Cabbage being grown in the ground
Cabbage fertilized with compost and urine. Photo: SuSanA Secretariat / Flickr.

Globally, more than 60% of the human population live without safely managed sanitation services or even lack access to basic sanitation facilities. In addition, most of the wastewater produced in the world is discharged without proper treatment.

Integrated approaches are needed to address these issues and curb adverse impacts on public health and the environment and economic losses.

The authors point out that innovative solutions are booming that treat and enable productive and safe use of water, and the recovery of nutrients and organic matter from waste resources. Some examples of trends are decentralized solutions, separation of waste flows, low/or no-flushing toilets, and converting faecal sludge to energy. These alternative technologies show huge potential to address many development challenges, contributing to multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but it has been a major challenge to upscale them.

The authors acknowledge there is already a paradigm shift under way in the wastewater sector toward “treatment for reuse” instead of “treatment for disposal”, but argue that there is a need to better understand driving forces and enabling environments, new organizational models based on more service-oriented sanitation provision, and to highlight potential multiple societal benefits to attract investments from new sectors.