Global toilet challenge

Only about 30 % of the 1.1 billion people connected to sewerage systems have their effluent treated in treated in an environmentally acceptable way. The remainder of the waste winds up in rivers, lakes and our oceans with little or no treatment.

The days of traditional sewers or septic tanks are numbered. Thankfully there’s now an increasing focus on other waste solutions such as blackwater recycling systems and dry composting toilets; not only as a way of treating waste in an earth friendly way, but to save water – and creating valuable and beneficial byproducts.

According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, Over 40% of the planet’s population – around 2.6 billion people – still do not have access to any form of improved sanitation that doesn’t pollute water and soil.

As part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, the goal is to half that number within 8 years. This goal would require the construction of almost 100,000 toilets a day. It’s a huge undertaking, but an achievable one according to the co-organiser of the World Toilet Organisation summit that’s just finished up in New Dehli. The World Toilet Organisation,  founded in 2001, has 55 member groups from 42 countries

The great thing is that “green” toilets have been around for quite a while – the technology is there ready to go and starting to gain wider acceptance. Bindeshwar Pathak, the summit host, has been constructing earth-friendly toilets in India since the 1970s and has developed a low-cost system that converts waste into water suitable for applying to crops, fertilizer and biogas to run generators.

Our own waste has been one of those “flush and forget” issues for far too long – and somewhat of a taboo; not generally dinner party conversation. The resistance to using better solutions to deal with our own waste is as much an issue within governments too. For example, in many places I’m told it’s well near impossible to get permission to install a blackwater treatment system; even though they are highly effective and hygienic.

If you’re a little squeamish about these issues too, best get used to it :). We can expect to hear a lot more talk about poo related topics over the next 12 months, as 2008 has been declared as the UN International Year of Sanitation.