flushing toilets no solution to s africa’s sanitation issues

Flushing toilets no solution to S Africa’s sanitation issues

With the exception of septic tanks and conservancy tanks, about 65% of South Africa’s population has access to waterborne sanitation, such as flushing toilets connected to a sewer network. 13% of pit toilets have no ventilation pipes, while another 19% have vented upgraded pit latrines. 

The remaining population either uses buckets or has chemical, composting, or pour flush toilets. Unfortunately, due to lack of access to any type of toilet facility, 1% of the population still defecates in the open.

Due to its water shortage, South Africa has recently seen severe weather. For instance, in 2018 Cape Town had to deal with a severe drought and the potential for water shortages. More recently, flooding in the city of Durban on the east coast caused extensive damage to the city’s bulk water and sanitation systems. It is just not practicable or viable to continue with waterborne sanitation given the issues the nation has with water availability and management.

The average amount of water used by conventional flushing toilets is nine to twelve litres. And that water is drinkable.

Moreover, the performance of the current conventional wastewater treatment plants is frightening, according to South Africa’s most recent Green Drop report. Out of the 995 wastewater treatment facilities tested, only 23 were awarded the Green Drop designation by scoring above 90%.

Moving toward the adoption of non-sewered sanitation methods sounds practical to us.

Sanitation solutions without sewers gather, transport, and completely treat the permitted input on site.

This technology treats your waste onsite and enables the treated outputs to be safely reused or disposed of, as opposed to your waste travelling from your toilet through a sewer to a treatment facility offsite.

Both smaller systems for homes and larger ones for communities or schools can be set up with these technologies. Both the front end and the back end—your bathroom and the treatment facility—are parts of them.

One of the redesigned toilets supported by the Gates Foundation is shown here. The HTClean employs a vacuum flush evacuation system because it was designed for a single household. As a result, only 0.2 to 0.9 litres of water are used for each flush. At the back end, faeces and urine are mechanically separated and processed at high temperatures and pressures. For flushing, the cleaned liquid output is used again.

Sanitation that is not sewered requires less water. It makes use of traditional toilet flushes (less than 6 litres), pour flushes, dry toilets, or cutting-edge evacuation systems that rely on mechanical forces and little to no water. Its cleaned output can also be put to use again.

Feces and urine are completely treated by non-sewered sanitation. The treated liquid output can be used for flushing or crop irrigation, while the treated solid output can be used as fertilizer. Our waste from faeces and urine is a precious resource.

I am interested in the education and promotion of ISO 30500, a global standard that South Africa has embraced as SANS 30500. The design, performance, and safety criteria of non-sewered sanitation systems are outlined in this standard. It also takes into account how long these systems will continue to work.

On behalf of the Water Research Commission, we at the University of KwaZulu-Natal are organising the creation of a certification programme that will permit these technologies to be evaluated against the standard and be sold.

The Sanitation Technology Technical Coordinating Committee was just established by the Department of Water and Sanitation, which has already recognised the advantages of non-sewered sanitation. 

The committee’s job is to aid in the creation of a procedure for evaluating and validating appropriate sanitation technologies, obtaining their certification and accreditation, and directing the adoption and commercialization of those technologies. The regulator can offer recommendations, but ultimately it is up to the local governments to decide.