An Argument for Ecological Sanitation — “Ecosan”

Ever wonder about the efficiency of our “modern” toilet and water-based sewage systems, or if they even really make sense? Dr. Lucas Dengel shares with us the argument for Ecological Sanitation, or “Ecosan,” from his practice and perspective in Tamil Nadu, India. Ecosan is a universal concept that can (should) be considered everywhere, with practices adapted to local needs and conditions. The transition to a better way of separating, treating and actually gaining benefit from our sewage may be easier said than done, especially in cities—as most common ecosan practices rely on outhouses and composting containers, not conveyance through large, multistory buildings. But it’s time to start shifting our thinking. There’s a real need for healthy sanitation worldwide, and there’s a lot to gain from waste.

The following is reprinted from a document written by Dr. Dengel in January 2011, with minimal edits. Dr. Dengel is a medical doctor who became interested in the prevention of disease, rather than just treatment, early in his career in India. Now an organic farmer and an expert in ecosan, he champions its adoption, along with the use of effective microorganisms (EM) in treating sewage and waste—both for the sake of public health and for their many other benefits. Dr. Dengel lives and works in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India. 

Dr Dengel with UnBox Fellows

Dr. Lucas Dengel talks ecosan with UnBox Fellows in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India - Jan 2012

Ecosan – ecological sanitation

Why should there be a need for an alternative to flush sanitation?

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The Beauty of Bio-Gas Digesters

In November, 2011, I took a trip to Nepal to visit an international development NGO called CHOICE Humanitarian.  I met the organization’s former CEO earlier in the year and was struck by the statistics he presented—contrary to many NGOs’ M.O.s, the rural villages that CHOICE works with have an abnormally high success rate after CHOICE’s involvement is over.  Their model of teaching leadership over the course of their development projects trains villagers to take control of their own further development, so when CHOICE leaves, they’re self-motivated and empowered to keep their own improvements going.

After five days volunteering in the office, getting to know CHOICE and how they operate, and exploring Kathmandu, I joined CHOICE’s Kiran Neupane on a trip to visit a few of the villages CHOICE works with.  We were accompanied by a few members of Kathmandu’s Rotary Club which was supporting some of their work and we stayed two nights in villagers’ homes. CHOICE and the villages we visited were preparing to launch a new home-stay-based trekking route the following month and we were a friendly group to give them a trial run.

The people were friendly, open and wonderful as Kiran checked on and showed us the progress in different villages.  CHOICE works on a variety of projects, letting the villagers decide their own priorities, and we saw a few schools and a health outpost tucked into the steeply sloping hills and cascading rice paddies.  But one recurring item really struck me as I saw them installed in many villagers’ households—the bio-gas digester.

What is a bio-gas digester and how does it work?

* Time to check your squeamishness at the door.  We’re about to talk about poop and pee.  We all make it, we all have to do something with it, and here’s a way to harness some good from it. *

how a bio-gas digester works - illustration

(click image to enlarge)

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