Human Sanitation: Green and Environmental Issues

by Larry Losoncy, PhD

Questions being raised today by the Green movement and by environmentalists apply to sanitation. From the Green perspective the issue is energy use:

  • How much energy is used in various sanitation approaches?
  • What kind of energy is used?
  • How much carbon emission is being generated?

 From an environmental standpoint the question is environmental impact:

  • How many and how much environmentally damaging emissions and by-products are created?
  • How much of the earth’s natural resources are being used?
  • Can these resources be replenished?

On a continuum from worst to best, in this writer’s view the worst would be waste treatment plants, the best would be non-discharge on-site systems and in the middle would be septic systems.

The worst: waste treatment plants use energy, a great deal of energy. They use chemicals, a great deal of chemicals. They give out treated water that still has nutrients. Chemicals and nutrients are bad marks environmentally.

Septic systems, on the other hand, use very little energy. They put nutrients into the ground but under ideal circumstances these nutrients are integrated by the earth and do not get into the groundwater.

Systems that treat water-borne sanitation also use energy, but they put nothing into the ground except safely treated water.

The best marks for Green and for environmental care go to waterless systems. With the exception of incinerating systems, they use little energy and put nothing into the ground. The best types of these systems are evaporative systems that harness the wind and sun for energy and require no electricity or fossil fuel.

Waste treatment plants are a necessary and very expensive evil for large concentrations of people. Underground collection lines and plant construction pose environmental and financial costs. Operation and maintenance require energy. The emissions are environmentally undesirable. Improvements to the quality of treatment will increase the costs.  But for the foreseeable future we live with it. So long as our civilization uses water for sanitation these plants will be a necessity.

The concerns with septics are that when conditions are not ideal these systems can damage the environment as well as endanger human health. Floods and malfunctions are the culprits. Reports of E. coli as well as sanitation nutrients leaching into creeks, streams, lakes and the ocean abound and, of course, increase during times of heavy precipitation and floods. Every state reports a certain percentage of failed or failing septic systems. On the East Coast one state (name no names) reports more than 80,000 failing septic systems.

Septic systems will also be with us as long as we use water for sanitation.

It is beginning to strike some people as odd that we would use perfectly good well water and very expensively treated drinking water to flush our urinals and toilets. Good water is becoming scarce and treated water is becoming increasingly expensive. So why do we then proceed to flush it down the toilet? It makes no sense from the Green perspective nor the environmental perspective. About twenty percent of the water used in an average household in the United States gets flushed down the toilet! Somebody go figure.

The future, logically speaking, belongs with waterless sanitation. But culturally speaking we want to flush. How expensive that preference becomes is a guess. It certainly will become more expensive. And only time will tell how long cultural preference prevails over logic.

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Larry Losoncy is the president of Clean Up America, Inc. The company manufactures and markets  The Sanitizer™ non-discharge, evaporative toilet.  To learn more about The Sanitizer™ please go to http://www.cuaproducts.com.