Instead of fertilizing with synthetic chemicals, countries in the global south use human feces. Examples from Ghana and Argentina prove it: Separating urine and faeces makes sense.
"You have to respect poop and not be afraid of it." Fedderico Dabbah said this phrase on another occasion and now, that they are filming a commercial short about dry toilets, the employees force their boss to repeat it in front of the camera. "With proper respect," says Dabbah, referring to using a dry toilet, "the risks are minimized."
The short film about dry toilets was filmed last year. Today it is a tool for Dabbah and his team from the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI), so that a sensitive issue is disseminated in municipalities, schools and other institutions in Argentina: the use of human feces. "We understand technology as the vector responsible for a development-oriented transformation on a human scale," says Dabbah. In recent years, it has disclosed both dry toilets, that since 2017 the State encourages it as a complementary system to the sewage system, a system that only half of the population accesses.
No money, no water
According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities, and 1.1 billion still defecate in the open. Furthermore, it is estimated that ninety percent of sewage in developing countries is discharged into potable aquifers. The WHO warns that the impacts of inadequate sanitation, poor hygiene and diarrheal diseases are greater than that of HIV / AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
One of the reasons why southern countries do not have a sewage system is high costs. Underground pipelines, as they were built during industrialization in the mid-19th century in European cities, are expensive and are often not considered a priority by the authorities. Furthermore, in many places the raw material is simply lacking: water. Seventy percent of the surface of Argentina, for example, are semi-dry or dry areas. Inhabitants, especially in rural areas, have to first ensure that they can water their sown fields.
The country's first mobile dry toilet
That was one of the reasons why Martín Monti decided a few years ago to build a dry toilet on his land on the outskirts of Tandil, a moderately large city southwest of Buenos Aires. From the beginning he used the feces for composting. With that, he fertilized his land for free and at the same time returned the raw material to the cycle of nature. Meanwhile the inventor built a toilet where urine and feces are separated from the beginning. It is one of the main arguments in favor of the dry bath. In addition, much less water is needed than with ordinary bathrooms.
Together with a friend from Buenos Aires, he founded the Biosanita company and has already delivered more than 400 dry toilets: from Patagonia, in the south of the country, to Jujuy, in the north. Orders still arrived from Europe, the United States, Australia and Greenland. "Although it is against our principles to have such a long way of transportation," says Monti, "while the conscience of the person using it is sharpened, we are leveling off."
Monti's newest invention was presented at the Tandil artisans fair at the end of March: the mobile dry toilet. It is the first in Argentina and according to Monti the first in all of Latin America. Urine and faeces arrive through a hose and a flap respectively into two separate drums under the toilet bowl. After the business, a little water is made with a bottle in the front, a portion of sawdust, ash or lime is thrown back. "This way," explains Monti, "the stool dries up and does not generate a bad smell."
The State does not want urine fertilizers
While in the Water-Closets (WC) the feces go together with the water to a sewer and from there to a treatment plant, Martín Monti takes them in two drums after the event directly to his home. The faeces are allowed to compost and from there he throws them under the fruit trees. The urine is diluted with water and dumped in his garden, or spread in a friend's fields. "Due to its chemical composition, human feces are ideal for use in agriculture or forestry," Monti highlights. Among other elements, urine is composed of phosphorus and nitrogen, thus it could replace synthetic fertilizers. "Unfortunately," says Monti, "in Argentina we are still at the beginning of this process."
The National Service for Agrifood Health and Quality (SENASA) prohibits the use of human waste for the production of food for commercialization. "Urine can have pathogens that with very little effort can be eliminated", says Fedderico Dabbha, "instead the feces always have pathogens that must be properly treated to reduce possible diseases that can become fatal." That is why the INTI tries to promote as much as possible the installation of dry toilets, where the excrement is separated from the beginning.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the necessary infrastructures have already been built to be able to use human feces as fertilizers. In Ouagadougou, for example, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa, an association collects urine and faeces from 900 houses and transports them to one of the four treatment plants in the city. From there, human fertilizer is sold to local farmers, who scatter it on their fields.
In neighboring Ghana, a pilot project between 2011 and 2014 found that applying urine to fields of eggplant, cabbage, pepper and corn gave the same or even better results than synthetic fertilizers. The results, says the report (in English), are promising and demonstrate the great potential of organic fertilizers.
Use in parks or during disasters
Before the Argentine authorities reach the same conclusion, millions of liters of water will be thrown out of millions of toilets. The biggest obstacle: acceptance in society. “Although technically speaking they are safe systems for health,” says the INTI expert, “there is still a certain sector of the population, both in civil society and in decision-making places, that consciously or unconsciously distrust the effectiveness of this type of technology. and this is the greatest difficulty for its implementation. "
Martín Monti, the 2017 winner of the PROESUS award for sustainable entrepreneurs, drinks it with soda. Expect that the mobile dry toilet will at least be used on time: in schools and camping sites, in tourist places, parks and reservoirs or also when there is some catastrophe. If afterwards he returns to transport the drums with the treasure for his garden and fruit trees in Tandil, it is uncertain.
PS: Mauricio Macri, the president of Argentina, born in Tandil, showed interest in taking a picture with the winner of the PROESUS award. He is the same man whose ministries are laying off INTI personnel, so far 260 out of 3,000 people. There is talk of up to 1200 dismissals ...
By Romano Paganini