Ecological sanitation, sometimes called EcoSan, refers to the idea of a closed loop for all elements contributed to an environment by members of that environment. In other words, in an ecological sanitation system, everything that you waste is directly used by another member of the environment.
Why Ecological Sanitation?
Many cities throughout the world are short on fresh water for the citizenry to use and are subjected to severe environmental degradation. One only has to see the water usage warnings posted everywhere in cities such as Santa Fe, New Mexico or the heavy haze in cities like Los Angeles, California to see this effect.
Large cities are subject to many of the problems of any region with a sufficiently large and compressed population: disease susceptibility, contamination of the water table due to mixing with sewer water, and a sewage system that seeks only to distribute the waste rather than actually deal with it.
Conventional sanitation, such as normal flush toilets, sewer systems, treatment plants, and discharge simply cannot afford to keep up with the waste produced by people, mostly due to the limitation of water and money; properly cleaning sewage requires a great deal of water, which is simply not available in most cities.
Ecological sanitation offers an alternative to this need for this pipeline of dealing with waste by requiring individuals to deal with their own waste. This is done through the application of devices and procedures that simply do not allow any waste to escape. Such devices include toilets that utilize natural processes to process human waste, an internal water cycle to each residence that filters the water and requires a house to continually reuse the same water, and other techniques.
The goal is to ensure that no waste escapes direct control and thus no waste can pollute the water table.
What Is Necessary For Ecological Sanitation?
To achieve ecological sanitation in a system, you must not throw away anything. This includes all rubbish, water, urine, feces; everything. This would require the installation of devices such as urine diversion toilets, which are devices that cause the water waste to be diverted into a separate place than the solid waste, as well as the mechanisms for local water filtration and direct recycling. The solid waste would then be delivered separately to a composting location where the waste is then used to provide essential nutrients for crops and other natural renewable resources.
What would be needed is a series of local plants that are prepared to handle solid waste in a sealed environment and able to transport the waste to places for composting and equipment to maintain water cycles in small environments, with only occasional small water contributions necessary.
Benefits of Ecological Sanitation
The result of ecological sanitation is a massive reduction in the tainting of our natural water sources, thus freeing up much of the tainted water for use by people. This water will be able to be used for drinking or for additional methods such as air filtration and other waste-reducing measures.
Basically, with the adoption of ecological sanitation, it would become perfectly safe once again to drink water that comes from the tap, without the additional worry of water shortage crises.
Challenges to Achieving Ecological Sanitation
The primary challenge to achieving ecological sanitation on a wide scale is simply cost. We have the technology and the mechanisms to achieve this goal, but it would require a great restructuring of the waste disposal infrastructure.
First, individual toilets would have to be replaced by urine diversion toilets, which would separate the liquid and solid wastes from each other. This would be a required first step because both the liquid and solid wastes could be diverted into the current sewage system.
The next step would be the development of an infrastructure to deal with the solid waste. This would involve the construction of containment facilties that would be able to cleanly store and export solid waste to outlying composting facilities. This would then allow solid waste to be recycled. In addendum to this, the solid waste in each home would simply be routed to the solid waste disposal facility. Biodegradable waste could be diverted similarly, such as food scraps.
The final step, and perhaps the most difficult, is the addition of a true water cycle. This would result in waste water being directly recycled and reused without being redistributed into the water source. In this situation, only small inputs of water would be required and no waste water would mix with the natural water supply.
Beyond this, the only waste produced by households would be nonbiodegradables, which would have to be dealt with separately and are outside the concept of this writeup.
Ecological sanitation is an idea that solves many of the pollution and water-related difficulties that large cities and third world nations are currently suffering. The system is expensive to install, but the potential benefits are quite great: lots of clean water and a much cleaner environment for all.