Urban sanitation is a form of sanitation which focuses on maintaining sanitary conditions in urban environments. Many people think specifically of the collection, treatment, and disposal of human waste when they hear the words “urban sanitation,” but sanitation in urban environments is a much more complex system. Sanitation is an especially pressing issue in slums, where crowded conditions and poor sanitation contribute to frequent outbreaks of disease which threaten the inhabitants of slums in addition to exposing other city residents to health risks.
Historically, urban communities gave little thought to sanitation, which turned into a major problem in some areas. The edges of many urban streets were piled with garbage which could include dead animals along with untreated human waste. Walking in urban streets was an exercise in avoidance, as people freely threw garbage and human waste out into the street without a care for those passing by, and disease was rampant as a result of waste materials on the streets and in urban waterways. A growing understanding of hygiene combined with social pressure from people tired of living in filth eventually led to the development or urban sanitation.
The purpose of urban sanitation is to reduce risks to human health by managing factors in the urban environment which can contribute to health problems. One of the major factors is human waste, which is generated in large volumes in urban areas. Sewers which collect such waste and route it to central processing facilities are, therefore, a key aspect of urban sanitation. So are facilities like public toilets, which discourage people from using the streets as a bathroom, along with portable toilets for major events which are designed to provide attendees with a location to safely eliminate waste.
Urban sanitation also involves the management of water supplies. A good sanitation service is concerned with providing safe drinking water for citizens. This can include isolating wells to prevent them from being contaminated, securing water supplies from outside the city, and developing a safe network of pipes to deliver water to residents.
Sanitation departments must also concern themselves with garbage. Most urban areas have a garbage collection service, allowing citizens to set out their garbage on a specific day for teams of collectors who will gather it and deliver it to a processing facility. Recycling and composting may be elements of municipal garbage collection, designed to reduce strain on the environment and provide additional revenue for the garbage collection agency, which keeps costs to consumers down.