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Environ Int. 2005 Apr;31(3):433-44.

Ecological Sanitation--a way to solve global sanitation problems?

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  • 1Institute of Sanitary Engineering and Water Pollution Control, BOKU--University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna, Muthgasse 18, A-1190 Vienna, Austria.


Today about 2.4 billion people in rural and urban areas do not have access to adequate sanitation services. Within 20 years, it is expected that an additional 2 billion will live in towns and cities, mainly in developing countries, demanding sanitation. Still over 90% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated, polluting rivers, lakes and coastal areas. Conventional sanitation concepts, based on flush toilets, a water wasting technology, are neither an ecological nor economical solution in both industrialized and developing countries. The water-based sewage systems were designed and built on the premises that human excreta are a waste; suitable only for disposal and that the environment is capable of assimilating this waste. A sanitation system that provides Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) is a cycle--a sustainable, closed-loop system, which closes the gap between sanitation and agriculture. The EcoSan approach is resource minded and represents a holistic concept towards ecologically and economically sound sanitation. The underlying aim is to close (local) nutrient and water cycles with as less expenditure on material and energy as possible to contribute to a sustainable development. Human excreta are treated as a resource and are usually processed on-site and then treated off-site. The nutrients contained in excreta are then recycled by using them, e.g., in agriculture. EcoSan is a systemic approach and an attitude; single technologies are only means to an end and may range from near-natural wastewater treatment techniques to compost toilets, simple household installations to complex, mainly decentralised systems. These technologies are not ecological per se but only in relation to the observed environment. They are picked from the whole range of available conventional, modern and traditional technical options, combining them to EcoSan systems. The paper presents an introduction to EcoSan principles and concepts including re-use aspects (available nutrients and occurring risks), and case studies of EcoSan concepts in both industrialized and developing countries.

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