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Sweet smell of success: Human waste fertilises land & turns farmers wealthy in Bangalore

By spreading human sewage on fields that grow crops, farmers the world over fertilise the soil with rich organic carbon and nutrients in urine and faeces, reduce chemical additives and gather a bumper harvest.

Human excreta is loaded with nutrients, which when disposed off discriminately, increases pollution and leads to a loss of resources. On an average a human being produces some 500 litres of urine and 50 kilograms of faeces a year, sufficient to fertilise plants that would produce more than 200 kilograms of cereals! Scale it up and almost 40 per cent of nutrients in chemical fertilisers could be replaced by the world’s excreta.

Honey sucker trucks

Honey sucker trucks deposit sewage in farms for fertilisation of crops ( Image courtesy: Vishwanath Srikantaiah)

Trucks in Bangalore, deceptively named ‘ Honey suckers’, collect sewage and deposit them in farms that use this smelly, stinking cargo to sweeten their crops. In Mexico city, untreated sewage is piped to Tulla farms, to fertilise it; in Gujarat, farmers compete for the sewage at annual auctions- today farmers realise the full potential & economics of human waste.

Potential of human excreta

An individual produces waste in a year sufficient to fertilise plants that produce 200 kg of cereal ( Image courtesy:

A few more examples are -Israel which uses around 70 per cent of the treated effluent from its sewage treatment works for irrigation and Singapore which uses treated sewage effluent for drinking. Other benefits of this recycling include conservation of phosphate reserves & energy resources, pollution reduction and saving depleting water resources & enormous infrastructure costs.

Dry sewage

Safer sewage: Drying faeces fully before mixing with soil helps kill pathogens ( Image courtesy: Vishwanath Srikantaiah)

The downswing of this trend is the health hazards associated with these crops. To maximise the benefits of recycling sewage onto land without creating health problems, inculcating safe practices for handling faeces and improving hygiene are vital. The best way to grab most of the advantages of nutrient and water recycling without imposing health hazards is to treat sewage before giving it to farmers.

We need to rethink and begin to recycle our faeces and urine as we recycle scarce metals, as for a developing country, the best option, both economically and ecologically, may be the sewage farm.

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Experiences from a civil society initiative to restore stretches of toxic Yamuna: Report of a conference organised by PEACE, Thames River Restoration Trust and WWF India at New Delhi in March 2013

The Thames River Restoration Trust, UK, WWF-India and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust, Delhi held a conference on “Sharing experiences and lessons learnt from the Thames and Ganga Twinning Project” on March 1, 2013 at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

Dr Peter Spillet of the Thames River Restoration Trust shared that the Trust was the recipient of the 2010 Theiss International Riverprize funds on behalf of many organizations involved in the restoration work on river Thames in United Kingdom. He said that the Trust had shared the money for twinning projects in various countries including in India.

This conference presents the results of the 2011-13 twinning programme. The Trust collaborated with PEACE and WWF to work with local communities working on Yamuna river restoration, he said.

Dr Ashghar Nawab, Senior Projects Coordinator, WWF-India noted that they ran the project on the Upper Ganges river at the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh to re-introduce the endangered Gharial and other wildlife there and in the lower Yamuna river area. At the same time they helped local people improve their agricultural practices to improve their standard of living.

The long term plan was to ensure a viable population of Gharial with a favourable habitat through increased capacity support from the local communities. The project was to benefit fish population, freshwater turtles, Ganges river dolphins and other riverine species in the lower Yamuna river such as otters and water birds, he said.

Field survey

Intensive field surveys were conducted to monitor species diversity and evaluate threats to habitat (Image courtesy: WWF-India)

In the stretch between Bateshwar Ghat, Agra to Dibholi Ghat, Etawah the frontline forest staff was trained in monitoring and assessing the Gharial population and habitat, thereby transferring WWF-India expertise in this field to the Forest Department.


Female Gharial recorded with about 18 hatchlings; this is the first record of Gharial ‘nesting’ in river Yamuna (Image courtesy: WWF-India)

In this project, work was done with the local communities to reduce dependency on river resources. Alternative livelihood options were provided by creating links with government village development schemes. Local Youth Conservation Forum was built to instill a sense of ownership for the protection of the species.

Dr Nawab stated that biodiversity conservation was inextricably linked to the protection of habitat in terms of availability of prey and suitable sites for shelter. Biodiversity recorded represents endangered species like the Ganges Dolphin, Gharial and the black-necked Stork. Peripheral areas of the National Chambal Sanctuary fall in the Yamuna, which are used as seasonal migratory routes by endangered species like Gharial.


Small population of Ganges river dolphin were observed near Pathewara village, Hamirpur (Image courtesy: S R Taigore)

Such habitats maybe recognized or proposed as conservation units needing effective protection measures on urgent basis. Technical assistance is being provided to the Forest Department in the development of a Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan for Yamuna. Riparian communities with stake in long term future of freshwater species and habitats across the region must be fully engaged in the development and conservation planning processes. This will help assure the future sustainability of associated livelihoods and the ecosystem services provided by fully functioning freshwater ecosystems.

Manoj Misra stated that PEACE’s work on the river Yamuna has evolved, and the partnership with TRRT and WWF-India is a part of this process. It started with devising and testing a People’s River Health Index (PRHI) in 2010 supported by a two-year grant from the UNDP-SGP. Findings from the PRHI project became the activities under the Twinning Project. The activities were spread over ten grids along the river Yamuna.

Nadi Mitra Mandalis (NMMs) were set up as formal registered societies at each grid and acted as instruments for action addressing the “non point” threats to the river. The focus of the project was on promotion of natural or organic farming, improved sanitation and waste water management, solid and farm refuse management, catchment restoration, river and village health assessment, institutional strengthening and outreach to school children.  

Activities taken up included development of plantation, recharge well, pond and well restoration, solar lamps, eco-san toilets and repair of village drains. 6,000 trees have been planted along the river at ten locations. Monthly monitoring of river health (water quality, quantity and biodiversity) and village health parameters was being done at all the grids by the NMMs.

Dave Wardle, Twinning Project Chairman discussed the work of the Thames River Restoration Trust in improving the biologically dead river. He provided an account of how the Thames system suffered from problems such as pollution, physical alteration, low water flows and loss of wildlife habitat. The work of the Trust in improving the Thames system was discussed. He shared how TRRT helped restore the Thames and its tributaries through its policy lobbying work and by helping produce the Thames River Basin Management Plan, London Rivers Action Plan and Thames Water Resources Plan. The river is as free of pollution as possible and has been able to meet water quality standards.


Thames river (Image courtesy: Thames River Restoration Trust)

Dr. Robert Oates, Director of the Thames River Restoration Trust stated that significant stretches of the river have been restored to a natural structure, to enable functioning natural processes and sustainable ecosystems.

The technical sessions led by Bhim Rawat and Sita Ram Taigor of PEACE along with representatives of the Nadi Mitra Mandalis elaborated on the activities taken up in each grid and the experiences therein. 

Download these documents : Size
River restoration techniques - Presentation by Manoj Misra, PEACE (2013)7.55 MB
International river prize - Presentation by Dave Wardle, TRRT (2013)13.92 MB
Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in river Yamuna - Presentation by Asghar Nawab, WWF India (2013)12.93 MB
Thames Ganga Twinning Project - Presentation by Peter Spillett, TRRT (2013)2.58 MB
Bateshwer grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)5.55 MB
Ekdala grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)5.59 MB
Gadaya grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)5.66 MB
Hamirpur grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)7.02 MB
Kanalsi grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)15.99 MB
Katapathar grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)13.23 MB
Kharadi grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)8.22 MB
Oba grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)8.03 MB
Pachnada grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)5.04 MB
Ramra grid in Yamuna - PEACE (2013)10.37 MB

Practioners' handbook on ecological sanitation, a system that saves water, prevents pollution and reuses human waste as a resource in agriculture

What is ecological sanitation, why is it important and how can it be achieved: This handbook provides theoretical and practical aspects for its implementation, along with detailed designs and a few case studies.

Community Ecosan

Community based ecological sanitation ( Image courtesy:Practioners Handbook)

Ecological sanitation is based on three fundamental principles: pre-venting pollution rather than attempting to control after we pollute; sanitizing the urine and the faeces; and using the safe products for agricultural purposes. This approach can be characterised as ‘sanitize-and-recycle’. Ecosan toilets and urinals, their operation and maintenance, their use in special conditions like disasters, their implementation, along with a few case studies are explained in the report.

The report is divided into the following chapters:

1. Introduction

This introduces the various issues related to sanitation and its impact on health and the environment. It explains how ecological sanitation is an approach based on the principle of “minimum resource utilization and maximum resource recovery”, offering sound sanitation solutions in a framework of sustainable development.

2. Ecological Sanitation

How ecological sanitation is a more holisitic approach that views human waste as a resource is detailed here. Any sanitation system that sanitises waste and facilitates recovery of useful substances can be termed as an ecological sanitation system. This system renders human excreta safe, preventing pollution, and proposes to use the safe products of sanitized human excreta for agricultural purposes.


Green Urinal at IIT, Delhi ( Image courtesy: R Sakthivel)

A few cost effective and decentralised ecosanitation systems which can be employed in rural areas to treat human excreta are discussed:

  • Ecosan Toilets (UDDT): Urine diverting dehydrating toilets
  • Arborloo: A composting toilet widely used in various parts of Africa
  • Fossa Alterna: It is like Arborloo but has two pits constructed with ring beams placed over them
  • Toilet Linked Biogas Plants: Biogas reactors such as fixed or floating dome utilised to recover useful products from human and animal excreta
  • Dewats: Treats sewage, providing useful by-products and the possibility of recycling water used for flushing and washing
  • Waterless Urinals: Does not require water for flushing at all and thus saves between 56,800 litres to 1,70,000 litres of water per urinal per year

3. Ecosan Toilets – Design Principles

This chapter deals with the ecosan toilets or urine diverting dry toilets that facilitate separation of urine, faeces and water used for anal cleansing (wash water) at the point of use. Urine and wash water are separated using specially designed toilet seats. These can be constructed in various designs based on factors such as climate, temperature, availability of space, convenience decomposition of faeces and features desired by the users. The design features together with the drawings are detailed in the report.

4. Ecosan Toilets - Planning, Design Considerations and Technological options


Ecosan community composting toilets ( Image courtesy: R Sakthivel)

The aspects related to planning, design considerations and various technological options for implementing these are discussed. These are further classified into sections such as data collection, site selection, appropriate design, user involvement and implementation.

These design principles and considerations are based on the requirement of users and local climatic conditions. The design considerations are grouped into sections such as anthropometric data, climatic conditions for various zones, suggested design parameters, wind and sunlight penetration for optimal disinfection and drying of toilet units. The technological aspects include standard designs developed for the promotion of ecosan toilets for households, anganwadis, schools and public complexes.

5. Waterless Urinals

Waterless urinals

Waterless urinal public kiosk ( Image courtesy: R Sakthivel)

Waterless urinals do not consume water for flushing and are less expensive as they do not require plumbing accessories. Importantly, the dry operation of waterless urinals and touch free operations reduces significantly the spread of communicable diseases. The technical knowhow of constructing these WLU is explained in this section.

6. Hygienic Operation and Maintenance

As these are new concepts, users of these facilities need to be educated on how to use and maintain them properly. Although these are robust technologies compared to other systems, following proper maintenance procedures is very important for their effective functioning.

7.  Ecosan in Disaster and Special Situations

This section deals disaster affected areas, where ensuring proper sanitation is very important for preventing disease outbreak. Sanitation systems need to be designed to withstand the impact of disaster situations. Some of the temporary measures in relief operations are:

  • Peepoo Bags : It is a single use bio- degradable bag used for defecating and safe disposal of excreta. The chemically treated bag sanitizes human excreta from contaminating the materials
  • Ready to Install Ecosan Toilets : These are already available in the market, manufactured using PVC and use little water.
  • Mobile Ecosan Toilets : These are put into service during emergencies and other events where emergency sanitation facilities are needed.

8.  Safe Application of Human Excreta in Agriculture

Urine application in agriculture

Various methods of urine application to agricultural crops ( Image courtesy: Practioners Handbook)

This chapter deals with source separation of urine and faeces proposed through ecological sanitation concept, and aids in applying different set of treatments to make them safe for reuse in agriculture

Ecosan toilets are designed to process human faeces to a harmless state. The treatment to destroy pathogenic organisms present in human faeces is effected either within or outside the system. Broadly, the process of pathogen inactivation in ecological sanitation systems can be grouped into two categories

  • Dehydration ( removal of moisture from faeces through evaporation and addition of dry materials like husk, ash etc.)
  • Composting ( oganic substances are mineralized and turned into humus or manure)

9.  Implementation Framework

The revised TSC ( Total Sanitation Campaign) framework encourages promotion of ecological sanitation components that allow storage of human excreta and urine, for composting or converting to usable and safe manure or fertiliser. Though no special financial provisions are provided for ECOSAN facilities, however within the existing financial allocations earmarked for toilets, these can be promoted.

10.  Case Studies 

Agriculture using urine as resource

Pole bean crop grown using human urine and cattle urine ( Image courtesy: GKVK, Bangalore)                                        


  • Ecosan Community Composting Toilet in Musiri Town Panchayat of Trichy District in Tamil Nadu successfully used since 11th April 2006
  • Application of urine as liquid fertilizer to crops on farmers fields by University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore
  • Decentralized Wastewater Management at “Adarsh Vidya Mandir School” located in Thane district, Maharashtra.
  • Improved Traditional Composting Toilets with Urine Diversion in Leh
  • Promotion of Ecosan Toilets using Bamboo in Manipur Region


  • Promotion of Eco-toilets in Gunagxi Province of China
  • Use of Compost in Agriculture in Zimbabwe
  • Composting Toilets in Sweden
  • Promotion of Multiple-vault Composting Toilet “Carousel” in Norway
To download the complete handbook click here.

Cost-effective urinals established for Musiri Boys High School, Trichy - A case-study of SCOPE's work

Guest post by: SCOPE
Forwarded to the Portal by: Ramesh Sakthivel

This article briefly describes the expreriences of SCOPE Trichy, under the UNICEF – IIT Delhi project, in setting up a pilot urinal facility in Musiri Boys High School, Trichy District, Tamilnadu, and the utilisation of the urine in agriculture.

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Smart, eco-friendly sanitation for all in China, lessons for India - S Vishwanath

Article Courtesy: The Morung Express
Author: S Vishwanath

The technology choice that China made for sanitation and wastewater management has led to not only blistering economic growth but also rapid urbanisation as it helped Beijing reduce GDP loss that poor sanitation brings

The four storied apartments in Dongsheng District of Erdos Municipality in Inner Mongolia, China look like any apartment, all 825 of them. They look the same that is until you use the toilet. Detailed instructions nailed to the door tell you how to use them. The urine diverting toilets flush with sawdust instead of water. Urine is collected in tanks tucked away in the basement of the building and used as a fertiliser in a surrounding agricultural field. The solids are composted and reused also as fertiliser. Grey-water coming from the washing machine and bath is treated at a small treatment plant in the development and reused for landscape use. The people who bought the flats did so knowing fully well the systems of sanitation in place and paid the same market rates as the flats which had conventional sanitation systems. This is China’s brave new world of waste and wastewater management.

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Ecological Sanitation locations in India

This is a map of installations and research of Ecological Sanitation projects in India. Ecological Sanitation is a new approaching sanitation where there is minimal water use and where human waste can be used as fertilizer. It is a truly sustainable approach.

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ECO Sanitation - A Beneficial Toilet

A brochure from Utthan about Eco-sanitation produced with support from Arghyam.Read More

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ECO Sanitation - A Beneficial Toilet - Utthan (2010)6.96 MB


Bhavnagar, GJ, India
Latitude: 21.770170, Longitude: 72.142921


Consultation on Sustainable Sanitation at Arghyam Trust Bangalore (9th Sept 2009)

A consultation was organised by Arghyam Trust on 9th September 2009 at Bangalore, to share civil society experiences regarding sustainable sanitation with the Planning Read More

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Sustainable sanitation - Gramalaya6.23 MB
Sustainable sanitation - Water Aid1.53 MB
Sustainable sanitation Introduction - Arghyam2 MB
Ecological sanitation - UAS11.27 MB
Sustainable sanitation - Myrada5.7 MB
Sustainable sanitation - REAL16.82 MB
Sustainable sanitation - SCOPE3.9 MB
Sustainable sanitation - UNICEF56.5 KB
Sustainable sanitation - WSP666 KB
Key issues - Consultation37 KB

An update on Ecosan work in India

Prakash Kumar,,  Ecological Sanitation Consultant with UNICEF/Stockholm Institute provides an update on some recent work on Ecological sanitation in India:

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  1. We are in the process of supporting I I T Delhi for nutrient recovery project for developing complete process for converting liquid urine in to the crystalline form.
  2. We are in the final stage of supporting SCOPE for demonstration of ecosan toilet in a govt. middle school at Musiri, Trichy.
  3. Comprehensive evaluation of Tamilnadu ecosan project will be taken up shortly.
  4. Last batch of training of CCDU officials have been completed . This year total 5 batches got training on ecosan.

Book Review of The Humanure Handbook - Joseph Jenkins. Its not shit, its about Shit

Currently I am reading this book - "The Humanure Handbook" by Joseph Jenkins. I am impressed.Read More

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