20.4 Ecological sanitation
Ecological sanitation, also known as ecosan, describes an approach to human waste management rather than a single method. In ecosan systems, human excreta is considered to be a resource, not waste. The principle is to make use of excreta by transforming it into an end product that can be used as a soil improver and fertiliser for agriculture. Ecological sanitation aims to decrease contamination of the environment caused by human excretion and to prevent faeco-orally transmitted diseases. An additional benefit of using waste in this way is that the amount of artificial fertiliser used in cultivation of fields is decreased. This saves money for the farmer and protects lakes and other water bodies from eutrophication caused by runoff of these additional fertilisers.
There are, however, some constraints for communities to consider before adopting the ecosan approach. Ecosan systems require a little more space than conventional latrines. At the end of the process the decomposed waste, known as compost or ecohumus, has to be dug out before it can be spread on the land. There may be a cultural taboo against handling of excreta, even though it should be more like soil than waste by this stage. Some people may be unwilling to use the crops and foods produced. Nonetheless, ecological sanitation is a more sustainable approach to waste management than other systems and should therefore be promoted as the preferred option. You may need to convince families that it is safe and has no negative health effects. Model families may be able to help if they demonstrate to others that the compost produced is safe and acceptable to use.