases associated with
now 1000 times greater than it was 10 000 years poor sanitation, the wastewater from sewer
ago. Today 2.5 billion people live in urban areas systems also creates a host of environmental and
alone. People are living closer and closer together; health problems. Heavy metals, toxic organic and
alternately stated, more and more people are living inorganic substances are also often present in
in the same amount of space. wastewater. These pollutants can also pose serious
One consequence of this increasing population threats to human health and the environment.
density is that we (humans) are putting higher and Industrial wastewater and ‘municipal sludge’ (one
higher pressure on the environment, especially in by-product of sewage treatment which consists of
the most densely populated regions. The closer the solids settled out of wastewater) may contain
together we live, the more important it is for us to high concentrations of heavy metals such as
have access to, and make use of, good sanitation cadmium, lead, nickel and chromium. Heavy
facilities. metals concentrate in the tissues of many filter-
feeding shellfish, fish, and in some cases terrestrial
Excreta: Environmental Pollutant and Health plants. For this reason, consumers of these
Hazard products face significant health threats.
Excessive nutrients (primarily nitrogen and
The failure to properly treat and manage phosphorus) in wastewater, sludge, and excreta
wastewater and excreta is directly responsible for may contaminate surface waters and cause
numerous adverse health and environmental eutrophication. Eutrophication is a process
effects. Poor sanitation gives rise to high rates of whereby water bodies, such as lakes, estuaries, or
diarrheal diseases, to helminth (parasitic worm) slow-moving streams receive excess nutrients that
infections like ascariasis and hookworm, and to stimulate excessive plant growth (algae, nuisance
vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever plants weeds). This enhanced plant growth, often
and Japanese encephalitis. Human excreta has called an algal bloom, causes other organisms to
been implicated in the transmission of many other die. The eutrophication of freshwaters sometimes
infectious diseases including cholera, typhoid, also causes the growth of toxin-producing
hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, and cyanobacteria. Toxins produced by cyanobacteria
schistosomiasis. can cause gastroenteritis, liver damage, nervous
Besides direct contact or ingestion, one of the system impairment, and skin irritation.
main pathways of disease is being spread by Other chemicals such as pharmaceutical
vectors, or other living creatures. Such creatures— residues and potential endocrine disrupting
e.g. flies, rats, cockroaches, etc.—are particularly substances have been identified in wastewater and
drawn to human excreta; and thus poor sanitary excreta, but the effects of these pollutants have not
facilities are often the breeding grounds for several yet been fully determined.
such creatures.
Human excreta-transmitted diseases Sewered Sanitation Technology: Problematic
predominantly affect children and the poor. Most and Unsustainable
of the deaths due to diarrhea occur in children
(accounting for nearly two million) and especially In an attempt to deal with the critical problems of
occur in the poorest regions. Every year, 2.5 sanitation, humans have developed and built

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

sewerage systems, or networks of underground The real problem is that in the flush-and-
pipes, which are designed to convey human wastes discharge system feces are not handled on their
away from homes to a central outlet point. In own. They are mixed with urine. This means that
theory, a treatment plant is located at the outlet instead of 50 litres of a heavily polluted substance
point, ostensibly making the water safe again we have to take care of 550 polluted, dangerous
before being released into the environment. These and extremely unpleasant litres. One of the reasons
sewer networks require the use of ‘flush’ toilets behind the unpleasantness of the mixture of urine
which are basically machines for mixing human and feces is that feces contain a bacterium,
urine, faeces and water. Micrococcus ureae, which when mixed with urine
This technology has been considered the safest produces a very unpleasant smell.
and most effective means of sanitation, and has
been championed by numerous influential Outright shortage of water is often a major
organizations and people around the world. problem for Latin American cities.
Unfortunately humans have discovered that this A flush system does not work without water. To
technology is unsatisfactory, unsustainable, and a flush away the 550 litres of feces and urine in a
source of serious environmental damage. sewered toilet each person uses about 15,000 litres
Although well-intentioned, flush-and-discharge of pure water every year. In most cities in the world
systems compound the problems of sanitation. there is nowhere near enough water to provide that
With these systems a relatively small amount of amount for each of its inhabitants. The typical
dangerous material—human faeces—is allowed to response is to provide flush-and-discharge only to
pollute a huge amount of water. In spite of this, the rich, which of course means that there is even
flush-and-discharge is almost universally regarded less water available to the poor.
as the ideal option for urban areas. Almost without Globally, some 80 countries with 40 per cent of
question it is promoted in cities and town around the world’s population are already suffering from
the world, even in the pooreset regions where water shortages at some time during the year.
people cannot afford it and in arid areas where Chronic freshwater shortages are expected by the
there is hardly enough water for drinking. end of the decade in much of Africa, the Middle
This preference for flush-and-discharge is based East, northern China, parts of India and Mexico,
on a number of assumptions: the western United States, northeastern Brazil and
1. that the problem is one of ‘sewage disposal’ in the former Soviet Central Asian republics.
2. that fresh water is an unlimited resource China alone has 300 cities facing serious water
3. that at the end of the pipe the sewage is shortages.
4. that the environment can take care of the Only a tiny fraction of all sewage produced in
discharge from the treatment plant Latin America is treated.
However, none of these assumptions is correct. A very high percentage of all sewage in Latin
America is discharged completely untreated into
The basic problem is the disposal of human surface waters. Many cities do not have any sewage
feces and urine, not ‘sewage’. treatment system at all, and of those that do, most
A human body does not produce ‘sewage’. Sewage serve only a small fraction of the population.
is the product of a particular technology. The Estimates suggest that less than 5% of all sewage in
human body produces urine and feces. These are Latin America receives any treatment before it is
often referred to as ‘human excreta’ but it is discharged into the environment.
important to remember that they are in fact two Even where there is treatment, the vast majority
different substances which leave the body through of sewage treatment technologies in use today still
separate openings and in different directions. Each contribute significant amounts of pollutants to the
person produces about 500 litres of urine and 50 environment. Even modern treatment facilities
litres of feces per year. Fifty litres of feces should usually do not cope with phosphates and nitrates.
not be too difficult to manage. It is not a very Nor are treatment plants designed to detoxify
pleasant product and may contain pathogenic chemical wastes. Primary treatment simply filters
organisms. But the volume is small: when out floating and suspended material; secondary
dehydrated it is actually no more than a bucketful treatment facilitates the biological degradation of
per person per year. feces and urine and other similar material; and

Listening To The Earth

disinfection destroys infectious organisms. Most of and at the same time, closing the nutrient cycle
the industrial and household toxic wastes released and protecting limited fresh water sources and the
into sewers are either discharged into receiving environment.
waters, or remain in the sludge. The purpose of the following assessment is to
In addition to pathological pollution, other help guide you in evaluating the state of your
pollutants found in sewer effluent are heavy metals community’s sanitation practices, with the view of
and possible toxic household substances. Heavy molding your community’s practices into
metals include copper, zinc, cadmium, nickel, sustainable, ecological sanitation. In addition to
chromium and lead. The content and this assessment, refer to the ‘Drinking Water
concentration are dependent on the pipe materials Quality and Source Protection Assessment’ in
employed to convey drinking water, household Chapter 3 to evaluate water supply sanitation, and
cleaning agents used, and, for stormwater, the type to the other two assessments in this chapter to
of materials used for roofing and guttering. Toxic further evaluate your community’s waste handling
materials may also be disposed with household practices.
wastewater. In high enough concentrations these
heavy metals are toxic to bacteria, plants and
animals, and to people.
Community Excreta Handling
All over the world we can find examples of and Sanitation: Inventory
natural ecosystems destroyed by the discharge
of untreated or partly treated sewage. 1. Mix or No-Mix
In the past it was a common assumption that the
pollution which results from conventional Considering your sanitation facilities (latrines, lavatory,
sanitation technologies can be safely assimilated by etc), does your community combine or release feces and
the environment. This assumption is not correct. urine into the same receptacle (a ‘no-mix’ facility keeps
Some chemicals will decompose and be removed the urine and fecal matter separate)?
by natural processes, but most will remain in the Mix / No-Mix
The inevitable end products of a sewage system 2. Soil conditions
are polluted waters and toxic sludge. The four
conventional sludge disposal methods are ocean One of the most important environmental factors
dumping, landfilling, incineration and application to consider in your choice of excreta disposal is the
on agricultural land. From an environmental point depth of the water table in your area. The ‘water
of view all these methods are unacceptable and table’ refers to the underground depth at which
from all over the world we have reports of the freshwater is found.
degradation of the environment due to sewage
discharge and sludge disposal. 1) Rate the permeability or porosity of the soil in your
Thus, conventional sanitation in the form of area:
sewered flush-and-discharge offers no solution to 123456789
the global sanitation crisis. A different approach to stone or clay / humus / sand
sanitation is needed.
2) What is the depth to the water table in your location
Sustainable Approach to Sanitation, and this (meters):
(can be estimated by determining the depth of local wells or
Environmentally sound practices in wastewater boreholes)
and stormwater management are practices that
ensure that public health and environmental 3. Characteristics of Sanitation System:
quality are protected. A range of technologies exist
that can achieve this objective. Nevertheless, more Identify which of the following apply to your
effort must be extended towards finding community’s sanitation system, or method of handling
sustainable approaches for reducing health hazards human excreta:
associated with wastewater, sludge and excreta,

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

c Open air (no sanitation facility) c Vacuum truck

c Overhung Latrine (directly into surface
water) How often is emptying performed?
c Bucket Cartage
c Shallow Pit/Trench Who does it?
c Borehole Latrines
c Other (specify):
c Pit Latrine (simple covered) If the service requires a fee, how much does it cost ?
c Pit Latrine (ventilated)
c Pit Latrine (raised)
c Aquaprivvy If known, how is the removed excreta disposed of?
c Pour Flush
c Full Flush
c Composting toilet 4. Resource Recovery

1) Does your sanitation system include the use of What form(s) of resource recovery does your community
plumbing? use to utilize excreta? Indicate all that apply
Yes / No c Compost solid waste
c Excreta-fed fish pond
If Yes then complete the following questions: c Use of urine to water plants
c Biogas digester
Is there someone in the community responsible for the c Other (specify):
maintenance of the community sanitatary plumbing? c None

Name of person responsible: 5. Sewer Network

Inspect the system’s integrity. Is all plumbing free of Does your community release its excreta into a
leaks? wastewater sewer network, or other system of plumbing
Yes / No that is designed to operate with flush water?
Identify the location of any leaks: Yes / No
If Yes then complete the following questions:
Do all toilets include a vapor lock, or ‘drain trap’ to
prevent the backflow of gases? Is your community’s sewer system:
Yes / No c Conventional (i.e. deep): consists of house
Is there a protocol in place for reporting problems? connections routed to main pipes that run along
Yes / No streets. System requires pipes, inspection
Describe the protocol: manholes, pumps and pumping stations
c Simplified (i.e. shallow, a.k.a
condominium): similar to deep sewering, except
2) Identify if your sanitation system includes any of the that houses or individual connections are made to
following components: each other, rather than to a the main line. The
c septic tank shared connector pipes are smaller in diameter
c soakaway and do not need to be buried as deep
c drainage field c Settled (a.k.a small bore): sewer system
c vault includes interceptor tanks, which are settlement
c not applicable tanks, and they require periodic emptying. In
them, solids that can potentially sediment in the
3) Does your sanitation system require periodic sewerage pipes are removed
Yes / No Rate the quality or reliability of your sewer network
What method is used: (i.e. how often does it have major leaks or get clogged):
c Manual shoveling 0123456789
c Pump poor………excellent

Listening To The Earth

Who is the party responsible for the administration, c Urban run-off (land drainage)
maintenance, and alteration of your community’s sewer c Other (specify):
c collective/ cooperative/ neighborhood What treatments (if any) are used at the facility?
c municipality/ municipal goverment c Preliminary: this includes simple processes
c your religious community (owned/operated such as screening and grit removal to
by your religious community itself) remove the gross solid pollution
c corporate entity, or other business residue from the process:
c not organized c Primary: usually plain sedimentation;
simple settlement of the solid material in
If applicable, how do you contact this party? sewage can reduce the polluting load by
Name of responsible party: significant amounts
residue from the process:
Contact person: c Secondary: for further treatment and
removal of common pollutants, usually by a
Contact information: biological process
residue from the process:
c Tertiary: usually for removal of specific
Does your community share in this management pollutants e.g. nitrogen or phosphorous, or
responsibility? specific industrial pollutants
Yes / No residue from the process:

If so, in what way? How are the residues disposed of?

Into what body of water, or onto what land does the

6. Waste Water Treatment facility discharge its effluent (or processed wastewater)?

Does your community’s sewer system include a waste What pollutant(s) does the effluent contain?
water treatment process? c Chemical
Yes / No (specify):

If Yes then complete the following questions:

c Nutritional (esp. phosphorous and/or
Who is responsible for the operational decisions of the nitrogen)
waste water treatment plant, if other than the party (specify):
responsible for the sewer network, and how are they
Name of responsible party: c Biological (pathogens)
Contact person:
Expert Environmental Information Source
Contact information: It would be helpful to contact an environmental
protection or advocacy group that can provide
reliable, expert data on the ecological impacts of your
sanitation system. If you don’t know of one, refer
From what source(s) does the waste water treatment to the List of Categorized References in the back of
facility receive sewage flow? this manual to help locate one.
c Purely residential sources
c Industrial sources Name of organization:
c Commercial agricultural
c Mining operations Name of contact person:

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

Contact information: Is the toilet and areas surrounding it regularly

Yes / No
According to these experts, what are the observed
environmental effects of the sanitation practices of your Is the toilet area kept free of trash ?
area? Yes / No

Is a handwashing station (with soap) near the toilet?

Yes / No
What, in their opinion, is the best step that your
community could make to improve the sanitations Are the facilities within a convenient walking distance,
problems in your area? and the path well-marked?
Yes / No

8. General Sanitation Practices

Expert Public Health Information Source Does your community include expenses related to excreta
It would be helpful to contact a public health handling (sewer fees, operational, maintenance, or
protection or advocacy group that can provide improvement capital) as part of its regular budget?
reliable, expert data on the health effects of your Yes / No
sanitation system. If you don’t know of one, refer
to the List of Categorized References in the back of Does your community educate itself and others in the
this manual to help locate one. larger community about both dangers and best practices
pertaining to sanitation?
Name of organization: Yes / No

Name of contact person: Does your community educate others about the
productive and beneficial uses of excreta?
Contact information: Yes / No

According to these experts, what are the observed

environmental effects of the sanitation practices of your
Community Excreta Handling
and Sanitation: Evaluation
At the end of each discussion section, there will be a
What, in their opinion, is the best step that your statement and a list of numbers from which to choose.
community could make to improve the sanitation Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment
problems in your area? of how well your community represents the statement
given. (1 = disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9
= agree completely, no change needed)

1. Mix or No-Mix
7. Hygiene Behavior
To meet the requirement of ecological sanitation
Are the facilities (latrine, toilet, etc) that your we must have ecological toilets. ‘No-mix’ systems,
community uses kept clean (i.e. cleaned regularly) and if properly maintained, are ecological. By not
free of fecal matter and other refuse? mixing human excreta and flushing water the
Yes / No sanitation problem is limited to managing a
comparatively small volume of urine and faeces. As
If the toilet is located outdoors, is the door kept shut and a result, the problems of bad odours and fly-
the inside kept dark when not in use? breeding are reduced or even eliminated, and
Yes / No storage, treatment and transport are made easier. A

Listening To The Earth

lot of water can be saved, expenditure on pipe 3. General Characteristics of Sanitation System
networks and treatment plants is reduced, jobs are
created and the environment is preserved. Evaluation statements for 3-3iii are found on page 101
If your community has ‘mix’ type facilities, you
may consider switching to a ‘no-mix’ system, A. Open Air Defacation
especially if you presently use some type of pit Where there are no latrines people resort to
latrine, or utilize some other on-site treatment. defecation in the open. This may be indiscriminate
Composting latrines are perhaps the most or in special places for defecation generally
ecologically sound device for handling excreta. accepted by the community, such as defecation
There is a brief discussion of them later, under fields, rubbish and manure heaps, or under trees.
question 3 (see ‘J’ in the table below), and more Open defecation encourages flies, which spread
information may be obtained about them from feces-related diseases. In moist ground the larvae
resources listed at the end of this chapter. of intestinal worms develop, and feces and larvae
If on the other hand your community is may be carried by people and animals. Surface
connected to a sewer system, a conversion may not water run-off from places where people have
be immediately feasible nor appropriate. It may be defecated results in water pollution. In view of the
more important in such a case to work at a regional health hazards created and the degradation of the
level to help innovate alternative practices that environment, open defecation should not be
both conserve water and take advantage of the tolerated in villages and other built-up areas. There
useful qualities of urine and feces. are better options available that confine excreta in
such a way that the cycle of reinfection from
2. Soil Conditions excrete-related diseases is broken.

The conditions of the land in your community are B. Overhung Latrine (direct entry into surface
the most important factors to consider in water)
evaluating or choosing the method of excreta A latrine built over the sea, a river, or other body
disposal. For example, if your soil is impermeable of water into which excreta drops directly, is known
or the water table high, then it may be necessary to as an overhung latrine. If there is a strong current
use a vault or a raised pit latrine rather than any in the water the excreta is carried away. Public
other form of pit latrine or septic system. It is should be warned of the danger to health resulting
recommended that you complete the water supply from contact with or use of water into which
sanitation inventories found in Chapter 3 to excreta has been discharged.
determine more about your community’s An overhung latrine usually consists of a
protection of water resources. superstructure and floor built over water. A squat
If the conditions of the soil and groundwater of hole in the floor allows excreta to fall into the
your area are unknown, it would be most advisable water. A chute is sometimes provided from the
to contact a geological service, organization, or floor to the water. Overhung latrines should never
associated govern-mental agency to request that be built in places where pit latrines can be
testing be performed. Some of the resources at the provided. However, they may be the only possible
end of this chapter may be able to help direct you form of sanitation for people living on land that is
to an appropriate agency.
In any case, you should verify, with the help of
qualified professionals, that your means of
sanitation does not contaminate the water that
you or anyone in your larger community uses as a
source of drinking water.

Our community’s sanitation facilities are an

appropriate option for the prevailing soil and water

Overhung latrine

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

continuously or seasonally covered with water.

Despite the serious dangers inherent to this
method, overhung latrines might be acceptable
provided all the following conditions are met:
1. The receiving water is of sufficient salinity all
year round to prevent human consumption.
2. The latrine is installed over water that is
sufficiently deep to ensure that the bed is never
exposed during low tide or the dry season.
3. The walkways, piers, squatting openings, and
superstructures are made structurally safe for
adults and children. Bucket latrine
4. The excreta is not deposited in still water or
into water that will be used for recreation. where they are emptied, washed and disinfected
While an overhung latrine may be the only feasible with a phenol or cresol type of disinfectant. In
system for communities living over water, there are some towns it is the practice to provide two
serious health risks that must be considered buckets painted in different colors for each latrine.
whenever this is the current practice. Containers should be kept covered with tight-
fitting lids while in transit and the waste handling
C. Bucket Cartage/Latrine personnel should be provided with full protective
Cartage is perhaps the most basic form of excreta clothing. Also, for health reasons, waste handlers
disposal. Here, feces are collected in a container should be educated in and practice proper hygienic
and disposed of daily. An example is the bucket behaviors. Defective buckets should be repaired or
latrine, in which household wastes are collected in replaced and transport vehicles should be kept in
buckets under a hole in the floor of a specific room. good order.
Each day, the bucket is emptied into a larger It is quite possible with bucket cartage to have
container and the contents disposed of. In practice a ‘no-mix’ system. In some cartage systems, urine
this type of disposal may be designed as either a is diverted away from the buckets to reduce the
‘mix’type or a ‘no-mix’ type facility. volume to be dealt with. It is usually channelled to
Bucket latrines pose health risks to both users soakpits, but may be collected separately and used
and collectors and may spread disease. The directly as fertilizer. However, water that is used for
number of bucket latrines is declining rapidly in washing latrines and bucket-chambers should be
favor of similar facilities which pose fewer health handled with caution. It should pass to or be
risks. For example, a vault latrine (a latrine where deposited into soakpits, and should not be allowed
wastes are stored in a sealed container) that is to pollute the ground around the latrines.
mechanically emptied on a regular basis is often a The practice of dumping nightsoil indiscriminately
more sanitary yet affordable choice. into streams or onto open land is a very poor practice for
both environmental and health reasons.
Operation and maintenance:
A container made of non-corrosive material is D. Shallow Pit/Trench
placed beneath a squatting slab or seat in the People working on farms may dig a small hole each
bucket chamber, with rear doors which should be time they defecate and then cover the faeces with
kept shut except during removal and replacement soil. This is sometimes known as the ‘cat’ method.
of the bucket. The bucket chamber should be Pits about 300 mm deep may be used for several
cleaned whenever the bucket is removed. weeks. Excavated soil is heaped beside the pit and
The squat hole should be covered by a flyproof some is put over the faeces after each use.
cover when not in use. The cover of the seat should Decomposition in shallow pits is rapid because of
be hinged and the cover of the squatting slab the large bacterial population in the topsoil, but
should have a long handle. flies breed in large numbers and hookworm larvae
At regular intervals (preferably each night) the spread around the holes. Hookworm larvae can
container should be removed and replaced by a migrate upwards from excrete buried less than 1 m
clean one. Full containers should be taken to deep, to penetrate the soles of the feet of
depots or transfer stations, or composting facility subsequent users.

Listening To The Earth

E. Borehole Latrine decomposes, thereby producing:

Borehole latrines are generally ‘mix’ type facilities • gases such as carbon dioxide and methane,
which are most convenient for emergency or short which are either collected, liberated to the
term use. They can be prepared rapidly in great atmosphere, or dispersed into the surrounding soil
numbers, and light portable slabs may be used; • liquids, which percolate into the surrounding
however, there are several problems inherent to soil
borehole latrines. • a decomposed and consolidated residue
Borehole latrines have an augered hole which The health benefits and convenience of pit latrines
may be sunk to a depth of 10m or more, although depend upon the quality of the design,
a depth of 4-6m is usual. Augered holes, 300-500 construction and maintenance. At worst, pit
mm in diameter, are dug quickly by hand or by latrines that are poorly designed, constructed and
machine in areas where the soil is firm, stable and maintained provide foci for the transmission of
free from rocks or large stones. disease and may be no better than indiscriminate
While a small diameter may be easy to bore, the defecation. At best, they provide a standard of
life of the pit is very short. Furthermore, the small sanitation that is at least as good as other more
diameter of boreholes increases the likelihood of sophisticated methods.
blockage, and the depth of an augered hole In most pit latrine systems, fecal matter is
significantly increases the danger of groundwater stored in a pit and left to decompose. If the fecal
contamination. matter is left to decompose in dry conditions for at
In addition, the sides of the hole easily become least two years, the contents can be safely emptied
soiled near the top, making fly infestation manually, and the pit reused. Indeed, some pit
probable. For this reason, holes should be lined for latrines are designed to allow fecal matter to
at least the top half-metre or so with an impervious compost and be reused in agriculture. On the other
material such as concrete or baked clay. hand, unless specifically designed, pit latrines do
Particularly because of the danger to ground not require periodic emptying; once a pit is full it
water, but also because of the difficulties in their can simply be sealed and a new pit dug.
operation, boreholes should only be used if no There is an enormous variety of styles of pit
other sanitation facilities exist. latrines. Some designs use one pit, others use two
alternating pits, reducing the need for new pits.
F. Pit Latrines (general) Some pit designs are meant to be completely dry,
The basic principle of all types of pit latrine is that while some use small quantities of water.
wastes such as excreta, anal cleaning materials, Ventilation to remove odors and flies is
sullage and refuse are deposited into a hole in the incorporated into certain designs, while others are
ground. Pit latrines may be either ‘mix’ or ‘no-mix’ very basic and use traditional materials and
systems. The liquids percolate into the approaches. There are three pit designs covered in
surrounding soil and the organic material more depth below: Simple Pit, Ventilated Pit, Raised

Operation and Maintenance of a Pit Latrine

The operation of pit latrines is quite simple and
consists in regularly cleaning the slab with water
(and a little disinfectant if available) to remove any
excreta and urine. The door must always be closed
when not in use so the superstructure can remain
dark inside. The drop hole should never be covered
as this would impede the airflow (if latrine is
ventilated). Appropriate anal cleaning materials
should be available in or near the latrine. Stones,
glass, plastic, rags, and other non- iodegradable
materials should not be thrown in the pit as they
reduce the effective volume of the pit and hinder
mechanical emptying.
Borehole latrine

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

Regular Inspections
• Rainwater should drain away from the
latrine. Improper drainage should be
• Every month the floor slab has to be checked
for cracks and, if applicable, the vent pipe
and fly screen must be inspected to ensure
they are not corroded or damaged. In
addition, the superstructure should be
inspected and repair undertaken, especially
in the case of light leaks (toilet structure
should be dark when door is fully closed).
• When the contents of the pit reach the level
of 0.5 metre below the slab, a new pit has to
be dug and the old pit covered with soil.
Another possibility is to empty the pit
mechanically. With double-pit systems, the Simple pit
second pit is used when the first is full. The
full pit can be emptied safely by hand after a and used as soil conditioner. The pit can be used
period of a year or longer and is then ready again when the second pit has filled up. This
for use again. alternating cycle can be repeated indefinitely.
In the case of pit latrines with double pits, each At least one person in your community should
facility has two shallow pits, but only one be educated about aspects of pit latrine sanitation
superstructure. The cover slab has two drop holes, such as the reasons for using only one pit at a time,
one over each pit. Only one pit is used at a time. use of excreta as manure, and the need to leave the
When this becomes full, its drop hole is covered full pit for about two years before emptying. This
and the second pit is used. After a period of, at the person also needs to know how to switch pits and
very least, one year—but most safely two years— how to empty the pit, even if they do not perform
the contents of the first pit can be removed safely these tasks themselves.

Operational and Maintenance Requirements and Schedule for Pit Latrines

Activity Frequency Materials and spare parts Tools and equipment

Clean drop hole, seat and Daily Water, soap Brush, bucket

Inspect floor slab. Inspect Monthly

vent pipe and fly screen if

Clean fly screen and vent Every one to six months Water Twig or long bendable
inside if equipped brush

Repair slab, seat, vent pipe, Occasionally Cement, sand, water, nails, Bucket or bowl, saw,
fly screen or superstructure local building materials trowel, hammer, knife

Dig new pit and transfer Depending on size and Sand, possibly cement, Shovels, picks, saw
latrine slab and super- number of users bricks, nails and other local buckets, hammer, etc.
structure (if applicable) building materials

Switch to other pit when Depending on size and Shovels, buckets,

pit is full (if applicable) number of users wheelbarrow, etc.

Source: IRC and WHO, 2000

Listening To The Earth

Frequent problems the foul-smelling gases from the pit. As a result,

Contamination of groundwater can easily occur if fresh air is drawn into the pit through the drop
the pit is dug either too deep or too close to hole and the superstructure is kept free from
groundwater sources. Pits should not reach smells. The vent pipe also has an important role to
groundwater level and latrines must be 15 to 30 play in fly control. Flies are attracted to light and
meters away from ground and surface water if the latrine is suitably dark inside, they will fly up
sources. Poor quality of the floor slab due to the vent pipe to the light. They cannot escape
inappropriate materials or improper curing of because of the fly screen, so they are trapped at the
concrete. Inferior quality fly screens get damaged top of the pipe until they dehydrate and die.
easily by the effects of solar radiation and foul Female flies, searching for an egg-laying site, are
gases. Improperly sited latrines can get flooded or attracted by the odors from the vent pipe but are
undermined. Children may be afraid to use the prevented from flying down the pipe by the fly
latrine because of the dark or because of fear of screen at its top.
falling into the pit. Leakages between pits can If the superstructure allows too much light to
occur because the dividing wall is not impermeable come in, flies will be attracted by the light coming
or the soil is too permeable. through the squat hole and may fly out into the
superstructure; this may jeopardize the whole VIP
Simple Pit concept. Odor problems may occur during the
This consists of a slab over a pit which may be 2 m night and early morning hours in latrines relying
or more in depth. The slab should be firmly more on solar radiation for the air flow in the vent
supported on all sides and raised above the pipe than on wind speed.
surrounding ground so that surface water cannot
enter the pit. If the sides of the pit are liable to Raised Pit
collapse they should be lined. A squat hole in the In hard soils it may be impossible to dig a proper
slab or a seat must be present so that the excrete pit. One way of dealing with this, and other
fall directly into the pit. difficult ground conditions is to construct raised
pit latrines. The pit is excavated as deep as
Ventilated Pit possible, working at the end of the dry season in
Ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrines are designed areas of high groundwater. The lining is extended
to reduce two problems frequently encountered by above ground level until the desired pit volume is
traditional latrine systems—smells and flies or achieved.
other insects. A VIP latrine differs from a If the pit extends more than 1.5 m below the
traditional latrine in having a vent pipe covered ground there will probably be sufficient leaching
with a fly screen. Wind blowing across the top of area below ground for a pit latrine having a full
the vent pipe creates a flow of air which sucks out depth of 3.5 m. In such cases, the lining above
ground should be sealed by plastering both sides.
The minimum below-ground depth depends on the
amount of water used in the pit and the
permeability of the soil. Where insufficient
infiltration area can be obtained below ground
level, the raised portion of the pit can be
surrounded by a mound of soil. The section of the
lining above ground (excluding the top 0.5 m) can
be used for infiltration provided the mound is
made of permeable soil, well compacted with a
stable side slope, and is thick enough to prevent
filtrate seeping out of the sides. Earth mounds are
not recommended on clay soils as the filtrate is
likely to seep out at the base of the mound rather
than infiltrate the ground.
Raised pits can be used in combination with
any other type of pit latrine (VIP, pour-flush,
Ventilated pit double-pit). A common application is where the

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

groundwater level is close to the surface. A slight system, more ecologically sound sanitation options
raising of the pit may prevent splashing of the user do exist. Nevertheless, the feasibility and
or blockage of the pit inlet pipe by floating scum. importance of changing your sanitation system is
for your community to decide.
G. Aqua-privy
An aqua-privy is a ‘mix’ type latrine set directly H. Pour-flush latrines
above or directly adjacent to a septic (collection A pour-flush latrine is a ‘mix’ type of pit latrine
and sedimentation) tank and is useful in situations where small volumes of water (commonly 1-3
where plumbing is required, but there is a limited litres) are used to flush feces into the pit. The
water supply. An aqua-privy is similar to a septic operation and maintenance of pit latrines is
tank; it can be connected to flush toilets and take covered in more depth above under the heading
most household wastewater. It consists of a large ‘Pit latrines (general).’
tank with a water seal which is connected to a Pour-flush latrines are most appropriate where
soakaway to dispose of effluent. Unlike a septic people use water to clean themselves after
tank, the aqua-privy tank is located directly below defecating (e.g. in Muslim cultures) and where
the house; but like a septic tank, it requires people have access to reliable water supplies close
periodic emptying and must be accessible to a to the home. However, pour-flush latrines are also
vacuum tanker. Since much of the technology is attractive because the problems of flies, mosquitos
the same or similar, see the discussion below under and odors in simple pit latrines may be overcome
3ii regarding septic tanks and leach beds to more simply and cheaply by the installation of a pan
fully assess the maintenance and operation of your with a water seal in the defecating hole. The pan is
aqua-privy system. cleared by pouring (or, better, throwing) a few litres
Aqua-privies are expensive and require the use of water into the pan after defecation.
of water, making them a rather unattractive option The flushed wastes flow through a section of
for communities short of money or water. Since pipe bent into a ‘U’ or ‘J’ shape which maintains a
water is required, water conservation principles water seal for reducing fly and odor problems. The
should be practiced. See the ‘Water Conservation pit of a pour-flush latrine may be located directly
Assessment’ in Chapter 3, for more information beneath the slab or set to one side, but offset pits
regarding water ccnservation. may require more water to prevent blockages. The
The tank will produce hazardous and pit is usually connected to a soakaway to allow
malodorous gases that should be vented and liquids to infiltrate the soil, leaving solid waste to
trapped in such a way that no gases escape up decompose.
through the latrine. Furthermore, the tank can The amount of water used varies between one
become a breeding ground for flies, mosquitoes, and four litres depending mainly on the pan and
and other vector insects if they are not prevented trap geometry. Pans requiring a small amount of
from entering (or exiting) the tank. For these
reasons, a necessary feature of an aqua-privy is
some form of water seal. Often this seal is formed
by the chute drop-pipe hanging below the squat
hole or latrine seat and into the water. As long as
the end of the pipe is submerged, this design
prevents gases from escaping into the latrine
superstructure, and it limits (but does not
eliminate) the access of flies and mosquitos to the
tank. It should be noted that water must be added
each day to maintain the water seal to compensate
for evaporation and effluent discharge.
Alternatively, the toilet may be fitted with a pan
with a water seal to prevent the escape of gases. If
the latrine is offset from or adjacent to the tank,
the water seal can be accomplished with the use of
a drain trap (‘U’ or ‘J’ section of pipe).
Since an aqua privy is necessarily a ‘mix’ type Pour-flush latrine

Listening To The Earth

water for flushing have the added advantage of

reducing the risk of groundwater pollution.
The flushing water does not have to be clean.
Especially if access to clean water is limited,
laundry, bathing or any other similar water should
be used.
Solid materials should not be disposed of into
pour-flush latrines, as this could block the pipe and
even cause it to break. In addition, efforts to clear
blockages often result in damage to the water seal.
There is a likelihood of blockage if solid materials
such as hard paper, corncobs, material used by
menstruating women are put in the pan. Such
materials should be disposed of separately, but
careful attention must be given to the handling of
the waste and sterilizing of the container.
Since the pour-flush design is necessarily a ‘mix’
type facility, more ecologically sound options exist, Composting latrine
and may be feasible depending upon priorities of
your community. Besides providing a reusable resource, the
double-vault latrine has the added advantage that
I. Full Flush it can be built anywhere. Since the vault contents
A full flush latrine is a ‘mix’ type system, and it are kept dry, there is no pollution of the
implies the use of a running water system (piped surrounding ground, even if the vault is buried. In
water distribution). Refer to the ‘Water rocky areas or where the water table is high the
Conservation Assessment,’ Chapter 3, in this vaults may be built above ground. Double-vault
manual for water conservation practices. latrines are successfully used in Guatemala,
A full flush system also requires either a septic Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and many other
system with sufficiently large capacity, or a places around the world.
connection to a piped sewer network. Refer below
to Section 3i regarding plumbing; Section 3ii is Operation and maintenance
applicable if your community has a septic system; The double-vault composting latrine consists of
and Section 4 applies if you are connected to a two watertight chambers (vaults) to collect feces.
sewer system. Urine is collected separately as the contents of the
vault have to be kept relatively dry.
J. Composting Toilet The two chambers or vaults are used alternately.
A composting latrine is most generally a ‘no-mix’ Initially a layer of about 100 mm of absorbent
facility in which urine is kept separate and organic material such as dry earth is put in the
excriment falls into a watertight tank to which ash bottom of one vault, which is then used for
or vegetable matter is added. If the moisture defecation. After each use, the feces are covered
content and chemical balance are controlled, the with wood ash or similar material to deodorize the
mixture will decompose to form a good soil decomposing faeces and soak up excess moisture.
conditioner in about four months. Pathogens are When the vault is three-quarters full, the
killed in the dry alkaline compost, which can be contents are levelled with a stick and the vault is
removed for application to the land as a fertilizer. completely filled with dry powdered earth. The
There are two types of composting latrine: in one, squat hole is then sealed. While the contents of the
compost is produced continuously, and in the first vault are decomposing anaerobically, the
other, two containers are used to produce it in second vault is used. When the second tank is full,
batches. In general, most instances of composting the first one is emptied through a door near the
toilets are of the double-vault design, and so the bottom and the chamber is reused. The contents
operational and maintenance requirements for the may be used as a soil conditioner.
more common double-vault design are covered in Each vault should be large enough to hold at
depth here. least two years’ accumulation of wastes so that

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

most pathogenic organisms die off before the final compost.

compost is removed. If insects are a problem in the toilet, growing
Normally the superstructure is built over both insect-repelling plants like citronella around the
vaults, with a squat hole over each vault. A cover latrine may help.
sealed with lime mortar or clay should be fitted in It is important that someone (at least one) in
the squat hole above the chamber not in use. A your community knows and understands the
flyproof lid should be placed on the other hole process of the composting toilet, as improper use
when it is not being used for defecation. Fly-proof poses sanitary risks.
vent pipes may be provided to avoid odor nuisance
in the latrine, although covering the feces with ash 3i. Characteristics of Sanitation System:
is reported to be sufficient to eliminate bad smells. Plumbing
Control of the moisture content is vital for
proper operation of the latrine. Consequently, Several types of ‘wet’ or ‘mix’ sanitation facilities
composting latrines are not appropriate where require some type of plumbing, or pipes used to
water is used for anal cleaning. It is usual to collect conduct excreta from the toilet to either the sewer
urine separately, dilute it with 3-6 parts of water sytem or the collection tank. Flush water is needed
and use it as a fertilizer (although this may cause a to help move the excreta through the pipes. The
health hazard). amount of water used should be minimized in the
Some latrines are constructed with soakpits interests of conserving water, but enough must be
below the vaults so that excess moisture can drain used to prevent clogging.
into the ground. This allows for the disposal of For community safety, all plumbing should be
urine into the vaults but with consequent loss of a intact and without leaks. Leaks or clogs should be
valuable fertilizer and possible pollution of the repaired immediately. If there are leaks in the
groundwater. Wood ash, straw, sawdust, grass piping, the contaminated water that leaks should
cuttings, vegetable wastes and other organic be contained and the area sanitized as soon as
material must be put into vaults to control possible. The leaked water should not be allowed
moisture content and improve the quality of the to accumulate, as the water may contain pathogens

Operational and Maintenance Tasks for Double Vault Composting Toilet

Activity Frequency Materials and spare parts Tools and equipment

Clean toilet and super- Daily Water, lime, ashes Brush, water container
structure, empty urine
collection pot

Add ashes or other After each defecation and Wood ashes and organic Pot to contain the
organic material whenever available material material, small shovel

Inspect floor, super- Monthly

structure and vaults

Repair floor, super- When necessary Cement, sand, water, Bucket or bowl, trowel,
structure or vaults nails, local building saw, hammer, knife

Close full vault after Depending on size and Water, absorbent organic Shovel and bucket
levelling and adding soil, number of users material
empty other vault, open
its squat hole and add
absorbent organic material
before starting to use,
store humus (or use

Use humus as fertilizer When needed Humus Shovel, bucket,


Source: IRC and WHO, 2000

Listening To The Earth

and may attract insects that can spread diseases. It the liquid layer. The seal is formed because the
is greatly advantageous if the person doing the pipe is submerged. In this case, then, a minimum
repairs is at least somewhat experienced in liquid level must be maintained.
plumbing, and thus it is recommended that there The amount of liquid in the tank should be
be a person in your community that is charged kept high enough to keep the bottom of the drop
with maintaining the plumbing system. This pipe at least 75 mm below the liquid level. A
person should responsible for receiving reports of bucket of water should be poured down the drop
leaks and executing the repairs necessary. pipe daily in order to clear scum (in which flies
All openings in the plumbing (e.g. a toilet, a may breed) from the bottom of the drop pipe and
sink, or any drain) should have ‘drain traps,’ that to maintain the water seal.
are U-shaped sections of pipe, installed near the In other cases, the tank is located away from
opening. These traps form a water seal in the pipe the latrine, and thus require the use of a ‘U’-trap to
that prevents gases from escaping into the air. prevent gases from backing up.
These traps are commonly the location of The tank collects and digests solid waste. Some
obstructions, and so should be the first place of the solids float on the surface, where they are
checked if a clog is detected. known as scum, while others sink to the bottom
where they are broken down by bacteria to form a
3ii. Characteristics of Sanitation System: deposit called sludge. The sludge accumulating in
Components the tank must be removed regularly, usually once
every 1–5 years, depending on size, number of
Septic Tank users and kind of use.
A septic tank is a form of on-site sanitation that is Routine inspection is necessary to check
usually linked to flush toilets and can receive whether desludging is needed, and to ensure that
domestic wastewater (or sullage). It is designed to there are no blockages at the inlet or outlet. A tank
hold solids and is linked to a soakaway/leach bed needs to be desludged when the sludge and scum
or small-bore sewer to dispose of liquid waste, or occupy the volume specified in the design. A
effluent. The tank is offset from the dwelling simple rule is to desludge when solids occupy
structures and linked to the toilet and domestic between one-half and two-thirds of the total depth
wastewater by a short drain. between the water level and the bottom of the
If your community has a septic system and tank. Desludging is essential because septic tanks
piped water, water conservation principles should will continue to operate even when the tank is almost full
be practiced (see Chapter 3). of solids—in this situation the in-flow scours a
Septic tanks generally require relatively large channel through the sludge and may pass through
amounts of land and periodic emptying by vacuum the tank in a matter of minutes rather than
tankers. This makes a septic system expensive, and remaining in the tank for the required retention
further requires that trucks are afforded easy access time.
to the tank. It is important that your community When a septic tank is desludged it should not
include these expenses in the regular budget. be fully washed out or disinfected. A small amount
of sludge should be left in the tank to ensure
Operation and Maintenance continuing rapid digestion. Regular cleaning of the
Septic tanks and aqua-privies have a water-tight toilet with soap in normal amounts is unlikely to
settling tank with one or two compartments, to be harmful, but the use of large amounts of
which waste is carried by water flushing down a detergents or chemicals may disturb the
pipe connected to the toilet. These systems do not biochemical process in a tank, especially the use of
dispose of wastes; they only help to separate the chlorine bleach.
solid matter from the liquid. The systems need a The liquid effluent flowing out of the tank is,
means to discharge their liquid effluent, a means to from a health point of view, as dangerous as raw
vent gases released, and they also require some sewage and remains to be disposed of, normally by
form of seal that prevents gases from backing up soaking into the ground through a soakaway (leach
into the latrines or other drains. bed) or with a connection to small-bore sewers.
In the case of an aqua-privy, there is a tank When sullage disposal is also in the tank, a larger
immediately under the latrine and excreta drop capacity is required for both the tank and the
directly into the tank through a pipe submerged in liquid effluent disposal system. Connection to

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

small-bore sewers may then be a necessity—where drainage trenches, into which the liquid effluents
high groundwater tables or rocky, impermeable coming from a septic tank are led through open-
ground exist, this may also be the case. jointed (stoneware) or perforated (PVC) pipes,
Many problems are due to inadequate allowing the effluents to infiltrate into the ground.
consideration being given to liquid effluent Soakaways and leach beds are similar but are of a
disposal. Large surges of flow entering the tank smaller scale, and can handle less effluent.
may cause a temporarily high concentration of Due to the hazardous nature of the liquid
suspended solids in the effluent due to disturbance effluent that they handle, these drainage areas
of the solids which have already settled out. must be sufficiently deep and must lie within soil
Leaking tanks may cause insect and odor problems that is sufficiently absorbent to prevent the liquids
in aqua-privies because the water seal is not from seeping up from the ground. Furthermore, the
maintained. risk of contaminating groundwater is high, and this
Every tank must have a ventilation system to fact must be taken into consideration, particularly
allow escape (or collection) of explosive methane if wells exist nearby.
and malodorous gases (generated when bacteria
decompose some of the sewage constituents) from Operation and Maintenance
the tank. It is important to regularly clean the septic tank
outflow and other integral plumbing and check if it
Leach bed/Soakaway/Drainage field is still in order. The plumbing must occassionally
Most septic systems drain their effluent into be cleaned to clear accumulated deposits.
underground water-absorption channels of various Initially the infiltration into the ground may be
designs. The most common examples of this high, but after several years the soil clogs and an
technology are called leach beds, soakaways, and equilibrium infiltration rate is reached. If the
drainage fields. Drainage fields consist of gravel- sewage flow exceeds the equilibrium rate of the
filled underground trenches called leachlines or soil, eventually the sewage will surface over the

Table: Maintenance Requirements for Septic Systems

Activity Frequency Human resources Materials and spare Tools and equipment

Clean squatting pan or Daily Household Water Brush, water container

seat and shelter

Unblock U-trap when Occasionally Household Water Flexible brush or other

blocked flexible material

Inspect if entry pipe is Regularly Household

still submerged (for

Inspect floor, squatting Monthly Household

pan or seat and U-trap

Repair squatting pan Occasionally Household or local Cement, sand, water, Bucket or bowl, trowel,
or seat, U-trap or artisan nails, local building saw, hammer, knife
shelter materials

Control vents Annually Household Rope or wire, screen Scissors or wire-cutting

material, pipe parts tool, pliers, saw

Empty tank Every 1-5 years Service crew Water, fuel, lubricants, Vacuum tanker (large
etc. or mini) or MAPET
equipment, if possible

Source: IRC and WHO, 2000

Listening To The Earth

drainage field. As a good practice, then, an area of ability of the soil to absorb liquids and break down
land equal to the size of the drainage area should waste.
be kept in reserve for possible extension or
replacement of the drain field if it becomes Vault
clogged. In areas where the groundwater level is high, the
The area over the waste water absorption area use of septic tanks and drainage areas is not suitable
should have a good cover of grass or other shallow- since such systems are likely to contaminate the
rooted vegetation. Control plant growth to prevent groundwater. In these areas, watertight tanks called
the roots from entering the pipes or trenches. vaults can be built under or close to latrines to store
Don’t plant trees or shrubs near the leaching bed. excrete until they are removed by hand (using
Such deeply rooted plants have roots that will buckets or similar receptacles) or by vacuum tanker.
travel significant distances to reach water and will Similarly, household sewage may be stored in larger
invade the drainage channels and thus impede or tanks called cesspits, which are usually emptied by
sabotage their function. vacuum tankers. Vaults or cesspits must be emptied
Good ventilation of the area and adequate when they are nearly full, or on a regular basis.
sunlight should also be maintained to promote There must be a water seal between the vault
evaporation. This means that you should avoid and any drains or latrines to prevent the backflow
constructing parking areas, patios, or structures of gases. Generally this is accomplished with a ‘U’-
over the area. The weight of such constructions shaped section of plumbing pipe being positioned
could crush the pipe in the leaching bed preventing near each drain.
it from working properly. Covering the drainage Vaults should be checked on a regular basis (at
area could also prevent oxygen from getting into least each time they are emptied) for structural
the soil. integrity. There should be no cracks, holes, or
The micro-organisms responsible for digesting faulty seams. Vaults must also be regularly checked
the waste material need oxygen to survive and to determine whether desludging is needed and to
function. Vehicles and machinery should not be ensure that no blockages exist at the inlet.
driven over the bed, as their weight could crush the Regular emptying is required, and thus there
pipe or compact the soil. If the soil over the pipes must be space enough for a truck or other
becomes compacted, it will be less able to absorb equipment to access the vault. This is a regular
the wastewater. expense which should be included in the regular
It is also important not to dispose of water onto budget.
the ground over the area—it may interfere with the

Table: Maintenance Requirements for a Drainage Field

Materials and spare

Activity Frequency Human resources Tools and equipment

Control plant Shovel, bucket, panga

Regularly Household or caretaker
growth etc.

Switch to other Once every 6-12 Bricks or other Tools to open diversion
Household or caretaker
drainage field months material to block pipes box

Brush, shovel, long

Household, caretaker Water, pieve of pipe,
De-block delivery pipe Occasionally stick or flexible brush,
or local artisan glue
knife, saw

Clean diversion boxes Every month Household or caretaker Water Shovel, brush

Check, ouflow of tank Brush, tools to open

Once a month Household or caretaker Water
and clean access hole

Source: IRC and WHO, 2000

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

3iii. Characteristics of Sanitation System: Refer to Chapter 2 for more information about
Emptying outdoor air pollution.
• Management and supervision of emptying
The emptying of single pits containing fresh services is often ineffective, leading to poor
excreta presents problems because of the active work practices which expose the workers and
pathogens in the sludge. In rural areas, where land the public to health hazards.
availability is not a constraint, it is often advisable
to dig another pit for a new latrine. The original pit Evaluation of Sanitation Facilities (3-3iii)
may then be left for several years and when the
second is filled it may be simplest to re-dig the first
pit rather than to excavate a new hole in hard Our community is well-informed about the service
ground. If left for years, the sludge will not cause requirements of our sanitation systems.
any health problems and is beneficial as a fertilizer. 123456789
However, in urban areas, where it is not possible
to excavate further holes and where the investment Our community regularly implements all necessary
in pit-lining and superstructure has been operational and maintenance protocols required for
substantial, the pit must be emptied. Since the sustainable operation of our sanitation system.
sludge removed from a pit presents a risk of 123456789
transmission of diseases, care must be taken to
ensure that sludge is not spilled around the tank Our community strives to minimize the amount of water
during emptying . Thus, the most satisfactory used by our sanitation system (e.g. by choosing not to
method of sludge removal is by vacuum tanker. mix, fixing leaks, etc.)
The sludge is pumped out of the pit or tank 123456789
through a flexible hose connected to a vacuum
pump, which lifts the sludge into the tanker. If the Our community takes every necessary precaution to
bottom layers of sludge have cemented together prevent contamination of ground and/or surface waters
they can be jetted with a water hose or broken up by our sanitation system.
with a long-handled spade before being pumped 123456789
out. There are also high-powered vacuum trucks
that can handle solidified sludge; however, their 4. Resource Recovery
use is considerably more expensive.
Although from the public health point of view, Human excrete and urine can be regarded as
manual removal should be avoided, if a vacuum natural resources to be conserved and reused
tanker is not available, the sludge must be bailed provided they are handled with respect, rather
out manually using buckets or shovels. This is than being discarded. Especially if your sanitation
unpleasant work which exposes the workers and facilities are of the ‘no-mix’ type, the ‘wastes’ can
the community to health hazards. Careful work be transformed into very nutritious food for the
and disposal is therefore necessary. earth, for plants, and for particular types of
Emptying pits may also pose these problems: fisheries; in addition, the decomposition process
• The machinery may be too large to get to the can release gas that is useful as fuel.
latrines. Conventional vacuum trucks are too Urine and feces are both quite beneficial to
big to be driven into the centre of many ancient plants. Urine contains nitrogen and phosphates in
cities or urban/periurban unplanned or squatter forms that are easily absorbed by plants; as well,
settlements where pedestrian routes human excrete, or ‘nightsoil’ contains nitrogen,
predominate. phosphorus and potassium, all of which are
• Maintenance of vacuum tankers is often poor. valuable plant nutrients. Human excreta can also
Their engines must be kept running all day, be used in an aquatic environment to stimulate the
either to move the truck or to operate the pump growth of particular fish for consumption.
when stationary. This causes rapid wear and On the other hand, handling raw excreta is not
makes them particularly susceptible to only very unpleasant because of odors, but also it
breakdown if preventive maintenance is is considerably hazardous to human health. The
neglected. In addition, these vehicles add pathogens that live within the excreta pose serious
considerable amounts of pollution to the air. dangers to us as humans. The main risk is

Listening To The Earth

infection, and this can be by any number of time is longer if the pit has been wet. However, this
bacteria, parasites, viruses, or other pathogenic time interval can be decreased if the
organisms that are present in excreta. Fortunately, decomposition of the feces is accelerated, and the
the knowledge and techniques exist which allow us temperature of the pile increased—which is what is
to transform raw excreta into safer, more pleasant, accomplished by composting.
and useful substances. Composting consists of the biological
Caution should be taken, and good hygiene breakdown of solid organic matter into a soil-like
practiced, when handling nightsoil—processed, substance called compost or humus. Compost is
decomposed or otherwise—from any source. quite valuable as a fertilizer and soil conditioner.
Before your community reuses sludge, health Composting has been practiced by farmers and
officials should be consulted about the minimum gardeners throughout the world for many
time for sludge decomposition. If possible, the centuries. Besides nitrogen, phosphorous, and
quality of the sludge should occasionally be tested. potassium, the humus formed by decomposed
However, testing for microorganisms such as feces also contains trace elements which reduce the
protozoa and helminths is expensive, and it may be susceptibility of plants to parasites and diseases.
more effective to use retention time to judge The humus improves the soil structure, enhances
whether the sludge will be safe to use. its water-retaining qualities and encourages better
When organic material sits and ages, nature root structure of plants. Soil containing humus is
decomposes the material, or breaks it down into less subject to erosion by wind and water and is
more elemental substances. The process of easier to cultivate. In China, the practice of
decomposition may be aerobic (requiring oxygen) composting human wastes with crop residues has
or anaerobic (not requiring oxygen). enabled the soil to support high population
Depending upon the product desired, you can densities without loss of fertility for more than
control the conditions to encourage one form of 4000 years. Composting is a beneficial way of
decomposition over the other. In either case, giving back to the Earth what we have taken in the
nightsoil or sludge is generally first combined with form of food.
other organic wastes. The mixture is then placed Composting can accelerate the decay process
into controlled conditions either: by ventilating and sterilize the excreta, but to do so requires
the mixture to stimulate aerobic digestion careful attention and the process must be
(composting); or by placing the mixture into an controlled by someone who understands it. If
airtight chamber to stimulate anaerobic digestion. performed correctly, however, the process generates
Aerobic digestion produces compost, or humus, enough heat to eradicate most and sometimes all
and is discussed below under the heading pathogens, and simultaneously eliminates
‘Composting.’ Anaerobic decomposition processes disagreeable odors.
produce a significant amount of methane, or
natural gas, making it useful as a renewable source Composting Process
of fuel. This process is discussed below under Aerobic bacteria combine some of the carbon in
‘Biogas Production.’ organic matter (excreta mixed with plant
Successful composting will completely sterilize materials) with oxygen from the air to produce
the mixture; however, while anaerobic digestion carbon dioxide and energy. Some energy is used by
does kill most pathogens, it will not necessarily kill the bacteria to reproduce; the rest, however, is
hookworm and roundworm eggs. converted to heat, often raising the temperature to
The use of excreta as an aquatic fertilizer is also more than 70°C. No objectionable odor should
discussed below under ‘Aqua-culture.’ given off if the material is not saturated with water
and is frequently turned.
Composting For optimum value to plants, the ratio of
Solid waste (sludge) from pit latrines and sewage- available carbon to nitrogen in compost should be
treatment plants can be a valuable resource for about 20:1. In the composting process carbon is
farmers as an organic fertilizer and soil conditioner, used by the bacteria, so the best raw material for
provided that it has been allowed to properly composting has a higher carbon:nitrogen ratio, say
decompose and contains no pathogens. Solids about 30:1. The carbon: nitrogen ratio of nightsoil
from a pit latrine should be innocuous if the latrine is about 6:1, of fresh vegetable waste around 20:1,
has not been used for two years or so; although this and of dry straw over 100:1. Thus, by

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

appropriately adjusting the mixture, the most pour-flush latrine serves several thousand people
optimum balance can be achieved. It is rarely and generates sufficient energy to light a 4-km
practical to determine the carbon:nitrogen ratio by length of road. However, most plants, of which
chemical analysis; a good operator learns to judge there are more than 7 million in China (Li, 1984),
what mix of materials will produce the best are dependent on animal excreta with which
compost. human excreta are processed. A medium-sized
Absence of an unpleasant smell and absence of buffalo or cow provides about twenty times as
flies also indicate satisfactory aerobic composting. much gas as a person. The minimum feed is that
An experienced operator can check that all is well from one cow and a family of people, although it is
from the appearance of the composting material. It more usual to add excreta from at least four cows.
should look moist, but not so wet that liquid seeps In China it is customary to produce biogas from
out. While aerobic stabilization is progressing the the excreta of pigs.
appearance will change from day to day. During Excreta are often mixed with straw or other
composting the volume is reduced by 40-80% and vegetable waste, such as that used for animal
the weight by 20-50%. bedding, and equal quantities of water added to
The key to successful sterilization is to raise the make a slurry. This is fed to the inlet side of the
temperature of the mixture sufficiently high to kill chamber. Effluent slurry is removed after a
any pathogens. At high temperatures there is rapid retention time of 30-50 days. Biogas production is
destruction of pathogenic bacteria and protozoa, greater at higher temperatures; for example, at
worm eggs and weed seeds. All fecal 30°C the rate of gas generation is about twice that
microorganisms, including enteric viruses and at 25°C, and little gas is produced if the
roundworm eggs, will die if the temperature temperature is below 15°C.
exceeds 46 °C for one week. Fly eggs, larvae and After processing, the effluent slurry can be
pupae are also killed at these temperature. dried in the open and used as a fertilizer.
Tests of compost during and after stabilization Retention of excreta in biogas tanks results in
show whether the process is going well and the death of many pathogens, including
whether the finished product is suitable for Schistosoma eggs. A few hookworm eggs survive,
agricultural use. Except in a large mechanical and there is high survival of roundworm eggs.
composting plant, the condition of the compost is Thus, proper care must be taken when handling
gauged by simple methods. It is reasonable to the effluent from the process.
assume that pathogenic organisms will be killed if
the temperature rises above 65°C. This can be Use in Aquaculture
confirmed by poking an iron bar or wooden stick The practice of depositing excreta into fish ponds
into the heap and pulling it out after about ten or tanks is also a common practice in some areas.
minutes. It should then be too hot to hold. The In some places, latrines are placed immediately
temperature falls when stabilization is complete. over or alongside ponds (not used for drinking
Once stable, the mixture has been aerobically water); elsewhere nightsoil is tipped from carts,
digested and has become humus and poses far tankers or buckets. Nutrients in excreta result in a
slighter health risks. rich algal growth, which encourages aerobic
conditions and provides food for certain fish.
Biogas Production Carp and tilapia are especially suitable for such
The search for alternative sources of energy has led ponds, but a variety of fish species may coexist,
to widespread use of organic waste to produce a some feeding on large algae, some on small algae,
combustible fuel which can be used for domestic some on zooplankton; some prefer the bottom
cooking. Basically, biogas production requires an layer, some the top. Fish are usually netted for
air-tight chamber in which excreta are fermented. human consumption, but in some places they are
The gas produced contains about 60% methane, dried and ground up for feed for poultry or
also known as natural gas. The ‘biogas’ is collected animals. Ducks may also be kept on the ponds.
at the top of the chamber, from which a pipe leads There are three health risks associated with fish
to domestic appliances or to flexible storage farming in ponds that receive excreta:
containers. • Pathogens may be transmitted on the body
A few biogas plants operate entirely on human surfaces or in the intestines of the fish without
excreta. For example, in Patna, India a 24-seat causing overt disease in the fish; the pathogens

Listening To The Earth

may then be passed to people handling the fish. not be disposed with household wastewater. Refer
• Helminths, particularly flukes, may be to the last assessment in this chapter to evaluate
transmitted to people who eat infected fish that your community’s handling of hazardous
has not been properly cooked. chemicals and wastes.
• Helminths with intermediate hosts (such as
Schistosoma with water snails) may continue Conventional Deep and Shallow
their life cycle in ponds. (Condominium) Sewerage
(The WHO publication, ‘Guidelines for the Safe Use of These systems require a great deal of capital to
Wastewater and Excreta in Agriculture and Aquaculture,’ gives build and maintain. Similarly, they require that a
further useful information about utilizing this natural resource. large, relatively continuous volume of water flow
Further information may be found about using excreta as a through the system to function properly. Shallow
resource at the end of this chapter. In addition, several of the sewerage is a bit less capital intensive, but still
general resources found in the back of this manual contain requires ‘full flush’ toilets to keep the system from
technical and educational material regarding biogas digestion, clogging.
composting, and aquaculture.) If your community has such a sewer
connection, it is important to ascertain that each
Our community strives to recover the useful value of our drain is protected from receiving dry waste (i.e.
excreta. screens and drain covers) and that all toilets are
123456789 functioning correctly. No sewer gas or odors should
be present near any drain. All pipes should have
5. Sewer Network sealed threads and should not have any holes,
cracks, or other leaks. If your community is
Sewerage systems are designed to collect excreta responsible for underground sewer pipes that are
and domestic wastewater and transport them away on the property, these should be checked for leaks
from homes to a treatment and/or disposal point. or stoppages on a regular basis.
Sewer systems are an attractive option because
they can greatly improve the sanitary conditions of Small Bore/Settled Sewerage
a household while requiring little maintenance for Small-bore (or ‘settled’) sewerage is a system that
proper operation. Nevertheless, such flush-and- is designed to receive only the liquid fraction of
discharge systems make the problems of sanitation household wastewater. The small-bore sewer
much worse, as they allow relatively small amounts system consists of a house connection, an
of material to pollute large amounts of water. interceptor tank, sewers, cleanouts/manholes,
All sewerage systems require water for flushing vents, sewage treatment plant, and lift stations (if
waste away. Conventional sewerage requires the there is no gravity flow). The system is most
most. It is also a high-cost sanitation option; it is appropriate in areas that already have septic tanks
usually deep-laid and must be maintained by but where the soil cannot (or can no longer) absorb
professional staff. A small bore sewer works on the effluent, or where land-use is so great that there
different principles from conventional sewerage is no room for soakaways.
systems, and does not require high-volume flush The solid components of the waste, which
toilets to operatre. Nevertheless, these still require settle, are kept in an interceptor tank (basically a
water for proper function. single-compartment septic tank) which needs
All sewerage systems should end in a treatment periodic desludging. Because the sewers only
process or plant, as the raw faeces they carry receive the liquid sewage, they are designed
represent a significant public health risk. differently from conventional sewers and have the
In any sewerage system, care should especially following advantages:
be taken to not dispose of hazardous or toxic • the system needs less water because solids are
chemicals into the sewer drains. Such chemicals not transported;
could be medicines, pesticides and herbicides • excavation costs are reduced because the pipes
which are no longer used, excess solvents, paints can be laid at shallow depths and do not need
and other household chemicals. These substances to maintain self-cleansing velocity;
can corrode sewer pipes and seriously affect • material costs are reduced because the diameter
operation of treatment plants. They will also limit of the pipes can be small (peak flow is
the potential of water reuse, and therefore should attenuated by the interceptor tanks) and there

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

is no need for large manholes; untreated sewage. Unfortunately, this is not always
• treatment requirements are reduced because the the case, and far too often the raw sewage ends up
solids are kept in the interceptor tanks. being dumped straight into waterways. This
The main operational requirement for the practice wreaks havoc on both the wildlife and
community is to ensure that no solids can enter the human populations that depend upon the
system and that the interceptor tank functions downstream water. Thus, it would helpful to
properly. Maintenance of the system requires determine if your local sewage is treated before
regular removal of the sludge from the interceptor being released back into the environment.
tank; this regular expense should be included in It is common practice in many areas to release
your community’s main budget. sewage into the environment, untreated, as a
Systemic maintenance tasks may also include means of agriculture irrigation. Unfortunately, this
the removal of blockages, regular control of sewage practice is quite unacceptable. The use of untreated
pipes, and periodic flushing. The performance of wastewater in agriculture or aquaculture poses high
accessories in the pipeline system such as health risks to farmers and consumers alike. In the
cleanouts, manholes, (possible) lift stations, and interests of public health, only treated wastewater should
ventilation points should be regularly checked and ever be reused. Poor irrigation practices with
maintained (although these tasks are generally the untreated or partially treated wastewater severely
responsibility of the body in the larger community impact the quality and safety of groundwater in
which is responsible for the operation of the shallow aquifers and surface waters that may
system). supply drinking water.
If your community’s sewage is treated before
Party Responsible for Sewerage being released, this process may be overseen by the
If your community does not process its own same party that is responsible for the sewerage
wastewater, it is important that you be aware of the system, but it need not be. Thus, begin by
group who is responsible for the maintenance and determining who the party responsible for
administration of your sewer network. Since wastewater treatment is. By contacting them, you
sewage is both an environmental and health should be able to determine the strengths and
hazard, it would be helpful to assess the integrity limitations of the treatment process.
of your local sewerage system by contacting the Treated wastes should not contain pathogens
party responsible for its operation. (bacteria, viruses, helminths or protozoa). Properly
You should also be prepared to contact them if operated sewage-treatment plants should produce
your community discovers a leak or a blockage in treated effluent of good enough quality for use in
the system. Furthermore, your community can irrigation or fish-breeding ponds. The operator of
serve the larger community by being involved in the sewage-treatment plant or the local health
the workings of the sewerage system: as body should carry out regular monitoring to ensure
administrative help, as a source of ideas for that the quality of the treated effluent is safe. You
improvement, or in a variety of other ways. should be able to obtain the results of such tests, if
they are performed.
Our community regularly implements all necessary Of primary importance is the microbial quality
operational and maintenance protocols required for of any sewage effluent. That is, the microscopic
sustainable operation of our sewer system. pathogenic organisms pose the greatest danger to
123456789 public health.
Nutrient pollution is also a major concern; that
Our sewer system is managed with good governance is, the organic content of the wastewater greatly
principles, that reflect our community values. increases the nutrients available to aquatic plants.
123456789 This causes overgrowth conditions which choke
other life from the water. This process is called
6. Wastewater Treatment eutrophication and is signified by an explosion of
algae populations, often called an ‘algae bloom.’
All sewerage systems should end at a wastewater Chemical contamination is also a consideration.
treatment facility so that surface water and Industrial effluent may contain chemicals harmful
groundwater sources are not contaminated and to health or the environment, such as heavy
communities are not exposed to health risks from metals. If industrial sewage is mixed with domestic

Listening To The Earth

sewage, the resultant effluent is a highly toxic mix, technologies can achieve protection of public
and is considerably more difficult to treat. health and the environment, and can recycle water
Industrial discharges should be pretreated by the and nutrients, which are beneficial to sustaining
industry itself to prevent toxic chemicals from ecosystems and life.
entering any treatment facility—or worse, from There are a variety of such treatment processes,
being released untreated into the environment. and the selection of them depends on the types of
Sometimes untreated sewage is used to irrigate pollutants found in the wastewater. Sewage
fields. Although this is quite a hazardous practice treatment options may be classified into groups of
in itself, the inclusion of hazardous chemicals in processes according to the function they perform
the effluent poses additional health risks to and their complexity:
consumers, and the repeated application of solid or • Preliminary treatment: this includes simple
liquid wastes to fields will cause chemical build-up processes such as screening (usually by bar
in soils, leading to long-term problems for water screens) and grit removal. (through
resources. constant velocity channels) to remove the
Wastewater treatment can be accomplished gross solid pollution.
either through high-cost ‘conventional’ treatment • Primary treatment: usually plain
systems, through a series of waste stabilization sedimentation; simple settlement of the
ponds (or lagoons), or a combination of methods. solid material in sewage can reduce the
In addition, there are some other rather polluting load by significant amounts.
experimental methods of treatment, like deep well • Secondary treatment: for further treatment
injection, but they are unrefined and won’t be and removal of common pollutants, usually
discussed further. (There is little that is by a biological process.
‘conventional’ about the highly technical and • Tertiary treatment: usually for removal of
expensive means of sewage treatment labeled as specific pollutants e.g. nitrogen or
such, aside from the fact these processes have been phosphorous. In lakes and sensitive water
the favored responses of scientists and engineers in environments the removal of nutrients
places like the United States and Europe for should be undertaken with a tertiary
several decades now.) treatment process to prevent algae blooms
and eutrophication.
Below, conventional and stabilization pond
methods are each briefly reviewed. Stabilization Ponds
Waste stabilization ponds require more land, but
‘Conventional’ Sewage Treatment are cheaper, easier to operate and maintain, and
While the Earth has a natural purification process, need fewer trained staff than other treatment
the natural purification capacity of the systems. The final water from waste stabilization
environment is limited. For example, even when ponds can be very good if the ponds are properly
wastewater is disposed into the ocean, the area maintained, as wetlands are nature’s time-tested
surrounding the outfall can be sufficiently polluted and preferred method of purifying wastes and
and the pollutants (including pathogens) can be recycling nutrients.
washed towards the beaches. Thus, technical Without proper maintenance, however, the
processes have been developed to theoretically quality of the final effluent may be poor and still
augment and accelerate the natural purification pose considerable risks to health if it is used for
process. irrigation. Thus, it is most important that the
Conventional water treatment technologies operators of the ponds are well educated as to the
include physical, chemical and biological processes proper operation of the ponds and the biological
which fuction to remove pathogens and pollutants processing occuring within them.
from the water. These processes are somewhat akin In usual configurations, sewage flows through a
to the purification and recycling processes taking series of ponds where the solid and liquid wastes
place in nature, although they generally produce undergo natural breakdown processes, including
concentrated hazardous residues that are not microbial activity.
produced by nature (at least in concentrated Usually, at least two ponds are used, and more
form). Nevertheless, properly designed, commonly three. The ponds must be constructed
constructed, maintained and operated, these to a size that can handle the volume of wastewater

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

brought in by the sewer system by retaining it long location and may breed there, causing a health
enough for purification. hazard.
Wastewater in stabilization ponds tends to have Facilities should be located within a reasonable
a high organic content and can serve as breeding walking distance from common areas, and should
sites for Culex mosquitoes that transmit lymphatic be well marked so that their use is encouraged.
filariasis and other infections. The ponds should
therefore be sited well away from human Our community models hygienic behaviors by
habitation, at least beyond the flying distance of incorporating proper practices into our standard
the mosquitoes (over a kilometre with wind protocols.
assistance). 123456789

Health and Environmental Impacts of Wastewater 8. General Sanitation Practices

• Pathogens (bacteria, viruses, protozoa) can Diseases from poor sanitation and hygiene are very
cause life-threatening infections in humans common in Latin America, as they are elsewhere—
and other wildlife, both directly and especially in economically disadvantaged areas that
indirectly through insects. have no infrastructure for handling wastewater.
• Toxic compounds and elements (organic Fortunately, most of the danger can be alleviated
compounds from pesticides and industrial by changing people’s behaviors where they relate
processes, heavy metals from metal to sanitation and hygiene. Simply incorporating
finishing, tanning, etc.) may cause cancers, the use of toilets and handwashing has repeatedly
birth defects, miscarriages, and damage to reduced disease burdens by significant amounts in
various organs. many areas. If your larger community is not well
• Suspended solids may increase the cost of educated about hygienic behaviors, perhaps it
water treatment, reduce the attractiveness would be possible for your religious community to
of water bodies, and inhibit the growth of conduct educational campaigns. Further
aquatic plant and animal life. information regarding hygiene education can be
• Nitrogen at high concentrations may cause obtained from the Pan American Health
methemoglobinemia. Organization, and other organizations working for
• Nitrogen, phosphorus, and high BOD public health. Consult the resources listed at the
(biological oxygen demand) wastes may end of this chapter for more information.
cause oxygen depletion in water bodies and The most important thing your community can
consequent damage to aquatic life. do is to model sustainable sanitation practices.
This means first adequately maintaining the
Our sewage is treated sufficiently to release zero sanitation system that you have, which includes
pollution into the environment. ensuring that financial requirements of the system
123456789 are met. Beyond that, your community should
strive to have the least environmental impact as
7. Hygienic Behaviors possible, by conserving water and by not mixing
and reusing excrete.
While having sanitation facilities is the most But, perhaps the most important thing that
important element of safely dealing with human your community can do towards increasing the
excreta, it is not the only requirement. Your sustainability of sanitation practices is to get
community should also keep the facilities hygenic informed, stay informed, and to educate others
by regularly cleaning and sanitizing them, so that about sanitation. This means getting to know the
refuse and fecal matter are not able to collect local sanitation situation, what the current
within them. Furthermore, behavioral protocols practices are, what dangers are inherent to the
like keeping the door shut (if an outdoor facility), current practices, what other options exist, what
and washing hands after each use are both alternatives have proven successful elsewhere, and
important to ensure safe sanitation practices. how changes can be effected locally. Performing
If the toilet is allowed to collect waste or the this assessment is a great first step, but your efforts
door is left open, pests such as flies and other should not end here. As mentioned in the
disease-spreading insects are attracted to the Introduction to this chapter, current sanitation

Listening To The Earth

practices are tantamount to a global crisis, and If you found that problems exist, list them below:
alternatives must be created and implemented for Category (I-III)
a sustainable and healthy human and animal Problem 1
population. In the best case, many communities
will engage in this challenge and will create several
diverse and creative ways of overcoming this

In general, our community strives to make our

sanitation systems ecological and sustainable. Problem 2


Now enter the scores from each section in the column at Problem 3


2 Soil and ground conditions

3 Community operative knowledge Problem 4

of system

3 Operation and maintenance of system

3 Water conservation

3 Ground and surface water protection Problem 5

4 Resource recovery

5 Sewer: maintenance & operation


5 Sewer management
Now categorize each problem listed above into one
6 Waste water treatment of the following three categories:
I = Critically important. Currently dangerous,
7 Hygenic behaviors must be addressed immediately
II = Important, but not immediately dangerous.
8 Ecological and sustainable sanitation Must be addressed
III = Current practice should be improved, but is
not immediately needed

Now that you have comprehensively examined your

excreta handling and sanitation measures, how would
you rate, overall, your community’s practices in these
Excellent / Satisfactory / Poor / Critically

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

Community Solid Waste As a consequence, the mixed wastes usually end up

Management: Assessment in dumps which are hazards both to the health of
local populations, and to nature’s ecology. Once in
dumps, the poorest of society risk their health by
Preserving the Gifts of Garbage separating, sorting, and selling the ‘waste’ products
of value.
In general, ‘waste’ is defined as materials or objects It is in this context that the need to seek
that have no use, or that have become dangerous effective solutions for waste management and final
to the humans that own or produce it. ‘Solid waste disposal is an imperative one.
management’ refers to the system of practices that
either recycles, treats, destroys, or otherwise The Inherent Dangers of Solid Waste
‘disposes’ of waste products, specifically those
other than excreta and wastewater. Basically, the The most obvious environmental effect of
‘solid waste’ referred to in this section pertains to inadequate solid waste management is the
those items generally considered ‘refuse,’ ‘trash,’ aesthetic deterioration of both urban and rural
‘garbage;’ and includes food scraps, textiles, tools, landscapes. The degradation of the natural
appliances, packaging, etc. Refer to the last section landscape caused by uncontrolled waste disposal is
of this chapter for a closer look at handling increasing. Open dumps and other piles of garbage
hazardous materials. have become an increasingly common sight
Below is a chart that briefly describes the throughout Latin America.
different types of solid waste typically produced by On the other hand, the most serious impact on
a Latin American population. (‘MSW= municipal the environment, although perhaps less apparent,
solid waste’ in column three) is the pollution of surface and ground waters.
Sustainable solid waste management consists of Water pollution results from solid wastes thrown
a series of activities linked with the control of into surface waters like rivers and seas and also
waste generation, segregation, presentation, from the leachate produced by the decomposition
storage, collection, hauling, sweeping, treatment, of solid wastes in open dumps. The pollution of
and final disposal that are carried out in such a way groundwater (also known as the water table or
as to harmonize with the best principles of public aquifer) calls for special attention since
health, economy, engineering, and aesthetics and groundwater is often the water source for large
also to meet public expectations. Put simply, populations. Contamination of groundwater
sustainable waste management means that we should be avoided as it may cause adverse health
need to produce less waste, recycle as much as we impacts and/or high treatment costs for
can, and, we must safeguard our environment from restoration.
damage resulting from waste disposal. The disposal of solid waste in surface waters,
An important aspect to consider about the like rivers and streams causes the death of fish,
concept of waste is that it consists of items that produces bad odors, and detracts from the natural
have lost their value to one person or group of beauty of the aquatic environment. Such
people. While certainly not always the case, often consequences have discouraged the use of surface
enough, something that is ‘trash’ to one person is waters as sources of drinking water, sites for
(or can become) a useful product to another. Since bathing, or for recreation in many regions of Latin
the preservation of God’s gifts (i.e. our natural America and the Caribbean.
resources) is preferable to wasting them, the heart Another important albeit indirect risk is the
of a sustainable waste management system should proliferation of animals that are carriers of micro-
include a network of connections between people organisms, and that transmit diseases to people.
and industries that produce ‘waste’ materials and These animals, known as vectors, include flies,
those that can utilize them. mosquitoes, rats, and cockroaches. As well as
Unfortunately, most managment efforts are not feeding on the solid wastes, the vectors find in the
presently able to cope with the tremendous volume garbage a favorable environment for reproduction
of waste produced by humanity today. and it becomes a breeding ground for the
Compounding this problem is the fact that when transmission of diseases, from a simple diarrhea to
different types of wastes are mixed, they lose much severe cases of typhoid or other more serious
of their potential commercial, or recyclable, value. illnesses.

Listening To The Earth

Flies Rats
Their reproductive cycle varies according to the Rats have accompanied the human species over the
temperature. A fly can reach adulthood in 8-20 centuries, and have always been regarded as one of
days and it can fly up to 10 km in 24 hours. It the world’s worst pests. In addition to transmitting
reproduces in moist human and animal excreta serious diseases—eptospirosis, salmonellosis,
(farms, badly built latrines, open defecation, typhus, bubonic plague, and parasitism—they also
treatment sludge, garbage, etc.). It is estimated attack and bite human beings. Rats may seriously
that one kilogram of organic matter serves for the damage the electric and telephone urban
reproduction of some 70,000 flies. infrastructure by peeling and eating the network
Refuse is the main source of reproduction of the cables, thereby causing fires. They also contribute
housefly, which transmits diseases and is to the deterioration and contamination of food.
responsible for millions of deaths worldwide. The They reproduce quickly; they have from six to
key to protection against the housefly is, therefore, twelve pups per litter and a couple of rats may
the proper storage, collection, and final sanitary have up to 10 thousand offspring per year.
disposal of garbage in sanitary landfills.

Cockroaches The Waste Crisis: A Burden Borne by the Poor

These insects have existed for 350 million years.
Given their extraordinary resistance to most The poor management of solid waste is a problem
insecticides and ability to adapt to any in most cities and small urban communities, but it
environment, they are believed to be the only is a growing problem throughout rural regions as
living beings capable of surviving a nuclear war. well. The serious problems caused by inadequate
They live around garbage bins, on kitchen shelves, solid waste management are common, to a greater
near the dining room table, and in bathrooms. or lesser degree, throughout most of Latin America
They feed on wastes and at night they walk on and the Caribbean. Among the many factors
food, and sleeping animals or human beings aggravating these problems are: rapid population
contaminating them with their vomit and growth and high concentration of the population
excrement. They transmit more than 70 diseases. in urban areas, industrial development, changes in
Nearly 8% of the human population are allergic to eating habits, and the increased use of packaging
cockroaches and develop serious respiratory materials.
diseases when exposed to places frequented by The growth of human settlement and urban
these vermin. Although the cockroach is one of the density has resulted in increased waste production,
oldest and most repulsive insects, health and such that today greater than 300,000 tons per day
hygiene problems associated with this pest are generated by the urban populations of Latin
continue to affect us and are even on the increase. America and the Caribbean.
Activities producing solid waste in Latin America and the Caribbean
Generating activities Components % of total

Residential Kitchen waste, paper and cardboard, plastics, glass, metals, 50-75
textiles, garden trimmings, soil, etc.

Commercial: warehouses, offices, Paper, cardboard, plastics, wood, food wastes, glass, metals, 10-20
markets, restaurants, hotels, and others special and hazardous wastes

Institutional: public ofices, schools, Similar to commercial 5-15

universities, public services, and others

Industrial (small and cottage industries): Industrial waste, scrap iron, etc. This heading also includes 5-30
manufacturing, clothing and shoe inustries, food wastes, ashes, rubble from building and demolition
tailor’s shops, carpenter’s workshops, etc. work, and special and hazardous waste

Street sweeping Waste left in public areas by pedestrians, dirt, leaves, excreta, 10-20

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

The economic crises and institutional generally located in these areas where the poorest
weaknesses experienced by many governments in members of the community live, compounding the
the region have also had a negative influence upon deterioration of all conditions, and in consequence
waste management. Governments are pressured by causing property prices to drop, and jeopardizing
their debt obligations to reduce spending on the development of the town or city.
domestic services, while at the same time they are Of particular note regarding solid waste and the
pressured to maintain low tariffs for public poor, is the case of waste pickers (or informal
cleaning services by the population. In addition, recyclers) and their families that live in, on, and
insufficient education on hygiene and sanitation, around the garbage heaps found near urban areas.
and a lack of community involvement contribute Because of hard economic conditions and
to a great reluctance on the part of the population accelerated rural migration, many families struggle
to pay for waste management and disposal to cope by harvesting, utilizing, and selling the
services. The often poor quality of these services resources contained in the waste. These families
further aggravates the problem. This whole often live in extremely unsafe and degrading
situation places public health at risk, increases the conditions. Aside from the serious risks to their
pollution of natural resources, and leads to a health from the hazardous and medical wastes to
deterioration in the life quality of the population. which they are exposed, such environments are
Unlike the affluent areas wherein regular pick- particularly rife with violence, including fights with
up services routinely collect household refuse, knives and guns, as well as traffic accidents.
there are still many neighbourhoods where garbage Despite these grave risks, the recycling that they
is not collected. In poor neighborhoods it rots in do provides a valuable service to the economy and
the streets, thereby providing a breeding site for the environment. Thus, an improvement of their
flies, mosquitoes, rats and other disease-carrying conditions is in the interests of both environmental
pests, blocks street drains and causes flooding, or it and social justice.
is burned and increases urban air pollution levels.
Many of the affected households are located in Final Disposal
poor peri-urban communities where municipal The state of final disposal services at the present
trucks cannot enter because streets are too narrow. time in Latin America provides perhaps the most
These populations that have settled on the convincing evidence of the inadequacy of the
outskirts of large cities are usually affected by both current solid waste management situation in these
the absence of a refuse collection service, and the countries. Only about 60% of the solid waste
presence of garbage dumps. Open dumps are collected from the principal cities of Latin America
Vector-borne diseases associated with municipal waste

Vectors Transmission routes Main diseases

Bubonic plague
Bites, urine, feces
Rats Murine typhus

Typhoid fever Salmonellosis

Flies Mechanical route (wings, feet and body) Cholera Amebiasis
Dysentery Giardasis

Malaria Lishmaniasis
Mosquitoes Female mosquito bites Yellow fever Dengue

Typhoid fever Feces

Cockroaches Mechanical route (wings, feet and body)
Cholera Giardasis

Cysticercosis Toxoplasmosis
Pigs Ingestion of contaminated meat
Trichinosis Taeniasis

Birds Feces Toxoplasmosis

Source: Departamento de Engenharia Sanitaria e Ambiental, DESA/UPMG

Listening To The Earth

is treated and/or disposed of in accordance with this case, the recycling bins were placed by a
modern technical and public health standards. specific glass manufacturer, which also carried out
This corresponds to only about 35% of the total a public education program. The other experiences
waste generated in the region. The rest normally have not been as successful, mostly because of the
ends up in unregulated open dumps which fail to lack of public education on the benefits of this
meet even the minimum criteria for environmental practice.
safety, and which are permanent sources of Only a few organisations, usually NGOs or
contamination and health risk. The situation in development aid organisations, act to support
small and medium-sized cities is worse: rough those involved in informal recovery or recycling.
estimates are that no more than 20% of the waste The municipalities usually take no responsibility
produced in these municipalities is being treated. for these activities despite the role which they
Again, it is usually the waste generated by the could be playing to stimulate source separation, to
poorest people which is handled improperly. reduce the volume of waste requiring disposal, and
Even where controlled landfills do exist, to conserve natural resources.
leachates from these landfills are generally allowed Nevertheless, in some cases the conditions of
to seep unrestricted into the ground, or to flow waste pickers have been improved through their
directly into irrigation ditches or surface streams organization and training. The most notable
without any treatment. experiences are found in Colombia, but a number
of other countries (Argentina, Brazil, Panama,
Recovery and Recycling Peru, and Venezuela) have followed suit. Recycling
Recovery and recycling are usually not considered organizations have led to the formation of
to be part of the formal waste management system cooperatives or small-scale enterprises. In all cases,
in Latin America, as they have come to be in some the organizations have been promoted by outside
countries, and as such they are still perceived as institutions such as NGOs or the local solid waste
being completely outside of public or municipal authority (the best cases for this can be observed
responsibility. In many cases, in an ostensible in Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre, Brazil, and in
effort to protect the public’s health, these activities Mexico City). In the Brazilian cases, the waste
have been forbidden and the violators punished, authority has provided a site where those in charge
despite the fact that waste picking allows vast of recycling can carry out their work. This is also
sectors of the urban population to generate the case for Mexico City, where a recycling plant
subsistence income. Between 50,000-100,000 that processes more than 3,200 tons per year has
people, often assisted by their families, are been installed. In both cases, all revenues go to
estimated to be involved in largely informal those who separate the material, while the
recovery and recycling activities in the principal municipal authority benefits by increasing the
cities alone. lifetime of the landfill and reducing the
Nevertheless, there is a growing trend toward transportation time to the landfill.
resource recovery and recycling, particularly within
larger industries. Large scale recycling programs of Public Education
non-hazardous industrial solid wastes have been In spite of the general deficiencies in urban
established in Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. services, there are few existing educational
Wastes (mostly paper, cardboard, bottles, plastics programmes which seek to reduce, prevent, or
and ferrous metals) are separated in the industrial minimise the generation of solid waste at source.
premises and sold to specialized private recyclers. Unfortunately, product advertising actively
In Colombia, this program resulted from a promotes a shift to less recyclable products and
cooperative effort to find jobs for former landfill packages. Many supermarkets and commercial
waste pickers. Generally, except for plastics, this establishments seem to confuse the term ‘modern’
type of recycling is profitable and environmentally with ‘disposable packaging.’ Only a few
adequate. organisations have attempted to address this trend
In some large Argentine, Brazilian, Colombian, and to increase public understanding of and
and Mexican cities, recycling bins have been set up conduct towards a more environmentally sound
outside supermarkets, where glass and paper approach to ‘modernization.’
products can be deposited. The most successful Nevertheless, there is a trend toward the
experience is that of glass recycling in Colombia. In development of environmental awareness in

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

children. The underlying concept here is that the inability to invest in and operate basic sanitary
most important target group in public education is landfills. Municipalities in Latin America generally
children, and that schools can be the avenue to lack the managerial, technical, and financial
teach them. Thus, environmental awareness, capacities necessary to adequately administer solid
including proper handling of solid waste, is waste services. Departments in charge of solid
increasingly incorporated as part of the elementary waste management are generally of lower rank in
school curriculum. The programs include the administrative hierachy, and staff lack the
development of textbooks, teacher training, and appropriate technical background, while resources
hands-on activities. The latter mainly concentrate for capacity enhancement (such as training) are
on recycling, but also deal with environmental slim. In addition, high staff turnover following the
health education. These activities also aim to be local elections contributes to these difficulties.
financially self-sustaining; income from the sale of Moreover, solid waste management generally ranks
recycled products is used to improve the sanitation as a lower priority than, for example, water supply
systems in the schools and, in some cases, to and sanitation services, and therefore receives even
purchase teaching materials. less attention and budget.
In general, one can say that far too many
Contributions to the Mismanagement of Waste municipalities have failed to reach minimum levels
of institutional, administrative and economic
Considered broadly, there are a number of root capacities, and are far behind in attaining
causes for the solid waste management crisis in technically adequate waste handling procedures.
general, and its acuteness in poor communities in Most municipal waste management or public
particular. The most important are: works organizations are severely limited in their
• accelerated urban growth, which outstrips the ability to offer service. It is not exaggerating to
capacity of the state (as represented by characterise as deficient virtually all the services
municipal government) to meet the needs of related to waste management in many Latin
the steadily increasing population for basic American countries.
urban services;
• the growing quantity of waste generated each What’s Being Done?
• the economic crises of Latin America, which Solid waste management is a growing
result in the reduction of public expenditure, environmental and social problem in the urban
which in turn has a negative effect on municipal areas of Latin America, despite many well-
budgets; motivated attempts at solutions in recent decades.
• the structural inability of municipal There are only a few municipalities in the region
corporations to adequately offer this and other which have been able to adequately manage the
services, due in part to the obsolescence of the accelerated production of urban waste.
political systems which support them; Although a series of formal, largely imported
• the generally high cost of solid waste services, as solutions ostensibly aimed at technology transfer
they are normally conceived, compounded by and institutional capacity-building have been
inadequate or non-existent systems for tested in Latin America in the last fifteen years, the
collection of service fees, and the lack of products of these efforts—sewers, wastewater
willingness of the population to pay for solid plants, landfills, and etc.—have yielded little
waste management services. progress in spite of the large investments made,
• the population’s indifference to the problem, and debt incurred.
which is exacerbated by a lack of public health Despite these failures, or perhaps because of
education or access to civic or political them, significant sectors of the Latin American
participation. population are seeking to invent effective
The structural difficulties of the municipalities alternatives to waste management problems
stand out among these causes. While the through their own direct and active participation
municipalities theoretically fulfill the principal in solving the problems. They are opting to take
functions of operating, regulating, and supervising responsibility for urban waste management
the range of activities related to urban waste services into their own hands. This has led to an
management, shrinking budgets have led to an increase in the efforts of collectives, cooperatives,

Listening To The Earth

non-governmental organizations and the private opportunities for stakeholders to actively

sector businesses—both small and large—to take participate in waste management operations.
on in increasing measure of what is, theoretically,
municipal work and responsibility, despite a Community Action
generalized lack of municipal support or
acknowledgment. Why do the solid waste problems in Latin America
In many ways, this arrangement is preferable resist solution? Why do the negative effects of the
because it requires that a community take situation fall so heavily on the poor? In any case, it
ownership of, and responsibility for its own waste is indispensable for municipalities, other
production and disposal. However, any serious institutions, and citizens to tackle the issue of solid
analysis of the solid waste problem in Latin waste management decisively and pragmatically.
America must look past the deficiencies in service The population must be educated about the
to the persistent marginalisation of the poor, who significance of properly handling waste, and there
repeatedly are brought to suffer the most. One can must be an environment within which creative
say without exaggerating that the lowest income solutions to the waste management problems are
sectors bear the brunt of the solid waste problem, encouraged.
even though the other sectors generate far more To be effective, implementing best practices in
waste. solid waste management requires action within
both your religious and larger community levels.
Legislative Efforts Community members should decide how
Norms and regulations applying to solid waste important solid waste management is and
management are often unclear, contested among determine the best ways to achieve waste-
various entities, and woefully inadequate. In management goals.
addition, current legislation often lacks adequate The following assessment is meant to help your
organisation and/or clear jurisdictional authority community identify aspects of your present solid
for formulating and enforcing legal requirements. waste management practices that could be
A variety of government entities tend to be improved. Furthermore, it will hopefully guide you
involved in establishing and managing the legal in the development and implementation of better
framework surrounding and affecting solid waste practices.
Nevertheless, in the last several years, the
legislative and constitutional context for urban
services has changed significantly in some areas,
including Bolivia and Colombia. In Bolivia,
legislation has been altered in recent years to
facilitate the participation of community based
organisations in the provision of public services.
Community Solid Waste
Here, the Public Participation Law (Ley de Management: Inventory
Participación Popular) anticipates improvements
in the system of oversight, control and evaluation
through assigning neighborhood and regional The following assessment pertains to the solid wastes that
organisations and community committees the your community produces with the exception of human
power to monitor, document, and budget the excreta, as this subject was covered in the previous
quality of the public services, including those assessment. Similarly, further attention to specific
offered by the small enterprises and cooperatives. hazardous wastes is given in the next assessment.
In Colombia the newly formed constitution
strongly promotes decentralisation and citizen 1. Community Waste Generation Survey
participation, while a separate law regulating the
participation of the private sector also permits In the space provided below, create a list of solid waste
recycling cooperatives to compete for public generating sources, i.e. ‘waste streams’ (excluding
contracts for the implementation of waste excreta) within your community. (For example,
management operations. ‘Kitchen/food preparation,’ ‘residents’ trash,’
These new laws have created enhanced ‘housekeeping,’ etc.)

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

Now, for each waste stream (source of waste) listed

1. above, using the table below as an example,
___________________________________________ perform an extensive waste inventory for the
duration of one week, as follows:
2. 1. Notify the affected members of your
___________________________________________ community that a waste audit will be conducted
throughout the week. Request them not to dispose
3. of their waste before you (or your team) has a
___________________________________________ chance to inventory and record the contents.
2. Plan your method of collecting, sorting,
4. inventorying, and recording the waste contents.
___________________________________________ Make sure to keep the waste streams separate until
5. 3. Record, into a table similar to the one below,
___________________________________________ the contents of the waste each day, being as
specific as you find to be reasonable. However, try
6. your best not to combine wastes of different
___________________________________________ material composition (e.g. metal and plastic) into

(Partial) Waste Inventory Table (example only)

(revise the list of waste components in this table according to the waste components present in your waste stream)

Waste Stream #1 (Kitchen) Waste Stream #2 (Residential)

Waste Component M T W Th F Sa Su Sum M T W Th F Sa Su Sum Totals







Plastic Bottles (PET)


Iron/ Steel

Plastic container (PP)


Alum. Cans



Cigarrette butts


total total

Listening To The Earth

the same category. If possible, record the weight of Waste component:

the contents. If you are not able to directly
measure weight, it may be helpful to create some Waste sources containing this component:
form(s) of standardized measuring unit(s) (e.g. a
2cm. ball of plastic wrap; a 2cm. square of Quantity community produces per week (kg):
cardboard, etc) for each type of waste.
4. At the end of the week, total the categories How is this waste product generated?
you used for each waste stream; if you did not
record weights, make your best estimate of the
weekend total weight, basing the estimate on Is the waste hazardous?
whatever standardized measure(s) you used. Then, Yes / No
calculate the total amount of waste generated by (If unsure, refer to page 138 for definition of ‘hazardous
each stream by summing the weights of all the waste’)
components found in each waste stream.
5. As a final step, once all waste sources Describe the present disposal method for this
identified above have been inventoried, sum the component:
weights of each category of waste components
(horizontal rows on the below table) to find the
total amount of each particular form of waste that Is this component ‘recyclable’?
your community generates in a week. Yes / No
6. Create a final list that ranks, in order of (If unsure, refer to page 130)
greatest to least amounts, the most prevalent
components of waste that you identified. Is a recycling program for this material available in
your region?
Solid Waste Analysis Yes / No
From the inventory above, identify the three waste
streams that generated the most waste. For each source, Can this waste be re-used by your religious (or
answer the following questions: greater) community for another purpose, including
Waste stream/source of waste: Yes / No

Total waste generated weekly (kg): Has your community implemented a plan to
minimize the generation of this particular waste
Name of supervisor for this community unit: component?
Yes / No
Why is so much waste generated?
Describe plan:

Has your community implemented a plan to

minimize the waste generated by this particular
waste stream?
Yes / No
2. Community Waste Collection and Disposal
Describe the plan:
How does your community rid itself of the solid waste
that it generates? Check all that apply:
c Disposal into open pit/pile/dump on
community grounds
c Disposal into open pit/pile/dump shared
Again, from the inventory above, identify the five largest with larger community
categories of waste. For each category (waste c Incineration/burning
component), answer the following questions: c Dumping into ocean or other nearby

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

c Discarding on side of highway (without If so, who is the party responsible for this service? It
regular collection service) would be helpful to record this information below, and to
c Periodic collection (either communal or contact them for help in answering the following
individual property collection points) questions:
c Direct disposal into a managed
landfill/controlled community dump Name of collection service:

About how often does your community rid itself of its Contact information:
accumulated solid waste?
c Daily
c Weekly Contact person:
c Monthly
c Quarterly According to the Collection Service, what policies (if
c Longer any) does the Service have regarding what will and will
not be collected?
About how much weight is disposed at each interval

Is there a community member in charge of solid waste According to the Collection Service, what is expected of
disposal? residents; i.e. how are residents expected to cooperate
Yes / No with the Service (including payments)?

Name of individual: Does your community make an effort to cooperate

with the Service?
Yes / No
Based on information from this person in charge, has Why/why not?
there been any injury or infection as a result of handling
the community’s solid waste?
Yes / No
What is the final destination, or end disposal practice
If yes, how frequently have these injuries/infections for the waste that the Collection Service collects? (e.g.
occurred? landfill, incinerator, etc.)

Does your community pay a fee for the 4. Recycling

collection/disposal of solid waste?
Yes / No Does community recycle materials, or participate in a
recycling program with your larger community?
If yes, to whom is this fee paid? Yes / No

(e.g. municipality, private company, individual, etc.) If the recycling program is a service of your larger
community, who is the party responsible for this service?
Does your community include this expense in its regular It would be helpful to record this information below, and
budget? to contact them for help in answering the following
Yes / No questions:

3. Solid Waste Collection Name of recycling service:

Contact information:
Is there a collection service in your greater community
that collects rubbish from residences on a regular basis? Contact person:
Yes / No

Listening To The Earth

What waste components are recycled? 5. Land Disposal

Plastics Is a landfill or controlled dumping location the final

c Polypropylene (PP) destination of your community’s waste?
c Polystyrene (PS) Yes / No
c Polyethylene (HDPE or LDPE)
c Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) If so, who is the party responsible for the operation of
c Other (specify): the landfill? It would be helpful to record this
information below, and to contact them for help in
Paper products answering the following questions:
c Cardboard / corrugated
c white paper Name of Agency/Company:
c Other (specify):
Organic waste for compost Contact information:
c Automotive parts
c Other (specify):
Contact Person:
c Steel / Iron
c Aluminum Considering the landfill location, what is the
c Copper approximate distance to the nearest:
c Tin
Other (specify): Human dwelling?
c<100m c100-500m c500m-1km c>1km
c Clear Hospital?
c Brown c<100m c100-500m c500m-1km c>1km
c Green
c Other (specify): School?
c<100m c100-500m c500m-1km c>1km
c Electronic components/ devices
c Textiles Playground?
c Batteries c<100m c100-500m c500m-1km c>1km

Are these waste components separated: Have the managers/supervisers of the landfill been
c directly by your community trained in operating practices for sanitary landfills?
c by others in your larger community Yes / No
c by the staff at the recycling center
What policies (if any) does the landfill service have
What limitations do(es) the recycling service(s) face regarding what wastes will or will not be accepted?
that restrict the materials that can be accepted for

To what extent does your community participate in the

recycling of solid waste componenets? Does the landfill protect surface and ground waters from
0123456789 contamination?
(0= not at all, 9= recycling is genuine Yes / No
policy and practice in our community)

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

If Yes, what design and/or operating features are in If not, has the landfill management done
place (e.g. use of impermeable layers at the base and anything to improve the situation? Please
sides of landfill, leachate collection and treatment, daily describe:
soil cover, etc.)?

By what means or avenue may the public provide their

Is the final wastewater discharge from the landfill input into landfill operation and management decisions?
monitored for environmental pollutants?
Yes / No

Are the surrounding ground and surface waters

(those which accept wastewater discharge from the
landfill) monitored for contamination? 6A. Waste Handling Workers or Workers’
Yes / No Association

What pollutants, if any, have been found in the It will be helpful to contact the workers who are
wastewater discharged by the landfill? involved in waste handling. Such employees
include but are not limited to: collection workers,
landfill employees, recycling service employees, or
an association or union of such employees.

Name of association:
Has a regulatory agency found the landfill to have
been in violation of applicable environmental Contact information:
regulations in the past three years?
Yes / No
Contact person:
What measures are in place to manage and/ or utilize
the gases produced by the decomposing wastes? Have these workers been provided personal health
and safety training to be able to perform their duties
Yes / No

Besides training, what other measures are in place to

Are waste-pickers/ informal recyclers often present in the ensure worker safety ? (e.g. personal safety equipment,
landfill? limitations to work-hours, equipment inspections, etc.)
Yes / No

What is the landfill management policy regarding

waste pickers, informal recycling services, and/ or
squatter settlements within the landfill?
According to the workers, how frequently are injuries or
infections experienced by workers as a direct result of
their occupation?

Do waste pickers at the landfill use any personal What is the average wage that workers are paid for
protective equipment (e.g. gloves, aprons, etc.) their labor?
Yes / No

Listening To The Earth

What avenues exist for workers to influence the policies Name of organization:
that govern their working conditions?
Contact information:

Contact person:
6B. Governmental Regulatory Agency
According to these experts, what threats to the
Your government should have an agency/ministry surrounding environment does the landfill or dump
that is responsible for enforcing any environmental pose?
regulations that apply to the operation of the
landfill or dump in your area, as well as
administering other environmental regulations.
Consult such agency to answer the following If the present measures being taken to safeguard the
questions. environment are inadequate, what do these experts
recommend for improvement?
Name of agency:

Contact information:

Of the other laws and/or regulations regarding solid

Contact person: waste in your country and region (e.g. recycling laws,
disposal restrictions, etc.), do these experts consider them
What environmental regulations are applicable to the to be adequate? If so, are they adequately enforced?
operation of solid waste handling facilities in your area?

How can citizens report violations that they observe?

According to these experts, what actions might your
religious community take to work toward improving the
sustainability of local solid waste handling?
Has the landfill/ dump been cited for any violations in
the past three years?
Yes / No
If yes, describe:
6D. Expert Public Health/Safety Information

It will also be helpful to contact a public

Are there any other environmental laws or initiatives health/safety advocacy group that can provide
regarding solid waste that apply to citizens in your reliable, expert data about the health hazards
county? (e.g. recycling laws, import bans, etc...) resulting from your municipality’s current waste
handling practices. If you don’t know of one, refer
to the List of Categorized References in the back of
this manual to help locate one.
6C. Environmental Information Source
Name of organization:
It will also be helpful to contact an environmental
protection or advocacy group that can provide Contact information:
reliable, expert data on the ecological impacts of
the landfill or dump in your area. If you don’t
know of one, refer to the List of Categorized Contact person:
References in the back of this manual to help
locate one.
According to these experts, what threats to public health

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

do your municipality’s present waste management Does there exist a public cleaning service that is charged
practices pose? with removing solid waste from such places as roads and
sidewalks, etc.?
Yes / No

How is this service funded?

If the present measures being taken to safeguard the
public health are inadequate, what do these experts
reccommend for improvement?
How does the service dispose of the waste collected?

According to these experts, what actions might your If the cleaning service does not satisfactorily maintain
religious community take to work toward public safety in clean public areas, what impediments or limitations are
these regards? affecting their service? (It would be most helpful to
contact the service or employees thereof to answer this)

7. Cleaning of Public Areas

8. Education
Consider the amount of litter (scattered solid
waste and debris) observed in the surrounding area Awareness and Education of Larger Community
of your larger community. You may conduct an
inventory of the litter found within a area Is the general population of your larger community well
representative of the general condition with a form informed about safe and ecological waste handling
similar to the one used in question one. practices?
Yes / No
Rate the amount of litter found:
0123456789 Is the general population well informed about the
none…scattered…everywhere environmental dangers inherent to present waste
handling practices?
What are the most prevalent waste components found? Yes / No

Religious Community Awareness, Education

and Action
Are any of these waste components from a common
source(s) ? If so, what is/are the common source(s)? Are the members of your religious community well
informed about safe and ecological waste handling
Yes / No

Are there easily visible trash receptacles present in public Are the members of your religious community well
areas for people to dispose of their incidental trash? informed about the environmental dangers inherent to
Yes / No present waste handling practices?
Who is responsible for emptying or carting the Yes / No
accumulated trash away from the site?
Is your religious community engaged in any action to
change the present waste handling practices of your
Are the trash receptacles generally emptied before larger community?
they are overfilled? Yes / No
Yes / No

Listening To The Earth

Community Solid Waste place. Waste reduction can be promoted by

Management: Evaluation education campaigns and by rewarding those who
Although in many areas conserving materials,
At the end of each discussion section, there will be a reusing products, and minimizing waste are
statement and a list of numbers from which to choose. imposed by economic necessity, these are general
Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment principals that should be practised by all the
of how well your community represents the statement population.
given. (1 = disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9 A waste reduction assessment (or inventory) is
= agree completely, no change needed) a tool used to identify opportunities for waste
reduction and prevention. It can form a strong
In general, the formula used to guide best waste foundation for a successful waste minimization
management practices can be represented as this program. The assessment can be as simple or as
hiercharical decision tree: extensive as resources, time, and commitment
allow. The point is to use a systematic approach to
The waste management hierarchy: ensure that the sources of waste are thoroughly
examined so that several opportunities for
1 Prevent or reduce waste generation reduction and prevention can be identified and
2 Reduce the toxicity or negative impact of the assessed.
waste The following steps are part of the waste
3 Recycle waste in its current form reduction assessment process:
4 Reuse waste after further processing 1. Perform a preliminary review of current
5 Treat waste before disposal waste generation patterns and management
6 Dispose of waste in an environmentally sound practices, and determine which waste
way streams to monitor.
2. Perform waste inventory for chosen waste
1. Community Waste Generation Survey streams.
3. Identify waste reduction and prevention
Waste prevention and, if this is not possible, waste possibilities.
reduction should be considered the first option in 4. Evaluate and prioritize waste reduction and
waste management because it is less expensive and prevention alternatives.
less resource intensive than the other options such 5. Recommend and/or implement the most
as recycling, treatment, and disposal. Thus, waste appropriate waste reduction schemes.
prevention and reduction should be the basic goal The preliminary review will help you to identify
of your community’s solid waste management. people you need to contact for information, what
Minimizing waste generation will save resources type of working space will be necessary for sorting
(energy, materials, and labor) and costs; as well it and tallying the collected waste, and, if resources
reduces the associated adverse environmental are limited, which waste streams are the most
impacts during the entire cycle of raw materials significant to examine.
extraction, product manufacturing, and waste The actual inventorying process should help to
management. identify various waste reduction and prevention
Waste can be reduced by products requiring less opportunities by quantifying the amounts of
material per unit (smaller cars, thinner containers); wastes generated, providing concrete data upon
products with longer lives (more durable tires and which to focus improvement efforts.
appliances); reusable products (refillable ‘Brainstorming’ sessions can then be used as an
containers) that replace single-use disposable effective means to identify opportunities for waste
products; limiting the number of units in your prevention and reduction. To ‘brainstorm’—
community (fewer cars, bicycles, etc); and individually or as a group—simply list all perceived
adopting standards to reduce the amount of opportunities, regardless of technical or economic
packaging (buying dry goods from bulk storage feasibility, and encourage innovative ideas. The
rather than by package). Emphasizing good following suggestions can be used to facilitate
operating and ‘housekeeping’ practices also help to identification of waste prevention and reduction
prevent waste from being generated in the first possibilities. The first one is to identify which

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

waste stream produces the largest volume of waste. disposed of separately in a manner specific to the
Reduction efforts can then be directed toward type of waste. Refer to the next section
improvements in that specific area. The second (‘Hazardous Waste’) for more information
suggestion is to focus on the types of waste that are regarding hazardous waste management.
most frequently discarded. Here waste reduction Your community should keep track of waste
efforts can be applied more generally throughout disposal expenses, and include them in the regular
your entire community. budget. Furthermore, the staff that is involved in
The most challenging phase of assessment handling community waste should be interviewed
involves evaluating and prioritizing waste for information regarding any problems that they
reduction alternatives for immediate, short-term, encounter with present practices.
and long-term attention. The number of Community staff that handles waste should be
alternatives selected and their order of priority will well-informed about the hazards of being exposed
depend on the resources available and other to and working with waste. Heavy gloves, aprons,
priorities of your community. A clear boots, and other protective gear may be
understanding of the time and money that can be appropriate. See the information contained below
allocated for implementation of alternatives is under Seeking Expert Advice—Labor, page 134.
needed in order to make appropriate To keep your community and village/municipal
recommendations. environment clean, and to reduce health risks,
You must set some initial priorities. Some waste solid waste must be disposed of properly.
reduction options are obviously easier and less Untreated refuse is unsightly and smelly and
expensive to implement than others. For example, degrades both the quality of life in the community
planning to eliminate waste before it enters your and the quality of the environment. It also
community and other measures that require little, provides a breeding ground for disease vectors,
if any, capital expenditure, technical resources, or such as mosquitoes, flies and rats. If waste is not
disruption of operations should be readily properly disposed, animals can bring it close to
approved and implemented as soon as practical. homes and children especially can come into
If you or your team are not directly responsible contact with disease vectors and pathogens. Below,
for the implementation of new community policies the various methods of ultimately removing solid
and practices, and must instead present your ideas waste from your community are discussed with the
to another committee or community member, be intention of highlighting the most frequent
sure to spend adequate time preparing your problems with each method.
presentation. From the data collected in the
inventory it should be possible to generate visual A. Open pit/pile/dump located on community
aids such as charts and graphs, which may be grounds or in larger community
valuable additions to your presentation. The garbage ‘dump’ is one of humanity’s oldest
methods for getting rid of the waste matter
Our community is continually identifying and resulting from different activities. A place where
implementing new ways to reduce the amount of waste solid waste is thrown without any attempt at
we produce. sorting or treatment, that operates without
123456789 technical criteria—having no sanitary control, nor
measures to prevent environmental
2. Community’s Practice for Solid Waste contamination—is called a dump. Such sites
Collection and/or End-Disposal severely impact the air, water and soil with released
gases, leached liquids, smoke, dust, and nauseating
Before referring below to the specific method of odors; in addition they pose serious health hazards
rubbish removal, it should be stressed that the as they are breeding grounds for a number of
amount of, and types of waste discarded should be vectors, diseases, and if unguarded, they pose
minimized. Preferably nothing besides serious risks for physical injury.
unrecyclable waste should be discarded to a Because of these problems and their severity, if
dump/landfill. Waste minimization efforts should open dumping is your community’s practice, it
include composting of organic materials or should be discontinued—or at the very least,
recycling of items that can be reused or improved if possible.
remanufactured. Hazardous waste should be If a dump is being operated nearby, it is most

Listening To The Earth

important to ensure that the dump is not be D. Discarding on side of highway (without
located close to a water source, because toxic regular collection service)
chemicals and pathogens can leach into the water. In many areas, especially near cities, it is a
The dump absolutely should be fenced off to common practice to place small piles of refuse
prevent access by scavenging animals and children. alongside a highway or other well-traveled
At the end of each day, any new waste should be roadway. This practice certainly increases the
covered with a layer of clean soil 0.1 metre deep to visibility of items that may be reused or recycled to
prevent flies from breeding. While these measures citizens who are in that market; however, for the
may help to reduce some of the most immediate most part, the practice is a nuisance and
risks, it is most important that your community potentially dangerous. Aesthetically, it is very
work to change this prevailing practice. Refer to unappealing and contributes to increased vector
the List of Categorized References for information populations. Furthermore, the waste often scatters
regarding sanitary solid waste disposal practices. and becomes an injury hazard especially for
children. Thus, if this is the practice of your
B.Incineration /burning community, more suitable options should be
Disposal of household waste by burning outdoors, discovered and implemented.
commonly in 55-gallon barrels or sometimes
directly on the ground, occurs in urban, as well as E. Periodic collection (communal or
rural or agricultural areas, where feed bags and individual property collection points)
other commercial packaging are burned. Many In some communities where a periodic collection
view open burning as a low-cost, convenient service exists, there are a series of shared
solution to deal with household waste, especially in communal collection points that are emptied or
rural areas where waste management infrastructure cleared at regular intervals, usually by paid
is limited. Unfortunately, this practice is a employees; in others there is a regular (e.g. weekly
significant source of air pollution and has been or bi-weekly) collection service that picks up refuse
shown to be highly toxic to animals and humans. from individual properties. In either case, the
Hence, if this is your community’s practice, collected refuse is then taken (usually trucked) to
alternatives should be sought and implemented as its final disposal site, which is often a municipal
soon as possible. landfill, incinerator, or other facility.
If either service is available in your area, you
C.Dumping into ocean or other nearby may want to assess the efficacy and safety of the
waterway service. It is also important to discover the final
Dumping refuse into waterways is a very poor disposal site that the service utilizes. Continue to
practice and should be avoided at all costs. This number 3 for further discussion of these practices.
practice contaminates both fresh waters and
oceans with a variety of toxins, some of which are F. Direct disposal into a managed landfill/
difficult or impossible to remove. This is an community dump
especially critical problem where the contaminated If your community disposes of its refuse directly
water is used for drinking. Refuse disposed in into a dump or landfill without the assistance of a
water also causes more direct health hazards to collection service, it is important that the
people who use the water for bathing and/or community members involved in this work be
recreation, like punctures, cuts, and infections. afforded means of protecting themselves from the
Aquatic wildlife are also negatively impacted by hazards of working with waste. Similarly
wastes of many sorts. Thus, in the interests of important is the maintenance of whatever
preserving waterways and water sources for this equipment is used to transport the waste from your
generation and the next, refuse should not be community to the disposal site. The site of end
disposed of in waterways. disposal should preferably be a sanitary landfill.
Unfortunately, a significant number of entities This topic is discussed more fully in number 4
(including industries, municipalities, and below.
individuals) use this as an end disposal method for
solid waste and sludge residues from incineration Our community strives to dispose of its waste in the
facilities. If this practice occurs in your area, you most environmentally benign manner possible
should help to work to find new alternatives. 123456789

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

3. Solid Waste Collection waste collection services in any number of the

following ways:
In some areas, residents may need to transport 1. Placing your community’s solid waste
their solid waste to a disposal site themselves; outside for collection in a manner desired
however, in others a collection service exists that by the service
performs this function for them. Such a service 2. Paying for the service
offers many benefits to a community, most 3. Monitoring and the collection service’s
particularly by saving them the effort of work, offering suggestions for improvement
transporting rubbish to a disposal site (including when necessary
the associated vehicle costs), as well as reducing 4. Managing the work of the collection
the associated risks of such labor and those service, particularly if it is a local or
associated with accumulated rubbish. Having solid neighborhood enterprise
waste collected and disposed of by well-trained 5. Pressuring municipal authorities to ensure
professionals may be the safest way to guarantee that the service continue or be modified as
that your community’s solid waste is handled in a necessary to make it both available and
manner that is environmentally safe and does not affordable for all residents
pose risks to public health, especially if the final While collection services offer both environmental
disposal site is operated according to sustainable and health benefits to a community, it also means
environmental standards. employment to those citizens who work for them.
In most areas where a collection service exists, Nevertheless, the nature of this work is rather
it is related in some way to the municipal hazardous, especially if proper precautions are not
government. Municipal governments may own taken, and if the employees are not adequately
trucks and employ collection workers themselves, trained for personal safety. Ensuring that the health
or they may contract a private business to provide and dignity of collection service employees are
the service to residents. Other arrangements exist, respected is important, as they are taking personal
however, which make a collection service available risks in order to provide benefits to the public.
without direct involvement of local government; Speaking with present or past employees of your
for example, neighborhood or regional cooperatives collection service is recommended to discover the
may exist, or can be organized, that offer this type prevailing working conditions, and if problems are
of service. In some areas, collection services might discovered, your community may find some way to
exist, but are unavailable to particular help remedy the situation (refer to 6(A) below).
neighborhoods because of very steep or narrow One of the biggest sources of tension between
street conditions. the collection services and the communities is
A collection service may be easily organized in delayed payment. Regardless of whether the
areas without one, as long as there is an collection service has been contracted by the
appropriate transport vehicle available. While municipality or whether it deals directly with
pushcarts or animal carts may be the only vehicles residents, serious problems can arise for the
that can negotiate very narrow or steep urban enterprise if it does not receive its payment on
streets, such vehicles can generally be constructed time, especially if the service is a relatively small or
locally to meet neighborhood needs. Transporting local operation. Delayed payment may
waste to its final destination, on the other hand, significantly affect the quality of the service and it
usually requires the use of a truck, which may be may also harm the service’s relationship with the
owned by a local resident, a cooperative, or one community. In some cases, to be sure, the service
may be contracted or leased from an area business. may simply be unaffordable for local residents. In
Your own community can organize waste such a case, you could serve your larger community
collection, for example, by purchasing a suitable by campaigning for increased government support,
vehicle, and offering the service for a small fee. If educating local citizens about reducing waste
this is done, it is essential that the community (reducing waste can have significant financial
members who perform the service are provided implications, since some municipalities spend as
with protective equipment and are trained to much as half their budget on solid waste collection
handle waste safely. and transport) and handling it safely, or by helping
As responsible citizens, the members of your to create a practical and sustainble means of solid
community may participate in or cooperate with waste collection yourself.

Listening To The Earth

Our community works to increase (or sustain) the Thus, any recycling effort will generally involve
benefits of our waste collection service. both the collection and sorting of materials, as well
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 / not applicable as finding markets for the recyclable materials.
The most efficient means of separation is at the
4. Recycling source: i.e. by not mixing recyclable materials
together with other solid waste components in the
‘Recycling’ is a term that means returning products first place. However, even if recyclable materials
or materials back into productive use after they are separated from other solid waste components,
have lost their original value (to their original they are often collected as a mixture including
owner). In other words, ‘recycling’ means turning different types of material. Thus, some amount of
solid waste components into products with a sorting and separation is often required, which
value—financial or otherwise. Recycling may or adds expense to the recovery process. At a recycling
may not require a treatment or remanufacturing plant, either manual or mechanical means may be
processes; however there are considerable benefits employed for separating recyclable components;
in either case. (Often, the term ‘recycle’ is used to nevertheless, public cooperation in separating at
denote the use of solid waste components after a the source is critical for the optimum collection of
treatment or remanufacturing process, whereas materials for recovery.
‘reuse’ is used to denote their use without any Markets for recovered products often consist of
special processing.) the products’ original manufacturers. For example,
Compared to reducing the amount of solid aluminum manufacturers are generally interested
waste generated, recycling and/or reusing solid in purchasing recovered aluminum; similarly for
waste components is the next most important steel, plastic, and paper products. Nevertheless,
element for the sustainable management of solid diverse markets may exist for recovered materials;
waste. There are three primary reasons for this. for example, paper wastes can be compacted into
First, recycling is essential for the conservation of dense fuel briquettes and used for cooking to
natural resources, since it reduces the demand for supplement firewood. Municipal governments and
raw materials. Second, recycling has the potential local cooperatives may be involved in the
to significantly reduce the total volume of solid collection and composting of organic wastes for use
waste needing treatment and disposal, which by residents or farmers as valuable soil. In
preserves the land required for landfilling, reduces addition, public policy and laws may be instituted
costs, and reduces the associated discharges (gases that require product manufacturers to reclaim the
and leachates). Third, the use of recycled materials waste components that their products generate,
and products greatly reduces the amount of energy particularly if those waste components are
required in manufacturing processes, a topic which hazardous.
is covered in more detail in Chapter 5 of this An important aspect of recovery and recycling
manual. Consequently, recycling and productively activities in Latin America especially is the role
using ‘wastes’ are important activities for the that ‘scavengers’ play. Since many areas either have
sustainable management of solid waste no collection and separation program, or lack the
There are several solid waste components that resources for one with an adequate capacity, several
have the potential to be recycled. These include people earn their living by picking materials from
but are not limited to plastic, glass, metals, paper, the waste stream, (either from the roadside or from
and corrugated packaging; as well, organic wastes garbage dumps), and them finding the markets for
(which form a large percentage of the solid waste in the products themselves. The informal recovery of
Latin America), can be collected and composted recyclable materials represents a significant
rather than dumped. Fruit and vegetable waste, contribution to the amount of material recovered,
animal dung and even leaves from trees can break and as well they help to relieve the financial
down to form the valuable soil conditioner and burden of a municipalities and recycling centers
fertilizer called ‘compost.’ that must pay workers to separate materials.
At least two components are necessary for a Unfortunately, scavengers (or ‘waste-pickers’)
recycling program: 1) the material to be recycled often work under very poor conditions. They are
must be separate (or separated from) other solid often not well trained in personal safety which
waste components, and 2) there must be a useful makes their work particularly hazardous, and they
destination or a market for the recyclable material. are often public denigrated for the work, especially

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

in regions where their activities are considered 5. Land Disposal

illegal. In some countries and regions, however, the
value of informal recovery has been recognized and The final destination of your community’s solid
efforts are made to improve the conditions. This is waste may likely be a land-disposal site, especially
especially the case in Brazil, where special efforts if you live in an urban area. A land-disposal site is
are made to organize scavengers into cooperatives, a location where wastes from a large number of
which help to increase the efficiency of the sources are acculumated and left to decompose
activities, while also increasing the scavenger’s over time. Despite the prevalance of the practice
market exposure. (or exactly because of its prevalance), land-disposal
Although coordinated and successful recycling can not be considered a sustainable solution to our
efforts are not yet widespread in Latin America, solid waste problems, simply because the earth
considerable progress has been made in the past does not provide us enough land to cope
decade. At least six countries in the region have adequately with the rising population and the
national laws regarding solid waste, and some amount of waste we produce. This is another
countries have quite successful programs. For reason why the goal of a sustainable solid waste
example, again Brazil ranks among the most management program is to eliminate waste
successful, as it leads the world in recycling steel generation, and, failing that, to minimize the
and aluminum cans (85% of those consumed are amount generated, while reusing and recycling as
recycled), on a par with European countries in much as possible. (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!)
recycling plastics, and comes close to the U.S.A in Nevertheless, since land disposal is a
recycling cardboard. widespread practice at this time, it is important
In regions where recycling efforts have been that it be done with high regard to both
successful, public education has been one of the environmental and public safety. Identifying and
most important elements. People appreciate evaluating the prevailing conditions of the land-
knowing why recycling is important, what can be disposal site which receives your solid waste is an
recycled, and how they can help to protect the important step in assessing the effects of your
environment by recycling. Thus, along with community’s solid waste management practices.
separation and marketing, education can be When solid waste is dumped or buried, the
considered a third necessary element to a organic components of the waste begin to undergo
successful recycling program. the natural process of decomposition. Besides the
Recycling efforts can be coordinated on any natural elements of air and water, microorganisms
level, from your own religious community to the and other fauna are involved in this process. The
municipality at large, while national networks can rate at which decomposition occurs depends upon
greatly aid in the dissemination of educational a large number of factors; however, the most
information, technological developments, success important factor is the material composition of the
stories, and potential markets necessary for waste. For example, while plant matter, paper and
successful recycling efforts on local levels. cardboard decompose rather quickly, plastics
Governments also can play a significant role by require hundreds—and sometimes thousands of
establishing public policies that, for example, years to decompose.
mandate recycling, require material reclamation by Inorganic components of waste also undergo
manufacturers, or decriminalize the informal transformative processes which vary depending
activities of scavengers. upon the substance. Some may dissolve with water,
See the resources listed at the end of this others with oils, some may react with other
chapter for more information regarding elements and substances, while still others may
composting and recycling. remain inert and unchanged.
Thus, inside a land-disposal site, there are
Our community strives to maximize the amount of waste several processes occurring simultaneously, each of
that is recycled, within both our religious and larger which have respective byproducts. These
communities. byproducts include both liquids and gases (in
123456789 addition to the solid matter that remains), which
are briefly described below.
Liquids: The natural decomposition or
putrefaction of solid waste produces a foul-

Listening To The Earth

smelling black liquid, known as leached or of vermin and other vectors, access restrictions,
percolated liquid, that looks like domestic water and controls over what types of waste are accepted.
waste, but is much more concentrated. The volume A sanitary landfill is operated by trained and
of the leachate is greatly increased by rainwater knowledgable managers that use engineering
filtering through the layers of waste. Leachate is principles to confine the waste to as small an area
highly toxic, as it contains an abundance of as possible, and anticipate the problems that could
pathogens and dissolved substances. be caused by the liquids and gases produced by the
Gases: Once buried, organic waste decomposes wastes. Sanitary landfills incorporate both design
anaerobically—meaning without oxygen. As a features and operational procedures to maintain
result, the decomposing waste produces quantities high levels of environmental protection and public
of methane gas (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), as safety, some of which are briefly described below:
well as traces of foul-smelling gases, such as
hydrogen sulfide (H2S), ammonia (NH3), and • To protect ground and surface waters from
other gases. Methane gas deserves the greatest the leachate, the sanitary landfill will be
attention because, although it is odorless and contained by an impermeable barrier
colorless, it is inflammable and explosive if it underneath and around the waste which
becomes concentrated. Since gases have a prevent leachate from seeping or flowing
tendency to accumulate in empty spaces inside a into the environment. The landfill should
landfill, explosions are possible if proper measures be designed so that the leachate can be
are not taken to prevent them. intercepted, collected and treated (on or off
Left unmanaged, these byproducts obviously site) before it is released. As part of
pose several environmental and health risks; operational policy, the surrounding ground
however, when managed properly the risks can be and surface waters will be regularly
greatly reduced. The most serious risk that land- analyzed to ascertain that no pollution is
disposal sites can pose to the environment is the occuring.
pollution of surface waters and groundwater by • A sanitary landfill will also incorporate
leachates. Air quality can also be negatively features which either vent, reclaim, or
impacted not only by bad odors, but by smoke utilize the methane gas generated by the
from burning waste and by wind-borne dust that decomposition process. Since methane gas
can spread harmful pathogens that irritate the nose can be used as a fuel, several options exist
and eyes, or cause respiratory infections. for its ultimate handling; however, for the
Land disposal can also pose several public purposes of safety it is most important that
health risks. Besides the possibility of explosions it be safely vented.
and other direct physical risks (e.g. punctures, cuts, • The operation of the landfill will use cover
other injuries) for those present in/on the disposal material (earth) to confine the waste at the
site, if proper operational measures are not taken, end of each working day, to prevent (or
land-disposal sites become the breeding ground greatly reduce) vector breeding.
and habitat of harmful animals and insects that • A sanitary landfill will restrict the accepted
can transmit many diseases. Any animals that visit waste to include only non-hazardous and
or live in disposal sites are a hazard for the health non-medical materials; as well, the accepted
and safety of local inhabitants, in particular for wastes will be compacted so that they
families who near (or on) the site. The health risks occupy less space in the landfill—items like
are particularly severe if medical wastes are rubber tires will not be accepted because
included in the acculumated wastes, since they they do not compact.
contain highly infectious materials combined with • Access to the site will be regulated so that
extremely sharp objects. only those who are knowledgable about the
A land-disposal site that operates without any hazards present may enter. All those who
regulations, controls or safety measures, and so are present are provided personal protective
poses the serious environmental and safety protect themselves against
problems discussed above, is called an open dump. the hazards. (This does not imply that
In contrast, a sanitary landfill is a land-disposal waste pickers/ informal recyclers are to be
site that attains to high standards of air quality, excluded—on the contrary, efforts should
groundwater and surface water protection, control be made to improve their health and work

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

conditions, as the recycling they do is A. Labor

valuable and necessary, both for them and Contacting employees or representatives of
for the environment.) employee associations can be very helpful in
• A sanitary landfill should be located several determining how your community’s waste
kilometers away from any public gathering generation affects the health of others in the
space to protect the public especially from population, especially that of the workers who
the risks of vectors. Because of the risk of handle your waste. In addition, knowledgable
disease, it is especially important that no workers can provide your community with tips
schools, playgrounds, nor hospitals are about how to most safely deal with waste within
nearby. your community, and how your community can
best cooperate with the workers.
Land-disposals sites can be operated anywhere As well, since the workers that handle solid
within the spectrum of conditions between waste are exposed to several hazards, their safety
sanitary landfills and open dumps. Unfortunately, and fair compensation are equally important
there are very few sanitary landfills throughout elements to consider when evaluating the effects
Latin America, and open dumps are not at all that your community’s solid waste has on others.
uncommon; nevertheless, it is irresponsible toward If the workers are not adequately trained, not
present and future generations, as well as contrary adequately protected, or not adequately paid, and
to sustainable development principles for a if your community is complacent about their
municipality to dispose of its waste in a disposal conditions, your community is in effect directly
site that does not attain to high levels of contributing to their suffering. Thus, by learning
environmental and public safety. Thus it is about their working conditions, your community
incumbent upon all those who utilize the sites to may identify a social need that deserves attention.
make sure that operations are safe and sustainable.
For this reason, it is important to ensure that The main unsafe working conditions are:
avenues exist by which the public can both be
aware of, and influence the management decisions • Using bare hands when handling the waste,
being made by the land disposal operation. which can produce cuts if the garbage
contains broken glass or sharp objects.
Our community is actively involved in improving the • Working excessively long hours, which
way our landfill operates, and/or monitoring it for safe causes fatigue.
operation. • Not having appropriate clothing or personal
123456789 safety equipment, including heavy gloves,
thick clothing that is not loose, safety
6. Seeking Expert Information glasses, foot protection, etc.
• Not showering or washing at the end of the
One of the most valuable steps in your effort to day’s work.
achieve sustainable solid waste management • Having to eat at the working place without
practices is to seek the input and advice from washing their hands with soap and water.
experts that are knowledgable about the specific
aspects of solid waste management that you are B. Government Regulatory Agency
trying to evaluate and improve. Experts can help Perhaps the most important group of experts to
you understand problems or alternatives about contact is the government body that is responsible
which you are unclear; in addition, they may be for enforcing the environmental regulations of your
aware of what others have done and are doing to country or province. This agency can provide you
improve problems you have identified, and are with the current environmental laws and
therefore likely to be able to provide much good regulations that exist, as well as how they are
advice. Thus, in this section, it is suggested that enforced. Often it is possible for citizens to directly
you contact and make relationships with as many report violations that they observe. Learning how
of these organizations and agencies as possible, so to report violations provides your community (and
that your progress towards sustainable solid waste those you educate in your larger community) with
management may be accelerated. a potentially powerful tool that you can use to
protect the environment in your region.

Listening To The Earth

Understanding the environmental laws of your C. Environmental Information Source

country/province is very important, as these Contacting an expert or group of experts engaged
policies can be the powerful measure that ensure in environmental advocacy can be extraordinarily
that environmental conditions improve, since they helpful in identifying the environmental problems
must be adhered to by everyone under penalty of of waste handling practices of your region. As well
law. There have been several legislative initiatives they may provide your community with ideas
around the world which have produced notable about how you can become more directly involved
environmental benefits. For example, restrictions in improving conditions in your area. Because such
are widely used to prevent dumping and littering, an agency is probably not affiliated with the
restrict improper disposal of hazardous liquids, government, it should have more latitude in
poisons, and tires in municipal landfills, and forbid criticizing current policy and conditions, and thus
combustion of materials containing toxic metals. be able to offer a different and more critical
Product standards, which establish quality levels perspective on issues. Such organizations and/or
for particular goods such as paper bags, permit individuals are often engaged in educational
more flexible use of recycled materials. Product campaigns, legislative lobbying campaigns, and
standards can also be used to restrict toxic also more direct forms of action. Whatever their
ingredients. The European Community, for particular actions are, they are generally quite
instance, prohibits non-biodegradable detergents, knowledgeable about prevailing conditions, and
and many countries restrict the contents of may have many reasonable suggestions for your
insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Germany community.
has pioneered the use of take-back requirements Hopefully such an advocacy group exists that is
that compel manufacturers and retailers of reasonably local to your community. If there is no
specified products to take them back for recycling such organization, there is probably a need to
or disposal when they are discarded. Some develop one, and possibly your community could
countries require that pesticide containers be help in this undertaking.
recycled. This could be extended to batteries and
tires, consumer electronics, and even containers D. Public Health
and packaging materials, thus transferring the Another important angle from which to view your
disposal responsibility and costs back to the community’s waste management practices is from
producers and distributors and giving them the the point of view of public health and safety. Poor
incentive to plan these costs into product design. practices often result in both environmental and
The regulatory agency may also be able to health problems. Furthermore, the particular
provide you with data regarding violations of the health problems that your locale experiences may
environmental laws that occur in your area, such as differ from other areas. Thus, again it is helpful to
by a land-disposal site. This knowledge is very find a reasonably local health organization to
important as it describes the known conditions interview. Aside from gathering important
that directly affect the health of local inhabitants. information about public health and safety as it
Furthermore, a governmental agency may have regards waste handling, the organization may also
educational materials that you and your be able to provide instructions for safely handling
community can use to help educate yourselves and your community’s waste.
others about best solid waste management
principles, including information about recycling, Our community has developed relationships with and
hazardous waste, or safe handling instructions. utilizes the information available from expert
Lastly, this agency may share with you problems organizations in our area.
with which it must cope. For instance, while strict 123456789
laws may exist that could do much to improve
environmental conditions, perhaps there are no 7. Cleaning of Public Areas
means with which to enforce the regulations;
perhaps the regulatory agency is understaffed or Public cleaning and street sweeping tend to be
underfunded. Understanding the agency’s problems restricted to paved streets with high pedestrian
can help guide your community in taking political traffic, while the areas where unpaved streets
action to improve the efficacy of the environmental predominate, usually in the lower income sectors,
regulations of your country/ province. are ignored. Very few municipalities foster active

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

community participation in this service; and when All waste from communal collection points
they do, the public response tends to be apathetic should be collected several times a week and taken
in response to the deficient quality of the waste to a designated disposal site. It can be transported
collection services, which leave the streets and in boxes, or by handcarts, animal carts, bicycles
surrounding areas littered and dirty. with box containers, tractors with trailers and skip-
Coverage by waste collection services averages trucks. The waste should preferably be collected by
about 70% in large Latin American cities having staff wearing protective clothing and masks, who
populations in excess of a million inhabitants; in are trained in safe disposal methods.
smaller cities this coverage is estimated to range If your area has a problem with litter, it is often
between 50% and 70%. Here too, it is normally the necessary that the attitude and habits of a
high and middle-income areas that enjoy regular significant portion of the population be changed,
service, while low-income neighbourhoods can and that the public become active participants in
count only on erratic service when they have any litter control. These undertakings require well-
at all. organized and energetic campaigns towards which
In many of the capital cities of Latin America, your religious community may contribute.
including Tegucigalpa, Managua, San Salvador,
Caracas, Lima and Asunción, waste collection Our community is doing all that it can to help
coverage remains below 40% for the low—income eliminate public litter.
areas. 123456789
Transport of waste to its final disposal site is
becoming increasing difficult and costly, given the 8. Education
lack of adequate or conveniently located final
disposal sites. Because of this, it is common for a Public Awareness and Education
large part of the solid waste which does get Sanitary and environmental education are
collected to end up in open dumps located along essential if populations are to effectively address
the road to the final disposal site. the problems caused by inadequate solid waste
The remoteness of final disposal sites has also management. Awareness is essential for a change of
caused an increase in the use of waste transfer attitude that will enable people to understand the
points or transfer stations as a more efficient and complexity of the problem and the requirements
cost-effective method of moving the waste to for a good collection, treatment, and final disposal
disposal. Notwithstanding, the use of transfer system. It is equally important that the public be
points or stations remains the exception, and these made aware of the costs involved and the
are in use in only a few cities. obligation of all citizens to pay for waste handling
Communal collection points are particularly services to ensure their sustainability.
important at places such as markets and bus Educational campaigns help citizens
stations, where large numbers of people congregate understand that the problem of waste disposal is a
and food is prepared, sold and eaten. Communal complex one, and that it is not going to be solved
containers (trash receptacles), such as empty oil by their dumping the garbage somewhere on the
drums, skips or concrete bunkers, can be located outskirts of their neighborhood. A community that
strategically, so that solid waste is collected at a perceives waste management as a matter of self-
single site. If communal concrete bunkers are interest should thus be willing to give cooperative
constructed, they should have holes at the base to and enthusiastic support, and similarly should be
encourage drainage away from the bunkers, but committed to long-term participation.
care must be taken not to cause contamination of An important context for community education
either groundwater or surface water sources. is the general tendency of many citizens to look
Ideally, water from the waste bunkers should flow down on the collectors of recyclables and other
into the drainage system and be treated before it waste workers. For this reason, cooperatives in
enters a river or stream. It is preferable that Brazil and Colombia pay a lot of attention to the
vegetable waste is not disposed of in communal organisation of educational campaigns which
collection points unless these are emptied on a feature the importance of recycling. In this way
daily basis. Vegetable matter decomposes rapidly, is they facilitate the public’s collaboration in
often very smelly and may cause significant recovery activities.
contamination of groundwater sources.

Listening To The Earth

Community Awareness, Education, and Action

Within your own community, knowledge of safe, 3. Collection service
sustainable practices, as well as the consequential
problems from poor waste management practices 4. Recycling
are important to help facilitate community waste
handling improvements. 5. Land Disposal
Since cooperative community participation in
efforts like recycling is essential for the success of 6. Relationships with expert organizations
any campaign or change of protocol, it is important
that members understand how their waste 7. Cleaning of public areas
management practices directly affect the rest of
creation, whether in the form of workers, the 8. Public and Community Eduction
environment, or the health of the general
population. A focus on the health effects of Now that you have comprehensively examined your solid
improper waste disposal can help to forge a direct, waste handling practices, how would you rate, overall,
personal connection to these issues such that your community’s practices in these regards?
proper waste disposal becomes a matter of self- Excellent / Satisfactory / Poor / Critically
interest. deficient
Since several of the problems that you may
encounter require changes to policies and practices If you found that problems exist, list them below:
of your larger community, it may be necessary to Category (I-III)
campaign for improvements with a coalition of Problem 1
others concerned in the larger community.
Sometimes there are direct actions that your
community can make to improve the conditions of
the larger community. For example, a community
might become the organizers of a small-scale Problem 2
collection and recovery service, and might possibly
even staff the service if the resources are available.
The most important thing is to recognize that
there are critical problems with many present
waste management systems. These problems are Problem 3
dangerous not only to today’s population, but are
also a threat to tomorrow’s children. Thus, it is
incumbent upon us as Earth’s present stewards, to
do all we can to ensure that our waste is both
minimized and disposed of in an ecological Problem 4

Our community strives to educate ourselves and others

about ecological waste management practices.
123456789 Problem 5


Now enter the scores from each section in the column at Now categorize each problem listed above into one
right of the following three categories:
score I = Critically important. Currently dangerous,
must be addressed immediately
1. Waste reduction and monitoring II = Important, but not immediately dangerous.
practices Must be addressed
III = Current practice should be improved, but is
2. Ecological disposal practices not immediately needed

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

Hazardous Products and Wastes: What is Hazardous Waste?

Components of waste that pose particular dangers
The following assessment pertains to products that, when to either the environment or human health are
improperly handled or disposed, pose particular and hazardous waste. While there is no internationally
serious dangers to life and to the environment. For these agreed-upon definition of hazardous waste, the
substances, special treatment and handling are required following definition is reasonably explicit and
for personal, public, and environmental safety. useful for the purposes of this assessment.

An Overview of this Assessment Hazardous wastes:

i. cause, or significantly contribute to an
The intention of this assessment is to address your increase in mortality or an increase in
community’s handling of a special type of waste, serious irreversible, or incapacitating
specifically household hazardous waste. reversible, illness; or
Household hazardous waste consists of substances ii. pose a substantial present or potential
which pose serious dangers to life and to the hazard to human health or the
environment. Most often these products are environment when improperly treated,
chemicals and petroleum-derived products, but stored, transported, disposed of, or
also include elemental products (e.g. mercury) and otherwise managed.
biological wastes (e.g. medical wastes). In addition, iii. Hazardous wastes include at least one of
because of the particularly dangerous nature of the following characteristics:
these substances, this assessment will also give iv. ignitable or flammable (can catch fire and
some attention to your community’s handling of burn rapidly),
hazardous products while they are in use before v. corrosive (can eat away the containers that
they become wastes. hold them or can cause living tissue to be
The underlying philosophy of this assessment is destroyed),
that it is best to reduce or eliminate the use of vi. reactive (explosive or causes a reaction
hazardous products whenever possible; that they when mixed with other materials), or
should be handled with appropriate care when it is vii.toxic (poisonous, can cause injury or death
necessary to use them; that the goal of your if swallowed, absorbed or inhaled; can
community should be to not generate any cause birth defects, cancer or other health
hazardous waste, but when necessary, that your problems).
community use best practices to dispose of the (From the United States Environmental Protection Agency)
products and their containers.
Despite the dangers posed by hazardous Hazardous waste is often considered to be a by-
products and wastes, the number of educational product solely of various industries. Oil refineries,
and disposal-related resources pertaining to them paper mills, mining operations, chemical plants,
are quite limited, even in countries like the United and large-scale agriculture are all well-known toxic
States where the use of hazardous products is waste sources. It is true that industries produce the
considerable and ever-increasing. In the Latin most toxic chemical waste—in terms of both
American and Caribbean region, special facilities quantity and concentration; however, households
and programs are only now coming into existence. also share in the responsibility of contaminating
This situation makes it particularly difficult for the environment with hazardous chemicals. Here
your community to handle and dispose of we will focus on household hazardous waste
hazardous products in the most environmentally (HHW), as a full treatment of industrial sources is
benign manner; and as well it may limit the beyond the scope of this assessment.
applicability of portions of this assessment to your Hazardous products require proper handling for
community’s practices. Despite this, your safety. That is, extra precautions must be taken
community can benefit by considering the content when handling them in order to safeguard your
of this assessment, if only by allowing it to help health, the health of others, and that of the
you identify and more safely handle hazardous environment. Similarly, when such products are
substances. discarded, precautionary measures must be taken
to ensure that their toxicity is contained and is not

Listening To The Earth

able to broadly contaminate the environment. example, exposure to a combination of toxic

Tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals are substances may alter and amplify the toxic effects
currently in common use throughout the world, of individual substances, since chemicals may
and between one and two thousand new chemicals continue to interact with each other after they are
appear on the market each year. A large number of within a person’s body. Personal characteristics are
these are hazardous to both the environment and important factors as well, as the risks from
human health. Altogether, there are about one exposure are greater for certain people; for
million commercial products that are mixtures of example, pregnant women (and their fetuses),
chemicals. Even in the poorest regions, households asthma patients, and diabetics have a higher risk to
are increasingly using modern chemical products. suffer from exposure-related health problems than
HHW typically consists of cleaning products, as the rest of the population. Furthermore, the fact
well as lawn and garden products, pesticides and that many hazardous chemicals tend to
herbicides, fuels and paints, as well as dry and wet- accumulate in a mother before being passed to her
cell batteries. The table below lists some of the growing fetus means that hazardous waste is
most common hazardous household products, as directly and palpably affecting the next generation.
well as the component chemicals responsible for On the previous page is a small table briefly listing
their toxicity. reproductive effects of some hazardous chemicals.

How Hazardous Waste Affects Health How Hazardous Waste Affects the Environment

While the massive expansion in the availability Industrial accidents can be very severe
and use of chemicals during the past few decades catastrophes which destroy the vitality of entire
has led to increasing awareness by the public, the ecosystems, kill people, animals, and plant life; and
medical profession, and public authorities of the can leave the affected area ravished for decades.
risks to human health posed by exposure to these These large-scale releases of toxic chemicals poison
chemicals, the actual global incidence of chemical the life exposed to them, but the more lasting
poisoning is not known. Nevertheless, it is damage is due to the fact that the soil and
speculated that several hundred thousand people groundwater become contaminated, and it requires
die each year as a result of various kinds of a very long time for these to be purified.
poisoning. The World Health Organization Furthermore, as chemicals enter water, whether
conservatively estimates that the incidence of above ground or below, they are carried by the
pesticide poisoning, which is particularly high in current and thereby contaminate everything
Latin American countries, has doubled during the downstream. Contaminated groundwater also
past 10 years; however, the number of cases that means contaminated drinking water.
occur each year throughout the world, and the The severity of industrial spills is due to the
severity of cases that are reported, are unknown. highly concentrated nature of the chemicals
How health effects manifest and become released. Thus, one may be tempted to think that
noticeable depends upon the nature of the household hazardous waste, being much more
substance to which a person is exposed, as well as dilute and diffuse, is not a cause for concern,
both the concentration and duration of exposure. especially when compared to the dangers of
For instance, long-term low-level (‘chronic’) industrial wastes. However, the release of
exposure can be equally as dangerous as short-term household hazardous waste into the environment
high-level (‘acute’) exposure, although in the latter can actually have serious consequences, especially
case the effects would most likely manifest very for drinking water supplies. Indeed, the disposal of
soon after exposure, while in the former, effects household hazardous waste into landfills or sewer
often can only be seen after many years. systems directly contributes to major
Additionally, many substances can have both long environmental problems on the scale of those
and short-term effects, and the particular effects created by industry.
depend upon the substance to which a person has When hazardous chemicals enter a landfill, two
been exposed. Each substance affects the body very important and dangerous processes occur.
differently. First, as water and other liquids ‘leach’ through
Health effects of exposure can be more the wastes, different chemicals begin to react. The
dangerous if certain other factors exist. For reactions, of course, are highly varied depending

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

Common Household Hazardous Products and their Components

Product Typical Toxic or Hazardous Components

Antifreeze (gasoline or coolants systems) Methanol, ethylene glycol
Automatic transmission fluid Petroleum distillates, xylene
Automobile battery acid (electrolyte) Sulfuric acid
Degreasers for driveways and garages Petroleum solvents, alcohols, glycol ether
Chlorinated hydrocarbons, toluene, phenols,
Degreasers for engines and metal dichloroperchloroethylene
Engine and radiator flushes Petroleum solvents, ketones, butanol, glycol ether
Hydraulic fluid (brake fluid) Hydrocarbons, fluorocarbons
Motor oils, waste oils, grease and lubes,
gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, #2 heating oil Hydrocarbons
Rustproofers Phenols, heavy metals
Carwash detergents Alkyl benzene sulfonates
Car waxes and polishes; bug/tar removers Petroleum distillates, hydrocarbons, xylene
Asphalt and roofing tar Hydrocarbons
Heavy metals, toluene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,
Paints, varnishes, stains, dyes trichloroethylene
Paint and lacquer thinner Acetone, benzene, toluene, butyl acetate, methyl ketones
Paint and varnish removers, deglossers, Methylene chloride, toluene, acetone, methanol, xylene

Hydrocarbons, toluene, acetone, methanol, glycol ethers, methyl ethyl

Paintbrush cleaners ketones
Metal polishes Petroleum distillates, isopropanol, petroleum naphtha
Laundry soil and stain removers Hydrocarbons, benzene, trichloroethylene, 1,1,1-trichloromethane
Other solvents Acetone, benzene, trichloroethylene
Refrigerants 1,1,2-trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane
Household cleansers, oven cleaners Xylenols, glycol ethers, isopropanol
Drain cleaners 1,1,1-trichloromethane
Toilet cleaners Xylene, sulfonates, chlorinated phenols
Disinfectants Cresol, xylenols, heavy metals
Ointments Heavy metals
Naphthalene, phosphorus, xylene, chloroform, heavy metals,
Pesticides (all types) chlorinated hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
Photochemicals Phenols, sodium sulfite, cyanide, silver halide, potassium bromide
Printing ink Heavy metals, phenol-formaldehyde
Wood preservatives Pentachlorophenols, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
Swimming pool chlorine Sodium hypochlorite
Lye or caustic soda Sodium hydroxide
Jewellery cleaners Sodium cyanide
Electronic components Heavy metals, polycyclic biphenyls, brominated flame retardants
Cosmetics Heavy metals

Adapted from Household Hazardous Wastes, Fact sheet no. 88-3, University of Rhode Island, 1988

Listening To The Earth

upon the substances involved; these reactions can What needs to be done?
be explosive, let off poisonous gas, create heat, or
create a more toxic substance than either of the Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this
original components. This poses serious hazards question. In some countries there are special
particularly to employees of landfills, recycling collection programs that are intended to keep
services, informal recyclers or scavengers, and hazardous components out of the main waste
anyone present in or around a waste disposal site. streams. However, it is rationally argued that this
However, the emissions resulting from these process further concentrates the toxic substances,
reactions are dangerous to everybody since they and thus is only staving off one problem to create
may be particularly poisonous forms of air and another, potentially more fatal problem elsewhere.
water pollution. Thus, as a second step to the segregation process, the
Secondly, the hazardous wastes concentrate in a chemicals are reacted in order to form less hazardous
landfill simply by design (as a landfill is a ‘central’ compounds. The expense of this procedure can be
depot for a wide geographic area), and also by the very high, and thus out of the reach of many
leachate action. The toxicity of a landfill’s leachate municipalities, states, and even nations.
is directly related to the quantity and toxicity of This fact, along with a few others, led the
hazardous materials mixed in with other solid United Nations Environmental Programme to
waste. This is a pernicious problem since most conclude, ‘There are no specific, cost-effective
landfills are not capable of containing nor treating sound practices that can be recommended for
this hazardous leachate. Thus landfill leachate is household hazardous waste management in [the
similar to the concentrated wastes of other Latin American region]. Rather, since concentrated
industries. The landfill leachate will naturally enter wastes tend to create more of a hazard, it is best to
and contaminate both surface waters and dispose of household hazardous wastes jointly with
groundwaters, as well as the surrounding soil. the municipal solid waste stream in a landfill...’
A similar situation occurs in a sewer network, Clearly, this weak advice is not adequate, as landfill
since the wastes of several sources are combined leachate and untreated, chemically contaminated
and often released to a single location, making this sewage are serious sources of environmental
a site of concentrated chemical waste. contamination.
Thus, it is important to keep household Simply put, hazardous wastes need to be
hazardous wastes out of landfills and sewers. So, eliminated, or at least drastically reduced. This
what should be done with such wastes? should be the goal of any hazardous waste

Reproductive Effects of Selected Hazardous Chemicals

Chemical Adverse Reproductive Effect

Arsenic spontaneous abortion, premature labour

Cadmium (heavy metal) spontaneous abortion, decreased birth weight

Chlorinated compound smenstrual disorders, spontaneous abortion, adverse effects on sperm

Lead (heavy metal) hormonal imbalances, premature labour, spontaneous abortion

still birth, low birth weight, spontaneous abortion, neurobehavioural

Mercury (heavy metal) deficits, mental retardation, delayed development, brain damage

menstrual disturbances, spontaneous abortion, blindness, deafness,

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons mental retardation, delayed development, brain damage

preterm delivery, low birth weight, reduced head circumference,

Trichloroethylene growth deficiencies, neurobehavioural effects

Benzene congenital heart disease

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

management program. Any hazardous product use, storage and disposal.

should be used up entirely so that it does not
become waste. Less hazardous, or preferably non- 2 Health and environmental effects—
hazardous substitutes should be utilized in place of Members of your community should learn
their toxic alternatives. Reducing consumption of to identify the risks involved with choosing
hazardous products is perhaps the only true products and materials that generate
method to effectively address the problem of hazardous waste.
hazardous waste.
When disposal is unavoidable, however, there 3 Safer alternatives and least toxic products—
are two alternatives: recycling or landfilling/sewer Members of your community should know
disposal. Recycling programs exist, or have the of alternatives to resolve the issues
potential to exist for a number of hazardous identified.
substances. However, these programs are not
widely available in Latin America, and their 4 Safe handling—Since not all hazards can be
development can be quite costly. Landfilling, it avoided, members of your community
would seem, may indeed be the only option left. should know techniques to safely handle
This apparent dilemma is neglecting one hazardous wastes and provide consumers
important fact: that the producers of the with information to protect themselves.
hazardous products have the means (or are the
most likely to have the means) to either treat or 5 Waste management options—Members of
recycle their toxic products. Thus, throughout the your community need to know that the
world there is a growing trend to make the available disposal options represent least
producers responsible for the end-of-life treatment desirable alternative for waste management,
of hazardous products. while prevention represents the most
In fact, the concept of responsibility should favorable option.
underlie all consideration of the hazardous waste
problem and what to do about it. Responsibility
for the problem includes the concepts of producer
responsibility (for the entire life cycle of a product,
Hazardous Products and Wastes
including efforts to enhance product longevity, Handling: Inventory
toxics use reductions, energy efficiency, and design
for recycling); individual consumer responsibility, 1. Hazardous Product Survey
(to make informed and responsible choices in
consumption and disposal practices); national and Identify which of the following substances or items are
international governmental responsibility (to present in your community. Check all that apply.
embark on national waste reduction strategies, and
to become self-sufficient in waste management); i. Cleaning Products
and social/democratic responsibility (the fabric c Ammonia
that holds the other three tiers of responsibility c Chlorine bleach
dictates that we respect human rights and c Drain openers
democratic involvement in all phases of decision c Disinfectants
making including the right to corporate planning c Wood and metal cleaners and polishes
and product design. c Toilet, tub, tile, shower cleaners
c Dry cleaning fluid, spot removers and
Your Community’s Responsibility carpet cleaners
Other chemical cleaning product (specify):
This assessment is meant to achieve the following
five goals:
ii. Indoor Pesticides
1 Hazardous product identification— c Ant sprays and baits
Members of your community should be c Cockroach sprays and baits
able to recognize hazardous products and c Flea repellents and shampoos
identify the main hazards associated with c Bug sprays

Listening To The Earth

c Houseplant insecticides 2. Hazardous Product Handling

c Moth repellents
c Mouse and rat poisons and baits Answer these following questions for each type of
Other pesticide (specify): potential hazardous product identified in your
community (from above), and as you do so,
iii. Automotive Products complete the information sheet on the page
c Motor oil opposite (note that not all questions may apply for
c Fuel additives every product).
c Carburetor/ fuel injection cleaners
c Starter fluids A. Is the container clearly labeled such that:
c Automotive batteries The contents are accurately identified?
c Transmission and brake fluid Yes / No
c Antifreeze Hazardous component(s) (specify):
Other (specify):

iv. Workshop/Painting Supplies

c Adhesives and glues
c Oil or enamel based paint The label identifies the product as hazardous?
c Stains and finishes Yes / No
c Paint thinners and turpentine The label clearly indicates proper storage
c Paint and varnish strippers/removers requirements?
c Photographic chemicals Yes / No
Other solvents (specify):
The label clearly indicates what measures should be
v. Lawn and Garden Products taken to protect the user from harm?
c Herbicides Yes / No
c Insecticides
c Fungicides B. Does your community have product information that
c Wood preservatives describes the contents of the product, specific hazards of
the product, and specific first aid procedures for
vi. Medical/ Infectious Materials emergencies (May be included on the product container,
c Mercury Thermometers or available as a Material Safety Data Sheet)?
c Syringes, scalpels, other sharps Yes / No
c Medications Is this information stored in a well-known and
c Bandages, other wound dressings advertised location within the community, so that it
can be easily accessed in the case of emergency?
vii. Flammable Products Yes / No
c Propane tanks and other compressed gas
cylinders C. Are the members of the community who use/work
c Kerosene with, or around, the substance educated about the
c Home heating oil hazards and proper handling procedures for the product?
c Diesel fuel Yes / No
c Gas/oil mix
c Lighter fluid D. Is the product stored appropriately, as indicated by
label or data sheet?
viii. Electronics Yes / No
c Batteries If not, describe how the product is stored presently,
c Computer components including the location:
c Televisions or radios
c Telephones/ Cellular phones
c Mercury thermostats
c Fluorescent light bulbs
Other (specify):

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

E. Rate how well those who use this product adhere to Type of Waste: Estimated Quantity
the person protection measures recommended:
0123456789 ..................................................... ...................
(completely ignore… …adhere fully)
Considering the personal protection measures ..................................................... ...................
recommended for this product, does your community
possess all items that are necessary for safety (e.g. ..................................................... ...................
gloves, aprons, safety glasses, masks, foot coverings,
eye wash equipment, etc.)? ..................................................... ...................
Yes / No
If not, describe which supplies are recommended but ..................................................... ...................
not presently available in your community:
..................................................... ...................

Has the use of hazardous products caused any

F. Has your community sought to find an alternative observable effects or hazards in the past three years?
product which presents fewer hazards, but which can be Yes / No
used for the same purpose(s)? List observed effects/hazards to human health:
Yes / No
Safer alternative product(s) (specify):

List observed effects/hazards to environment:

G. Concerning the disposal of the substance:
How do members of the community presently dispose
of this substance?

4. Legislative Policy Framework and Regional

Is your community aware of the environmental Resources
hazards related to the disposal of this substance?
Yes / No It is recommended that you contact expert
Has your community identified a disposal method agencies to answer the following questions. The
which prevents the substance from entering and List of Categorized References may list the
poisoning the environment? Environmental, Consumer Protection, and Public
Yes / No Health agencies that exist in your county or region.
If this differs from the present practice, what is the
best disposal method: Does your national or regional (local) government have
any laws concerning hazardous waste disposal, especially
regarding household hazardous waste?
Yes / No / Pending Legislation
Is the disposal procedure posted so that anyone who Notes:
uses the product will be informed of it?
Yes / No

3. Quantities and Priorities

Provide an estimated ranking of the five hazardous

wastes that are most generated by your community:

Listening To The Earth

Do any recycling programs exist in your country for Hazardous Products and Wastes
motor oil, automotive batteries, dry cell batteries, Handling: Evaluation
antifreeze, or any other hazardous material?
Yes / No At the end of each discussion section, there will be a
statement and a list of numbers from which to choose.
If so, are they accessible to your community? List Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment
any available programs below: of how well your community represents the statement
given. (1 = disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9
= agree completely, no change needed)

1-2. Hazardous Product Inventory and


Does your country have laws that mandate labeling Although the checklist provided at the beginning
requirements for products containing hazardous of the inventory section (page 143) is by no means
components? an exhaustive list of hazardous products that may
Yes / No / Pending Legislation be present in your community, it is intended to be
Notes: a guide in your effort to identify the types of
products most likely to contain hazardous
compounds, as well as the areas of activity that
hazards are likely to be found.
In order to identify which products are
hazardous, check the product’s container.
Especially if your country has mandatory labeling
requirements for hazardous products, you will find
signal words on the label like ‘DANGER’, ‘TOXIC’,
Does your country have any laws pertaining to ‘WARNING’, or ‘CAUTION’ if the product is
manufacturer take-back policies for products which hazardous.
contain hazardous components? To learn what chemicals are included in the
Yes / No / Pending Legislation product, you may need to use an outside reference
Notes: if they are not listed on the product container.
Besides contacting the manufacturer directly, there
is a large database of products, their components,
hazards, and safe handling suggestions maintained
by the United States National Institute of Health,
called the Household Products Database. Although
this database is only available online in English
(, it contains a tremendous
amount of valuable information.
Safe handling suggestions for the product may
also be included on the manufacturer’s product
label, or found in the above database. However, if
you are unable to find safe handling instructions
from these sources, perhaps a call to your
Environmental Ministry or a Consumer Advocacy
organization could help. You may find these
resources in the List of Categorical References
found at the back of this manual.
As mentioned in the introductory material to
this section, safe disposal options for household
hazardous waste are limited or even non-existent
for much of Latin America at this present time.
Nevertheless, your community should seek out

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

expert advice to learn what options are available in product, as explosive chemical reactions or
your area. It is most important that your toxic materials may result.
community protect your water and air resources by • Follow directions carefully. Use the amount
not burning or dumping any chemical. Certainly directed, under the conditions specified, for
the most important thing your community can do the purpose listed.
is eliminate the use of as many hazardous products • Do not smoke while working with
as possible, by substituting them with less flammable chemicals.
hazardous alternatives wherever possible. • Keep away from open flame.
Change in buying, storage and usage habits may • Provide adequate ventilation.
reduce your exposure to household hazardous
wastes. The general tips listed below are offered as Protection Devices
a guide for best practices concerning hazardous • Wear protective gloves, long sleeves and
products. goggles when indicated by contact hazards
• Use chemical cartridge respirators or other
Questions to Answer Before Purchasing Hazardous breathing masks when respiratory
Products protection is indicated by harmful vapors
• Do we really need this product?
• Does it contain an ingredient that is Additional information regarding each category of
hazardous to people or pets? products provided on the checklist is given below.
• Could we use a less hazardous substance?
• Are we keeping too many different Cleaning Products
chemicals in our community? Common Ingredients and their Hazards:
• Will we be able to properly dispose of this • Ammonia (glass cleaner)
product and its packaging? Lung and skin irritant. If mixed with
• Can we store this product safely in our chorine, releases toxic chloramine gas.
community? Short-term exposure to chloramine gas may
• Are we buying only as much as we will use? cause coughing, choking and lung damage.
Asthmatics may be particularly vulnerable
Read the Label to chloramine fumes.
Read all precautionary statements and warnings • Sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach)
Lung and eye irritant. Household bleach is
Buying Practices the most common cleaner accidentally
• Reduce the amount of HHW you generate swallowed by children. If mixed with
by buying less toxic or non-toxic ammonia or acid-based cleaners (including
alternatives. vinegar), releases highly toxic chloramine
• Buy only what you need. gas.
• Phenol and cresol (disinfectants)
Storage Practices Corrosive; can cause diarrhea, fainting,
• Keep unused products in original dizziness, and kidney and liver damage.
containers. • Petroleum distillates (metal polishes)
• Never store chemicals in food or beverage Short-term exposure can cause temporary
containers. eye clouding; longer exposure can damage
• Preserve labels for directions, disposal the nervous system, skin, kidneys, and
suggestions and warnings. eyes.
• Store in a cool, dry place. • Nitrobenzene (furniture and floor polishes)
• Never store household chemicals where Can cause shallow breathing, vomiting, and
small children and pets may reach them. death; associated with cancer and birth
• Store flammable products outside living defects.
quarters and away from ignition sources. • Perchloroethylene or 1-1-1 trichloroethane
solvents (dry cleaning fluid, spot removers
Handling Procedures and carpet cleaners)
• Avoid mixing different products and/or Eye, skin and lung irritant. Can cause liver
mixing different brands of the same and kidney damage if ingested;

Listening To The Earth

perchloroethylene has caused cancer in washing soda (sodium carbonate) is more

some laboratory animals and is considered strongly alkaline, with a pH around 11. It
a probable human carcinogen. Can releases no harmful fumes and is far safer
accumulate and persist in human fatty than a commercial solvent formula, but you
tissues and breast milk. should wear gloves when using it because it
• Naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene is caustic. Washing soda cuts grease, cleans
(mothballs, toilet bowl cleaners) petroleum oil, removes wax or lipstick, and
Naphthalene fumes can irritate eyes, skin, neutralizes odors in the same way that
and respiratory tract. Chronic exposure to baking soda does. Don’t use it on fibreglass,
naphthalene can cause damage to liver, aluminium or waxed floors—unless you
kidneys, skin, and the central nervous intend to remove the wax.
system. Paradichlorobenzene is a probable • White Vinegar and Lemon Juice
carcinogen that can also harm the central White vinegar and lemon juice are acidic—
nervous system, liver and kidneys. High they neutralize alkaline substances such as
concentration of fumes may irritate eyes, scale from hard water. Acids dissolve
nose, throat and lungs. gummy build-up, eat away tarnish, and
• Hydrochloric acid or sodium acid sulfate (toilet remove dirt from wood surfaces.
bowl cleaners) • Liquid Soaps and Detergent
Either can burn the skin or cause vomiting, Liquid soaps and detergents are necessary
diarrhea and stomach burns if swallowed; for cutting grease, and they are not the
also can cause blindness if inadvertently same thing. Soap is made from fats and lye.
splashed in the eyes. Detergents are synthetic materials
• Lye and Sulfuric acid (drain opener/cleaner): discovered and synthesized early in the
Extremely corrosive and dangerous to use. 20th century. Soap is better for your health
These chemicals work by eating away and the environment than detergents.
materials, including your skin if it should Detergents are very toxic to fish and
come in contact. Likewise, vapors are wildlife. Nonetheless, soap reacts with
harmful. minerals in water to leave an insoluble film,
• Formaldehyde, phenol, and pentachlorophenol which can turn clothes grayish, and leave a
(spray starch) residue on shower stalls. If mineral content
Any aerosolized particle, including of your water is high, and these above
cornstarch, may irritate the lungs. results are unacceptable, detergent may be
the only option acceptable to your
Less Hazardous Alternatives community.
‘The Five Basics for Non-toxic Cleaning’, from the • Mould Killers and Disinfectants
Environmental Law Center, UK: There are many essential oils, such as
• Baking Soda lavender, clove, and tea tree oil (an
A commonly available mineral full of many excellent natural fungicide), that are very
cleaning attributes, baking soda is made antiseptic, as is grapefruit seed extract, even
from soda ash, and is slightly alkaline (it’s though they aren’t registered as such. Use
pH is around 8.1; 7 is neutral). It one teaspoon of essential oil to 2 cups of
neutralizes acid-based odors in water, and water in a spray bottle (make sure to avoid
absorbs odors from the air. Sprinkled on a eyes). A grapefruit seed extract spray can be
damp sponge or cloth, baking soda can be made by adding 20 drops of extract to a
used as a gentle nonabrasive cleanser for quart of water.
kitchen counter tops, sinks, bathtubs,
ovens, and fibreglass. It will eliminate Some Home-made Formulas
perspiration odors and even neutralize the Caution: Make sure to keep all home-made
smell of many chemicals if you add up to a formulas well-labeled, and out of the reach of
cup per load to the laundry. It is a useful children.
air freshener, and a fine carpet deodorizer. • All-purpose cleaner can be made from a
• Washing Soda vinegar and salt mixture or from 4
A chemical neighbor of baking soda, tablespoons baking soda dissolved in 1

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

quart warm water. water to which a teaspoon each of

• Disinfectant means anything that will reduce baking soda and salt have been added.
the number of harmful bacteria on a • Stainless steel can be cleaned with
surface. Practically no surface treatment undiluted white vinegar.
will completely eliminate bacteria. Try • Toilet bowl cleaner—baking soda and vinegar
regular cleaning with soap and hot water. or borax and lemon juice.
Or mix 1/2 cup borax into 1 gallon of hot • Tub and tile cleaner can be as easy as rubbing
water to disinfect and deodorize. Isopropyl in baking soda with a damp sponge and
alcohol is an excellent disinfectant, but use rinsing, or wiping with vinegar first and
gloves and keep it away from children. following with baking soda as a scouring
• Drain opener—try a plunger first, though powder.
not after using any commercial drain • Window and glass cleaner: Use a vinegar-and-
opener. To open clogs, pour 1/2 cup baking water solution, cornstarch-vinegar-and-
soda down drain, add 1/2 cup white water solution, or lemon-juice-and-water.
vinegar, and cover the drain. The resulting Wipe with newspaper. To avoid streaks,
chemical reaction can break fatty acids don’t wash windows when the sun is
down into the soap and glycerine, allowing shining.
the clog to wash down the drain. Again, do
not use this method after trying a Automotive Products
commercial drain opener—the vinegar can Common Ingredients and their Hazards
react with the drain opener to create • Ethylene glycol (Antifreeze): Very toxic; 3
dangerous fumes. ounces can be fatal to adult; damage to
• Floor cleaner and polish can be as simple as a cardiovascular system, blood, skin and
few drops of vinegar in the cleaning water kidneys. Toxic vapors are emitted if heated.
to remove soap traces. For vinyl or • Petroleum distillates (Car wax, polish, fuel and
linoleum, add a capful of baby oil to the oil additives): Associated with skin and lung
water to preserve and polish. For wood cancer; irritant to skin, eyes, nose, lungs;
floors, apply a thin coat of 1:1 oil and entry into lungs may cause fatal pulmonary
vinegar and rub in well. For painted edema
wooden floors, mix 2 teaspoon washing • Petroleum hydrocarbons/ Benzene (Motor
soda into 1 bucket of hot water. For brick Oil/Gasoline): Highly flammable; associated
and stone tiles, use 1 cup white vinegar in with skin and lung cancer; irritant to skin,
1 bucket water and rinse with clear water. eyes, nose, throat, lungs; pulmonary edema;
• Metal cleaners and polishes are different for benzene is a carcinogen and a bone marrow
each metal—just as in commercial cleaners: poison.
• Clean aluminum with a solution of • Heavy Metals (Used Motor and Transmission
cream of tartar and water. Oils): Cause nervous system and kidney
• Brass may be polished with a soft cloth damage, carcinogenic.
dipped in lemon-and-baking-soda • Glycols (Brake Fluid, Transmission fluid): cause
solution, or vinegar-and-salt solution. kidney damage, absorb into skin, corrosive.
• Polish chrome with baby oil, vinegar, or • Methylene chloride (Carburetor cleaner): known
aluminum foil shiny side out. also as methylene dichloride and
• Clean tarnished copper by boiling the dichloromethane, is a colorless, volatile
article in a pot of water with 1 liquid with an ether-like odor. Skin irritant;
tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar, when inhaled, it mimics carbon monoxide
or try differing mixtures of salt, vinegar, toxicity. Memory loss and liver and kidney
baking soda, lemon juice, and cream of damage are reported with chronic exposure.
tartar. Carcinogenic. When heated, methylene
• Clean gold with toothpaste. chloride emits a highly toxic phosgene gas
• Clean pewter with a paste of salt, (nerve gas). The use of products containing
vinegar, and flour. Silver can be methylene chloride by people with heart
polished by boiling it in a pan lined conditions has resulted in fatal heart
with aluminum foil and filled with attacks.

Listening To The Earth

• Sulfuric Acid (Automotive Batteries): Batteries nervous sytem; are acutely toxic causing
contain lead and a solution of sulfuric acid. headache, dizziness; twitching, nausea; are
When activated, the electrolyte solution in carcinogenic; mutagenic (mutating genes),
the battery produces explosive gases which and cause birth defects.
are easily ignited. Sulfuric acid is extremely • Organochlorines: are typically very persistent in
caustic. Fumes are strongly irritating, and the environment, and are known for
contact can cause burning and charring of accumulating in sediments, plants and
the skin; it is exceedingly dangerous to the animals. Organochlorines have a wide range
eyes. Lead is poisonous in all forms and of both acute and chronic health effects,
accumulates in our bodies and in the including cancer, neurological damage, and
environment. birth defects. Many organochlorines are also
suspected endocrine disruptors. Several
Safer Alternatives common organochlorines have been banned
Unfortunately, automobiles and other vehicles for use in several countries including DDT,
require the use of these hazardous products. No aldrin, dieldrin, toxaphene, chlordane and
safer alternatives are generally in use. Indeed, the heptachlor. Those that still remain in use
normal use of a vehicle produces a number of include lindane, endosulfan, dicofol,
hazardous wastes, including solids (e.g. batteries, methoxychlor and pentachlorophenol.
metal parts, filters), liquids (e.g. motor oil, • Other naturally derived pesticides: Several
antifreeze) and gases (exhaust). The best way to naturally derived pesticides exist which, in
reduce automotive wastes, then, is to reduce the some cases, are less toxic to humans than the
use of vehicles. organophosphates, carbamates, or
The proper disposal of the liquid and solid organochlorines, but are still quite hazardous:
automotive wastes is essential to prevent • Nicotine is the most toxic, poisonous both
environmental contamination. At the present time, to humans and to other mammals, as well
however, there are few options for citizens of the as to birds and fish. It is not available
LAC region to exercise proper disposal methods. In commercially for home gardeners because
most cases of automotive waste, proper disposal of its hazards.
would mean recycling the used product. Used • Rotenone, moderately toxic to humans,
motor oil, transmission oil, batteries, and kills a wide range of insects; however, it
antifreeze can all be profitably recycled; however should never be used near a waterway, as it
few such facilities exist in the region. In the is very toxic to fish.
absence of recycling capacity, you may want to • Ryania kills only a few species, including
contact your Environmental Ministry or an the European corn borer, codling moth, and
Environmental NGO to ask them what disposal cranberry fruit worm.
options they would recommend as the best for • Pyrethrum is relatively nontoxic to humans
your location, as well as to become a voice to and only slightly toxic to aquatic life, so it
encourage the development of these capacities. may be the best choice for home gardens.
• Sabadilla controls lice, leafhoppers, squash
Lawn/Garden Products bugs, striped cucumber beetles, and chinch
Common Ingredients and their Hazards bugs. It has low toxicity to wildlife, but it
Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, may be toxic to bees.
etc.): There are over 1500 different chemical • Wood Preservatives: Wood preservatives are
agents used as the ‘active’ ingredients in pesticides, products containing pesticides which protect
in addition to several thousand more ‘inert’ wood from pests and rot. Three widely used
components which are also components of wood preservatives—creosote, inorganic
pesticide solutions and may also be hazardous. arsenic compounds (CCA), and
Below are three common categories of these pentachlorophenol (penta) are highly toxic.
products, although several more actually exist. Treated wood should never be burned, as the
• Organophosphates and carbamates: Carbamate fumes are toxic.
and organophosphorous insecticides, which • PENTACHLOROPHENOL: Toxic to fetus
act as neurotoxins, are among the most toxic and causes birth defects, toxic if inhaled,
classes of pesticides, as they: affect the absorbed, or ingested

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

Hazardous Waste Information Sheet for Product: .............................................................

List of specific hazards:

c Corrosive c Combustible/Flammable c Pathogenic c Reactive Poisonous/Toxic

Other: .............................................................

Locations of product:

Precautions to be undertaken for safe use of product:

Storage instructions:

Personal protection:

First Aid Procedures:

Skin Contact:


Contact with Eyes:


In case of fire/ combustion:

Disposal procedure:

Listening To The Earth

• CREOSOTE: Vapors cause eye and nasal soaps, horticultural oils, desiccating dusts
irritation, it is a skin carcinogen and can be (e.g. diatomaceous earth), insect growth
absorbed through the skin. regulators (interrupt reproductive cycle; e.g.
• COPPER NAPHTHENATE: An eye, skin, methoprene for fleas), pyrethrin-based
and lung irritant, a possible carcinogen and products, etc. (Also, select the most pest-
affects the nervous system; combustible; specific chemical available; choose
harmful to aquatic life biodegradable rather than persistent
organochlorine insecticides; and choose
Best Practices and Safer Alternatives water-based formulations in place of
• Do not use any pesticide if not absolutely oil/solvent-based products.)
necessary for reasons of health or property
protection. Flammable Products
• Demand product stewardship from It is important to know which products are
manufacturers (e.g. select those that accept flammable and/or explosive, so that your
back empty product containers) community is sure to store and handle them safely.
• Triple-rinse containers and apply rinsewater Generally, any petroleum-based product is
on site just treated before disposing inflammable, including all fuels, some oils, stains,
• Purchase pesticides in packaging that is varnishes, and adhesives, as well as many aerosol
reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable (e.g. products. All aerosol cans are explosive if heated.
dissolvable packets) In addition to being flammable, many such
• Routinely check application equipment for products are hazardous in other ways such as being
leaks poisonous, corrosive, or reactive. Again, check
• Only mix what you can use and spray out product labels—if they exist—or an expert source
that day for a more complete listing of product hazards.
• Spot-treat pests whenever possible to reduce Below are some general guidelines for the safe
chemical usage, exposure, and expense handling of flammable products:
• Clean application equipment and vehicles at • Flammables are often explosive under the
site where chemicals are applied right conditions. Thus, propane cylinders, gas
• Dedicate application equipment systems to cans, charcoal lighter and automotive fluids
reduce rinsing (especially with herbicides) should NOT BE STORED INDOORS, but
• Use end-of-hose ‘proportioners’ to meter should instead be stored outside or in sheds
appropriate amount of pesticide that are very well ventilated. Never store
• For lawns: Herbicides are most often used to flammable liquids or gasses near sources of
kill ‘unsightly’ weeds in gardens and yards, heat or ignition.
and by lawn care companies to maintain the • Keep chemicals in original containers if
perfect appearance of turf around homes and possible, or in containers approved for
on lawns and golf courses. Basically, the safe flammable liquid or gas. (e.g. do not use
alternative to herbicides is simple: pull weeds empty soda pop bottles to store kerosene).
by hand. There are no really safe herbicides. • Make sure that lids and caps are tightly
• Reduce the use of pesticides by using sealed and childproof.
appropriate integrated pest management • Use hand pumps or dispensers to reduce the
(IPM) methods: risk of spilling liquids such as gasoline and
• Physical Controls: Barriers, traps, cleanliness, kerosene.
caulking, handpicking, and environmental • Store rags used with flammable products in a
manipulation (i.e. environmental controls sealed marked container.
such as climate regulation and limiting • Know where flammable materials are located
availability of pest habitat) and how to extinguish them. Keep a working
• Biological Controls: Establish populations fire extinguisher nearby.
of predatory and parasitoid insects that • Prevent leaks and spills by keeping metal
feed upon the problem pests. containers dry and cool, and handling them
• Cultural Controls: Planting disease/pest- with care. Keep clean-up materials close at
resistant plant varieties hand to quickly contain spills should they
• Least-toxic Chemical Controls: Insecticidal occur.

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

• Use products only as they are intended; (e.g. Best Practices and Safer Alternatives
do not use gasoline as a cleaning solvent.) Against indoor pests, the best offense is a good
• Use all of the product on hand, or donate defense. The first step is to make the house—
remaining product to someone who can use it especially the kitchen—unattractive to insects by
to keep flammable products out of the waste cleaning up food spills immediately, keeping hard-
stream. to-reach areas reasonably clean, and removing
clutter that can hide pests. Store foods attractive to
Indoor Pesticides pests, such as flour, in the refrigerator, or another
Common Ingredients and their Hazards sealed location. Water attracts pests, so leaky
• Warfarin, strychnine (rodent poison): faucets and pipes should be promptly repaired.
poisonous if ingested, very toxic to aquatic Doors and windows should be well screened.
organisms, may cause long-term adverse Clothes should be regularly cleaned and aired, and
effects in the aquatic environment. Warfarin properly stored in paper or cardboard boxes sealed
is easily absorbed through the gastrointestinal against moths.
tract and skin, and can cause hemorrhaging, A number of nontoxic substances can be used to
excessive bruising, bleeding from nose and repel insects. Generally, they are highly fragrant or
gums, or paralysis. Strychnine is toxic if volatile herbs or spices. Powdered red chili pepper,
ingested or inhaled; can cause convulsions, peppermint, bay leaves, cloves, citrus oil, lavender,
paralysis—including breathing, lethal in small rosemary, tobacco, peppercorns, and cedar oil can
doses (30 to 100 mg). repel various types of insects.
• Baygon, dichlorvos, chlorpyrifos, propoxur, Insects can be trapped and killed without
diazinon (indoor insecticides): Harmful or resorting to dangerous chemicals: generally a
fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed poison nontoxic to humans is mixed with a food
through skin. Most are organophosphates or that insects find attractive, and spread in the
carbamates. See above, under ‘Lawn/Garden infested area. Examples are oatmeal (attractive)
Products’ for more information about these and plaster-of-Paris (poisonous), and cocoa powder
hazardous products. and flour (attractive) and borax (poisonous). Old-
• Napthalene, paradichlorobenzene fashioned flypaper—not a hanging strip of
(mothballs): Napthalene can enter your insecticide—is an effective trap.
system through inhalation, skin absorption, For specific house pests, try these solutions:
ingestion, and eye and skin contact. • For ants: Sprinkle powdered red chilli pepper,
Napthalene may produce possible damage to paprika, dried peppermint, or borax where
eyes, liver, kidneys, skin, red blood cells, and the ants are entering.
the central nervous system. Hemolytic • For beetles: Kill manually when you see
anemia, caused by the breakdown of the red them.
blood cells, has been reported following • For cockroaches: Mix by stirring and sifting 1
immediate and long-term exposure. Infants ounce TSP (trisodium phosphate), 6 ounces
exposed to clothes, blankets, and diapers borax, 4 ounces sugar, and 8 ounces flour.
stored in naphthalene mothballs are at risk Spread on floor of infested area. Repeat after
for hemolytic anemia. Mild degrees of anemia 4 days and again after 2 weeks.
often cause only slight symptoms like a lack • For fleas: Feed pet brewer’s yeast in powder
of energy and fatigue. In more severe cases, mixed with food or by tablets.
hemolytic anemia can cause acute kidney • For moths: Air clothes well in the sun; store
failure. Paradichlorobenzene, if inhaled, may in airtight containers, and scatter sachets of
result in headache, swollen eyes, stuffy head, lavender, cedar chips, or dried tobacco in
anorexia (loss of appetite), nausea, vomiting, with clothing.
and throat and eye irritation; if ingested, • For rats and mice: Again, prevention may be
symptoms include include nausea, vomiting, the best cure. Holes in exterior or interior
diarrhea, liver and kidney damage, and walls should be closed off and storage spaces
methemoglobianemia (which interferes with kept orderly. Garbage should be kept tightly
the uptake of oxygen). covered, and food scraps should be made
unavailable. To catch rodents, the most
efficient system is the oldest: a cat. Next best

Listening To The Earth

are mouse and rat traps. Due to the high solvent content of oil-based
• For termites: Any wooden parts of the house paints and varnishes, women should avoid
should be at least 18 inches off the ground, using these products while pregnant.
as subterranean termites cannot tolerate • Paint thinners (may contain toluene,
being exposed to air and light. They have to turpentine, ethyl acetate, mineral spirits):
build easily visible mud tunnels to get at Turpentine and mineral spirits are commonly
available wood. Metal shields may help used in thinning paints and varnishes. Both
discourage termites, but they cannot prevent ingredients are flammable and toxic, though
infestations. mineral spirits are of lower toxicity. Mineral
spirits, a petroleum distillate, can be harmful
Workshop/ Painting Supplies through inhalation, skin and eye contact, and
Common Ingredients and their Hazards ingestion. Contact and inhalation can cause
• Glues and adhesives (may contain napthalene, eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness, and
phenol, ethanol, vinyl chloride, dermatitis. Ingestion can induce central
formaldehyde, acrylonitrile): Glues, rubber nervous system depression. Damage to lungs
cement, epoxy, and other adhesives contain a may result if mineral spirits are swallowed
solvent which, when applied, evaporates out and then vomited. Turpentine, a sticky
leaving the solid adhesive portion behind. mixture of resin and oil obtained from pine
Often this solvent is hazardous. Many trees, is an irritating substance that can cause
adhesives are extremely flammable. Some tissue death as well as damage to kidneys.
adhesives are skin and lung irritants and Intoxication from vapors produces central
allergy-sensitizers while others can cause nervous system depression with possible
burns to skin and eyes. Many of the solvents symptoms of headache, nausea, confusion
used in adhesives and glues have narcotic, and disturbed vision. Continued inhalation of
possibly fatal, effects when inhaled in high vapors can cause a predisposition to
concentrations. Inhalation of fumes from pneumonia and chronic kidney inflammation.
cured epoxy resins may result in coughing Vapors even in low concentrations can irritate
and bronchial spasms for several days. Vinyl eyes, nose, and throat.
chloride and acrylonitrile cause liver • Paint/varnish removers: Most paint and varnish
dysfunction, and are suspected carcinogens. removers contain organic solvents which are
Formaldehyde (preservative in many hazardous to human health. Most are highly
household products, glue in particle board flammable. Some nonflammable products will
and plywood furniture) is a probable human produce a toxic gas when in contact with
carcinogen. Levels of formaldehyde in air as flame. Paint and varnish removers may
low as 0.1 ppm (0.1 part formaldehyde per contain some of these hazardous ingredients:
million parts of air) can cause watery eyes, acetone, benzene, isopropyl alcohol,
burning sensations in the eyes, nose and methanol, methylene chloride, petroleum
throat, stuffy nose, nausea, coughing, chest distillates, toluene, trichloroethane, and
tightness, wheezing, rashes and allergic xylene. Although not presently used in paint
reactions. and varnish removers, benzene, a known
• Oil or enamel based paints and varnishes: With human carcinogen, was an ingredient in older
the exception of latex paint, which has water products. Hazardous ingredients in paint and
as a solvent, solvents commonly used in varnish removers can harm your body
paints include mineral spirits (naphtha), through skin contact, skin absorption,
toluene, xylene, and other petroleum ingestion, and inhalation. A common
distillate solvents. These solvents can irritate ingredient, methylene chloride, is a powerful
your eyes, skin, and lungs. Inhaling paint narcotic which break down in the body to
fumes can result in headaches, nausea, form carbon monoxide, potentially resulting
dizziness, and fatigue. Toxic fumes can in oxygen deprivation. The use of paint and
accumulate in closed spaces and areas with varnish removers containing methylene
poor ventilation. Acute and chronic chloride by people with heart conditions has
symptoms include muscle weakness, liver and resulted in fatal heart attacks. Methylene
kidney damage, and respiratory problems. chloride is also a known animal carcinogen

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

and a suspected human carcinogen. solvent to clean up. Not only will you
• Photography chemicals: The most commonly eliminate the hazards from the solvents in
used solutions are developer, fixer, and stop the paint, you will eliminate the need to use
bath. Photography chemicals that require additional solvents to clean brushes. Wear
special handling include intensifiers, dyes, protective gloves. If you need to clean oil-
and toners, which may contain selenium, base paint from your skin, massage with a
uranium, iron, gold, and platinum. Color film few drops of baby oil, butter, or margarine.
processing is more complex. In particular, the Wipe dry and wash with soap and water.
developing baths of color transparency and Whenever possible, paint outdoors. When
color negative processing and home color painting inside make sure ventilation is
printing require special precautions. Many adequate. Use a fan to direct fumes away
chemicals used to develop photographs are from the area where you are working and to
corrosive and can cause skin, eye, and lung the out-of-doors. Take plenty of fresh air
irritation. Inhalation and skin contact are the breaks. Do not place flammable paints near
primary routes of hazardous exposure. These flames, sources of sparks, or areas of intense
chemicals are toxic if swallowed. Acids used heat. Never smoke around paints or while
in developing can burn and blind you. painting. Paint is usable if it will mix up
Products which contain benzene, a known when stirred. Oil paint can be usable for up
cancer causing agent in humans, can be to 15 years. The best way to dispose of paint
especially hazardous. Photography chemicals is to use it up. Some suggestions to use up
have a longer shelf life in a powder form than old paint are to paint boards, signs, dog and
in liquid concentrate, but the powder form bird houses, or use it as an under coat for
does produce dust when poured and can another project. If your paint has completely
possibly form vapor droplets. These droplets dried inside the paint can, can be placed in
are easily inhaled and can carry photography the trash destined for the sanitary landfill.
chemicals into the lungs. • Paint thinners: Dirty paint thinner can easily
Best Practices and Safer Alternatives be recycled at home for reuse. Pour the dirty
• Glues and adhesives: The safest glues on the paint thinner into a clearly labeled container
market are white glue, library paste, yellow with a good seal. Plastic jugs such as milk
wood glue, and glue sticks. White glue jugs may not be strong enough to withstand
effectively bonds most porous and semi- the vapor pressure in a warm environment.
porous materials such as paper, cloth, wood, Glass jars work well but never use a beverage
and pottery. White glue can also be used for container because it can be easily mistaken
big jobs such as laying hardwood floors. Use for something to drink. Clearly label the
white glue, glue sticks, or yellow glue when container with the type of solvent and the
ever possible. Never use toxic adhesives on date. Draw or write a clearly visible warning
laminated cutting boards, bowls, or a product (such as a skull and crossbones or the word
which contacts food. Carefully read the label. Danger). Store it away from sources of sparks
Wear protective gloves with adhesives and for several weeks to months until the paint
cements. If the glue contains solvents, use sludge settles on the bottom. Carefully pour
only in a well ventilated area with plenty of the clean solvent off the top. This solvent can
fresh air. Avoid wearing soft contacts, which be reused. Allow the remaining paint sludge
may absorb solvent vapors. If the adhesive is to dry completely in a well-ventilated area,
flammable be certain to extinguish sources of outside of your home and away from pets
ignition (such as pilot lights) if you will be and children. When all of the liquids have
using a large quantity of the solvent in a evaporated, the hardened sludge can be
room where a source of flame is located. Keep discarded in the trash. Small amounts of
the lid tightly closed when the glue is not in dirty paint solvent can be poured into a paint
use. However, if the glue or adhesive has can of the same color and mixed well. This
hardened, it may be thrown in the trash thinned paint can then be used for a second
destined for the landfill. coat or another project. The best way to get
• Paints: If possible, use latex paint rather than rid of left over paint thinners is to use them
oil-based or other paints that require a as intended or find someone else who will.

Listening To The Earth

• Paint/varnish removers: Never use paint and Medical/ Infectious Waste

varnish removers containing benzene. If you Hazards of Medical/ Infectious Waste
have a heart condition, do not use products • Mercury Thermometers: Mercury has become a
containing methylene chloride. Follow label contaminant of great concern. Mercury is
directions carefully. Do not smoke while found in the air, waterways, lakes, and the
using these products. Do not use paint and ocean. Mercury is readily absorbed into your
varnish removers near flames, sparks, sources body when you touch it; it also easily
of ignition, or areas of intense heat. Beware evaporates into the air. If you are near
of using paint and varnish removers when the enough to touch mercury, for instance after a
gas furnace is operating. The vapors may mercury thermometer breaks, you are most
destroy your furnace by corrosion and the likely also inhaling mercury. Broken
pilot light can ignite the vapors which will thermometers containing mercury are only
then explode. Wear protective gloves and one source the mercury in the environment.
safety goggles. Work outdoors and in the It is also released by the combustion of coal
shade. If you must work indoors, be sure to for electricity, improperly discarded
have adequate ventilation. Take plenty of fluorescent lights, electrical switches and
fresh air breaks. If you can smell the product, other mercury containing products. Mercury
you are inhaling the solvents and should wear may be transported from the air to soil and
an approved respirator with an organic water by rain. In humans, mercury vapor
solvent cartridge. Never use paint and affects the nervous system, lungs, kidneys,
varnish remover to clean your hands skin, and eyes. In waterways, mercury builds
• Photography chemicals: Always read and follow up in fish tissue and increases in
the product label instructions. Wear protective concentration as it is transferred along the
gloves, safety goggles, and an organic vapor food chain. Mercury that has accumulated in
respirator and cover all exposed skin. fish tissue is passed on to wildlife and to
Photography product manufacturers humans. Mercury can have a permanent
recommend at least 10 air changes per hour impact on fetal and child development.
for workrooms and recommend exhaust • Infectious waste (sharps, bandages, wound
ventilation for the processing and mixing dressings, etc.) is any waste capable of
tanks. A canopy-type exhaust hood should be producing an infectious disease in a
sufficient for photograph development done susceptible person. Improper disposal of
occasionally in the home; using a bathroom- these wastes carries the risk of infection, can
type exhaust fan is not adequate. Be sure the physically injure unsuspecting people that
exhaust fan draws fumes away from you and come in contact with it, and can pollute the
the work area. When mixing chemicals, always environment. Infectious wastes include items
add acid to water; i.e. never add water to acid. like sharps (needles, syringes, lancets) and
Avoid products containing benzene. Store contaminated bandages and dressings. In
acids in nonmetal, unbreakable containers. general terms, sharps waste means any device
Store all chemicals in nonbreakable containers having acute rigid corners, edges, or
or place bottles inside plastic containers and protuberances capable of cutting or piercing,
clearly mark the contents on the outside. such as hypodermic needles, hypodermic
Label the working (diluted) solution with the needles with syringes, blades, needles with
date it was mixed up in order to avoid using attached tubing, syringes. It is important to
outdated solutions. It is best to use up your remember that your community’s solid waste
chemicals or check with a school or may be handled by people at recycling
photographic materials supplier to see if they facilities, landfills, or dumps. These people
can use your unwanted supplies to avoid could be stabbed by needles that poke
disposing of these materials. If you have color through clothing, including heavy gloves and
photography chemicals and solutions contact boots. This could result in serious injury,
the manufacturer for disposal instructions. including infection by pathogens either from
Kodak has a referral number for its products the needle user, or by pathogens that adhere
(1-800-242-2424 [USA]; ask for to a needle after it is disposed.
environmental/technical services). • Pharmaceuticals/ medications: Although not yet

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

extensively studied, the presence of for approximately two days to assure the
pharmaceutical compounds in the area is completely ventilated.
environment (particularly drinking water x DO NOT use household cleaning products
supplies) has been causing a greater concern to clean the spill, particularly products that
around the world. As the prevalence and contain ammonia or chlorine. These
consumption of medications continues to chemicals will react violently with mercury,
increase, so to does their concentration in the releasing a toxic gas.
environment, albeit in very sub-therapeutic x DO NOT use a broom or paint brush to
concentrations. The effects of this ‘new’ form clean up mercury. It will break the mercury
of pollution are not presently known, into smaller beads and spread them around.
although it is agreed that aquatic life is x DO NOT use an ordinary vacuum or shop
affected the most. It should be noted that, vacuum. The vacuum will put mercury
unlike other chemicals which enter the vapor into the air and increase the
environment, medications are created to be likelihood of human exposure.
maximally biologically active, meaning they x If possible, exchange any mercury
are designed to affect living things. thermometers with non-mercury containing
thermometers to prevent the possibility of
Best Handling and Disposal Practices spills in the future.
• Mercury spills: If a mercury spill (as from a • Infectious waste: Since household hazardous
broken thermometer) is not promptly and waste programs and mail-back programs are
thoroughly clean up, then the mercury will likely to be unavailable or unaffordable to
eventually volatilize and might reach your community, needles and other sharps
dangerous levels in indoor air. The risks can be placed into a strong plastic or metal
increase if a vacuum cleaner is used (as the container with a tight cap or lid, such as a
mercury will be vaporized and broadcast), or plastic bleach jug, plastic liquid detergent
if the mercury is heated for some reason. The bottle, coffee can, or etc. Seal the container
danger of significant mercury exposure is with strong tape and clearly label it to
greatest in a small, poorly-ventilated room. indicate that infectious sharps are enclosed.
Thus, even small mercury spills must be Dispose of the container with the rest of your
cleaned up properly. The following procedure community’s solid waste. Be sure that this
should be followed as closely as possible: container is not sent to be recycled! Soiled
i) Increase ventilation in the room with bandages, dressings and disposable sheets
outside air and close the room off from should be placed in securely fastened plastic
the rest of the house. If available, use fans bags before being placed in your regular
for a minimum of one hour to help trash.
ventilate the room. • Medications/pharmaceuticals: Pharmaceuticals,
ii) Pick up the mercury with an eyedropper including over-the-counter drugs and
or scoop up beads with a piece of heavy prescription medicines, can usually be
paper (e.g., playing cards, index cards). disposed of safely without presenting a threat
iii) Place the mercury, contaminated to the environment, as long as they are kept
instruments (dropper/heavy paper) and out of water. Out-of-date or otherwise
any broken glass in a plastic zipper bag. unusable or unwanted household medicines
Place this zipper bag in a second zipper may be disposed of in the trash if the
bag and then in a third zipper bag (triple materials are securely wrapped to minimize
bag), tightly sealing each bag. Place the tampering. Your community might check to
bags in a wide-mouth, sealable plastic see if there are any medication collection or
container. exchange programs available that could help
iv) Call your local health department for the keep the drugs out of the environment.
nearest approved mercury disposal Flushing even small quantities of household
location. If disposal at such a location is medicines down the drain is discouraged.
not possible, dispose of the plastic Some medicines can disrupt or destroy the
container with the solid waste. useful microorganisms in the sewage
v) If weather permits, leave windows open treatment system (especially septic tanks)

Listening To The Earth

and/or may pass through the system intact Lighting Equipment: Fluorescent tubes, sodium
and potentially contaminate downstream lamps etc. (Except: Incandescent or halogen
water resources. bulbs)
Electric and Electronic Tools: Drills, Electric saws,
Electronic Products (e-Waste) Sewing Machines, Lawn Mowers etc.
Hazards of Electronic Waste
Electronic waste results when products containing Computers and other electronic equipment are
electrical components such as wiring, circuit made from hundreds of different materials, both
boards, motors, transformers, cathode ray tubes, found naturally as well as synthetic. While some
etc., are disposed. Thus, products such as these naturally occurring substances, such as chromium,
below are considered components of electronic are harmless in nature, their use in the
waste (e-waste): manufacture of electronic equipment often results
Household Appliances: Washing machines, in compounds which are hazardous. These highly
Dryers, Refrigerators, Air-conditioners, Vacuum toxic compounds are especially harmful to human
cleaners, Coffee Machines, Toasters, Irons etc. health and the environment if not disposed of
Office, Information & Communication Equipment: carefully. The table below lists some of the most
Personal Computers, Latops, Telephones, Fax common hazardous materials that are found in
Machines, Copiers, Printers etc. electronics waste. Televisions and CRT monitors
Entertainment & Consumer Electronics: Televisions, contain four pounds of lead, on average (the exact
VCR/DVD/CD players, Hi-Fi sets, Radios, etc amount depends on size and make). Mercury from

Hazardous Substances Found in Electronic Waste

Substance Component of Electronic Waste
Halogenated compounds:
PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) Condensers, Transformers

TBBA (tetrabromo-bisphenol-A) Fire retardants for plastics (thermoplastic components, cable insulation).
PBB (polybrominated biphenyls) TBBA is presently the most widely used flame retardant in printed wiring
PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) boards and casings.

Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) Cooling unit, Insulation foam

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) Cable insulation
Heavy metals and other metals:
Small quantities in the form of gallium arsenide within light emitting
Barium Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT)
Power supply boxes which contain silicon controlled rectifiers and x-ray

Rechargeable NiCd-batteries, fluorescent layer (CRT screens), printer inks

and toners, photocopying-machines (printer drums)

ChromiumVI Data tapes, floppy-disks

Lead CRT screens, batteries, printed wiring boards
Lithium Li-batteries
Mercury Fluorescent lamps, in some alkaline batteries and mercury wetted switches
Rechargeable Nickel Cadmium batteries or NiMH-batteries, electron gun
in CRT
Rare Earth elements (Yttrium,
Fluorescent layer (CRT-screen)
Selenium Older photocopying-machines (photo drums)
Zinc sulphide Interior of CRT screens, mixed with rare earth metals
Source: Adapted from EMPA: Materials Science and Technology, eWaste Guide, 2006.

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

electronics has been cited as a leading source of whether any such program is being developed or
mercury in municipal waste. In addition, advocated in your country or region, and join in
brominated flame retardants are commonly added the effort to successfully implement the program.
to plastics used in electronics. If there are no environmentally safe recycling
If improperly handled, all these above toxics options available, your community may try to
can be released into the environment. contact the manufacturer directly to ask what take-
Landfilling e-waste, one of the most widely used back options they offer.
methods of disposal, is prone to hazards because of
leachate which often contains heavy water Now, review and consider the information presented
resources. Older landfill sites and uncontrolled above for the various types of hazardous products that
dumps pose the greatest danger of releasing your community uses and disposes of in order to evaluate
hazardous emissions. Mercury, Cadmium and Lead your community’s practices with the questions below:
are among the most toxic leachates. Mercury, for
example, will leach when certain electronic devices Our community strives to continually have identified all
such as circuit breakers are destroyed, or when the hazardous products that are in use in our
fluorescent light tubes are broken. Lead has been community.
found to leach from broken lead-containing glass, 123456789
such as the cone glass of cathode ray tubes from
TVs and monitors. When brominated flame Our community strives to eliminate the use of hazardous
retarded plastics or plastics containing cadmium products.
are landfilled, both PBDE and cadmium may leach 123456789
into soil and groundwater. In addition, landfills are
also prone to uncontrolled fires which will release Our community strives to label, safely handle, and store
toxic fumes if these electronic components are all hazardous products in our community.
burned. Thus, to the extent possible, electronics 123456789
waste should be prevented, and older electronics
should be reused and recycled. Our community strives to educate all its member about
the dangers and proper handling of products used in our
Best Handling and Disposal Practices community, especially those members who use them
Because there are many valuable substances regularly.
(mostly metals) in electronic devices, recycling 123456789
operations are increasingly being established
throughout Latin America. Nevertheless, many Our community strives to keep hazardous products out
recyclers are not operating in a sustainable manner; of our local landfills and/or dumps.
in fact recyclers can easily increase the amount of 123456789
pollution produced by the waste being processed.
For example, some recyclers will burn the PVC 3. Quantities and Priorities
insulation off wires in order to isolate the metal
(e.g. copper). Burning PVC however, releases The intention of this question is simply to
corrosive gases when burnt and also induces the facilitate your community’s prioritization of goals
formation of dioxins. Thus, if your community is regarding household hazardous waste. As well, the
able to locate an electronics recycler, some collection of this information will aid in the task of
preliminary questions regarding the sustainability presenting this information to the membership or
of their operation would help to assure you that leadership of your community. Those wastes that
utilizing their services is indeed an advisable are produced most, and/or those products which
decision. have caused noticable harm should be considered
Some countries, most notably Switzerland and the highest priority.
the European Union members, have implemented
Producer Responsibility plans which guarantee 4. Legislative Policy Framework and Regional
that consumers can return electronic products to Resources
collection points so that the manufacturer can
resume responsibility for the product’s disposal, re- Perhaps the most powerful means of improving
use, or remanufacture. You may want to discover society’s hazardous waste disposal practices is to

Listening To The Earth

implement legislated policies at a governmental

level which either mandate producer responsibility 4. Compendium of legislative &
or require certain actions of the citizens. Keeping regional resources
hazardous waste out of the environment is of
utmost importance for our health and the health of
the next generations. Thus, your community is Now that you have comprehensively examined your
encouraged to support, in any way possible, hazardous products and waste handling practices, how
legislative efforts towards achieving this goal. would you rate, overall, your community’s practices in
Producer responsibility for both labeling and end- these regards?
of-life product take-backs, are policy tools that Excellent / Satisfactory / Poor / Critically
have already been implemented with success in deficient
several countries throughout the world. Laws
which govern the behavior of citizens (such as If you found that problems exist, list them below:
mandatory recycling) are most likely to be effective Category (I-III)
only after the population has been educated about Problem 1
the environmental and health consequences of
hazardous waste, but such education can easily be
incorporated into existing curricula. This could be
a very simple but meaningful contribution by
members of your community, if any are already
involved in educations.
Inventorying the existing recycling resources Problem 2
provides a service to both your religious
community, but also to your greater community if
you are able to share the information obtained.
You may be surprised to learn how many resources
already exist, but of which people just simply are
not aware. Disseminating this information may be
the most important thing your community can do Problem 3
to address the critical hazardous waste problems.

Our community has compiled a thorough list of

applicable laws and resources pertaining to household
hazardous waste.
Problem 4

Now enter the scores from each section in the column at


1. Identification of hazardous products

Now categorize each problem listed above into one
1. Reducing use of hazardous products of the following three categories:
I = Critically important. Currently dangerous,
2. Handling and storage of hazardous must be addressed immediately
products II = Important, but not immediately dangerous.
Must be addressed
2. Community Education III = Current practice should be improved, but is
not immediately important
2. Disposal of hazardous products

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

Acknowledgements for Chapter Four household batteries, photographic materials and used
motor oil. Editted by I. Lardinois and A.v.d. Klundert.
The information contained in this chapter has been WASTE - Urban Waste Expertise Programme, 1995.
adapted from the following sources: Available online:
Andrews, Richard N; Lord, w.B.; O’Toole, L.J.; and United Nations Environment Programme. International
Requena L.F. Guidelines for Improving Wastewater and Sourcebook on Environmentally Sound Technologies
Solid Waste Management. Environmental Health (ESTs) for Municipal Solid Waste Management
Project, 1993. WASH Reprint: Technical Report No. (MSWM). Technical Publication No. 6.
88. EHP, Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A. Available online. UNEP/DTIE/IETC. November 1996. Available online.
Arroyo, J; F. Rivas; I. Lardinois. SOLID WASTE UNEP/DTIE/IETC. International Source Book on
MANAGEMENT IN LATIN AMERICA: The Role of Environmentally Sound Technologies for Wastewater
Micro- and Small Enterprises and Cooperatives. IPES, and Stormwater Management. International
ACEPESA, WASTE (Urban Waste Series, 5), 1999. Environmental Technology Centre; United Nations
ACEPESA: Apartado 1257-1002, San Jose, Costa Rica. Environmental Program, 2000. Available online:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
ToxFAQs. Center for Disease Control. Available online /
(also in Spanish) at WHO. Healthy Villages: A guide for communities and 2005. community health. World Health Organization, 2002.
Brikké, François. Operation and Maintenance of rural Available online from:
water supply and sanitation systems. IRC International
Water and Sanitation Centre, 2000. Available online: ings/healthvillages/ WHO/ILO/UNEP. Guidelines on the prevention of
Franceys, R, J Pickford & R Reed. A guide to the toxic exposures: Education and public awareness
development of on-site sanitation. World Health activities. International Program on Chemical Safety,
Organization, 1992. Available online: World Health Organization, 2004. Available online:
Jaramillo, Jorge. GUIDELINES FOR THE DESIGN, Resources for Chapter Four
MANUAL SANITARY LANDFILLS: A solution for the Internet Resources
final disposal of municipal solid wastes in small Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
communities. Pan American Center for Sanitary (ATSDR)
Engineering and Environmental Sciences, 2003.
Part of the mission of the Agency for Toxic Substances
Available online at and Disease Registry (ATSDR), as an agency of the
Kleinau, Eckhard (EHP) and David F. Pyle (JSI). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is to
Strategic Report 8: Assessing Hygiene Improvement, serve the public by providing trusted health
Guidelines for Household and Community Levels. information to prevent harmful exposures and disease
Environmental Health Project. Prepared under EHP related to toxic substances. Their ToxFAQs (TM) is a
Project 26568/CESH.TOOLS.HIQAT, August 2004. series of summaries about hazardous substances that
Available online. are easy to understand guides about exposure and its
health effects. These are available in Spanish. The
Purdue University, Agricultural and Biological Agency can be contacted toll free at: 1-888-422-8737.
Engineering Department. ‘HOUSEHOLD WASTE
MANAGEMENT.’ Computer program available for Asociación de Entidades de Aseo Municipal (ASEAM)
download at, or Telephone: 591-2-431946
available in an online version at The main mission of ASEAM is to strengthen
e.htm. 2003. municipal waste agencies and to promote the
Santa Clara County Materials Advisory Committee. establishment of small-scale enterprises for difficult-
HAZARDOUS WASTE SURVIVAL GUIDE: A Small access areas. This mission is accomplished through
& Medium Business Resource for Hazardous Waste training and provision of information of personnel in
Reduction Management. Available online: municipal agencies. ASEAM is also working on strengthening the, fee collection system. ASEAM also
produces videos and pamphlets on public consciousness
Simpson-Hebert M & Wood S, eds. (1998) Sanitation development on the need to pay waste collection fees,
Promotion. Geneva, World Health Organization/ Water as well as the need to improve MSW handling
Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (Working behaviour.
Group on Promotion of Sanitation) (unpublished
document WHO/EOS/98.5). Available online: Asociación para la Promoción del Saneamiento Ambiental en Comunidad (APROSAC)
Winblad, Uno. ‘Towards an ecological approach to Telephone: 507-263-
sanitation.’ Ibid. 3370
WSSCC. ‘The Challenge-—A sanitation revolution.’ APROSAC, an NGO established in 1995, develops
Ibid integrated solid waste management projects and
promotes the development of small-scale basic
UWEP. Hazardous Waste: Resource recovery of

Listening To The Earth

sanitation enterprises. APROSAC organises workshops, 700. As a result of this success, a number of
provides professional services, and develops training cooperatives have been created in other cities in
programs on this subject. Colombia. Recuperar publishes information on its
Compromisso Empresarial para Reciclagem (CEMPRE) activities as well as public information and education
Red de Accion en Plaguicidas
CEMPRE surge con el fin de constituir una institución Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a network of over
que colabore con la promoción de proyectos educativos 600 participating nongovernmental organizations,
y de investigación, y en el establecimiento de vínculos institutions and individuals in over 90 countries
entre la comunidad científica, autoridades, instituciones working to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with
públicas y privadas, contribuyendo a la búsqueda de ecologically sound alternatives. The international
caminos posibles hacia el manejo integral de los internet page is The
residuos, en particular del reciclaje de los mismos. Latin American regional center, coordinated by the
Centro Panamericano de Ingeniería Sanitaria y Ciencias Alianza por una Mejor Calidad de Vida, can be
del Ambiente (CEPIS) contacted by telephone at 562-3416742.
CEPIS is a specialised centre of the Pan American Sanitation Connection: An environmental sanitation
Health Organisation, which provides technical network Sanitation Connection
assistance, training, and information to countries in the is an Internet-based resource that provides access to
Latin American region on several topics, including accurate, reliable and up-to-date information on
MSW. A very large document library. Telephone: 51-1- technologies, institutions and financing of sanitation
437-1077 systems around the world. Institutions of international
standing contribute to the information base by
Companhia Municipal de Limpeza Urbana providing and maintaining a topic of their Telephone: 55 21- specialization. It is a World Wide Web-based resource
2204-9999 intended to facilitate access to information on
COMLURB is part of the Municipality of Rio de sanitation. It aims to extend its reach through paper
Janeiro, but it functions as a private enterprise. It is and telephone-based services in selected locations. In
responsible for solid waste collection and disposal in the first phase of its development, it is predominantly
this city. COMLURB also does research in landfill English language in orientation. Information in other
development and gas use. As part of this program, it is languages will be increasingly available as it develops
presently using landfill gas to power light further.
transportation equipment. It has also developed Silicone Valley Toxics Coalition-—E-Waste
compost and recycling systems on a pilot level. The Backgrounder Silicon Valley Toxics
enterprise also manufactures waste collection Coalition (SVTC) is a diverse grassroots coalition that
equipment. It evaluated the implementation of an engages in research, advocacy, and organizing around
incinerator, but determined that it was not feasible. the environmental and human health problems caused
COMLURB has an open library specialising in solid by the rapid growth of the high-tech electronics
waste. industry. Available in English only.
Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Software for Environmental Awareness
SANDEC is involved in applied research, capacity Alternative link: Free
building, and training to contribute towards integrated, interactive software on environmental topics. These
and sustainable solid waste management systems, new programs are produced by Purdue University in
concepts, transdiciplinary approaches and cross- cooperation with US EPA. Included here are programs
sectorial technologies. on Household Waste Management. Some information
Instituto Brasileiro de Administração Municipal available in Spanish. IBAM is an NGO working on WASTE: Advisors on Urban Environment and
the improvement of municipal management in Brazil. Development: WASTE advises in
It has a group that works on solid waste, providing sustainable improvement of the urban environment.
technical assistance on technologies and management, The focus of activities is on low-income urban areas in
training courses and documents on the subject. IBAM order to develop, together with local residents, tools
has developed a Manual on Public Cleansing and a and means for their own development, enabling them
Manual on Recycling, focusing on the role of to improve their living conditions, the environment and
municipalities. IBAM carries out studies for to create employment as a sound economic base for
municipalities and other organisations on MSW. their future. Another important focal point for WASTE
Recuperar Telephone: +57-4-372-0720 Email: the role of small-scale entrepreneurs and their Recuperar is a recycling (potential) contribution to the provision of urban
cooperative that has had a significant impact on the services and their integration in the municipal services
perception of recycling in Colombia. It has shown that e.g. in resource recovery and the removal of urban
recycling can have significant social and economic, as waste.
well as environmental, benefits. Recuperar initiated its Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC):
activities as a result of the need to provide jobs for WEDC is concerned with
landfill waste pickers who had been displaced as a seeking solutions to the serious problems associated
result of the closure of the Medellín city dump. The with inadequate collection and poor disposal of waste
organization trains and provides health and life in low- and middle-income countries where
insurance benefits to its members, who number over indiscriminate dumping of waste creates serious health

Chapter 4: Sanitation and Waste

and environmental hazards and blocks drains and regional division of the WHO. National office listings
sewers. can be found at the end of the previous chapter.
World Health Organization - division of Water, zoomZap: Resources from Chiapas, Mexico
Sanitation and Health: The aim of The goal of ZoomZap is to provide practical ideas and
the WSH division is the reduction of water- and waste- tools for achieving a more just and sustainable world
related disease and the optimization of the health and for living freer, more fulfilling and more
benefits of sustainable water and waste management, independent lives in healthy communities. Their
with an objective of assisting citizens to understand ‘Manuals Project’ features a very detailed manual on
and act on the health impacts of their actions. WHO dry composting toilets.
has hundreds of full text manuals available on-line and
by order. The Pan American Health Organization is the

Listening To The Earth

Chapter 5
Energy Assessment

Energy: The Animation of the the result of nuclear fusion reactions taking place
billions of kilometers away. The nuclear bomb is
Universe one of the only earthly uses of nuclear fusion. An
nergy is the force behind movement. It is example of nuclear fission, or the splitting an atom,

E the power that gets work done—work being

movement through resistance. It is the force
we get from food, that we feel as heat, that we see
is the atomic bomb. The same type of fission
reaction is used in a ‘controlled’ manner to create
electricity in many generation plants around the
as light, and hear as sound. It is the mechanical world. It turns out that one of the most dangerous
power of an engine, a system of levers, or the waste products of nuclear generation, plutonium,
volume and intensity of your voice. is the raw material for the nuclear weapons that
We tend to think of energy as being apart from threaten the continued existence of human life on
matter. Matter is the stuff that has mass, or weight, earth.
and texture. Energy is what makes it move, get
warmer, do work, etc. But, any physicist will tell Many Forms of Energy
you that energy is not that simple. Indeed, it is a
fascinating entity. There are many different ways by which energy can
It turns out that ultimately, all matter is energy, express itself. It may be the light emitted by a star,
and all energy is matter. If you look at them very a flashlight, or a phosphorescent animal, or it may
closely, the two entities are indistinquishable. In be in the form of ‘invisible’ radiation like gamma
short, this means that the entire physical universe rays, X-rays, or radio waves. It may be in the form
is made of energy. of wind, or the movement of the atoms of the air.
It might be mechanical or physical, as in the form
Properties of Energy of a spring, a lever, or a rolling stone.
Energy can also be stored; i.e. there is ‘potential
In all but the notable exception of nuclear energy’ that can create force, but isn’t doing so at
reactions, the total amount of energy in a closed the moment. Electricity can be stored in the form
system remains the same, or is ‘conserved.’ This of a battery, or, similarly, physical/mechanical
means that energy is continually changing into energy is stored in a rock on top of a cliff.
various forms (e.g. light, heat, movement, Energy is stored in the structure and
magnatism, electricity, X-rays, etc.), but never organization created by life forms, and in the
disappearing from the universe. structure of chemical bonds. When these
The Earth is not a closed system, as the sun is structures are broken or changed, energy is either
continually showering energy onto the Earth. released or absorbed, depending on the type of
Nevertheless, the energy does not disappear once it reaction.
hits the Earth. Instead, it is converted into all sorts Heat is the vibrational energy of matter. The
of other forms, including life (or bio-mass), heat, faster the atoms are vibrating, the higher the
light, electricity, and many other forms of energy. temperature.
The exception to the conservation rule occurs Energy is continually converted from one form
in the case of nuclear reactions. In these reactions into another. For example, the sun’s energy may be
matter ‘becomes’ energy. Nuclear rections convert converted into bio-energy in the form of a plant
a small bit of matter into a tremendous amount of (which includes all sorts of chemical reactions),
energy. These are some of the most powerful which is then made into food for us, or into light
reactions known in the universe. There are two and heat if it is combusted. The sun’s energy can
type of nuclear reactions: nuclear fusion, and be focused into a point that becomes very, very
nuclear fission. hot. The movement of air, or wind, can be made to
The energy for all the life on earth, the sun, is force wheels and shafts to turn (like a windmill).

Listening To The Earth

Humans also use steam energy, which is using the converting an energy source into mechanical shaft
force of pressurized steam to do work, like to power, which in turn drives a generator which
power a locomotive, or to turn a turbine. produces electricity. The energy source can vary
Truly, energy is a Sacred Gift, and we have depending on the available resources. Typical
many uses for it. A few of the most important uses sources include fossil fuels, nuclear fuels (rare in
include the basic services of cooking, heating, Latin America), hydro power (very prevalent in
lighting, space conditioning, and safe storage of Latin America), solar power, wind power,
food. In addition, the provision of clean water and geothermal, etc.
sanitation, which is facilitated by energy, affects Traditional thermal power generation uses oil,
public health in cities as well as rural areas. coal or gas to produce heat which in turn is used to
Societies also require services such as create steam which drives a steam turbine. The
transportation, power for industry and agriculture, turbine provides the mechanical power for the
and heat for materials processing. generator. Similarly, nuclear power generation uses
Energy is essential to economic and social nuclear fuels such as uranium, which undergo
development and improved quality of life. Much of nuclear fission in a reactor, to provide heat to drive
the world’s energy, however, is currently produced the turbine. Hydropower uses the stored or
and consumed in ways that could not be sustained potential energy of water which has a ‘head’ or
if technology were to remain constant and if height above a certain point. The water is dropped
overall consumption continues to increase through a turbine which provides shaft power for
substantially. directly driving a generator. Windpower uses a
similar principle but the energy is extracted from
Electricity, a Special Form of Energy the wind to drive the turbine. Geothermal energy
is heat energy stored in the earth’s crust which can
Electricity is the flowing of electrons, or negatively be tapped to heat water for driving a turbine. Solar
charged particles through a medium. The medium energy for providing electricity can be derived
is then said to be ‘conducting’ electricity; or, in using one of two methods.
other words, it has electrons flowing through it. Heat from the sun can be concentrated to drive
Electricity occurs naturally, for example, as a steam turbine, or the more popular method uses
lightning. Lightning is an electric charge traveling the photovoltaic (PV) principle to convert sunlight
through the atmosphere. Electricity also can be directly into electricity. Solar and wind
produced by humans. Electricity is an extremely technologies are not used on a widespread basis for
versatile, clean and ‘user-friendly’ form of energy. producing electricity which is fed into large grid
There is an almost limitless range of applications systems, though examples do exist.
for electricity. Electrical motors provide shaft In the Latin American region, as far as
power that can be used for a multitude of electricity is concerned, the predominant source is
industrial and agricultural activities, as well as for hydro (i.e. water) energy. The region holds 19% of
transport. Lights allow us to peer into the dark, total world hydropower potential, with Brazil
which has greatly impacted the lives of humans. having the largest share and the largest installed
Batteries allow electricity to be stored for periods capacity.
when it will be required for any of these purposes. Mexico has the most conventional fossil fuel
The social impact of introducing electricity to a electricity generation in the region. Nuclear power
region is enormous. There are the obvious benefits is a reality in only three countries: Argentina,
of improved social services; lighting at health Brazil and Mexico. Geothermal electricity
centres, hospitals and schools, refrigeration of generation only contributes marginally to the total,
vaccines, etc. There are other social gains such as with Mexico having the largest installed capacity.
street lighting, cinema and television, community Sugar cane biomass is the most important source
services such as milling of grain, sawmills or of commercial biofuels. Non-commercial biomass
battery charging (often an alternative to grid (e.g. dung, agricultural residues, wood, etc.) as a
connections). direct fuel is very important in rural areas; it is
estimated that it contributes about 8% of the
Electricity: Modern ‘Utility’ energy supply of the region.

Electricity is most commonly produced by

Chapter 5: Energy

The Grid and Social Inequality urbanisation continues. The utilities often find it
difficult to cope with the existing demand, let
Latin America has the highest electricity coverage alone to think about catering for an increased
(84%) of any region in the South. This high demand from rural areas.
electricity service coverage disguises the fact that Positive political will and subsidies or loan
approximately 75 million people still lack it, schemes for rural electrification can remove some
mostly in the countryside. Indeed, about 60% of of these obstacles but often neither are
the rural population has no access to electricity. forthcoming. It seems, therefore, in many
Much of the energy consumed in the countryside countries, that little progress will be made if rural
is still ‘traditional’ (mainly burning of biomass communities are to wait for the grid to reach them.
materials in cooking). These traditional practices, In conclusion we can see that an alternative is
which involve unsustainable consumption of required. One such alternative is found in the form
resources, not only cause major damage to the of decentralised power generation using renewable
environment by reducing vegetation and forest energy technologies. Another alternative, which is
cover; but also cause severe respiratory health used widely, is to utilise small diesel generating sets
problems, particularly in women and children. to provide electricity for local networks.
Despite the fact that the rural population without
access to electricity has been dropping in absolute Producing Electricity, Creating Catastrophes?
terms over the past 20 years in Latin America, the
shift to modern forms of energy is not occurring as What catastrophes?—Hidden Costs of
rapidly as it could be. Electricity
Often, the cost of electricity is relatively small
Cost of Rural Grid Connection when compared to other household expenses. That
There are many constraints to rural grid based is because the real costs of generating electricity are
electrification. Firstly there is the question of cost. usually hidden and unaccounted for. The electric
The cost of grid connection is influenced by the power industry is the largest toxic polluter in the
voltage and proximity of the grid and whether world. Producing electricity from coal and oil
there is a step down transformer already serving releases a wide range of pollutants into the
the area in question. Capital cost of the environment. In addition to toxic air pollution
distribution system is very high and demand in from power plant smokestacks, large volumes of
rural areas is very low. Households can be widely toxic chemicals are produced at coal and oil-fired
dispersed and often rural consumers will want to power plants and include millions of tons of solid
use only a few light bulbs and a radio in the and liquid wastes that are typically disposed of at
evening. The cost-benefit relationship shows that or near the power plants that generate these
there is little incentive for an electricity producing wastes. Unfortunately, soot emissions from coal-
utility to extend the grid into remote rural areas. burning power plants, diesel fumes emitted by
Often rural regional centres will be electrified but portable generators, and other pollution emitted
the network will usually stop there or bypass the by generation are ‘social costs’ that usually are not
more remote villagers as high voltage cables passing incorporated into the cost of the service.
overhead. For example, an old coal-fired power plant
might produce cheaper electricity than a new
Other barriers to grid connection natural gas-burning plant, because the plant
Although introduction of electricity to a requires more expensive equipment and more
community often stimulates income generating expensive fuel; but if the coal emissions are fouling
activities and hence a gradual increase in the the local town’s air, and the cost of that pollution
uptake of electricity use, the conditions for is included in the electricity pricing structure,
introducing electricity do not normally exist in electricity from the coal-burning plant would
rural areas, since most commercial and industrial actually be more expensive than the new plant. It
activities are concentrated at the regional centres. is a frequent situation in which energy is priced
In many countries the existing generating below its actual social cost.
capacity is unable to cope with demand. Burning ‘fossil fuels’ (coal, gas, oil) is one of the
Blackouts are a common occurrence in many most common methods of generating electricty.
major cities, especially as the process of rapid Burning any fossil fuel releases a great deal of CO2

Listening To The Earth

(carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere, which have. Most generally, an environmental assessment
directly contributes to the global warming of the is conducted before a dam is contructed to assess
Earth. Of the fossil fuels used, natural gas burns the negative environmental and social impacts of
the cleanest, meaning that it only emits water and the project, and to recommend mitigation
CO2; however, other fossil fuels do not burn as measures. Neverthless, most Latin America dams
purely. Coal is the ‘dirtiest’ fossil fuel used for that are constructed are massive structures erected
power generation. In addition to CO2, it releases with little regard to the ecological effects that their
particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SOx), construction will cause. All too often the
nitrogen oxide (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO), mitigation efforts suggested by environmental
as well as soot, sludge, and wastewater discharges. assessements are ignored or their implementation
The environmental discharges of these is not funded.
pollutants can be controlled through selection of Nuclear (fission) energy is currently utilized to
the fuel and its properties (such as low sulfur coal) produce electricity in about thirty countries,
as well as operation of the fuel burning process including a few in Latin America. The waste
(e.g. use of low-NOx burners reducing nitrogen products of this reaction are of the most
oxide emissions) and end of process controls such dangerous, most poisonous, and toxic substances
as use of particulate control equipment known on earth. Aside from being used as
(electrostatic precipitators or baghouses) for flue ammunition for weapons of war (nuclear weapons,
gases or settling tanks for process wastewaters. In for example), there are very few known uses for the
addition, ash generated from fuel burning can be radioactive residues leftover from nuclear
managed and disposed of properly so as not to reactions. Thus, the accumulation of nuclear
contaminate surface or ground waters. waste, both in dump sites and in armaments of the
Nevertheless, it is often the case that these controls weapons made from it, is a very serious
are not utilized, and even when they are, many environmental concern. The radiation from
produce a large volume of very concentrated, often nuclear waste causes a staggering array of
toxic substances. This is known as toxic waste. mutagenic effects to occur in the world of biology.
Toxic waste disposal practices are another severe Besides burns and other direct tissue damage, it
environmental problem in many areas. can cause disruptions in a living cell’s genetic code;
Besides the environmental reasons that make thus radiation causes cancer, birth defects, and
the use of fossil fuels unsustainable, it is important other chronic conditions. Often nuclear energy is
to recognize that fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and portrayed as ‘clean energy’ because the direct
gas are non-renewable natural resources, which atmospheric pollution is considerably less than
take millions of years to form. Therefore, we need that of a fossil-fuel burning plant. Nevertheless,
to be very mindful if and/or when we consume one can easily question the ‘cleanliness’ of nuclear
these fuels so that future generations may continue power.
to enjoy these gifts of the earth. The environmental impacts of a host of energy-
Hydroelectric dams, the most common form of linked emissions – including those listed above–
generation in Latin America, do not release any contribute to local, regional, and global air
chemical pollution into the air or water. Despite pollution and ecosystem degradation. Human
this fact, dams are often the cause of critical and health is threatened by high levels of pollution
catastrophic effects to the ecosystem in which they resulting from particular types of energy use at the
are built. Dams can effectively block all upstream household,community, and regional levels. The
movement by any form of aquatic species. effects of this pollution result in significant human
Furthermore, they disrupt the habitats and illness, like lung diseases, allergies, cancers, as well
patterns of behavior of the wildlife that once as having destructive effects on habitats and
occupied the land area that becomes a reservoir. wildlife.
Humans are often forced off their ancestral land by Furthermore, while economic and social
governments eager to supply their cities with cheap analyses are conducted prior to investments in
and ‘efficient’ electricity. conventional energy generation, with the vision to
Dams can be built to a size and in a manner reach as many as possible, there are still those who
that would produce minimal damage to an fall outside this vision. Wide disparities in access
ecosystem, and attempts can be made to mitigate to affordable commercial energy and energy
the environmental and social impacts that they do services in both urban centres and rural areas are

Chapter 5: Energy

inequitable, run counter to the concept of human energy technologies (such as diesel motors and
development, and threaten social stability. hybrids) are important options for poverty
Investments in centralised, capital-intensive alleviation, particularly technologies that are
conventional energy enterprises such as coal-fired locally made and that operate using locally
power-generation and large dams in practice largely available fuels (e.g., hydro power, wind power, solar
benefit high- and middle-income urban power, and modern biomass resources).
communities, commercial establishments, and Decentralisation of generation also allows control
industries through electricity distributed through of the system to remain in the hands of the users
power grids. Poor, dispersed rural communities and removes the dependency on external supplies
that are often far from the grid rarely benefit from and market forces. These decentralised energy
such investments. Even in urban areas, low-income technologies can be a source of enterprise creation
neighbourhoods and shantytowns are often not and employment for both the rural and urban
connected to the grid. poor, and can be competitive and affordable in
The production and consumption of energy isolated areas and other markets. Access to
causes serious economic crises in many countries decentralised small-scale energy technologies is an
that are dependent upon fuel provided by other important element of successful poverty
countries. Dependence on imported fuels leaves alleviation.
such countries vulnerable to disruptions in supply,
which can cause physical hardships and economic Keeping Energy Sacred
burdens; however, it is the relative weight of fossil
fuels imports on the balance of payments, that is The assessments that follow will help your
absolutely unbearable for many poorer countries. community evaluate its policies and practices
Thus, while electricity may be a very desirable regarding energy use, most especially the
utility, the current methods used to generate it are production and use of electricity.
causing many critical environmental and social The first assessment, is meant to help you
problems. evaluate your community’s productive capacity,
and your community’s relationship to the Earth
Sustainable Alternatives via your electricity provider. If your community
uses diesel or gas-powered generators, completing
Finding ways to expand energy services while the Outdoor Air Quality Assessment is
simultaneously addressing the environmental recommended. Similarly, if your community uses
impacts associated with energy use represents batteries, it is recommended that you complete the
critical challenge to humanity. Major changes are Waste Handling Assessment as well. This
required in energy system development world- assessment should be applicable to your
wide. Resources and technology options exist and community whether you live in an urban area or a
are available that meet these challenges—energy rural area, and as well, whether you have grid
efficiency, renewable energy sources, decentralized electricity or not.
networking—but they require the creativity, The second assessment is meant to help you
advocacy, and implementation by communities evaluate your community’s energy consumption
like yours to make sustainable energy use a reality. practices. The content of this section applies
As mentioned earlier, one of the main obstacles mostly especially to communities that are within
to national grid connection in remote rural areas is an urban area, or are otherwise connected to grid
the prohibitive cost of the distribution network. electricity. Nevertheless, it may still be helpful to
One way of avoiding these costs are to decentralise review the assessment even if your community is
the power generating capacity and install local rural.
small scale, low voltage grids, otherwise known as Each question is discussed in the sections
micro-grids. Localised grid networks allow local, following the inventories, where you will be
renewable resources to be exploited. Energy sources provided a means to evaluate your responses, and
such as small-scale hydropower, solar directed to resources to help your community
(photovoltaic), wind power and biogas are all being improve its energy sustainability.
employed successfully in rural electrification
projects. A growing number of studies find that
renewable and other decentralised small-scale

Listening To The Earth

Electricity Production Practices: your community grounds, by circling a number 1–9:

Inventory 123456789
no direct sunlight……consistent direct light
The following inventory is designed to help you assess
your community’s present situation in regards to the Rate the quantity and quality of wind experienced at
consumption and generation of electricity. Following the your location:
inventory there is an evaluation section that will help 123456789
you interpret your results. little or no wind…steady breezes…consistently strong wind

1 Community Consumption Choose a number to represent the quantity of

compostable organic matter that your community
Is your religious community connected to an electicity produces (especially crop residues and animal wastes;
power grid? consider human excreta):
Yes / No 123456789
minimal… …large scale agricultural
(food scraps only) (ton(s)/week)
What is the average amount of electricity purchased
from the grid source (answer in kilowatt hours/month)?
If your community is situated on or near a body of
water, choose a number that represents its volume:
If your community uses a fuel-based generator, how 123456789
many liters of fuel does your community use per month? pond……lake……ocean
List all that are used:
Similarly, indicate the flow of the water:
Natural gas (methane) ..................L 123456789
stagnant……high-velocity river
Kerosene (Paraffin) ......................L
If your community has ever had its location explored
Other bottled gas (LPG) ..............L and assessed for geothermal resources by an expert, how
suitable is your location for access to this resource?
Gasoline ......................................L 123456789
prohibitive……very suitable
Biogas ..........................................L
Choose a number that describes the amount of your
Diesel fuel ....................................L community’s property upon which a structure could be
Oil ..............................................L 123456789
no space available…small structure(s) possible…ample space
Biodiesel or other liquid bio-fuel ....L to build (>1000m2)

Other fuel: ________________ ......L 3 Community Generative Practices

If your community consumes non-rechargeable batteries Considering your community’s electricity consumption,
for use, about how much money is spent each month on estimate or specify the percentage of the energy that is
purchasing batteries? self-produced, i.e. generated by your community by
means of a generator, water, solar or wind energy:
2 Community Generative Potential %
(Portion of self-generated electricity)
Consider your community’s geographical location
and property. Assess the following characteristics: If your community generates electricity, which
technology(s) do you use?
c Wind energy
Rate the amount of direct sunlight that is available on c Active (PV) Solar Panel
c Passive Solar

Chapter 5: Energy

c Hydrological/Water Energy Is your community educated about the health

c Geothermal hazards associated with the particular types of
c Generator using non-renewable fuels batteries used?
c Generator using renewable fuels Yes / No
c None Is your community aware of the environmental risks
associated with improper disposal of your batteries?
Who is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of Yes / No
your generative equipment?

Does the community have a maintenance plan for Notice before continuing
the equipment? If your community purchases, or electricity is
Yes / No otherwise provided by, an ‘outside’ source such
Does your community include these maintenance as an electric utility corporation or cooperative,
expenses as part of the budget? governmental or otherwise, continue on to
Yes / No complete this assessment. Otherwise, if your
Does your community share its productive technology greater community does not have electrical
with the larger community (either by directly sharing infrastructure, or your religious community
the electricity produced, or by educating about energy does not use any ‘outside’ electricity, skip the
production) rest of this inventory, and start the evaluation
Yes / No process on page 175, Electricity Production
Practices Evaluation.
If batteries are used by your community, especially as
components of a generative system, what types of
batteries are used (see page 177-180 for descriptions)? 4. Sources of Expert Information
Primary cells or dry batteries:
c standard zinc-carbon Electricity Utility Provider/Generation Network
c alkaline or heavy duty It will be helpful to contact the Provider directly to
Secondary cells or rechargeable batteries: help answer the questions that follow. Thus, record
c lead-acid battery below information specific to your Provider:
c vented lead-acid
c automotive (car Name of Provider:
c deep-discharge or traction
c stationary Contact information:
c low-antimony solar battery
c sealed or valve-regulated
Nickel-Cadmium batteries: Contact Person:
c vented
c sealed
When there is a problem with your electricity
Describe the quantity and frequency of replacement supply, who do you contact, and how?
(life span) for the batteries that your community
Governmental Regulatory Agency
Battery type Quantity Life span (weeks/mo/yrs) Your government should have an agency/ministry
that is responsible for enforcing environmental
regulations. If you don’t know of one, refer to the
List of Categorized References in the back of this
manual to help locate one.

How does your community currently dispose of its Name of Agency:

used batteries?
Contact information:

Listening To The Earth

Contact Person: Contact information:

What section(s) of law regulate the environmental Contact Person:

emissions of electricity providers?

Has your community ever contacted or received

information from this group before?
Expert Public/ Consumer Safety and Health Yes / No
Information Source According to these experts, what is the most
It will also be helpful to contact a public/consumer important issue regarding electricity generation that
health protection or advocacy group that can your community should support?
provide reliable, expert data on the safety of
electricity generation plants. If you don’t know of
one, refer to the List of Categorized References in
the back of this manual to help locate one. 5. Electricity Provider Governance

Do you know of a public/consumer protection/advocacy Does the Provider have a governing body, such as a
group that can provide reliable, expert data on the committee or an elected assembly to make management
safety of generation plants? decisions?
Yes / No Yes / No
Name of Organization: Does your religious community have a member that
serves on this governing body, if one exists?
Contact information: Yes / No / Not Applicable

Do the consumers of the provided energy have the ability

Contact Person: to make or influence decisions regarding how the utility
is governed (e.g. decisions regarding coverage area, fee
structures, changes to the generating facility, etc.)?
Has your community ever contacted or received Yes / No
information from this group before? If ‘yes’, Describe the ways in which this influence
Yes / No may be effected:

According to these experts, what is the most important

issue regarding electricity generation that your
community should support?

Are fees established for the service provided?

Expert Environmental Information Source Yes / No
It will also be helpful to contact an environmental
protection or advocacy group that can provide If so, how were the fees established?
reliable, expert data on the ecological impacts of c Vote
electricity generation plants. If you don’t know of Were everyone’s interests represented in the
one, refer to the List of Categorized References in vote?
the back of this manual to help locate one. c Yes, everyone was represented or could vote
c Only men were represented / could vote
Do you know of a environmental protection/advocacy c Only landowners were represented/ could
group that can provide reliable, expert data on the vote
safety of generation plants? c Other restriction (specify):
Yes / No c Decree with community input
Name of Organization: c Decree without community input
c Other (specify):

Chapter 5: Energy

Does your community include electricity expenses as If so, describe:

part of your budget?
Yes / No
Pollutants that are noncompliant
6. Public and Environmental Safety

What type of generation facility(ies) are used to produce Pollutant concentration

electricity for the network? Specifically, what type(s) of
fuel is/ are used?
Fossil Fuels Reason for noncompliance
c Natural gas (methane)
c Coal
c Oil
c Diesel/other petro-fuel 7. Provider Quality
Other ‘Conventional’ Fuels
c Nuclear reactor In your community’s experience, how reliable is the
c Large scale hydro-power service provided?
c Rubbish/incineration 123456789
Renewable Earth Energies poor…intermittent…continuous service
c Solar collection
c Wind farm According to environmental or health experts, what
c Geothermal emissions and wastes does the Provider release into the
c Mini/micro-hydro environment?
Renewable (bio-) Fuels
c Ethanol/methanol (alcohol)
c Bio-diesel
c Biogas (methane from digestors) According to these experts, are the public safety measures
Other (specify): that the Provider has in place adequate?
Yes / No
According to the Provider, describe the quantity and If the answer is ‘no,’ describe why.
identity of the main emissions that the plant(s) releases
into the atmosphere, as well as the residues that are a
product of the generation and how they’re disposed of:

8. Community Practices and Education

Does your community agree with the recommendations

for action prescribed by the expert organizations?
According to the Provider, describe the safety measures Yes / No
that are in place to protect the public from the utility’s If so, describe the actions your community is taking
hazards, such as downed lines, accidental electricutions, to change the present situation:
meltdowns, etc., as well as filters that reduce
environmental impacts (e.g. pollution scrubbers,
cogeneration, etc.):
How well is your community educated about the adverse
environmental impacts of electricity production?
(1= not at all, 9= experts)

According to the governmental regulatory agency, is your How well is your community informed about ways in
Electricity Provider in compliance with all which to conserve electricity?
environmental statutes? 123456789
Yes / No (1= not at all, 9= experts)

Listening To The Earth

Electricity Production Practices: network outages, inflationary utility costs, and the
Evaluation lack of control over the generation process itself.
There are numerous grants available from the
At the end of each discussion section, there will be a international community for sustainability
statement and a list of numbers from which to choose. projects, and grants for the use or implementation
Choose a number from 1-9 to indicate your assessment of renewable fuels. See the List of Categorized
of how well your community represents the statement references for some further grant opportunities. It
given. (1 = disagree, community practices unhealthy; 9 is very helpful for your community to make
= agree completely, no change needed) consistent efforts to solicit funds, both from
benefactors and grantors, for your sustainability
1. Community Consumption efforts.
If constructing an electricity generating
The purpose of this first question is to provide apparatus of any sort is beyond the means of your
your community with indicators that you can use religious community, it may still be possible within
to assess your electricity consumption. The total your larger community. With the right amount of
electricity used in your community would be equal cooperation within your larger community, small-
to the sum of the amount you purchase from a grid scale generating facilities can be constructed and
source, plus the amount you generate, plus the governed locally.
amount of primary-cell (i.e. disposable) batteries The questions here are meant to focus on the
that you use. environmental conditions that would favor the
More simply, however, this question is meant generation of electricity by your community in
only to provide a measurable way of assessing your manners that are ecologically sound.
community’s electricity use, especially in terms of If your location receives a great amount of
the dependencies that its use requires. It may direct sunlight, solar arrays and collectors are
depend upon money, fuel, and/or the availability of certainly indicated as viable options. Solar energy
an electrical network. can be captured and used in a variety of manners,
If your community is committed to reducing but can be generally grouped into either (a) passive
their demand for energy, indicators like these can systems, or (b) active systems. Passive systems
be used to track your progress; at the same time, simply collect the sun’s energy, concentrate it, and
they can provide a record of the economic savings apply it to something that needs to be heated. This
that result from conservation practices. may be an oven, an apparatus for heating water, or
even for the boiling of liquid for steam generation.
Our community monitors our energy consumption (or at Steam may be used to turn a turbine to produce
least how much of our resources we expend upon fuel). electricity. Active systems rely upon photo-voltaic
123456789 cell arrays, or solar panels, to convert sunlight into
electricity. The intensity of the light determines
2. Community Generative Potential the amount of power generated, and thus,
collecting and focusing the sun’s rays toward the
Generating your own electricity has many benefits. solar panel will help to maximize the generative
The less your community has to depend upon potential of an active system.
outside sources for electricity, the more power your If your location has reliable and steady amounts
community has over the cost and environmental of wind, converting this energy into electricity is an
effects of its generation. Although the initial option that would require the construction of one
capital expense of generation equipment is often form of windmill or another. There are many
high, the equipment usually pays for itself within a different designs in use today, and some are much
reasonable amount of time. Nevertheless, there are more efficient than others. Beside generating
benefits besides financial savings. As discussed in electricity, windmills can be used to convert wind
the introduction to this assessment chapter, the energy into a mechanical form that can turn water
most equitable, sustainable and secure type of pumps, corn grinders, paddle wheels, etc.
electrical grid (or network) is one that is If your community produces a large amount of
decentralized with numerous independent organic waste, as would be the case if your
generation points. By generating your own community farmed animals, for example, the
electricity, you safeguard your community from organic waste can be collected and ‘digested,’ or

Chapter 5: Energy

composted in a special way, so that the methane required infrastructure.

gas released from the process can be collected and Use the resources listed at the end of this
pressurized for use as a renewable fuel. This gas chapter to learn more about your community’s
can be used as a cooking or heating fuel, or can be energy generating potential.
used to fuel a boiler that generates steam in order
to turn a turbine to produce electricity. Rate your community’s potential for sustainable energy
If your community is situated upon some body generation, based upon its location, geography, and
of water like a stream, river, lake, or ocean, then prevailing environmental conditions.
the water’s energy may be harnessed and 123456789
converted into a more usable form. This is usually
accomplished by means of a turbine which is 3. Community Generative Practices
turned by the motion of the water. Large scale
hydrological power (or hydro-electric) facilities use There are many advantages to maximizing the
a dam to increase the potential energy of the water, amount of energy your community produces,
before letting it fall across the turbine. However, including greater autonomy and greater control
technology is available allows for a much more over the generative process. In most cases, if
efficient conversion process. Implementing such thoughtful plans are assembled and the installation
technology reduces the need for large dams. The is well-maintained, self-production is not only
current of a river or the wave motion of an ocean cheaper over time, but also more environmentally
may both be captured and utilized to make sound. Thus, if the generative capacity of your
electricity. community has been assessed by experts, your
Geothermal energy is heat that comes from the location is suitable for an installation, and the
core of the earth. The deeper one digs towards the capital requirements of the project have been
earth’s core, the higher the temperatures become. considered, it may be wise to invest in such a
When a borehole is drilled into these heated project.
regions (often two kilometers deep or more), Alternative means of producing energy or
pressurized water is vented to the surface which electricity abound, and a community is not limited
can be used in a variety of ways. If the water is to just using one means or another. It may be the
steam, the steam can be used to turn a turbine, or case that wind is used to pump water, solar energy
the heat can be exchanged for use as part of an air is used to heat it, and stream water is used to
heating or air cooling system. Most of Latin provide the small amount of electricity needed for
America lies upon zones which are easily accessed lighting, while geothermal energy is used to heat
and have very high temperatures. Thus, much of and cool the community facilities. Although such
Latin America is an area quite apt for exploiting an arrangement is not frequently found, especially
high-temperature geothermal energy. If designed where financial resources are limited, the point is
correctly, the water released from the earth is that many options exist, and more energy can
reinjected back into it, making the system close- always be produced with some creativity and
looped. This style of system creates the least of ingenuity.
environmental impact and is the recommended Any generative system will require
design. maintenance, both preventative and repair. Within
Low-temperature (shallow pipe) geothermal your community, there should be at least one
energy can also be harnessed to use for air heating member that is responsible for the operation and
and cooling. This installation does not require maintenance of the generative equipment. This
deep boreholes, but rather utilizes a heat pump person should be trained in the system’s operation,
and a heat exchanging network of pipes that are should know about the dangers and safety issues
buried close to the end-use site at a depth of less inherent to the system design, and should be
than a few meters. experienced or trained in performing all the
Lastly, any of these projects would require the periodic maintenance procedures that the system
construction of some amount of equipment or requires. While this person may not be able to
structure, whether it be storage space for things perform all repairs that may become necessary, this
like batteries, generators, and switches, or land for person more than any other will be able to know
structures like a windmill. Thus, it is necessary to when outside technicians are indicated for repairs.
assess the amount of space available to build the When a system is installed in your community,

Listening To The Earth

the manufacturer or expert who helped to design generally all that is available. Their high cost
the system should provide you with a written or makes them only suitable for powering small
printed maintenance plan for the life of the appliances that can only be used economically for
system. This plan should be executed by the short periods or emergencies.
person responsible for the system’s maintenance. Primary cells are based on an irreversible
Such a plan or the experience of the person electrochemical reaction, and consequently cannot
responsible for maintenance should provide an be recharged. Once the chemicals inside the
indication of what parts or accessories are battery are exhausted the battery is useless and
necessary for the upkeep of the system. In order to must be disposed of. In recent years primary cell
obtain sustainable functioning of your generation technology has improved dramatically, and two
system, the community should allocate part of its distinct qualities of cell are usually available in any
budget towards paying for these needed expenses. size: standard zinccarbon, and alkaline (also called
Lastly, if your community does utilize some ‘heavy duty’ or ‘long life’).
form of sustainable energy production, the The electrical capacity of a cell is the total
technology (including both the actual quantity of electricity that a cell can deliver. The
infrastructure or product and the technical potential electrical capacity of fresh cells of the
knowledge) should be shared with those in your same size and type is the same, but the true
larger community, if possible. If your community capacity is not fixed, it depends on many factors,
produces enough energy, it may be able to share the such as cell size, cell type, rate of discharge,
energy with its neighbors directly. However, if your temperature, and mode of use.
capacity is not that large, your community can In order to optimise the use of dry cells, it is a
help to educate others about how it would be common practice to use them in radios and
possible for them to build and maintain a similar cassette players until their voltage falls (most
system themselves. electronic devices need a minimum voltage to
function at all), and then the cells are finished off ’
Our community strives to find creative and sustainable in flash-lights, where a battery with low voltage
ways to utilize our generative potential, if it exists. simply results in a rather dim and yellow light.
Answer ‘0’ if not applicable.
0123456789 Factors affecting useful life
The capacity of dry cells, like most other batteries,
Our community takes care to keep all generative increases at higher temperatures. The capacity is
equipment well maintained. usually given at 20°C; above this temperature the
123456789 capacity is increased, and below this temperature
capacity is decreased, so warming the batteries
About Batteries before use will result in extra power.
As many small-scale methods of electricity Primary cells are stable in terms of self-
generation are available only intermittently, some discharge. Some of the alkaline ‘heavy duty’ types
form of electricity storage or battery is needed if can be kept for several years with no more than a
people want to have electricity available at all few per cent loss of capacity.
times. The cheaper zinc-carbon type deteriorate more
quickly, but even so they retain their capacity
Primary cells—Dry batteries better than any other type of portable electrical
The familiar flashlight battery is perhaps the most power source. The self-discharge rate is adversely
commonly used battery. This type of battery affected by high temperature, so store the cells at
comes in standard sizes of AAA, AA, C, and D. between 10 and 25°C and at a relative humidity of
Although the purchase or first cost of dry cells below 65 per cent.
is relatively low, it is one of the least cost effective
electrical power sources in terms of the cost per Cost
unit of useful energy delivered. Furthermore, only The cost of electricity from primary cells varies
a limited energy yield can be obtained before the widely between US$140 and $1300 per kWh, and
battery has to be thrown away. Dry batteries are is about 700 to 6500 times more expensive than
used in especially large numbers by the poor, as grid electricity taken at $0.2 per kWh. The initial
they are convenient, just about affordable, and cost of primary cells is low, but the unit cost of

Chapter 5: Energy

electricity from them is extremely high. Despite useful for occasionally used loads than for regularly
this, the use of primary cells remains common, used ones. They are particularly well suited for
partly because the cost is spread over a period of small photovoltaic application where they are
time, partly because they are convenient, but being charged with daily sunshine.
mainly because they are often the only source of
power available, particularly in rural areas. Memory effect of ni-cad batteries
The memory effect is the tendency of a battery
Secondary cells: Rechargeable cells and batteries to adjust ‘its electrical properties to a certain duty
There are two main types of secondary cell in cycle to which it has been subjected for an
general use: lead-acid and nickel-cadmium (NiCd). extended period of time. Vented pocketplate
batteries do not develop this effect, but sealed
Nickel-cadmium batteries cells, such as the AAA, AA, C, and D sizes do. To
The main alternative to the lead-acid battery is the remedy this problem, they need to be ‘awakened’
nickel-cadmium or ‘ni-cad’ battery. Like lead-acid, by being fully charged and discharged for three or
ni-cad batteries are available either vented or four cycles before their memory is ‘stretched’
sealed. Vented ni-cad are designed for applications enough to hold a full charge.
which require robust energy storage with long
operating lifetimes and minimal maintenance. Costs
Sealed and usually small (i.e. sized AAA, AA, or The small ni-cad batteries have a higher initial cost
D), ni-cad batteries are used as an economical than a primary cell, but work out much less
replacement for dry cells. expensive in the long run since they can be
The nominal voltage of a ni-cad cell is 1.2 volts, recharged and re-used from 100 to 1000 times
so a nominal 12V ni-cad system needs 10 cells. Ni- before they lose their capacity and need to be
cad cells can withstand a greater depth of discharge replaced. Obviously, a suitable power source is
than lead-acid batteries, and so generally a smaller necessary to recharge them, which could be a
capacity can serve a given duty. They also tend to special low-voltage charger powered by the mains
last longer, 10 to 20 years for the larger ones. Ni- or a generating set, or by solar photovoltaics. Large
cads are less easily damaged by over-discharge or nickel-cadmium batteries can also be financially
overcharging, and so simpler and cheaper charge competitive with large (over 100Ah) lead-acid
control systems can be used to compensate for batteries, bearing in mind that they can be 100 per
their extra unit costs. They are also more tolerant cent discharged while a lead-acid battery generally
of extreme temperature variation than lead-acid should be limited to 50 to 70 per cent discharge of
batteries, and can operate at sub-zero its rated capacity.
Although ni-cad batteries are robust and Lead-acid
reliable, they do have a few shortcomings that can The least expensive option for any significant size
cause problems. One major problem is that of electrical battery storage is the lead-acid battery.
reversing the polarity when recharging a ni-cad cell Lead-acid batteries have a nominal fully charged
usually destroys it completely. This can sometimes voltage of 2V per cell, so a 12V battery typically
happen, not because a cell was reversed by has six cells in series. A lead-acid battery will only
carelessness when wiring it up for recharging, but withstand a certain number of charge-discharge
when one cell in a battery of ni-cad cells is weaker cycles, before it fails and needs to be replaced. The
than the rest: then the good cells can cause reverse greater the depth of discharge (that is the more on
charging of a weak one in certain circumstances, average that the battery is ‘flattened’}, the fewer
destroying the weak one completely. This is one cycles it will survive. For example a battery that is
reason why it is not a good policy to mix old cells discharged regularly by 80 per cent of its total
and new ones either for recharging or for actual capacity may last 800 cycles, but if it is discharged
use. by only 20 per cent each time it may last 6000
Another characteristic of ni-cad batteries is a cycles. If the battery were discharged at 20 per cent
tendency to self-discharge rather more quickly rather than 80 per cent, the rated capacity will
than lead-acid cells and much more quickly than have to be four times larger to deliver the same
primary cells. Ni-cad primary cell substitutes energy, but will last at least four times as long. The
therefore need regular recharging and are less size of the battery is therefore a compromise

Listening To The Earth

between making it large but too expensive, and Stationary batteries

small and affordable but too easily discharged and These batteries are often called stand-alone or
therefore too short-lived. standby batteries, and have been designed to
A lead-acid battery’s capacities are usually supply power when there is a grid failure. In most
specified for 25°C operating temperature. The applications they are kept fully charged by the grid
capacity is typically reduced by 1 per cent per 1°C supply and are ready to take the load whenever
going down to 0°C, but increases approximately 1 needed. They are extremely reliable, have a low
per cent per 1°C, going up from 25°C to 40°C. The self-discharge rate, and a long cycle life with
problem is that the life of the battery decreases shallow cycles, lasting up to ten years. These
with increased temperature so, in a tropical batteries are usually oversized when used for
climate, a battery should be kept whenever stand-alone applications, to ensure that they only
possible in a cool and well ventilated room. run with shallow cycles and last a long time.
As many small-scale methods of electricity
generation are available only intermittently, some Low-antimony solar batteries
form of electricity storage or battery is needed if These batteries are similar to stationary ones, but
people want to have electricity available at all have been designed for photovoltaic systems. The
times. Lead-acid batteries can be simply sub- self-discharge rate and distilled water consumption
divided into five categories, the first four of which are both low. The cycle ranges from 1200 to 3000
are vented: depending on the discharge rates. These batteries
• Automotive are fairly expensive and available only to run with
• Deep-discharge or traction photovoltaic systems.
• Stationary
• Low-antimony solar battery Sealed or valve-regulated batteries
• Sealed or valve-regulated battery The hydrogen produced by these batteries is
absorbed by chemicals inside them and they
Automotive batteries contain enough electrolyte for their entire life, so
Automotive batteries have a poor capacity for their they are often called ‘maintenance-free’.
size and a poor cycle life. A typical automotive Sealed batteries have a short cycle life for deep
battery will only withstand about 20 deep- cycles. They have a low rate of self-discharge and
discharge cycles before it becomes completely can support a full discharge, but must be recharged
useless. Car batteries are also easily damaged if left as soon as possible to prevent permanent damage.
discharged for any length of time. The cell design Overall, a sealed battery is likely to have a shorter
in a car battery is optimised to deliver heavy life than a well-maintained unsealed battery with
currents, and it is therefore poorly suited to the same alloy contents, but will obviously last
supplying smaller currents for many hours before longer than a poorly maintained unsealed battery.
being recharged. The main disadvantage of sealed lead-acid
Car batteries are, however, usually the cheapest batteries is their need for regular recharging to
batteries when compared by rated capacity; they prevent sulfate build-up. Batteries in storage will
are often produced locally; and they are widely need to be recharged about once every three
available and repairable. months, more often in countries with high ambient
temperatures where self-discharge will happen
Deep discharge or traction batteries more quickly.
Deep-discharge batteries can tolerate discharge to
as much as 80 per cent of their rated capacity, with Safety and environmental hazards of lead-acid batteries
a cycle life of from 1000 to 1500 deep cycles. They Vented Batteries: Care is obviously needed as, part
tend to lose water at a faster rate than other types from the battery acid being extremely corrosive,
of lead-acid batteries, and need frequent hydrogen gas is produced, which is highly
maintenance. They are commonly used for electric’ flammable and potentially explosive when mixed
vehicles and are often known as traction batteries. with air. Thus care should also be taken to avoid
Their selfdischarge rate is also high. These batteries flames or sparks in the battery enclosure, especially
are relatively expensive, require a lot of if the battery is housed in a confined space. Never
maintenance, and are not often available locally. check the electrolyte levels with an unprotected
flame such as a kerosene lamp or a candle. For the

Chapter 5: Energy

same reason, battery storage areas should be well committee, management committee, or the like
ventilated whose function it is to make the operational
decisions affecting the ways in which the Provider
Sealed Batteries: These contain the electrolyte in generates and distributes its electricity. Although in
‘dry’ from so that no electolyte can be spilt, and so many regions the energy providers are private
there is less of a hazard. Even so, care must be corporations which are closed to public
taken not to damage the casing. management, others may not be. They may be
governmental operations, which may have a
Disposal/Recycling: Both types of batteries should be citizens advisory panel, managers that are voted
deposed of safely. Where practical, it is a good idea into office, or some other connection between the
to give away lead-acid batteries to local battery public and the management. Frequently, smaller
manufactures for lead and plastic-casing recycling. and more local Providers may be cooperatives in
Ni-cad batteries should be disposed of carefully to which every member has a vote. Having power
avoid cadmium pollution. over the operational decisions being made can be
an effective means of reducing the environmental
(Refer to the Hazardous Products and Waste costs of energy production.
Handling Assessment in Chapter 4 of this manual Similarly, even if your community does not
to learn more about the proper disposal of have the ability to directly influence the decisions
batteries) being made, it is still possible that the public is
able to give advisory input for, or even organized
Our community is well educated about the hazards of resistance against policies or practices of the the
battery use and disposal practices. Provider. Since air pollution resulting from energy
123456789 production is a major environmental concern, it is
important to know of such avenues of influence.
Our community strives to protect ourselves and the As with any public service that is used by a
Earth from these hazards by disposing of our batteries majority of the population, the public should be
in a manner that is safe for humans and the given the opportunity to express their opinions
environment. regarding the fees demanded for continued service
123456789 as well as those regarding the environmental
impacts of the operation. As we know from above,
4. Sources of Expert Information the generation of electricity does require some
amount of capital expense, and it is the
Much of the information that is useful for your beneficiaries of the utility that are ultimately
community to know about the adverse responsible for the generation of this capital.
environmental impacts of energy production in Nevertheless, in many cases, fee structures are
your area is generally available from non- determined by an internal source whose primary
governmental organizations that are concerned concern it is only to generate profits for
with the health of the environment or the health of shareholders. The shareholders may not be, and
people. The Energy Provider itself should be often are not, the stakeholders or end-users. Thus,
contacted to learn of specific technical overly expensive rates sometimes result which
information, in the case of problems, or to preclude a large portion of society from utilizing
advocate for changes in the Provider’s policies or this basic utility. In the interests of social equality
practices. and justice, it is important for your religious
community to be sensitive to the organizational
Our community has developed relationships with the structure of utility providers, and to understand
parties relavent to electricity production, and frequently how this structure affects the utility’s
use them to stay informed about current issues. responsiveness to public input. If the utility
123456789 consistenly ignores the needs of its consumers
despite well-organized efforts, your community
5. Electricity Provider Governance might well decide to campaign for an alteration of
the utility’s structure.
Depending upon the organizational structure of
your Electricity Provider, there may be a regulation

Listening To The Earth

Our electricity supply is managed with good governance Rubbish/incineration

principles Renewable resource.
123456789 Air Emissions: PM10, SO2, NOx, CO2,
heavy metals, mercury, dioxins and
Our community has power to influence decisions made furans;
by the electricity provider. Other residues and hazards:
123456789 contaminated ash disposal; explosion
6. Public and Environmental Safety
Nuclear reactor
Knowing the type or types of generation plant that Non-renewable resource.
supply your grid with electricity gives you a good Radioactive waste: requires special
indication of what the environmental impacts procedures for management and disposal.
might be. Below is a list that gives an overview of Catastrophic damage in the case of
the negative impacts that each type of generation meltdown.
plant may have: Mining: of uranium generates a great deal
of environmental damage.
Type of Generation
Environmental Impacts Hydro-power
Coal Renewable resource.
Non-renewable resource. The construction of dams greatly impacts
Air emissions: volatile organic compounds the local ecosystems and often requires
(VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon displacement of people indigenous to the
monoxide (CO), particulate matter less area.
than 10 microns in diameter (PM10), Flooding hazards may exist if proper
sulfur dioxide (SO2), mercury, and lead. infrastructure is not in place downstream.
Effects: health problems (lung cancers, May severely impact wildlife migration,
chronic obstructive pulminary disease, especially aquatic species.
etc.), neurological damage, acid rain,
global climate change. Wind farm
Mining: su