Sane sanitation

By R K Srinivasan
Published: Friday 15 July 2005

-- Ecological Solutions to Flush Toilet Failures by Paul Calvert Ecosolutions London 2004

Sewage disposal is a persistent problem for municipalities all over the world. Current centralised practices leave 95 per cent of this waste untreated; flushed away from our toilets, they make their way to rivers and waterbodies and pollute them miserably. But human excreta are not nasty stinking waste that has to be flushed out; it could be turned into a valuable resource with good management. That is the central premise of the book under review. Its author, Paul Calvert, proposes the ecosanitation (ecosan) method as a way out of the sewage predicament.

Ecosan is based on the premise that waste management should be guided by the same principles used by the human body in discharging waste. Calvert argues that since our body has separate arrangements to discharge faeces and urine, they should be managed in different ways as well. So, ecosan is premised on two different methods to deal with faeces and urine.

Calvert argues that because faeces contain pathogens, its makes sense to isolate them in small volumes, rather then flush them away -- and unleash pathogens into water. The excreta can then be sanitised and used as compost. Urine, in contrast, is sterile liquid. Use it fresh on your plants or collect it for farms or forests. If all this has you cringing in revulsion, Calvert is quick with his reassurances. "The excreta in the ecosan toilets do not smell because they are immediately covered with dry ash, soil or lime", he writes

Nifty sketches illustrate the shortcomings of conventional sanitation and also show that there is a logical and sustainable alternative. This book is a wake up call to everyone engaged in urban, and rural development and planning. But will they find use for it?

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