South Africans should stop 'pooing' into water – industry expert

2018-06-26 22:24
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Human faeces remains a global environment pollutant and changing the way we manage this waste can blaze a trail for a new way forward for sanitation in South Africa and the world, according to Jayant Bhagwan from the Water Research Commission (WRC).

His message at the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) 2018 conference was simple: "Let's stop shitting into water."

Bhagwan, who is the executive manager for water use and waste management at the WRC, delivered a presentation at the Cape Town International Convention Centre where more than 2 000 experts are thrashing out solutions for the many water resource challenges facing society.

"Nothing has changed in the way we use the toilet in the last 200 years," said an exasperated Bhagwan. "Why do we have to flush seven to nine litres of water down? Why can't we have a more efficient system?"

He estimated that up to 40% of fresh water is used to get rid of poo when flushing a toilet. "A family of four is considered to flush the toilet about 20 times a day," he added.

Bhagwan said with South Africa being a water-stressed country and having a growing population and economy, water was becoming even more constrained.

"We don't have more water sources to tap into and we have already exploited about 90% of our surface water."

READ: Getting below the surface of the Cape Town water crisis

This, he told News24, provides an opportunity for the country to start using water more efficiently in the future. However, he cautioned that efficiency is not only about quantity, but also quality.

"Ensuring that our water quality – in the environment and elsewhere – continues to remain acceptable is very important to us."

Bhagwan said there were many opportunities around curbing wasteful water use, such as building efficiencies through technical interventions and through behaviour.

"If we can stop the flush by creating innovation that can treat human waste at source, which is on the property, then we would not require sewers and waste water in the future."

He explained that in this scenario, the possibility exists to contribute about 40% fresh water back into the water system because we won't need to flush anymore; and therefore also won't have to consume large quantities of water to drive human waste down the sewer.

Bhagwan noted that as a challenge put out by the WRC relating to water conservation and the long-term objective of disrupting sanitation, an innovative ArumLoo toilet that uses an average of 1 litre to flush efficiently was conceptualised.

"That now creates an opportunity to reduce the amount of water we require for flushing."

SEE: Water Crisis 

He said if sanitation goes off the grid, it also creates an opportunity to build a new economy that will fuel new jobs, expertise, businesses and micro entrepreneurs.

The government is already aware of this, said Bhagwan, pointing out the department of trade in 2016 already recognised off-the-grid sanitation as an industrial platform to grow.

This is already being explored, he said. In Durban, faecal waste is collected and processed by black soldier flies into larvae that can be reused in a product to substitute palm oil. There has also been interest in the charcoal by-product which can be used by fragrance companies.

"Besides the commercial opportunity around sanitation, we are trying to solve the water constraint challenge we have and we are turning it into an opportunity where it will give us the chance to be a world leader in growing an industry that would offer solutions to the world," said Bhagwan.

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Read more on:    cape town  |  sanitation  |  drought  |  water crisis  |  water
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