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The Main Features of

Ecological Sanitation

T he need for safe sanitation

Pathogens and parasites found in
human excreta, if ingested, can
Ecosan defined
Ecological sanitation can be viewed
as a four-step process dealing with
to cover the fresh excreta. Ash and
lime increase pH which acts as an
additional toxic factor to pathogens if
result in a variety of illnesses, includ- human excreta: source-separation, the pH can be raised to over 9.5. The
ing diarrhoea leading to malnutrition. containment, sanitization and recy- less moisture the better, and in most
If left untreated these illnesses can cling. The objective is to protect climates it is better to divert the
result in poor growth, iron deficiency human health and the environment urine and treat it separately. Figure
(anaemia), vitamin A deficiency, and while reducing the use of water in 1 shows a dry, double-vault urine-
leave the body’s immune system sanitation systems and recycling nu- diversion toilet, a model being used
weakened and susceptible to more trients to help reduce the need for in China, India, Vietnam and Mexico.
serious infections. Not all pathogens artificial fertilizers in agriculture. It takes an average family 6 months
and parasites result in death, but the Ecosan represents a conceptual shift to fill one of the vaults. Then the
resulting malnutrition creates persis- in the relationship between people second vault is used. The first vault
tent poor health and a predisposition and the environment; it is built on is emptied following an additional 6
to disease and death from other the necessary link between people months of sanitization and the mate-
causes. and soil. rial is taken to a soil compost. Urine
is never mixed in this toilet but con-
The limitations of present day Ecosan is a real option tinuously diverted into a separate
sanitation An essential step in the process of container and later used in diluted
Conventional sanitation is currently sanitation is the containment of form as plant fertilizer. The dry
offered by two models: pitsan (pit pathogens that can cause disease. ecotoilet meets all necessary health
toilets) or flushsan (flush toilets). Human faeces contain bacteria, vi- and environmental protection criteria
Although conventional sewage sys- ruses and parasites, which, if not and goes well beyond what conven-
tems transport excreta away from properly treated, can result in tional approaches can offer (Sten-
the toilet user, they often fail to con- spreading of disease. Without con- ström, 2002; Schönning and Sten-
tain and sanitize (due to inadequate tainment and sanitization, a vicious ström, 2004), saving water and pre-
or non-existent treatment facilities), circle develops where the pathogens venting water pollution. It produces
instead releasing pathogens and nu- in excreta are released back into the no smell, does not attract flies and is
trients into the downstream envi- environment, re-infect people an affordable solution inside and
ronment. This is considered the “lin- through consumption of contami- outside of dwellings throughout the
ear pathogen flow” (Winblad and nated water or food, and are then world.
Simpson-Hébert, 2004). These sys- excreted again, only to begin the
tems mix faeces, urine, flush water cycle over. Ecological sanitation sys- Soil-composting toilets make use of
and toilet paper with grey water, tems are designed around true con- the process of decomposition, a bio-
storm water and industrial effluents, tainment and provide two ways to logical process carried out by bacte-
usually overtaxing the design capac- render human excreta innocuous: ria, worms and other organisms to
ity of the treatment plants, if such a dehydration and decomposition. The break down organic substances. In a
facility exists, as very few communi- preferred composting environment, the com-
ties in the world are able to afford method will
fully functional sewage systems. depend on cli-
Simply put, flushsan has a dismal mate, ground-
track record because all sewage sys- water tables,
tems contaminate the environment. amount of
Far more common than flush sanita- space and in-
tion is the pit toilet, primarily be- tended pur-
cause it is inexpensive and requires pose for the
little or no infrastructure. This sanitized ex-
method fails to contain and sanitize creta. Dehy-
excreta since pathogens and nutri- dration is the
ents seep into the groundwater. chemical proc-
Deep pit latrines also fail to recycle ess of destroy-
since the excreta is too deep for ing pathogens
plants to make use of the nutrients. by eliminating
Pits are prone to periodic flooding, moisture from
causing them to spill their contents. the immediate
In general, pits are smelly, are often (containing)
infested with flies, and in most parts environment.
of the world are poorly maintained Drying materi-
and continue to be a source of dis- als, like wood
ease and pollution. ash, lime and Figure 1: Double-vault urine-diverting dry eco-
soil, are added toilet in use in China, Vietnam, Mexico, and India
of years, especially in China and
Southeast Asia, but often excreta
have not been properly sanitized
therefore propagating disease. By
implementing ecosan, we can safely
recycle nutrients without risking peo-
ple’s health and polluting the envi-

Ecosan for grey water treat-

ment and composting of
household organics
The ecological sanitation approach
can be broadened to cover all or-
ganic material generated in house-
holds such as kitchen and food
wastes. If these organic materials
are sorted within the home, rather
than mixed with solid waste and
dumped, they become valuable recy-
clable materials once composted.
Grey water can be treated using bio-
logical filter systems, evapotranspi-
ration beds and “constructed wet-
lands”, and rainwater harvesting can
Figure 2. Complete household ecosan and eco-water use be implemented to harness water for
Modified from Oldenburg, M. (Otterwasser) personal hygiene and irrigation. Fig-
ure 2 illustrates all the options in a
fully functional ecosan household.
petition between organisms for tioner. In addition, it is important to
available carbon and nutrients con- recover and reuse these nutrients
tinues until the pathogens are de- toward sustainable ecosystems to
feated by the dominant soil bacteria. reduce the drain on natural reserves References
Del Porto, D. and Steinfeld, C. 1999.
Soil-composting toilets are con- and lessen the dependence on artifi-
The Composting Toilet Book. Massa-
structed using shallow, reinforced cial chemical fertilizers. chusetts: The Centre for Ecological
pits where soil and ash are added Pollution Prevention.
after each use. Toilets such as the Average daily production and Morgan, P. 2004. An Ecological Ap-
Fossa Alterna and Arbour Loo (Mor- nutrient content of urine and proach to Sanitation in Africa: A Com-
gan 2005) have been successfully pilation of Experiences. Aquamor:
tested in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Harare, Zimbabwe.
The Fossa Alterna uses two alternat- urine faeces Schönning, C. and Stenström, T.A. 2004.
Guidelines for the Safe Use of Urine
ing pits with a similar frequency of
Per person 1.2 150 grams and Faeces in Ecological Sanitation
alternation as the double-vault dry Systems. EcoSanRes Publication Se-
litres (wet wt)
toilet. Once sanitized and composted, ries. Report 2004-1. Stockholm Envi-
the contents are removed and used Nitrogen ronment Institute: Stockholm, Swe-
in agriculture. The Arbour Loo is a 11 2 den
single shallow pit which receives soil Stenström, T. 2002. “Reduction Effi-
additions after each use and a tree is Phosphorus ciency of Index Pathogens in Dry
1 0.6
planted in the pit when it is full. (g/ppd) Sanitation Compared with Traditional
and Alternative Wastewater Treat-
Potassium ment Systems”, Proc 1st Int. Conf.
2.5 0.6
Recycling (g/ppd) Ecological Sanitation. Nanning, China
The recycling of nutrients from urine Nov. 2001 (Available from
* (Grams/person per day)
and faeces is one of the key benefits Nanning Conf
Source: Del Porto and Steinfeld (1999)
of ecological sanitation. The N, P and Proceedings.htm).
K found in urine is a valuable fertil- Winblad, U. and Simpson-Hébert, M. (eds)
izer and the high organic content of Some countries and cultures have 2004. Ecological Sanitation. Stock-
been recycling human excreta for holm Environment Institute: Stock-
faeces makes the composted product
agricultural purposes for thousands holm, Sweden.
– humus – an excellent soil condi-
Stockholm Environment Institute
Kräftriket 2B, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden
Tel +46 8 674 7070 Fax +46 8 674 7020

EcoSanRes is funded by the Swedish International

Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

EcoSanRes Factsheet 2 May 2008