Regenerative Sanitation: A New Paradigm For Sanitation 4.0

Regenerative Sanitation: A New Paradigm For Sanitation 4.0


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This book proposes Regenerative Sanitation as the next era of sanitation management and attempts to provide a foundation for the study of sanitation on the premise that sanitation is a complex and dynamic system that comprises of social-ecological, technological and resource systems. The preconception is that sanitation will deliver maximal benefits to society only when there exists a cyclical integration of the three subsystems to enable appropriate linkages between ‘technological design’ and the ‘delivery platform’ so as to achieve optimal and sustained sani-solutions. It also calls for the rethinking of sanitation to change the narrative towards more progressive trajectories such as resource recovery and reuse rather than just amelioration. It explores the contributions to food security, livelihood support, urban regeneration, rural development and even local economies.

A new paradigm, theory and ten principles for ensuring practical and effective sanitation solutions and management is presented. In addition is a unique conceptual framework applicable to both developed and developing countries, and to all stages, processes and cycles of delivering sanitation solutions that could critically evaluate, analyse and provide credible, adequate and appropriate sanitation solutions. All of which culminates in a strategic and practical application platform called ‘Sanitation 4.0’ that advocates for total rejuvenation and comprehensive overhaul with eight key strategic considerations for the implementation.

Regenerative Sanitation: A New Paradigm For Sanitation 4.0 is inter and trans- disciplinary and encourages collaboration between engineers, scientists, technologists, social scientists and others to provide effective and practical user-centred solutions. It includes relevant case studies, examples, exercise and future research recommendations. It is written as both a textbook for researchers and students as well as a practitioners’ guide for policymakers and professionals.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781780409672
Publisher: IWA Publishing
Publication date: 02/15/2019
Pages: 370
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.75(d)

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'the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them '

Albert Einstein


A quick run through history will reveal that sanitation management evolved from the Industrial Revolution and mimicked the linear economic model of production and consumption of the era to develop linear conventional sanitation technological solutions. These linear models of sanitation management have achieved a great deal of success over the years, but they seem to be increasingly challenged by indications that deeper changes in the operating systems are necessary (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2012, 2013). The efficiency and effectiveness of these resource-intensive linear sanitation systems (whether sewer or non-sewer) have been questioned and thus created rising concerns about sustainability as well as the ability to actually expand access and improve service. These are huge concerns as the current global statistics for sanitation indicate that a wide margin still exists between desired results and reality (Fam & Mitchell, 2012; Hutton & Varughese, 2016; Lopes et al., 2012). The MDGs aimed to halve the 2.4 billion people without adequate sanitation, but today we still have an estimated 2.3 billion people without improved sanitation facilities and about 892 million practising open defecation (Gine-Garriga et al., 2017; Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), 2015; O'Reilly et al., 2017; WHO & UNICEF, 2017). In fifteen years of the MDGs, however, all efforts and resources did not even come near halving the 2.4 billion and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aspire for universal access and improved services across the globe for adequate and equitable sanitation (WHO & UNICEF, 2017). But then, these could be just lofty ideals as the SDGs do not actually give particular attention to sanitation, which seems to be considered an afterthought to water and wastewater.

The risk here is that sanitation could again be overlooked by the water targets, as was the case for the MDGs (Andersson & Minoia, 2017). It is expedient that sanitation be addressed on its own core platform and extracted from the clutches of water and hygiene (health) because managing sanitation and providing required services are truly not the same as managing water and hygiene. Doing things the same way will always yield the same results as 15 years of the MDG has revealed, with over 2.3 billion people still without basic sanitation. The risks are far-reaching too with grave impacts on water quality, health and the environment (note: controlling these risks is not the same as providing sanitation solutions, but rather protection for water, health and the environment from sanitation as well as other practices). It is, therefore, essential to push forward in the direction of sanitation solutions that yield increased efficiency and effectiveness, reduced costs and risks, livelihood support and ecological sustainability as well as accelerated drive towards expanded access and improved services by 2030.

Clearly, sanitation needs to head away from the conventional approach of techno-focus that has been predominant over the years and during the MDGs era without much-needed success. It will not be easy to transition from these rigid, locked-in conventional sanitation technologies characterized by incremental progression along existing trajectories rather than radical innovations, but transformation to holistic, integrated and systemic solutions that address the whole spectrum of sanitation is essential (Fam & Mitchell, 2012; Lopes et al., 2012). Technological innovations are not enough to bring the progressive results desired in the sanitation arena, but mutually reinforcing institutional, psycho-social, ecological, cultural and resource-oriented transformations is required (Geels, 2005). There is overwhelming evidence that focusing on technology or infrastructure (small and large) alone will not provide needed solutions as many 'failed technologies' in sanitation did not fail due to technical deficiencies only, but also, and even more so, on system misfit in terms of scale, or the social, geographical, cultural or even economic contexts in which they were implemented (van Vliet et al., 2011). Studies have shown how psycho-social-economic, cultural conditions and lock-in effects prevent uptake of new technologies due to their lack of integration into the existing technical and institutional structure. This is because new technology might negatively impact the existing sociotechnical systems if it contradicts other interests and could lead to a dead end (Hiessl et al., 2003; Panebianco & Pahl-Wostl, 2006; van Vliet et al., 2011). Some examples of challenges in the absence of systemic-holistic-integrated perspectives in sanitation programming are illustrated in Boxes 1.1 to 1.4.

Current sanitation infrastructural designs are at odds with today's environmental, economic and social sustainability paradigms (Apul, 2010) as well as meeting the aspiration of the goals and targets of SDG no. 6. Developed countries are just as affected as the conventional centralized linear systems that were substantially revamped after World War Two are close to or past their useful design lifespan (usually considered to be 50-60 years) and need to undergo major rehabilitation/refurbishment (Capodaglio, 2017; van Vliet et al., 2011). Thus, developed countries, due to resource constraint, are confronted with the twin challenges of retrofitting and upgrading ageing and decaying sanitation infrastructures (Ashley et al., 2011; Bracken et al., 2006; Brands, 2014; Butler & Parkinson, 1997; Delleur, 2003; Drangert, 1998; Wilsenach et al., 2003; WWAP, 2017). To address the contemporary sanitation dilemma, systemic-holistic-integrated strategies must be considered across the sanitation spectrum and interlinkages to agriculture, carbon cycles, environment and health, resource reuse and recovery, psycho-social, economic and cultural factors, ecological sustainability, institutions and governance, and the myriad roles of stakeholders in the process of sanitation (Brands, 2014; Marshall & Farahbakhsh, 2013; van Vliet et al., 2011).

In the face of all these, a new approach to sanitation management and solutions design named Regenerative Sanitation (ReGenSan) is proposed. ReGenSan aims to provide the foundation for a new way of thinking by adapting the principles of regeneration and functional-living-system theory to the specific context of sanitation. To this effect, sanitation is regenerative when it integrates the psycho-socio-ecological elements (place, scale, culture/religion, status, economy and governance), resource recovery (reuse, recycling), ecosystem (geographical and ecological) and technological elements (storage, collection, transport, treatment, reuse) perspectives into one systemic whole for the rejuvenation and revitalization of human excreta/urine management in a manner that mimics and contributes to nature's system. Therefore, ReGenSan could provide the opportunity to systematically address complex sanitation challenges from multi- and transdisciplinary perspectives, as it approaches solution provision from a holistic-integrated perspective with an ecological systemic worldview. ReGenSan is designed to be place-/scale-based where comprehensive sanitation solutions and management are provided within what is termed 'sani-sheds' and with the intent to mimic nature and be psycho-socially acceptable and affordable, livelihood-supportive and technically appropriate as well as enabled by specific governance mechanisms. It aims to offer strategies that support the development of novel and place-peculiar sanitation facilities, restoration and upgrade of old, dysfunctional and unimproved sanitation infrastructure, ensuring continuous maintenance of existing improved sanitation facilities as well as recovery and reuse of valuable resources from excreta, urine and wastewater management in order to expand access and improve services. This is in consonance with the idea of the circular economy, which is redefining products and services to eliminate waste, while minimizing negative environmental impacts (Capodaglio, 2017; EMF, 2012, 2013; IWA, 2016; TBC, 2016) and contributing in a greater measure to resource conservation (Lia Buarque, 2012). Thus, technology will no longer just be about storage, collection, transport, treatment and reuse; focus will be on the most reliable, sensible, acceptable, appropriate and resourceful ways to implement technology.

ReGenSan aspires to ensure that sanitation systems do not transfer ecological and public health burdens and do not mix human waste with other wastes, but align sanitation facilities with ecological processes to ensure 'zero' or 'near minimal' discharge, and ensure that sanitation systems provide net benefits to the people and environment. It is common knowledge that current sanitation practices have large negative effects on ecosystem services, especially in the urban centres of developing and developed countries. But sanitation systems can be designed to benefit particular ecosystems in order to mitigate or reduce such negative impacts (Graham, 2003; Rees, 1999; Zari, 2012). Moreover, ReGenSan could contribute positively to ecosystem services by ensuring benefit-sharing and focused reduction on environmental and public health impacts. In addition, regenerative goals demand that processed-waste volumes do not exceed the capacity of the environment, thus ensuring that there is no-transfer-of-burden (NToB) (Lyle, 1994).


The design of ReGenSan was drawn from interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary analysis of literature on regenerative science, biology, medicine, development, designs, built environment and architecture, industrial, ecology, agriculture, economics and sustainability. The regenerative concept has been used extensively in the fields of biological and medical sciences, urban development, agriculture, economics, architectural design and the built environment, but not yet in sanitation management. ReGenSan particularly draws insights from the following.

1.2.1 Regenerative science and medicine

Medical, biological and ecological sciences have been exploring the regenerative capacities of living systems like plants, animals and humans, resulting in major advances in medical treatment such as cancer, ecological preservation and restoration and endangered species protection. Regenerative science investigates the interaction of living tissues with other materials and the ability of animal tissues to rebuild and recover internally and without external effort (Aida & Carrel, 2014; Illingworth, 1974; Kragl et al., 2009; Sampogna et al., 2015) and supports the idea that life is always in a constant state of renewal, restoration, replacement or repair (Graham, 2003; Guterstam & Todd, 1990; Kibert et al., 2002; Lenhoff & Lenhoff, 1991; Maienschein, 2011; McHarg, 1969; Mitsch, 1993; Mitsch & Jprgensen, 1989, 2003; Porcellini, 2009; Sunderland, 2008, 2010, Van der Ryn & Cowan, 2007; Whitman et al., 1997). Findings from such investigations contributed to the use of the ecosystem approach in waste treatment as encapsulated in the principles of ecological engineering and biomimicry, which stand as core principles of ReGenSan (Todd & Josephson, 1996; Todd & Todd, 1980, 1984, 1994). Relatively, ecological and nature-based sanitation technologies have attributes that separate them from conventional technologies and are unique in their application to a wide range of sewage treatment technologies (Lyle, 1994; Mitsch, 1993; Todd & Josephson, 1996) in that the restorative capacity of the ecological system is reinforced (du Plessis & Brandon, 2015) to improve system integrity and performance for the purpose of impeding the rate of depletion and degradation (Mang & Reed, 2012a).

Therefore, ReGenSan utilizes the 'listen and learn' principle of regenerative science and medicine to learn from nature and align sanitation solutions with nature's potential to create new (nouveau) solutions, restore and retrofit previously damaged sanitation systems and recover valuable resources from human waste. In essence, restorative, renewal and replace strategies could be valuable tools for innovative repair and rehabilitation of sites and locations damaged by previous and current sanitation practices (SER, 2004).

1.2.2 Regenerative development and design

Regenerative development and design aims to create systems that are capable of restoring health to both human communities and ecosystems, especially in the fields of architecture and urban development (Zari, 2012). The application of regenerative design in the built environment engages the natural world as the medium and generator of human settlement. It focuses on conservation and performance through reduction in environmental impacts of buildings as well as treatment of the environment as an equal shareholder in the built environment (Littman, 2009; Reed, 2007). Figure 1.1 depicts regenerative design in the built environment and shows the movement from the reductionist-mechanistic design thinking on the lower left to natural systems design thinking on the upper right, which is all part of the journey to a regenerative system (Fullerton, 2015; Mang & Reed, 2012b).

Regenerative design and development pushes beyond sustainable development principles by seeking to redevelop systems with absolute effectiveness while allowing for the co-evolution of human species with other species (Lyle, 1994) with a net positive approach to sustainability that departs from the dominant sustainability narratives (Cole et al., 2012; Robinson & Cole, 2015). It seeks to create systems that integrate the needs of society with the integrity of nature through processes that restore, renew and revitalize their own sources of energy and materials. Regenerative design acknowledges that humans are more entangled with the complex systems of environment and the biosphere than the conventional mode of linear cause and effect thinking, which argues that the best design guides for regenerating our environments are ecological principles i.e. the fundamental laws inherent to the natural world (Vester, 2004). Furthermore, regenerative design is a system of technologies and strategies based on an understanding of the inner workings of ecosystems to generate designs that regenerate rather than deplete underlying life support systems and resources within socioecological wholes, while regenerative development refers to technologies and strategies for generating a patterned wholesystem understanding of the self-evolving and self-organizing capacities of a 'place' (Mang & Reed, 2012a, b; Reed, 2007).

Thus, regenerative design and development investigates how humans can participate in ecosystems through development to create optimum health for both human communities (physically, psychologically, socially, culturally and economically) and other living organisms and systems (Jenkin & Pedersen, 2009). It can be aptly said that regeneration is more about a process of engagement than a set of outcomes and this process of engagement has significant environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits (Jenkin & Pedersen, 2009). By ensuring that human and natural systems are adequately coordinated to produce positive impacts (Akturk, 2016), it emphasizes the importance of the unique and diverse human and non-human elements of each 'place' (socioecological systems) (Cole et al., 2006). The idea of 'place' is a way for people to envision the unity of humans and natural systems (Mang et al., 2016; Zari & Jenkin, 2010). In each 'place' on earth, natural and cultural systems express themselves uniquely and differently and this implies that sanitation systems should be tailored to the unique characteristics of the 'place' by exploring the opportunities and solutions that are indigenous to the specific 'place'. Regenerative design and development asserts that development can and should contribute to the capacity of all natural, cultural and economic systems that affect a 'place' (to grow and evolve their health and ongoing viability), as shown in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2 depicts the three regenerative design and development phases – understanding/ conceptualizing right relationship to 'place', design for harmony and co-evolution and three development processes of growing stakeholder partnerships, living systems thinking and integrative developmental processes – that are ke to creating and sustaining the holism required to actualize the concept (Mang & Reed, 2012a, b). According to Lyle (1994), the regenerative concept replaces the present linear system with cyclical flows and provides for continuous replacement through self-functional processes of the energy and materials used in its operations. In the functional order of natural ecosystems, materials are always reused through the process of conversion, distribution, assimilation, filtration, storage and production to continue their roles in nature's cycle. There are strong links between the concept of regenerative design, development and sustainability with current calls for systemic, holistic and integrative sanitation solutions and management.


Excerpted from "Regenerative Sanitation"
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Copyright © 2019 IWA Publishing.
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Table of Contents

About the authors


Abbreviations and symbols

Atomic weight and number of elements

Conversion factors for SI units

Chapter 1- Introduction

Chapter 2 - Regenerative sanitation foundations

Chapter 3 - Regenerative sanitation framework

Chapter 4 - Social-ecological system

Chapter 5 - Technological system

Chapter 6 - Resource system

Chapter 7 - Sanitation 4.0


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